Chapter 13: Battling Michigan for Records

Rudy Owens’ Forthcoming Memoir

© 2016 Rudy Owens.  All rights reserved.

Adoption has been many things. It was a grandiose scheme to reform “fallen” and mostly white women, who could be redeemed by relinquishing their infants and hiding the outcomes of unprotected sex. It has been a means of creating a family, among kin but also among strangers. It was, in the United States and to a lesser extent Australia, England, and Canada, a massive experiment never before tried in the mid- and late 20th century, to place infants from single mothers with parents with whom they had no natural connection. It was a large-scale vital records and public health undertaking that created new identifies for adoptees, while hiding original birth records after the 1950s. It was a means of wiping away individuals’ past and their sense of place in history with their tribal, blood kin. It was a way of addressing horrific public health issues seen in the first decades of the 20th century, due to mostly Christian-based religious prejudice and social stigma, which allowed infants to be placed in homes that were often recipes for early mortality.

In the United States it was an odd public, medical, private, religious, and charitable partnership. They created the large national system that moved children from one parent to another set through a large network of homes for mothers, foster homes for infants, and hospitals. It was also a maternal and child welfare system that involved the full participation of health-care and social work professionals.

Above all, adoption has always been a bureaucratic process. The complexity of placing and tracking millions of children placed for adoption from the 1940s onward required multiple agencies to manage the records of everyone involved and to ensure adopted children had safe, healthy outcomes. This is demonstrated by the multiple health exams I received. It is seen in the rigor of the state and court record-keeping that followed me through the placement health systems. It is evident in the tracking that occurred between the time I was born, cared for by a foster family, and then fully relinquished from state oversight.

Through the 1970s, these actions took place in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and records offices with little or no second-guessing of the system’s underlying goals and purposes from the key players making it work. By the time I was born in April 1965, the process of having babies change names and move from custody from one parent to another family had taken on a state of normalcy that became custom, and also not widely questioned. Questions did not rise from participants running the adoption system. Ultimately these participants supported a system that prevented those most intimately involved in adoption—birth parents and adoptees—from getting information about their biological kin.

Return to Chapter 12: After the Discovery: Figuring out a New Identity

Read More: Chapter 14: Adoption Narcissism