Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

The Search Is Over ... ?

by Lisa Ritter Starr

Because open adoption as a legal option is relatively new, there are thousands of people out there actively seeking their biological families long lost through closed adoptions. This search has become increasingly easy, but it has also been more hotly debated than ever in the past few years.

Biological family members separated by closed adoptions may choose to seek each other out because they are intensely curious. For those adopted, it might be the answer to some mysteries penetrating their lives: why they look the way they do, where some mannerisms came from, what their family tree looks like, or whether their biological parents share their musical, athletic, or artistic ability. They might want to ask why they were placed in an adoption, or they may simply have medical issues for which genetic history would be helpful.

Birth families, too, may be curious and wonder if their relinquished child shares some of their characteristics. They might want to know that their child is okay, and to be there for them if they need it. Adoption is usually chosen by a birth mother or family in a time of hardship, so when this passes, they may want contact because they feel they now have more to give.

These days, the search to be reunited with lost relatives has become a little easier. The Internet plays an increasingly major role, as most people can get access to several free search aids, such as AdoptionRegistry.com, metasearches, search engines, web directories, and people finders. Also, with new laws such as Oregon Measure 58, passed in November 1998, once-sealed birth records have been made available to all adopted adults 21 and older.

Not everyone considers this good news. While adopted adults can choose whether or not to use this resource, some adoptive parents and birth families have been adamantly opposed to having this choice at all. They believe it is a violation of basic privacy, or it could be an unwelcome interruption if relinquished children wre allowed to come back into the lives of birth families who have since tried to "put the past behind them."

In those states in which records have remained open, some adoptive parents declare this as detrimental to the bonding process between them and their children. A few groups have even claimed that open records lead to more abortions, since some birth mothers would rather abort than fear later contact by their relinquished children.

Statistics show, however, in states with an open records policy, that adoption rates in these states are no lower, and in some instances are higher than in states with closed records (http://www.bastards.org/documents/abortion-adoption.html). And as far as "putting the past behind them," this may be a desire of some birth families, but it is not the desire of many others. More importantly, it may not be in the best interest of the child, nor healthy for the adults to ignore the fact of the child's existence.

This may be an oversimplified way of looking at it, but if the fear of losing control were taken out of this picture, there probably would be nothing left to fight about. Records would be unsealed and remain unsealed. Adoptions would tend much more toward openness from the very beginning. Birthparents wouldn't fear that their child would come in and turn their lives upside down. Adoptive parents wouldn't fear losing control over their children, who may want to contact their birthfamilies before their parents think they are ready. And adoptees - well, they're not the ones fighting to seal up their biological information. If anything, their fear of missing pieces of their lives would probably subside.

It is a simple take on a complex problem, but it is one perspective worth examining if it could offer peace of mind - and it can. As a mother, I know the inclination to protect and serve your child's welfare, and to plan accordingly for his or her future. However, I also know that parents are a person's primary role models. We all have some desire to protect children, but how is it effective if our actions stem not from instinct or love, but from fear? If we stop choosing fear, peace of mind naturally follows.

Adoptive and birth families will survive an adopted person's search for biological connection. This desire reflects not that the adoptive parents did a poor job in raising their children, but rather that their children are inclined to simply fill in the blanks - blanks that most non-adopted people don't have, and take completely for granted.

Adoptive families and birth families may continue fighting for sealed records, but if they do, they're not noticing a critical fact - their children have nothing to fight about. They may only have basic questions about themselves, for which they could find some answers, if the people who love them stop trying to bar the way.

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