Sealed With a Law

Longing to feel authentic when state records are sealed.

Rebecca Tillou April 21, 2014
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I was adopted from New Jersey, which, like many other states, has sealed records for adoptees with closed adoptions. Year by year, states are starting to open records for adoptees. Every year, I search New Jersey papers online hoping to glimpse, “Adoptee Records to be Unsealed for New Jersey Adoptees.”

This topic of sealed records is a hot one in the world of adoption. I have always thought the sealing of adoptees’ records was ridiculous. Nobody has a right to do such a thing! I remember back in college, when I turned 21, I went out to a bar. I had an out-of-state license and the bouncer didn’t believe it was legit. I knew he would have an issue, so I brought along my birth certificate. I gave it to him and told him, “Well, I know you think my license is fake, and this isn’t real either, but it is all the proof I have.” The bouncer looked at me like I was crazy and wouldn’t let me in because of my license. Never mind the “amended birth certificate” New Jersey gave my parents when I became a part of their family.

It was in that moment that my true feelings about my identity were disclosed. I didn’t feel authentic. My adoptive family is incredible and I feel 100% a part of them and their traditions. I am not made from their genes though. I don’t look like them. My quirks are not their quirks.  I remember thinking, “If they would only unseal my records, then I would feel authentic. I would have a last name to put to the genes within me.”

Everyone has a right to their identity. To who they are, inside and out. New Jersey–and many other states–takes that right away from adoptees. My parents were given a single sheet of paper about the hair and eye color of my birth mom; her height, weight, and her hobbies. The infamous sheet of non-identifying information. That sheet is nice, but the descriptions could be about any woman! It’s very general. No specifics allowed. Not authentic.

Below is a letter I wrote to the New Jersey governor, summing up my feelings on sealed records:

Dear Governor:

I am aware of your concerns for the increase in abortions and the well-being of the birth parent(s). In reality, more birth parents want to be found then don’t. Most desire to search for their children, but don’t know how to go about doing it. Perhaps they don’t think they have the right to search, because they made the decision to give their child up.

I have read many books on adoption, and read many interviews with birth parents. Yes, there are a few who choose to be left alone. They don’t want to be reminded of that day that they gave their child up. However, there are many more who think about their child every day, and hope one day they will be found. If you talk to birth parents, many will tell you, “I wish they would look for me,” or, “I want to find them, but what right do I have to do that? I chose to give them up. I relinquished my right to be a part of their life.” It isn’t that birth parents don’t want to be found. It is that they are scared of rejection. Adoptees are too.

Yes,  I have located my birth family. That doesn’t change my wish for the unsealing of records for adoptees who are hoping and waiting to feel authentic.

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Rebecca Tillou

Rebecca was adopted as an infant. She found her birth family in May of 2013 and continues to keep in touch with them. Sadly, her birth mother passed away in 1999. She and her husband live in New York and are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Dominic and Nicolas. They also have a German Shepherd mix named Chester. She was recently diagnosed with FASD at 34 years of age. She is currently working with and to get the word out that there is hope, and that you are never too old to better yourself.

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