Joyce Maguire Pavao asked me for any writings I have on opening closed records for the Original Birth Certificates MA posting.
I don’t have any.
What I do have is a birth certificate that says I was born on December 10, 1964, in Manhattan, New York, and that Margery and Frank Heffron are my mother and father. They officially became my parents, I think, some time in February, 1965, but my birth certificate doesn’t care about details. My birth certificate doesn’t care about the importance of DNA or truth. My birth certificate tells me I live in a world where my truth belongs to others.
My brain is like a funnel. Let me give you an example: last night I was getting out of bed in a home that isn’t mine, and I caught a glimpse of my bare feet in the closet mirror. I was disoriented, surprised to see my reflection. I looked at my feet, bony and long and tan and I wondered where they came from—I remembered my mom and dad’s feet, thinner, paler, longer toed than mine. I have never seen my birth mother or birth father in person so I have no idea what their feet look like. Am I an anomaly or am I physically cut from the same cloth as another person on the planet? Does it even matter?
It doesn’t matter to the people who don’t want me to have my birth certificate, and here’s where the funnel comes in: I go from the openness of observation to a narrowing of judgement to a final decision: if the world doesn’t think I rank knowing the identity of my birth parents why should I demand more than I am offered? Who am I to have unreasonable needs? to the tightening squeeze of the funnel: Who am I? And to the final drip of funneled thought: I’m invisible--worse than invisible because people see who they think I am but that is not me ( I don’t even know who me is!)
So if the realness of my identity doesn’t matter to you, then it doesn’t matter to me, either. Who am I to fight against the world? Do you see how the funnel brain could lead to problems such as adoptee suicide? If you feel you don’t exist, you might as well go along with the game and disappear.
If I can’t have my original birth certificate, I can at least play with what’s in my range of power. I had one name when I was adopted (and I know this because it was mistakenly left on a legal paper—in the wild world of XXXXXXX the typist missed my original name!) and when my parents adopted me, they gave me a name they liked better. I could change my name if I wanted, but I don’t. I’ve been married twice and so have gone down the name changing road, and it is a logistical pain in the neck. So, for me, it’s not about the name, it’s about my circumstances.
I am adopted, and at 52, I still have no real sense of who I am. It took me thirty years to find the language and to work up the courage (desperation) to write about the pain living as an adopted person in a world that told me I was lucky, and I heard from so many people, both adopted and not, that my struggles were also theirs. I felt validated. I was not alone. I was not crazy. I was adopted.
I also felt validated by the one-star review I recently got on Amazon:
I thought about adoption. After reading this book, I am glad I did not go that route. I keep seeing that everyone who has been adopted should read this book. I would note that everyone who thinks adoption might be a good way to reduce the number of children in foster or state care would be a good move should also read this book. The author is convinced that every little problem in life goes back to her being adopted and having separation anxiety. It made her drop out of colleges, move off, fail to succeed in marriage, and to steal money from her adopted mom in order to move out to California. Anne dreams of being a writer, but she has NOTHING to write about. Her whole world is wrapped up in her adoption obsession. So, her biological mom and adopter mom die, and she can finally be herself and complain about all the people in her life. Nothing works out, because she was adopted, and it took a few weeks. Her life was shattered due to that. Never mind kids in countries torn by war who are lucky to find anyone to live with. Least you think it was not finding her birth mom that ruined her life, no . . . she hunted her down even though it was a closed adoption. The birth mom did not want a relationship or even to meet, since she signed up for a closed adoption. Her husband did not even know about Anne. You might (or might not) think the birth mother had a right to her anonymity. During the time period, closed adoptions were just that. The birth mother was not part of the new open door kick. Anne seems to be one angry woman. She even complains that she married a Japanese man, and people ask her about her own adoption of this child who does not look like mom. Anne resented that she did not look like her family. Now, in a reverse, she is annoyed that her own birth child does not look like her. And, she resented the adoptive mom for wanting Anne to like books and read and go to the mother's alma mater. The book is very repetitious. She tells rather than showing. I get no sense of caring or respect toward anyone from Anne. She is too busy thinking of more ways being adopted and given many life perks was a horrible, no-good, very bad thing.
This review is part of what it is like to be adopted. You put your heartbreak on the table and you are met with radical misunderstanding: Why are you sad? You have parents who love you. Friends. Everything a person could want…
You feel so ashamed and frustrated that you become quiet, and you slowly die in the effort of fitting in to this world in which you were placed. What do you need? You need a sense of I and a community of people that mirrors that sense to you.
That word reminds me of a food I don’t know whether I hate or love, like liver, or this truffle popcorn I’ve had twice in a bar. Both are either delicious or disgusting and I can’t tell which is true, and so I go back, occasionally, and test them.
Part of the problem with the word adoption is the second syllable, the O. It’s like I’m gagging and I still have more word to say. The O is like a big zero, not the best number for someone who already struggles with identity issues.
Then there is the reaction to the word. I’d titled my memoir You Don’t Look Adopted after a story a friend told me about going to the doctor and, after telling the nurse she didn’t know her medical history because she was adopted, the nurse said…(you can guess). Telling someone you are like adopted is like trying to pay in pesos for something in France. Often there is a sense of a stalled trade. It’s often a bump in the road to smooth understanding, true connection, unless, of course, it’s one adopted person talking to another, and then there is peso to peso exchange.
I vote we replace the O with I. Let’s give adopted people a sense of independence, value. Let’s give them identity. I.
I’m adipted. I was adipted. I am an adipted person. Goodbye 0. Hello I.
Keep my paperwork, New York State government, you weirdos. You want something that’s mine, and I don’t understand, but I’m not going to let it ruin my life.
I am going to make this life, as my friend Pam said, a party. I am going to be the party.
So much depends on a letter.
I is not U.
Now tell me to my face why I can’t have my original birth certificate. Hold yours up proudly while you give me this information. I want to see you when you talk. All of you. Go ahead: I’m listening.
Anne Heffron was born in Manhattan in 1964 to a young college student who gave her up for adoption. Fifty-one years later Anne returned to Manhattan to find the roots of her story, the story that began with her birth instead of the story that began "The day we got you." This journey is the subject of "You Don't Look Adopted", an account of the perils and blessings of adoption. Before turning to memoir, Anne co-wrote the film "Phantom Halo" with her writing partner, Antonia Bogdanovich. "Phantom Halo" was first shown at the 2015 Austin Film Festival and won Best Picture at the 2015 New York International Film Festival. She and Antonia currently have a screenplay, "The Rabbit Will Die" in development. When she isn't writing, she's either doing laundry, hiking (which really means just walking on a dusty road), watching her daughter play field hockey, or looking for adventure.
Read Anne Heffron's blog at www.AnneHeffron.com