Adult Adoptees in Connecticut Trying to Gain Access to Their Birth Certificates and Own Identities


Adult Adoptees in Connecticut Trying to Gain Access to Their Birth Certificates and Own Identities

Melanie Stengel

Carol Hudak of Trumbull didn’t know that the girl she had seen every day in grammar school was her sister until they were both adults. A clerk at Catholic Charities—the agency that had arranged their long-ago adoptions—mentioned to her that she had a birth sister, and the two women met there for the first time.

“Once we had met each other, we wanted to find out who we were,” says Hudak. “We wanted our original birth certificates and to know our father’s name.”

That was not to be.

“The social worker, a total stranger, held our file in her hand and said, ‘I have your real names here, and I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you who you are,’” recalls Hudak. “Please let that sink in. The law in Connecticut allows a total stranger to know who we are but forbids us to have a copy of our original birth certificates.”

Hudak, along with many other adoptees and birth parents, has been working for years to get the state to change its policy and allow adult adoptees to get their original birth certificates.

“When you’re an adopted child, no matter how much you love your adoptive parents, you wonder who you really are,” she says. “You look at people on the street and think, ‘Am I related to them? Could this be my mother? Is that my sister?’ I liken being adopted to being in the witness protection program. You don’t have your identity. You’ve lost your heritage.”

Hudak is a member of Access Connecticut, a grassroots organization that has been fighting for adoptees’ rights to know their backgrounds and heritages. But each time it has come up before the legislature, the bill has died in committee. It never even makes it to a vote.

This year it happened again. Despite some initially positive indications, S.B. No. 59 died just the way the others had, after Joette Katz, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, among others, recommended the bill be defeated.

State Sen. Anthony Musto (D-22nd Dist.), a proponent of the bill, says the resistance to it comes mainly from those who want to protect the birth mothers, who, at the time of giving their children up for adoption, were told that their names would never be released.

Also, he says, the Catholic church, which handled a lot of adoptions in the past, fears that birth mothers who aren’t guaranteed anonymity may opt for abortions rather than putting their children up for adoption.

Connecticut had open adoption records until 1974, when the legislature passed a bill closing adoption records for good. According to Carolyn Goodridge, also a member of Access Connecticut and president of the Connecticut Council on Adoption, there were no public hearings and no announcement before that amendment passed.

“Suddenly, the records were just closed,” she says. “And every year since, we’ve fought to get them reopened.”

Goodridge says the characterization of birth mothers as wanting anonymity is a bit misleading. She maintains that in states with open adoption laws, 95 percent of birth mothers say they’re willing to be contacted. “Some, of course, don’t want to be contacted, and they can just say no,” she says. “But our initial attendance [at Access Connecticut] was more birth mothers than adoptees. They felt strongly that their children have a right to know who they are. They are fighting for this, too.”

Besides, she says, most adoptees who seek out their original birth certificates aren’t interested in reaching out to their birth parents. They simply want to know their roots.

As Hudak puts it, “We’re well aware that we’ve been abandoned by our birth parents before. We don’t want to go through that again. We just want to know who we are.”

Karen Caffrey, a lawyer and practicing psychotherapist in West Hartford, as well as an adoptee, says it’s really a human rights issue. “Every human being has a right to [his or her] heritage,” she says. “It’s as simple as that. It’s dehumanizing to sit in front of the state officials and have them tell you that you’re a member of the only class of people that doesn’t have that right. So many people have fought for this and given up. But I’m not giving up. I have a fire in my belly for this work.”

Caffrey says that phone surveys have shown that 80 percent of Connecticut citizens support the right of adult adoptees to get their original birth certificates. Many, she says, are even shocked to hear they don’t have that right.

What’s needed now according to Caffrey is money to hire lobbyists to help bring the issue to light with the legislators. “We’re not politicians and we don’t have a lot of time and money,” she says. “But if 100 people gave $100 each, I think we could change this and educate people about this issue.”

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This article appeared in the August 2013 issue of Connecticut Magazine

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