My friends and in-laws were intrigued when I told them I was adopted. Among the questions they asked: “What are you going to do to find your parents?” “Aren’t there adoption records on file? and “Don’t you think someone in your family knows something?”
I had no answers. I didn’t have a shred of documentation when I first learned I was adopted in 2000. Everythng I knew was based on a conversation with my sister and my godparents’ daughter. The three of us were adopted around the same time but unlike my parents, my godparents informed their daughter she was adopted. They also filled her in on my adoption and my sister’s adoption and she passed that information on to us. Some people (non-adopted of course) thought I should jump on this mystery and solve it pronto but the thought of digging deeper, possibly turning up painful facts, was too daunting. A little voice inside me said, “Lynne, you don’t want to go there.” I was afraid. Finding out my parents weren’t my birth parents was mind blowing enough. I was working full time for a weekly trade magazine and raising a family in New York City so I just kept doing what I was doing. I didn’t dwell on the past.
But the past has a way of intruding into the present. Last year, at the urging of my curious husband, Tom, I obtained a copy of my original birth certificate from the state of Illinois. I was able to get this document after a new state law went into effect, permitting people adopted in the state to obtain their original birth certificates through the Illinois Department of Public Health. It took a couple of months but then one day the mail brought a thin business sized envelope addressed to me from the state of Illinois. My hands were shaking and I swallowed hard as I opened the envelope. The birth certificate provided my birth mother’s name, her address, her place of birth and her age at the time she had me. She was 28, which I found surprising. The birth certificate listed her maiden name and married name but I have to wonder if she was really married. She has beautiful handwriting, based on her signature, but that’s all I know about her beyond the bare facts. My father is “not legally known.”
After spending several hours poring over sites like ancestry.com, Tom and I got tired of looking for my birth mother’s whereabouts. Tom thinks I should travel to southern Indiana to look for my birth mother but I’m on the fence. Again, I fear what I might discover.
Reading about the Baby Scoop Era only reinforces my qualms. The Baby Scoop Era refers to a period between 1945 and 1972, when American adoptions of newborn infants soared to an estimated 4 million infants. Born in the 1960s, I could be a Baby Scoop baby. These women gave birth to babies and surrendered them for adoption, often under pressure from social workers who believed the women would be unfit mothers. In those days, unmarried women were sent out of town by their families to have their babies in secret at maternity homes. The Baby Scoop Era Research Initiative cast a spotlight on these dubious adoption practices that left many birth mother scarred for life. The experts estimate women surrendered as many as two million infants during the 1960s alone. Times have changed. Just 14,000 infants were given up for adoption in 2003, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.