The two went to lunch after the 2012 hearing. On Tuesday, the compromise measure they crafted takes effect.
For the first time, many adoptees in the state of Washington will be able to see the name of their birth parent. Nearly 500 people have already alerted the state’s Department of Health they would like their birth certificate and officials are expecting more once the measure takes effect.
Most adopted people in the state have different versions of their birth documents. The first is their original certificate, listing their birth parents, which is often sealed. The second is their amended certificate, showing whatever the judge ordered, perhaps including adoptive parents, foster parents and maybe even a different name for the child.
Starting Tuesday, the law allows those adopted on or before Oct. 1, 1993, to access the original version of their birth certificates, unless a parent has filed a form denying access. Even if the parent indicates he or she does not want their name known, medical history will be released. Previously, adoptees could ask the court to appoint a confidential intermediary to search for the biological parent. But the process could be cost-prohibitive for some.
For those born after Oct. 1, 1993, the process generally has not been as difficult.
Donna “Marie” Bruin has a photo on her desk at work. It’s a shot of her as a little girl, with her adoptive father.
“I always thought it was a picture that would help ground me — that’s your beginning and where you go from,” she said. “And for some reason it reminds you more of being lost than belonging.”
Bruin was born at Vancouver Memorial Hospital. For most of the 54-year-old’s life she’s weaved together a narrative of her birth parents and their story, based on tidbits of information she managed to gather over the years.
Bruin believes she was born out of a brief affair at a time when mixed-race relationships were frowned upon. Her mother, who’s 5 foot 3 inches tall with red hair and blue eyes, left home to hide her pregnancy. But when one of her other children fell ill, she risked pariah status and returned home to care for the child, Bruin believes.
Only a loving mother would do that, right?
“I think she did what she did for my benefit, so I didn’t have to live a life where people are whispering,” Bruin said.
She wonders if her father, an African-American man in the military, knows of her existence. And of her four older half-brothers, she would hope “having a sister of multiple ethnicities isn’t as hush-hush, taboo or horrible as our generation or the generation before us thought it was.”
“Certainly, I can tell you this: There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my daughter and … wish the very best for her,” Rivers said.
Both lawmakers called it the most personal measure they have worked on.
Because birth parents can still block their children from accessing their birth certificates, Penni Johnson said the legislation was disappointing.
“Someone I don’t know having the right to deny me access to my own birth certificate is ludicrous,” said Johnson, who started the group Wa-Care, Washington Coalition for Adoptee Rights and Equality.
Johnson will continue to lobby that all birth certificates be available for adoptees without restrictions. She noted that she can’t stop her children from accessing their birth certificates, but someone who “signed us away 40 or 50 years ago has a special privilege denying a document” that belongs to her and could help shed light on where she belongs.
She’s already found her birth mom and sisters, but still, “it’s about my beginnings of life,” she said. “Adoptees are the only citizens in this country not allowed to have their birth certificate.”
For more information about the new law, visit: <a href="http://www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsand">www.doh.wa.gov/LicensesPermitsand</a> Certificates/BirthDeath MarriageandDivorce/Adoptions/Adoption LawSHB1525.aspx
Rivers said although she’s pleased with the final product, she knows there are people on both sides who are unhappy. “Information is power,” Rivers said. “We tried to strike a balance and I’m sure we didn’t reach perfection, but we made a good start.”