On one side you have children fighting for the right to know their birth parents. On the other side are arguments for parent privacy. In the middle are adopted children like Ron Upshaw.
“It was a lot of paperwork, and a lot of letters going back and forth,” Ron said of his effort to find his birth mother Catherine.
To track down his birth mother, Ron had to hire a confidential intermediary who would convey messages between the two. It was a lot of work. Eventually, a meeting was set up. But Ron notes it didn’t have to be that way.
In 2000, Oregon and Alabama passed laws allowing adopted children access to their birth certificates when they turn 18. Some thought that similar adoption laws would spread to the rest of the nation. But little has changed 17 years later as other states continue to try to amend their laws. The Associated Press reports that California, Texas, New York and Florida are currently considering legislation that would allow greater access to birth records. But that legislation still faces challenges.
What would Ron’s two moms — birth and adoptive — say about the issue?
“I think unrestricted access should be a right for every adopted child,” said Catherine, Ron’s birth mother. “I didn’t realize there was such difficulty, in especially the large states like New York and California, to get access to the birth certificate.”
“Every year of your birthday I would pray that somehow your birth mother would know where you were, that you were happy, healthy and living a good life,” Alice, Ron’s adopted mother, said. “I wanted her to have that knowledge.”
Catherine was 20 years old in 1970 when she gave Ron to Alice and her husband Bob. She said that there was a clear line drawn about her rights. It made an impression.
“It was understood that my privacy would be protected and that Alice and Bob would be your parents,” Catherine said. “So that was how it was explained to me, that there would not be access to locating me … I did feel like social services and the hospital and the doctor were pretty much in control. For instance, even when I wanted to see you after you were born, the doctor said, ‘No, you aren’t allowed to do that.’”
“There was a very old fashioned power structure that I think put mothers at a disadvantage, and I think we accepted whatever their decisions were because we felt like we didn’t have any rights,” she said.
But Alice said that she got a different message at the time.
“We were told that at age 18, you could have access to the birth record,” Alice said.
Catherine did initially hope that she would meet Ron at some point in the future. But, over time, she began to feel like she gave up her right to meet Ron. It did not occur to her that he might look her up. When Ron did start the process of meeting his birth mother, Catherine said she appreciated the process; it allowed time for the two to prepare. But she stresses that the child should still have the right to their birth records — that should outweigh any parental privacy rights.
“Timing is really, really important for both sides,” Catherine said. “I don’t think you should err on the side of the mother who relinquished the child for adoption. She shouldn’t have more consideration than the adoptee.”