My birth certificate is a legal lie.
What’s true on it is that I was born at 4:44 a.m. Oct. 27, 1967. It’s also true I was born in Norwalk Hospital. And I’m guessing that Eric G. Norrington, MD, who’s listed as the attending physician, really was there.
What’s not true are the names typed in all caps under “Full Name of the Child’s Mother and Father.”
Barbara and Edward Wolfe were the parents who raised me. However, on the October morning Norrington put an anesthesia mask on my biological mother’s face and then pulled me out with forceps, the Wolfes had no idea of my existence. They learned about me six weeks later on Dec. 6, 1967, the day before they brought me home.
Yet my birth certificate, the legal document that shows where, when and how I came into the world, states that Barbara and Edward Wolfe were the ones who biologically conceived me. Nowhere is there a stamp, handwritten note or any hint suggesting my birth certificate is actually an amended version created after my adoption was finalized in 1968.
There are more than 38,000 adults like me in Connecticut who have, as legal proof of our identities, birth certificates that are essentially lies. All of us were born before 1983, the year that currently decides whether a Connecticut adoptee can or cannot have access to her or his original birth certificate. And approximately 29,000 of us were born during the “Baby Scoop Era” of 1945-72: a time when being pregnant, without being married, was just about the worst thing a woman could do.
During these years, an estimated 4 million mothers across the U.S. gave up their babies. It’s a number as astounding as the shame cast on having, or being, an “illegitimate” child during this period, which in Connecticut led to the legislature voting in 1975 to seal the birth records of all adoptees, even to those who already knew the names of their biological parents.
In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, all states but Kansas and Alaska passed similar legislation, meant in part to help birth mothers hide this “unfortunate” event, so they could forget and move on with their lives. What those of us involved in the adoption community know today, however, is that this secrecy meant to protect has primarily only caused pain, including identity issues, lifelong feelings of loss, and a overwhelming sense of not belonging for the adoptee; unresolved grief, guilt and heartache for the birth mother. Many adoptees and birth mothers I know suffer from PTSD.
Connecticut lawmakers have the chance to change this with SB 977, “An Act Concerning Access To Original Birth Records By Adult Adopted Persons.” If passed before the current legislative session ends in June, the bill being championed by state Sen. Steve Cassano would give Connecticut adult adoptees like me unrestricted access to our original birth certificates, which was the law here until 1975.
Passing SB 977 would make Connecticut the eighth state since 2000 to unseal adoptees’ birth records, following the leads of Oregon, Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii and three of our New England neighbors, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Similar legislation is currently being debated in four additional states where, as in Connecticut, opponents’ primary argument is that opening records would break a promise of anonymity made to birth mothers.
The truth, however, is that for the majority of these mothers, any “promise” of confidentiality was more forced than desired. Statistics from open access states show that only 0.05 percent of birth mothers, or roughly 1 in 2,000, request no contact from the children they gave up for adoption.
Also a reality is that the skyrocketing popularity of consumer DNA testing offered by companies like Ancestry.com is already “outing” biological mothers, fathers and other family members in a very public way.
SB 977 would help keep attempts at reunion private, as well as give back to Connecticut adult adoptees the human right taken away from us in 1975: the right to know who were are. Adoptees are the only group of people in America who are denied, by law, access to their original birth certificates and identities.
For six weeks– the time between when I was born and adopted– I wasn’t Cynthia Wolfe, and I wasn’t Edward and Barbara Wolfe’s daughter. I was child in foster care, with a different name and different mother and father.
If my parents had not told me I was adopted, and I took the information on my state-issued birth certificate as truth (Because why wouldn’t I?), it’s possible I would have never known.
The mindset of the Baby Scoop Era is not just long over, but has been proven hurtful and wrong. SB 977 would help right this wrong.
The truth of my birth should not be locked away like a state secret. Give me and all adult adoptees in Connecticut access to our original birth certificates, so our lives are not built on lies.
Cindy Wolfe Boynton is a writer, college professor and president of the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women.