For adoptees, a new chance to learn their stories
Beginning Tuesday, those adopted in Washington on or before Oct. 1, 1993, can request their original birth certificates. Birth parents who choose to remain anonymous can prevent birth certificates from being released, but must provide information on family medical history.
Seattle Times staff reporter
For more information
Parents and adoptees can get more information and find forms at http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsandCertificates/BirthDeathMarriageandDivorce/Adoptions.aspx
Having a child of his own finally made Mark Brandeberry seek his birth mother.
Adopted as a newborn, Brandeberry cradled his son, Wake, and tried to picture how his own mother had held him 34 years earlier.
He wondered if Wake inherited his nose from his grandmother. Or perhaps he got her smile or her hair or her mannerisms. He wondered how she managed pregnancy and childbirth at just 16 years old.
“It really made me feel like I owe it to her to let her know I’m here and thank her for going through that,” he said. “It made me realize, I guess, how lucky I was.”
A new law might help lead Mark to his birth mother.
Beginning Tuesday, many adults who were adopted in Washington on or before Oct. 1, 1993, will have open access to their original birth certificates from the state, rather than having to work through the courts.
But that doesn’t mean all adoptees who want the records will get them.
Birth parents can remain confidential — and have the option of withholding the birth certificate — by filing a form with the state Department of Health. They still would have to disclose their family medical history to be passed along to adoptees.
They also can explicitly allow the birth certificate to be released and consent to be contacted, either directly or through a confidential intermediary.
Those contact-preference forms can be filed or changed at any time.
Birth certificates will be available to adoptees whose parents did not file a form.
Adults adopted after Oct. 1, 1993, already have open access to their birth certificates, unless one or both birth parents filed a nondisclosure form.
Brandeberry, an insurance broker from Kirkland, is one of 540 adoptees who have requested birth certificates from the state since preorders began in May. He started working with Washington Adoption Reunion Movement (WARM) this month to begin the search for his mother. Perhaps finding her could lead him to his birth father, too.
“I’m just a little nervous because I waited so long,” he said. “I’ve been anticipating this day.”
WARM, a nonprofit, has successfully reunited about 94 percent of the birth parents and adoptees it’s worked with through intermediary means since 1976, according to Pam Queen, a member and past board president of WARM. Very few parents prefer not to be contacted, she said.
“As an adoptee, you have nothing that attaches you biologically to anyone,” Queen said. “You don’t have papers. It’s the need to know. Somehow, biologically, you have this drive to find out who you are.”
While WARM supported the legislation, Queen, who was adopted, warns adoptees that they might not receive much information if they get their birth certificates at all. Common names, which could prove untraceable, and birth certificates without the father’s information might not meet expectations.
“They may just be happy to have the piece of paper that belongs to them,” she said.
Brandeberry hopes his mother did not file a form declining to be contacted.
“It’d hurt, but I think I also realize I’ve waited this long, too, so I respect that decision as well,” he said.
The contact-preference forms were made available in September, and 117 had been filed by birth parents as of Thursday, according to the state Department of Health. The majority — 82 forms — were marked to prevent birth certificates from being released to adoptees.
The Washington Coalition for Adoptee Rights & Equality, or WA-CARE, spent five years lobbying the Legislature for open access to birth certificates for all adopted adults. WA-CARE worked with state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, an adoptee, to pass the law last year.
“It’s not our ideal bill,” said Jodi McBride, one of the founders of WA-CARE. “There’s hope in the future that stipulations can be removed.”
Oregon, for example, is one of six states where all adoptees have open access to their birth certificates.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s progressing,” McBride said.
The bill was originally written to grant unrestricted access for adoptees.
But the Family Law Section of the Washington State Bar Association argued that parents who gave kids up for adoption before 1993 did so with the understanding that their privacy would be protected, said Richard Bartholomew, a volunteer legislative liaison.
“This bill, the way it was written, would have retroactively taken it away,” Bartholomew said. “It could have disrupted some lives.”
After the law was rewritten to include an option for anonymity, the Bar Association group ended its opposition.
Before testifying at the state House and Senate, Lori Jeske asked lawmakers if they remembered their first kiss.
Jeske, an executive committee member of Bastard Nation, a nonprofit adoptee-rights association, said she always worried about whether she was kissing a brother or a cousin. She said the new law doesn’t go far enough to ensure that adoptees have access to birth certificates.
“This is about equal rights,” she said. “It’s not about reunion.”
Colleen Wright: 206-464-2240 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @Colleen_Wright