How a few pieces of paper can mean so much.

For most of my life, the only connection I had to my birth family was a few pieces of paper my adoptive parents claimed to have never seen.

I had a relatively normal childhood. After my parents divorced at the beginning of middle school, my mom had something similar to a nervous breakdown. I was saddled with raising my toddler sister for a few years, after which I became a very rebellious teenager. On a whim my mom moved us from North Carolina to Colorado. During an argument with my mother she basically disowned me. She threw a bunch of paperwork at me. It was my amended birth certificate and such. In my anger, I snatched up the papers, put them in my bag, and stormed out of the hotel room.

I caught a Greyhound bus back to North Carolina. On the 36-hour ride back, I went through the bundle of documents I had been given. I found all these things I had never seen before. I found my adoption papers and my non-identifying information. Non-identifying info is a vague description of one’s biological family. The letter included a half-sister who is four years older than me and that there were no known illnesses at the time of my birth. I found it quite shocking that I has not been made aware of them earlier, especially since I had always expressed a strong desire to know my medical history. Months later I confronted my parents with my adoption documents. They both looked at me like I had three heads. They both denied they had ever seen any of it before.

From that moment on the bus I knew those papers were the only thing still tying me to those who shared my blood. Until I had kids, I protected them above all else. If I moved, they rode in the car with me, not in the moving truck. I knew that the answers to the questions I’d had my whole life were locked away on that dried ink. To this day I still keep them with my most valuable possessions even though they lost their mystique the day I met my birth mother.

Non-Adoptees don’t understand because they have their documents. To get new ones they don’t have to jump through hoops like adoptees, only visit a clerk. And don’t get me started on original birth certificates. People who were not adopted take for granted their right to an original legal birth document. They can just drive to the health department and pick one up. Few states allow adoptees to access theirs at all. Adoptees are fighting every day to change laws to give them that basic right.

The value of medical history.

One of the major concerns for adoptees is their lack of medical history. When I was born in 1982, it was considered reasonable to list “no known medical illnesses” when a lack of genetic illnesses is present at the time. I have seen a change in the impact of that during my lifetime. In the current state of our society, not having medical information can be downright scary. There are new illnesses popping up all the time. The good news is that medical advancements are emphasizing early detection. Unfortunately, adoptees aren’t in as great of a position to benefit from that as non-adoptees. Our medical histories build atop themselves. Many adoptees are ignored or misdiagnosed when they lack the medical history that others are privy to.

When non-adoptees go to the doctor as a child, their parents provide the doctor with their medical histories as well as that of their parents. That information builds a platform. It gives clues and keys so if a medical problem arises there can be quicker diagnoses and treatment. I have a friend who was able to diagnose a minor medical condition based on an initial brief conversation with her birth father.

The fact is there are many things that people who aren’t adopted don’t understand. I think that some people are trying to understand, but it’s very much a case of not understanding unless you have walked in someone’s shoes. Some changes in laws can help these things, but some crosses are just the adoptee’s to bear.

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