The Connecticut legislature’s Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday on a bill concerning access to original birth records by adult adopted persons.
Like any other adult person in Connecticut who was born in Hartford, I can go to Room 103 at City Hall, pay a fee, and get a certified copy of my birth certificate. I’ve done that. I have it. There’s only one problem with that government-issued document – it’s not true. One could even go so far as to call it “fake news.” I was, indeed born, at the date, time, and location listed on my birth certificate. However, my mom didn’t give birth to me; I wasn’t conceived when my dad’s sperm met my mom’s egg.
If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m adopted. The birth certificate I have is an amended one, issued after the finalization of my adoption, about 14 months after I was born. My original birth certificate is locked in a vault at the Department of Public Health, and I can’t get it. If I was born before January 1, 1944, I’d have it. If I was born between January 1, 1944 and October 1, 1983 and my birth parents were deceased, I’d have it. If I was born after October 1, 1983, I’d have it.
Not surprisingly, none of those things is true in my case. This means that, like every other adult adoptee in this arbitrary age group, I have no access to the official government record of my birth. That’s unfair; this is discrimination based on something I have no ability to change – the very essence of my existence.
As an adult adoptee, the only information I have about my family health history is the non-identifying information I was able to obtain from Catholic Charities, the agency that handled my adoption. I know my maternal grandfather died of cirrhosis; I know my maternal grandmother was institutionalized for an unknown mental illness. I’ve been hospitalized multiple times to treat the bipolar disorder with which I’ve been diagnosed; the nature vs. nurture argument is a particularly personal one.
I have found distant relatives through commercial DNA testing. I have made initial connections with a few of them, but am nowhere close to assembling any kind of family tree. I am often told I look “just like” someone else that somebody knows. I never know what to say. I’ve started responding with “well, I’m adopted, for all I know it’s a relative.”
Existing law required me to file a case in Probate Court in an attempt to get a copy of my original birth certificate. I’m an attorney, admitted to practice law in this state since 1997. It was a challenge for me to initiate the case, and it represented a challenge to the court to handle the petition. My request was denied by the probate court because my birth mother acknowledged receipt of a letter from Catholic Charities but never responded to that letter.
I have heard that I should be “grateful” that my birth mother made the choice to give me up for adoption. I am thankful. I also, like everyone, want to know my origin story. I want to know whether I have half or full siblings. I want to know more about my grandmother – I want to be able to know her name. I want to know the name I was given at birth.
I don’t need to contact my birth mother. I don’t need to be rejected again. Catholic Charities sent me a letter – dated on my birthday – telling me that my birth mother did not want to have contact with me. I’m not one to self-inflict pain (other than running long races). I don’t want to intrude on someone’s privacy, at least not more than I have by sharing my story. I don’t want to be seen as the proof of someone’s shame. I am sorry that my birth mother does not feel comfortable being open about the fact that I exist. It is clear to me that she has moved on and placed me firmly in the past.
I, however, continue to exist in the present and need to put that piece of my puzzle together. I want my original birth certificate.
Kathleen M. Flaherty lives in Newington.