© 2016 Rudy Owens. All rights reserved.
The first day I began writing this story, I knew I had to complete an unfinished chapter in my adopted life. For me, nothing could be more symbolic of completing this lifelong journey than holding the true and correct record of my birth in my hands. That is when this odyssey would finally end.
When the state seized control my identity after I was legally severed from my ancestors and birth family and surrendered to an adoption agency and placed in a foster home, it wrongly claimed my birth certificate was a sealed record. But the original record of birth is not and never has been a top-secret record.
The state never had the legal and moral right to hold my past from me or the right to prevent my birth families from knowing about me. My true birth certificate shows the world that I exist as someone with a past. It shows I have an identity that I alone own. This document is and always has been mine by birthright.
But Michigan, like other states that restrict adoptees’ records, also has understood the raw power that controlling this and all birth documents has over people deprived of their personal and family history. That power gives the state mastery over a mostly powerless group. The state demonstrates that power when it withhold scraps of records that have almost talismanic properties.
Adoptees’ rights pioneer Jean Paton clearly understood the symbolic importance of control, which she described in her 1968 book on adoptees’ reunions with their kin called Orphan Voyage. She wrote, “Because, then, Search is so integral with the adoption life history it is of importance whether it shall be controlled, and by whom. … Here, in its control, is a possibility for freedom or for slavery that perhaps has been overlooked.”
By societal and legal consensus from the 1960s on, my past was found to be so secretive that few people would ever know the truth, especially not me. I was expected and repeatedly told to accept the national social experiment called adoption in the second half of the 20th century. I was repeatedly lectured and informed I would never see papers that said who I was and where I came from.
But that experiment failed through the political evolution of adoption into a cult of secrecy and political wedge issue for the political right and for Christian evangelicals. Adoption as a social and political institution continues to fail adoptees and their birth parents. It denies both groups the right to know of their kin and, in the case of adoptees, the fundamental right to know who they are.
Even though I had beaten the system with creativity and sheer dumb luck in the 1980s by learning who I was, I really had not won. In my case, Michigan still could justify its past and future actions by defending views now considered outdated. Yet, those views remain enshrined in state adoption law and defended by a small army of government workers who never have cared for the rights of adoptees and discriminated against them for decades, under the paternalistic smoke screen of a morally troubling philosophy that “the law is the law.”
When I renewed my demands for my original birth certificate in March 2016, the state still claimed this one sheet of paper had to be secret in a locked box, withheld from me because of a law. I also knew I would be going into battle for the legal document that proved I existed as a person with biological kin and ancestors. The state also took up its battle stance, with all of its available resources it could bear.
Return to Chapter 14: Adoption Narcissism
Return to the start: Chapter 1: Meeting my Half-Sister