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From the Archives: What the New Ohio Adoptee Law Means to Me

March 20, 2020, marks the 5th Anniversary of the implementation of the Ohio Access to Records Law. Adoption Network Cleveland will be holding the Journeys of Discovery Conference in March, in part to celebrate and acknowledge this tremendous milestone. More than 14,000 adult adoptees have accessed their original birth certificates so far in the last five years, removing the shroud of secrecy around adoption and reuniting family members. To kick off 2020, we are sharing this blog from the archives from nine adoptees who shared what the new Ohio Adoptee Law meant to them just days before "Opening Day."

Molly Abbott, Hamilton, Ohio

I was adopted in 1979 by a couple of wonderful individuals. Those 2 people, my adoptive parents, have shaped the person I have become today. Their kindness and generosity towards others have allowed me to be able to share these same values with my own children. I start off by mentioning my parents because I feel the need to let you know that this piece of paper won’t change my relationship with them and it won’t magically change me either, but what it will do is fill a void that has been there all of my life.

Adoption plays a gigantic role in my life. I’m adopted, my brother is adopted, my eldest son was adopted by my husband, and my middle son is also adopted. Needless to say, adoption is a part of my soul. Because both my middle son and I were adopted in different eras, I have had the privilege of seeing both sides of the adoption spectrum; closed records and open records. I have experienced, as a young child, asking my adoptive parents where I came from, what my history is, what is my past, who am I? And them, broken-hearted, not being able to answer any of those questions for me. My adoptive parents had and continue to have the same yearning as I do, to know who and where I came from.

Fast-forward to 2011 to the adoption experience of my middle son, of which we have a completely open adoption. We have a relationship with his birth mother. We know her history, both medically and chronologically. We are able to share this with him now and when the time comes when he starts asking the same questions I asked as a young girl, but now we'll have answers. The transformation adoption has taken is absolutely wonderful.  

So you see, this isn't just a law that gives me a piece of paper. It is knowledge. It’s answers to questions that have never been answered. It’s power. It’s history. It is MY history.

Greg Burnham, Tampa, Florida (born in Toledo, Ohio)

What does the new law mean to me?  In one word it means answers.  Not the “Why was I given up for adoption” or “How could someone make that decision” but it would be the answer to the question “Who am I really?”  Most people can look at a family photo and see some resemblance to one parent or another.  They know their family medical history and ancestry.  They know which family member served in the Armed Forces and who worked in the factory.  Those are questions that I have no answers.  Yes, I was lucky to have been adopted by a great family in Ohio in 1970.  Yes, I have no regrets with the way my life played out in regards to being adopted; however, there has always been that nagging question in the back of my mind about who I really am.

I have been interviewed by the Toledo Blade about the adoption laws changing and this led to an on-air piece in Tampa, Florida, where I currently reside.  The coverage led to some interesting email exchanges from Ohio residents who felt I may be related.  I had one person send photographs and some information but since the laws in place restrict birthparent information from being disclosed it has just been a waiting game.

I am looking forward to those answers.  I know the reason for being put up for adoption and I know how someone could come to that decision.  It is finally being able to put a name to a birth that I am interested in.

Tom Dent, Lakewood, Ohio

March 20, 2015, is a special day for me on several fronts. Like the opening day of a sports season, it marks the beginning of something new, without forgetting what came before. I’m blessed that I will join 400,000 other adult adoptees in now being able to obtain my original birth certificate. So what makes it special?

As a board member for Adoption Network Cleveland, I’m thrilled for Betsie and the staff. She has worked tirelessly for this change for more than two decades. It was a great public policy victory for ANC and for all Ohioans. Given the ironies of Betsie’s personal story, it’s only fitting that she would be the catalyst for successfully changing the law. We also owe much gratitude to the bill’s four sponsors in the General Assembly for their steadfast support throughout the legislative process, and to governor Kasich for signing it into law.

As an adoptee, I’m thankful that I will benefit personally from finally having access to my original birth certificate. Although I was reunited with my birth father and four full birth sisters in 2011, it’s still an important artifact in my own personal history. In many ways, it will complete the search process and allow me to say I am fully and forever in reunion.

Perhaps most of all, I am excited that my sister will now have access to a critical piece of the puzzle in her search efforts. Growing up, we never talked much about looking for our birth families. Despite always knowing we were adopted, we had two parents who loved us very much and gave us a great life, so it never seemed important. Well, life changes you. As adults, and then as parents, we both began to see the meaning behind knowing more about this aspect of our pasts. I am fortunate to enjoy the benefits of a successful reunion and I hope very much that this “simple piece of paper” will help her do the same.

Heather Frick, Lansing, Michigan (born in Columbus, Ohio)

The new adoption law means I finally have a voice and a choice.  The State has lifted restrictions on my access to records. My biological family and medical history were nonexistent in any of my adoption paperwork.  For 35 years, when posed with the question about my medical history, I responded, “I am adopted.”  This has led to doctors blankly staring as to how to address my medical needs. Indicating “nonexistent” is an incomplete answer to check on a medical questionnaire.  The answer is unknown, but soon my answer may change. 

This new law gives me the right to access.  Birth records are not a piece of paper in a file.  They are an intimate, personal matter that the State has now granted me the right to know the circumstances of my birth. 

I have accomplished much in my life and being adopted is a huge part of my identity and a part I would never opt to change.  One individual made a choice for me to live and as a result, my parents chose to adopt me.  The State has now given me, the adoptee, the power of making a choice. 

Now I will choose to obtain my adoption records.  No longer will the history of my birth be a secret.  Adoption is not a secret.  Adoption is a blessing filled with people that made choices out of love with the child’s best interest in mind. 

Finally, the State of Ohio is willing to debunk the secrecy.  I have a right to the history of my birth and genealogy.  For me, the information I hold could also be beneficial to someone else.  I have a congenital kidney defect and any medical information is beneficial to my health.  By obtaining my records, one day my medical history will not be left blank and I will know more about the risk of certain health concerns that I can pass on to future generations. 

More importantly, my family and I can finally say thank you to a woman who made one very big choice.

Greg Miller, Minneapolis, Minnesota (born in Dayton, Ohio)

The change of this law is great for me. After so many years of waking up, looking into the mirror and wondering who, when, why, I feel I can move on. I do not have to blame the government for the law which plays a large part in my not knowing my birth parents or even knowing their names. It has been a long 38 years of being a stranger to myself. Only in the last ten years have I been comfortable with not knowing where I come from. Having my two daughters has made me feel like it is okay not to know my birth relatives because I have them. My two daughters are the first blood relative I have ever met. Yet, when I look into their eyes, I still feel like something is missing, I wonder if those eyes are my mom’s eyes or my dad’s eyes. I wonder if either of my birth parents are still alive, which is also really hard to think about because both of my adoptive parents have passed away and they were so dear to me. I hope and I pray daily that my birth parents are still alive just so I can see them. I cannot imagine having a relationship with either of them. For all I know they could be married and looking for me. I guess the possibilities are endless. I am so grateful for this new law and I am really looking forward to the future and having the opportunity to search for my blood relatives.

Kelly Possedi, Plainfield, Illinois (born in Cincinnati, Ohio)

I was adopted at birth in 1973 and thru the years I have thought about and even tried unsuccessfully to obtain information about my biological parents. In 2013 I was diagnosed at age 40 with stage 3 colorectal cancer and one of the first questions every doctor who saw me asked was “Do you have a family history of colon cancer?”.  I had to tell them all that I was adopted and I have no medical history at all. This was very concerning for them since I was younger than most people when I was diagnosed and as they worked on my treatment program that included surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation I kept having to answer that dreaded question. My answer was always met with a look of disbelief and a head shake.  Thankfully my children have advanced warning and will be able to have early screenings but this got me thinking. What if I have siblings that could be warned, What about my biological parents, did either of them suffer the same illness?  Thankfully I am in remission and have a good prognosis, but what about the others out there who could be helped with their biological family’s medical history. To me, the new law means that I and other fellow adoptees will finally be able to have access to information that can be life-saving.

Rebecca Parks, Wickliffe, Ohio
In the ’70s, when transracial adoption was not the norm, I would become the only African American raised by a Caucasian family in Kirtland, Ohio for the next 18 years. I became the youngest member of a very loving and unconventional family but found myself incessantly searching to determine who I really was and who I was connected to. I was taught to be accepting of others growing up and to always be genuine and forthcoming with my feelings. The Ohio Substitute Senate Bill 23 means vindication for me; it means access to medical history and an unclouded glimpse into my existence. I have successfully acquired a great deal of information on my own, but I demand more. I want to connect the dots and deserve the opportunity to do so. I would like to clearly define those aspects of my birth and adoption, that were not able to be identified until now. I know who I am, but have the compelling desire to find out exactly who that is. I am not always sure if my adoptive family fully understands my determined curiosity, and need for answers, and I often struggle with those feelings of guilt, hopefully, they will continue to support my decisions nevertheless. I am truly looking forward to having unrestricted access to the nonfiction version of my life.

Paul Soos, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (born in Cleveland, Ohio)

I'm very excited about the new law! I think it is a wonderful thing that adoptees will be able to access their true birth certificate. I can recall a number of times where I was asked to provide a birth certificate and the one that I was able to provide was questioned because it did not look like all of the other ones.

I also believe that it will help to close a gap of the unknown for adoptees who have not yet searched for, or who have searched for but have not found their birth parents. While I was fortunate enough to connect with my birth mother last year, I know that there are many out there who have not been able to do so. Some have only thought about it, and others have begun to search, but without a place to start, which a birth certificate would provide, it seems like a daunting task.

I am also interested in requesting my late brother’s birth certificate. He passed away about a year ago. It is unfortunate that he was able to not get this information while he was living, but hopefully, this is something that I can do in his memory.

While it is a shame that so many of us adopted during the closed period have not had access to this information for so long, it is wonderful that Betsie Norris, as well as many others, have taken it upon themselves to right this wrong.

While my adoptive parents are wonderful, and I have already met my birth mother, I am really looking forward to finally having my real birth certificate!

Lynne Wyse, Westerville, Ohio

Many friends don’t know that I’m adopted. A family secret, even I didn’t know for years. I was incredibly excited the first time I saw my birth certificate. I was about 8 years old and I could read my birth name and that of my parents on the powder blue document. It was among the precious documents my mother kept hidden away for safekeeping. I cherished it and the words inscribed with the beginnings of my life. It was a typical warm, sunny day when I learned I was adopted. I’d been outside racing across the asphalt and playing red light/green light friends when mom called me inside. I thought she wanted me to change the tv channel or to get her purse upstairs, a typical request. Instead, she told me I was adopted. I sat there wide-eyed and unsure of what to do with the information. She said I was special and they’d “chosen” me. I went back outside to play, giving very little thought to this revelation. But later, it became an issue over which I pondered a great deal as a pre-teen and even into adulthood. It hit especially hard when I realized that my entire birth certificate was a lie, including my given name. It meant that I didn’t have a branch on the family tree I’d long celebrated. Grandma was not my grandmother and I didn’t come from a long line of tailors or farmers. It became a symbol of my lost identity. Soon, even though I have since reunited with my birth family, my birth certificate will become the most precious thing I own. Why? Because it will be the first documented truth about me and my origins that I’ve seen my entire life.  Birth certificates with factual information are taken for granted by those unaffected by the adoption system. The new law means that on my birthday, March 20th, (and some decades after my birth), I will legally have permission to possess my truth just like every other citizen of the United States of America. For that, I am thankful.

Are you an adult adoptee who has accessed your original birth certificate since 2015? Share your story with us! Contact Tammy Willet, Director of Development & Communications at (216) 482-2319 or tammy.willet@adoptionnetwork.org

Are you an adult adoptee, birthparent or birth sibling interested in searching for birth family? Please visit our website to learn about our Search Assistance program or contact Traci Onders, Search Specialist and Program Coordinator, Adult Adoptees and Birthparents at (216) 482-2323 or traci.onders@adoptionnetwork.org.