Here we go again.
Those four words pop into my mind every November, like an annual calendar reminder set to go off with a cartoon “boing.”
November is National Adoption Month, and as an adopted person you might think we’re all a bundle of anticipatory excitement, planning the kegger and booking the cover band.
I mean, what’s not to celebrate.
A whole month to tell our reunion stories at open mic night, join social media groups where surely someone knows how to pry our medical records out of state control and then, just for kicks, we might close out the month with a rousing game of Adoptee Bingo.
Adoptee Bingo? Now that sounds like a good time, you might be thinking.
It’s certainly an easy game to win.
Just make note of any three of the following in a 24-hour period and give a holler:
You’re so lucky — At least you weren’t aborted — My friend is adopted and she’s fine — You sure seem angry — Love is more important than DNA — How can you want to meet someone who gave you away? — I’m not adopted but … — You should be more grateful.
Adoptees, I can feel you nodding in solidarity.
Being adopted isn’t just for babies, it doesn’t last for a single month and the brief burst of celebratory attention lavished on an institution designed to “save” people like me feels jarring.
The press releases, celebrity baby adoption photo spreads and international infant rescue stories leave no space to narrate the lifelong complexity of a system which often provides adoptees with no agency over their own lives.
For example, I’ve been on a 30-year mission to obtain every page of my medical, adoption, foster care and genealogical records.
I’ve had some success at this mostly because I haven’t stopped asking after being told no.
I know the names of my birth family, I know my birth parents married each other and had two more children, I know my birthmother died of an inherited genetic disease which manifested itself when she was the age I am now.
As a baby, I spent months in foster care before I was adopted. Somewhere, there are records and I want them. They’re mine.
If National Adoption Month was really meant to raise awareness about the lifelong requirements of adoptees, the folks behind this celebration would have developed a mechanism for us to use to access our records.
Michigan and many other states have what’s called a “Central Adoption Registry,” where a social worker will match you with your birth family if all parties fill out a form stating they want to be found.
I filled out one of these forms in 1989. My birthmother was named Patricia and she died in 2009. But in one of our meetings she told me she would have filled one of these forms, too, if she knew the registry existed.
The legislature created the registry in 1939 but never appropriated any money to publicize it.
We’re mostly on our own out here, with our Freedom of Information Act requests, our phone calls to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, our polite letters and emails to court clerks and staff at records repositories.
We’re also not going away. I’m still filing FOIAs on myself and I’m still writing polite letters. We have to be polite — we can’t ever appear angry or even conflicted about a system everyone else seems to celebrate.
Last month, an MDHHS adoption analyst responded to my latest inquiry with a copy of a typed telephone message delivered to the Children’s Aid Society in December of 1961.
“Booth hospital telephoned to report Patricia delivered a baby girl at 8:15 a.m. Birth weight six pounds and seven ounces.”
That baby was me. Until last month, I didn’t know what time I was born or what my birthweight was.
Happy National Adoption month.
Here we go again.