Monday, April 26, 2010

More on Illinois HB 5428

This is how the gov't is notifying birth mothers about the new legislation, giving them the opportunity to veto: notices will appear on the back of license renewals.

After talking to several adoption groups, it seems that this veto, which is not a default-type veto that requires action on the birth mother's part to reverse but instead releases birth certificates UNLESS the birth mother takes action to veto, is the best possible option (if a veto must be an option). In other states where this type of legislation has gone through, very very few vetoes were filed. Which is great news, and also proves that the perception that a majority of birth mothers want confidentiality and do not want their relinquished child to have information is wrong.

Bastard Nation is still voting "no" on the bill. It's not perfect, true. But to me, it really does seem like a victory: By next November almost every adopted person will be able to access his/her birth certificate.

Right now the bill is in the Governor's office. To encourage the bill's passing, you can go here and write a letter of support (if you agree with the law, of course):

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Update on Illinois HB 5428

It passed, yesterday 4-21-10.

Tough to weed through all the buzz about the bill--it's controversial and there are many misperceptions out there. Full text of the bill is supposed to be posted here, but it's not. However, here's what I can discern:

The bill is a restricted access bill, which--for now--restores rights to original birth certificates only to adoptees born before January 1, 1946. For adoptees born after that date, we're still potentially blocked--access is restricted according to preferences of the birth mother.

Again we see the confusion between access to birth certificates and search/contact between adoptee and birth parent: the first is a right, and the second is a choice. A birth mother should not have the right to block adoptees' rights to their own original identity. A birth mother should have the choice to request no contact. It's conflating rights with reunion, which are two different things.

P.S. Oregon, Alabama, New Hampshire and Maine have restored unrestricted access adoptees' original birth certificates in recent years. ~17,000 birth certificates have been unsealed, with none of the “social unrest” that was feared. (Bastard Nation)

In some ways, it's a victory, because more people have access to their birth certificates, which is a basic civil right (adoptees are the only people who are blocked from accessing their own birth certificates.) But it's not a full victory, because many, many people are still blocked. And, as Bastard Nation points out, having a partial-restoration-compromise-type bill often just adds more red tape and makes it difficult to convince legislators to revisit the issue in the future.

Now, in November of 2011, if no contact veto has been filed by a birth mother, then supposedly ANY adoptee can apply for his/her birth certificate. This date seems arbitrary, and the term "supposedly" was used by a fellow adoption advocate (have these provisions failed in the past?) It seems to me a light at the end of the tunnel, though a lot can happen in 18 months.

Hopefully I'll get my birth certificate next November, a few weeks after I turn 30!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mixed Race Barbies in the UK!

Check out the new line of mixed-race barbies released last month in Britain :

It appears they are part of the same S.I.S. line that released the African-American line last summer (see my 9.30.09 post.) Notice that each of these new mixed-race dolls has straight hair, but hey it's progress, I say!

Biological Family Steppin' Up to the Plate!

Check out this multimedia story of a biological uncle taking in a niece and nephew he never even knew about.

It's part of a search-for-relatives program with the St. Louis Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition. The program focuses on seeking reunification, if not with a birth parents then with a birth family member (also known as kinship care). This is a better use of time and resources for the agency, as well as potentially better and more stable for the kids in foster care. Especially considering the fact that it can be so hard for these kids to find permanent homes, what with the popularity of international adoption instead of domestic, and the fact that most of these kids are not infants, which is what most adoptive parents want. It's sad to think that adoption has turned into an industry that caters to adoptive parents--sometimes at the expense of the best outcome for kids or birth families--because they are the paying customers, but often it is the truth.

We need more programs like this one!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Adoption House Bill in Illinois--birth certificates!

As of 4/6/2010, Illinois HB 5428 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary committee. This is a bad, bad bill that makes it even more difficult for adoptees to access their original birth certificates and identities. Please visit the petition site on to sign your NO vote to the bill. 
The sum of Bastard Nation and others' arguments against the bill:
  • Identity is identity, whether you are adopted or not.
  • HB 5428 cannot be amended to support adoptee rights. It needs to die in committee.
  • HB 5428 contains a disclosure veto disguised as a contact “preference.” There's a difference between the right to identity and search or reunion. The former is a basic right of all citizens, the latter an individual choice.
  • HB 5428 penalizes adoptees who research their origins to the tune of $10,000 or more – for what non-adopted people refer to as “genealogy.”
  • Some adoptees cannot afford the existing intermediary program, or are not accepted into it.
  • The sole entity contracted to provide these services has pre-approval over petitions before the judge sees them.
  • There is no oversight nor accountability.
  • In states with birth certificate access, abortion rates are lower, and mothers feel more comfortable considering adoption knowing that their children, once adults, will have access to their origins.

Full Petition text:
"In the USA and all civilized nations, a birth certificate is the proof of the individuals existence and the cornerstone of his or her identity. Currently, when people are adopted in Illinois, they are issued a totally new and fraudulent birth certificate instead of a document verifying that they have been adopted. It's as if one's existence has been erased. It is a violation of the human rights of an individual who is most likely an infant and unable to defend his or her original identity. 

It's time for this to end. To single out certain people for different treatment under the law based solely on their birth status is to create an unconstitutional minority of second-class citizens. It is long past time for adoptees to be treated as equal in these United States. 

Lawmakers seem to be confusing the right of every adult to his or her own identity with the rights of another adult to confidentiality. This confusion flies in the face of two simple facts. One, women who surrendered a child to adoption were not promised that their name and relationship to said child would never be revealed. And, two, the confidentiality of both parties can be protected without anonymity. Adult adoptees should not be penalized and criminalized simply for wanting the same thing everyone else takes for granted: access to their original birth certificates. 

Adoption reform advocates have long maintained that confidentiality and anonymity are not synonymous. Interestingly, the adoption industry's lobbying organization has even changed their rhetoric once they realized their error. In other states where this matter has been debated, courts have agreed that no confidentiality was ever promised in written form, and if promised verbally, was not enforceable. 

There is no guarantee that a child relinquished for adoption will successfully BE adopted. If not, the child continues through life with the name they were given at birth and their original birth certificate is never sealed. And, if an adoption takes place, the mother's name is published in the newspaper and read out in court. Hardly a situation that provides anonymity. Contrary to myth, adoptee access to birth certificates does not reduce adoptions or increase abortions. In states with birth certificate access, abortion rates are actually lower, and mothers feel more comfortable considering adoption with the knowledge that their children, once adults, will have free and unfettered access to their identities. 

The only thing that is worse than the absurd lengths to which state governments will go to maintain the “secrets” of private individuals is the greed with which the state and its designees will try to profit from them. This is particularly true in Illinois, where adoptees must go through the state's ineffective Registry and its accomplice, the expensive and often inaccessible Confidential Intermediary program. In fact, such programs require adult adoptees to contact their birth mothers in order to gain information, whereas access to original birth certificates would provide that information with no intrusion upon the mother at all. 

Identity is identity, whether you are adopted or not. We call upon Illinois legislators to stand up for equal treatment under the law for all its citizens regardless of adoptive status, and to join with us in seeking to defeat HB 5428, the latest in a series of proposed laws that seeks to enhance the profits of the adoption industry at the expense of individual adoptees. 

Further, we ask for sponsors of new, clean legislation that would restore the civil rights of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates: “Upon receipt of a written application to the state registrar, any adopted person 21 years of age and older born in the state of Illinois shall be issued a certified copy of his/her unaltered, original and unamended certificate of birth in the custody of the state registrar, with procedures, filing fees, and waiting periods identical to those imposed upon non-adopted citizens of the State of Illinois. Contains no exceptions.”"

If you disagree with the bill, please visit the site and vote NO. 

At first, I thought it right to vote no. Here's what I wrote to Senator Hultgren
Dear Senator Hultgren,  
I'm concerned with the new HB 5428 which puts additional barriers to adoptees accessing their original birth certificates, which is a basic civil right. It privileges one person's perceived rights over another's. In my personal situation in Illinois, the adoption agency (buttressed by the state's sealing of my birth certificate) concealed my racial background from myself and my parents, which caused a lot of grief as I grew up. They were also unhelpful in helping me recover simple information about my birth origins (info which, due to medical conditions of both my birth parents, was vital for me to know).  

Let me dispute a common misperception: It's not about reunions. It's about rights. It's about information. It's about transparency. It's about making adoption a better, more healthy practice.  

I do hope you will, with compassion, consider turning down this bill.  


Liberty Hultberg, Illinois native, born 1981 as Emily Hackett, adopted 1982

Novelist Heidi Durrow in Pittsburgh

Heidi Durrow is finally here! I'm so excited to host her visit with Pitt's English department. For locals: She'll be reading from her new novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, tomorrow night at 7:30 PM in Cathedral room 501 on campus.

This book, which won the Bellwether Prize for best novel addressing issues of social justice, is about a biracial girl who is separated from her parents (hello adoption story?) She moves in with her grandmother, who has very strict ideas about race, as do her new peers. The book sheds light on modern multicultural issues in a delightful fiction story. It might even remind you of Toni Morrison's Bluest Eye. But it's also about family and loss, which speaks to adoption and kinship care, and how race can complicate shifts in family and environment.

You might remember my review of her book in this previous post, or my review on Hot Metal Bridge. The New York Times did one, too. And USA Today. She's hot stuff these days--you've gotta check out this book!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mother Sends Adopted Son Back to Russia

"Adoption is not rental," Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, told ABC news this morning.

Torry Hansen, 26-year-old single mother of Shelbyville, Tennessee, put her 7-year-old adopted son Artyem on a plane--by himself--back to Russia with a note saying "I no longer wish to parent this child." She says Russian orphanage officials misled her about Artyem's behavioral and emotional condition, that she was not prepared for his mental instability and violent behavior. After six months she was fed up and shipped the kid back like he were a dog that could be returned to the pound.

It is disgraceful how information was handled--it's the adoption agency's responsibility not only to screen parents but to prepare them for the challenges of adopting, especially a child that has been institutionalized. But here again we see an attitude of entitlement, of a parent not treating an adoptive child as truly their own. There will always be unexpected challenges with any child, biological or not. Would you just one day look at your biological child and say, well, I don't feel like dealing with this tantrum stage anymore, and since it's all about me and you're lucky to have a parent in the first place, I'll go ahead and dump you off somewhere. Absolutely not.

When you adopt a child who has spent several years abandoned by his/her parents and living in an unstable, institutionalized environment, of course the child will have baggage! Does that mean the child is any less deserving of love? Do we really only love in order to get it back? If we do, then that is not true love. That's not even a relationship. It's simply a self-serving transaction which unfortunately involves another person. To love is to serve. To love is unconditional.

This American Life did a show called Unconditional Love, and told the story of a couple who adopted a child from a Russian orphanage who, like Artyem, had severe attachment issues and at one point displayed violent behavior. They spent years going to therapy with him, instituted several practices in their home designed to help their child deal with the trauma of his past. The mother took time off from her job. They stuck with him, to the commitment they had made when they took this child as their own, even when it was tough, even though it put a strain on their marriage, and even though their son continued to act out. When the interviewer asks the mother how she could love and put up with a child so volatile and unloving, the mother seems almost irritated with the question and says something like this:
"You just do. I mean, he's my son. What was I supposed to do? He's my son. Of course I love him."

THAT is unconditional love. It's not dependent on the child's actions or what percentage of the time the child makes the parents feel good about themselves. And guess what happens in this story? I challenge you to listen to it without crying, without being blown away by the power of true love.

The Russian government is upset with the Hansen case and has called a halt to all international adoptions for the time being. I have to agree with them on this. Who will stand up for this child? Poor Artyem is going to have even more hurts to deal with now. What this woman who calls herself a mother did was completely disrespectful. If she wanted a flawless, mild-mannered child that loved her perfectly and immediately in the way she envisioned, she should have instead gotten a mirror. Or a puppy. She should not have adopted a child.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Birthing Project USA

Recently I happened upon this super cool organization called Birthing Project USA. "The Underground Railroad for New Life." It's mission is to encourage better birth outcomes in the African-American community. To support mothers and soon-to-be-mothers (teen mothers in particular, it looks like). Did you know that African American mothers are twice as likely as non-African American mothers to lose a baby in infancy? No one is exactly sure why, but it's speculated that it's at least partly due to the fact that "African Americans, more than any other group, have a significant amount of accumulated life-long stress, which impacts their general health and that of their babies." (First 5la)

The factors that cause this stress, I would be willing to bet, are also linked to the reasons so many African American children later end up living in foster care instead of in their biological family homes. I'm amazed with the courage of people like Trisha (see my previous post), who are struggling under an inept welfare system in this economy and yet still manage to provide for their kids.

It seems to me that small non-profit organizations like Birthing Project have a better impact overall than large federal programs like welfare. They are more individual. Maybe we're afraid that if welfare goes way, those programs won't have the resources that big tax-funded federal programs will, and therefore some people will fall through the cracks. But don't they anyway?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


My roommate Adri saw a Project Runway model who had hair just like mine done up in a sweet-looking mohawk style that--because of its texture--was appropriately deemed a 'fro hawk. (notice on the Web site how they misplaced the apostrophe, don't they know know "fro" is short for "afro"?)

We decided we had to try it. We found directions on how to use Garnier Fructis products to fashion the hair in this style, mixing the "super stiff gel" with "fiber gum putty" to create an incredible cement-like paste. Adri went to work smoothing the sides of my hair with the crazy paste and using dozens of bobby pins to hold it up into a bonafide frohawk. Seems like it would've worked better if my hair were dirtier--instructions said to wash it before styling, but, as I suspected, my post-wash hair was a bit on the soft end and therefore not as likely to "stick." Plus the front was so long that it flopped down to my nose--not neatly above my eyes like the model's. Adri improvised with a bouffant style instead. It worked! In our opinion anyway.

Here's the end result. 

As the day went on, my hair settled into the style, as the curls shrank up and frizzed into place. Several people throughout the day told me I looked "punk," which is something I've never heard before. I've been accused of being "girly" or "smart" in my style, but never punk. (I think the shades did it.) 
Check out Adri's Youtube video of it all below.