An original birth certificate is about truth: nothing more, nothing less.
Truth for adoptees can get complicated. We are born, and our births are recorded like many others: place of birth, time of birth, parent names, often our own original names. Things change months or years later, when we are adopted. That first birth record—on file and still containing all of our information and truth—is replaced by a second birth certificate. Our names are changed, our truth is amended, our birth parents’ names are replaced by those of our adoptive parents. We are, literally in the legal sense, reborn to those adoptive parents, who are listed as if we were born to them.
All of this was done years ago as a way to suppress the truth and promote a very specific fiction: that we were born “legitimately” to adoptive parents. For these reasons our first birth certificate is placed under seal and made unavailable, even decades later, even when you become a grandmother. And that first record, the original birth certificate, remains unchanged. It is what we call the OBC.
The OBC is our history. It is ours to possess, without restriction.
Get Informed and Step Up
Get informed about who holds the truth in your own state. This summary of the laws of all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, includes specific information about access to OBCs. I also highlight the barriers most states have constructed to deny or limit adult adoptees to their own truths, including disclosure vetoes, complex registries, mandatory counseling, or redaction.
Understand the difference between a birth record and an adoption record. A birth record is a vital record. It is sealed only when an adoption becomes final (and unsealed if an adoption fails). So, while created as a result of adoption, the original birth certificate is never about adoption. It is always about birth. It is always your own vital record. Unchanged.
Step up for adoptee rights and keep up to date on legislation related to original birth certificates. State-based coalitions, like the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition and the Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition, are collaborative efforts of state and national groups committed to the unrestricted right to obtain our own original birth certificates. Local groups in many states are also advocating on the ground for changes in state laws. Contact these groups to understand what you can do and how you can advocate for change. And, if you are not an adoptee, be supportive of what we are trying to do and understand why what we are doing is so important.
Finally, watch for issues that may lead to legal challenges. If you are denied access to an original birth certificate, let me know. If you have gone to court to get one, let me know—copies of court orders may help me understand local issues and to develop legal strategies to challenge laws that are unjust. While I am working to build a network of pro bono or low-cost attorneys who can advocate in court for access to OBCs, it will take time, coordination, and effort. But it may be an important next step to secure adoptee rights.