The Adoption Game Show
That episode where you realise your life is a 'statutory fiction'
If adoption secrecy were a game show, they’d call it, ‘how much do you really want this?’
Because I am adopted, I have no birth story. However, the state holds a large number of files on me. Legal documents, doctors notes, feeding recipes and home visit comments. Through these documents, I could build a picture of what happened to my mother and me.
To play this game, and access those files you need to navigate endless obstacles. You have to engage with and overcome bureaucracy, rudeness, disrespect and callousness. At every turn, the expectation is that you will give up, slink away, swallow your anger and “just get over it.”
In my playing of this game, I’ve spent months on one small detail — my original birth certificate (OBC).
If you are a non-adopted person, your founding document is a straightforward affair. It names your parents, their occupations, your name, date and place of birth.
At the bottom of the certificate, there’s a small box that states:
CAUTION - Any person who falsifies the particulars on this certificate or uses it as true, knowing it to be false, is liable to prosecution under the Crimes Act 1961.
I have one of those birth certificates. It looks exactly like your non-adopted certificate. Except mine falsifies my details. It names the people who adopted me as birth parents. My name is not the one I received at birth.
When it comes to stranger adoption, falsifying details is not a crime.
Rachel from Internal Affairs had the answer. She described my post-adoption birth certificate as “statutory fiction.” She later described it as a “lawful falsehood.”
The 1985 Adult Adoption Information Act was supposed to sort all this. The Act says I have a right to my OBC.
For a couple of years after the Act came into being, adopted people were able to access their OBC. It looked exactly like the post-adoption certificate, except it told the truth.
Then Births, Deaths and Marriages realised there was a loophole in the legislation.
If adopted people had two birth certificates in different names, they could use them to create multiple identities. (oh the irony)
Even though it was already illegal to use any birth certificate to create a new identity, Internal Affairs decided adopted people represented a special risk.
To resolve this, and they began to endorse our OBC’s. They added large stamps with the names and details of our adopters. They added the names our adopters gave us.
Back to Rachel from Internal Affairs. The endorsements are not an issue, she said, because original birth certificates are “essentially ornamental.”
Of course, telling adopted people their authentic identities are ornamental is all part of the game show.
It turns out Births, Deaths and Marriages do not hold a drawer full of birth certificates. When you call up and request a copy, they go into the files and find your source document and birth printout. These two documents contain a wealth of information about you. They use these to create each birth certificate.
For a nominal fee, you can apply for copies of your source document and your birth printout. Unless you are adopted.
Despite the Adult Adoption Information Act, we have no right to these. Until our adopting parents and natural parents are all dead. Or we get a court order. Or we reach 120 years of age. (I am not making this up)
But, to get that court order, an adopted person has only one option. You must prove ‘special grounds’.
Special grounds appears to be a term coined especially for adopted people. There is no definition in law. ‘Special grounds’ is whatever the Judge of the day says it is.
In my case, the Judge requested I provide “all reasons, preferably special ones,” for opening my file. He gave no hint as to what he might consider a special reason.
When you are adopted, everything you were or could have been is locked away. Your history, your culture, your language, your genealogy, your extended family. It is all disappeared.
You’d think they purposely misnamed the Adult Adoption Information Act, just to fool you. Or gaslight you. Because we are still forbidden from accessing everything, except that endorsed not-so-original birth certificate.
While I was successful in convincing a Judge I had special grounds, I am one of a very few. But I still do not have a clean, accurate copy of my birth certificate. I am asking that the law treat me equally with every non-adopted citizen.
Because my life and my authentic identity is not a game show. Why is that so difficult to understand?