Friday, May 28, 2010
The Fake Birth Certificate
When a child is adopted, the local government issues a new birth certificate to the family. The new birth certificate essentially obliterates evidence of the child’s past, as though it never happened. Instead of showing that a child was born to the parents who actually gave birth to her -- and then indicating that the child is adopted into her new family and has a new name – the new birth certificate is issued as though the adoptive parents gave birth to the child on her birthday. In our case, Maya’s newly issued birth certificate asserts to the world that Tim and I gave birth to her in Pennsylvania in the exact hospital and at the exact moment that she actually was born. Her mother’s name – the person that actually did give birth to her – is nowhere to be seen on the newly issued birth certificate. Nor is her biological father’s name there. Instantly wiped out and erased by the government. Kind of like being in the witness protection program. The government creates a new identity for an adopted child and issues official government documents to perpetuate the lie. The only difference? Adopted children generally don’t need protection from anyone, particularly not from their original families. In the instances where children might need protection from abusive original families, perhaps this fiction is warranted. But, for the most part, adopted people WANT their original birth certificates and the only people they need protection from are the government bureaucrats that continue to deny them this fundamentally important information.
We have what is known in adoption circles as an “open” adoption. We have essentially extended our family to include Maya’s family, so that hopefully Maya will feel that she has not been ripped from her roots, but merely replanted in another part of her family garden. So, for Maya, she will always have access to her original birth certificate. She can ask her mother to see it when she is with her because we have a very good relationship with Maya's original family. But the original birth certificate no longer has any legal effect. It is null and void, essentially. As though her birth to her mother never really occurred the way that it did. It is as though the original birth certificate created a marriage and the second birth certificate represents a divorce decree. But instead of creating a new type of paperwork to represent reality – that Maya was born to a first set of parents and adopted to a second set – the government has taken the documentation that already exists and tries to make it seem as though the reality were different. The government tries to make it look as though Maya were born to Tim and me. Like forcing a square peg into a round hole.
I am completely comfortable with the fact that I am Maya’s mother. I don’t need her birth certificate to erase the existence of her original mother in order to make me feel like I am her mother. I know I am her mother. I feel like the birth certificate I have is a total fake. I would prefer if it said that Nevaeh Nikol, born to Nikki and Y.A. on her birth date at the hospital in Pennsylvania, will now be known as Maya Nevaeh Nikol, with her new parents Tim and Michelle, of New York. Why can’t the government create some new documentation to evidence the reality that we know to be true instead of insisting that it’s version of reality is the only one that it will document? Tim and I had never even heard of the town where Maya was born until we got involved with adopting her. We had surely never set foot there. It feels like such a sham to have government issued documents, with raised seal and all, claiming that we gave birth to her in a town we had never set foot in. I can’t begin to imagine what that feels like to a child or even grown adopted person. I imagine it gives one an instinctive sense of the irony of life and government authority.
I have asked my girlfriend who is adopted how she felt. She is an adopted person who has no interest in the mother who gave birth to her. She says she would just tell her "Thanks for doing the right thing. I have had a great life." I find this to be a little bit of denial. But what do I know? I am not an adopted person. I just can’t imagine not wanting to know my biological and personal history. I am like that. To her, her history is that of her adoptive parents, period. The history with her biological parents is irrelevant. Anyway, she doesn't feel the birth certificate is fake and says she sees it as necessary to show that she is the legal child of her parents.
I feel as though there must be another way -- particularly in an open adoption. In the days of closed adoptions, when parents tried to hide that their children were adopted, I can see the necessity of the fake birth certificate. It looks just like a real one. Unless one conducted a C.S.I.-like fiber test to determine whether the fibers are consistent with documents on the date of birth, it would be impossible for anyone to tell that the fake birth certificate is a government-issued forgery. I guess if you want your child to live a lie, the fake birth certificate serves you well. But when a child is always told that they are adopted and there are no secrets, I would think that the government could create a new kind of document to commemorate the new family relationships. I’ve heard of “born again” but even when one is “born again,” a new birth certificate is not issued. I don’t think a new birth certificate is appropriate for adoptions either.
I am fully behind the movement to open all original birth certificates to adopted people. I believe that the government has no right to be in collusion with the original parents in denying a person access to their original history. I don't understand why the parents’ rights are given more weight than the child's rights. Why does a parent have a greater right to erase history with the government’s blessing and complicity (and perhaps live in denial of ever having given birth)? What about a child’s right to know his or her own personal history? Who decided that the parents' wishes were more valuable than the child's right? The child had no say in the entire situation. The parents had some control over their choices. It is a screwed up system where the government surreptitiously works with parents to erase the evidence of having given birth to a child, in total defiance of what the child’s wishes might be.
With my daughter, when she gets old enough to understand, she will be able to see her original birth certificate at her mother’s house. Even if it is null and void. I may just explain to her that “your mother has your original birth certificate. I have the fake one they created because the government is too stupid to understand that I don't need to have my name on your birth certificate to know that I am your mother."
I guess that's part of what pisses me off. Why does the government think that I have to be on her birth certificate to be considered her mother? There are mothers that give birth and mothers that don't. Why does the government continue to insist that there is only one type of mother? Why does the government only recognize one type of mother? If they recognized adoptive mothers as legitimate mothers, they would give us an amended birth certificate or some document that represented our reality. Instead, if you're not the parent that gave birth, they will create a whole new fiction to make it look like you did. As though I need their documentation to tell me that I am my daughter’s mother. As though I need for them to obliterate Maya’s mother who gave birth to her and who loves her, for me to be a mother to Maya. Typical government: if the reality doesn't fit their story, they make the paperwork thick enough to cover the reality and make it look like the story they want to present.
Maya is lucky. In some ways. She will always have access to her personal history and original birth certificate. But she still must grow up knowing that the government sought to obliterate all evidence of her relationship with the mother that gave her life. Others are not so lucky. And they won’t know their history until we stop allowing the government to perpetuate the fiction that a child can only have one type of mother: the mother that gives birth. We must stop allowing the government to force our reality to fit their fiction.
Stepping down from my soapbox.