I am sitting on top of the world right now. The Utah State legislature is poised to pass a bill next week that will open the adoption records of those adopted prior to 1941. In 1941 the legislators in Utah voted to seal all adoption records for one hundred years. They made the sealing of the records retroactive to all adoptions ever contracted in the state. Next week they will vote to open the records they had retroactively closed because there was no contract or guarantee to the birth parents prior to 1941 that their names would never be disclosed.
My mother was adopted by a loving family in 1938. She had an enriched childhood with wonderful parents. They did all that they could for her. And they had to do a lot. My mother would qualify for special education services if she were a child in today’s schools. She had a severe speech impediment, as well as other learning difficulties. As I got to be an older child and a teenager I realized that she had problems processing language. Every time I said anything to her she would ask me to repeat it. The smarty pants teenager that I was caught on to this, so every time I talked to her I would automatically repeat myself. Then she would ask me to repeat myself again, and I would roll my eyes and say whatever I was saying a third time. Fortunately, I grew up a little and became kind again. I trained myself to be patient with her, and I would help her write letters and I would help her communicate with other people.
She never wanted to know who her birth mother was. She was afraid that it would dishonor her mother and father, and somehow, she would lose her rights as their daughter. My grandmother wasn’t worried about it. She was okay with her meeting her birth mother. But they are gone from this earth now. So I am sitting on this precipice. What could possibly go wrong?
I always knew that I would someday look at the adoption records and that I would make contact with my mother’s natural family. I was under the impression that I would be doing it when I was 78 years old, because that would be 100 years after the adoption.
When you are the child of an adopted parent you really don’t have a lot of answers. Do I have a history of breast cancer in my family? How about a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, genetic anomalies? I can tell you about my dad’s side, so I have half of a medical history. My mother died from complications of osteoporosis. She had the body of a 100 year old woman when she died at age 70. Was that because of lifestyle, or was that an inherited predisposition?
My sister, Deanna Caringella, took a 23 and Me home DNA test around Christmas and she just got her results last week. Her results showed many cousins on the east coast so that got my curiosity up again about my birth grandmother. Why was she in Utah in 1938? Where was her family? What did she do after the birth?
After Deanna told me about her results I put forth another effort. I called the predecessor of the original adoption agency that handled my mother’s case in Utah on 1938. I was able to contact the correct person to help me. He was able to look on his computer and to find the file. He pulled it up and agreed to look for any medical information that he might be able to give me. As he was reading the file he said things like, “Oh, wow! Oh my goodness. Well that was an easy adoption.” I am not sure what he meant by those comments. I am seriously jealous that he could read the file and that I can’t. And, to no one’s surprise, there was no non identifying health information available in the file, not even the height, weight, or hair color of the birth mother. When you think about it, it was 1938. The adoption records were not sealed. There were not extensive medical questioners that the birth parents filled out in preparation for the 100 year dearth of contact or information. The natural parents were young adults and many health problems don’t present themselves until people get older. I learned from the adoption papers that are in my sister’s possession that the natural father signed the adoption papers and that he attorney had to drive to Weber County from Salt Lake to get the notarized signature of the birth mother. The cost of that errand was and additional ten dollars tacked on to the price of the adoption.
There was only one little glimmer of hope from the conversation. The worker at the adoption agency told me about a bill in the Utah legislature. He didn’t hold out much hope for it. So I googled it. It really looks hopeful. In the few days since I started following house bill 256 it passed committee by a very large margin, and will go up for a vote in the full house late this week.
My imagination is going a little wild. What will we find when we look in the file? Will there be a joyous reunion, anger, denial, or apathy? Whatever! The result will be better than not knowing.