What Promises Were Made to Birth Mothers?

Opponents of adult adoptee access to original birth certificates have never produced a copy of a document that promises a birth mother even confidentiality on the part of the agency. This fact inspired me to investigate what the surrender agreements did provide. I collected documents from birth mothers who were given copies of the documents that they signed; many birth mothers were not. I received and analyzed 77 documents signed by birth mothers from the late 1930s to 1990, the date the last state denied access to adult adoptees. From decade to decade and from state to state, the provisions of these documents are the same.

The birth mother surrenders all of her parental rights and is relieved of all of her parental obligations. She does not retain or acquire any rights. While an adoption of the child is an aim or the aim of the surrender, there is no promise that the child will be adopted. Many documents spell out the possible alternatives of foster care or institutionalization. The birth mother has no right to notice of any future proceeding and therefore will never know if the child is successfully adopted. If the child is not adopted, there will be no amended birth certificate.

None of the documents promise the birth mother either confidentiality or lifelong anonymity, the
latter of which an agency of course could not guarantee.
Responsible adoption services providers have known at least since the 1970s that adoption experts were increasingly supporting adult adoptee access to information and that legislative efforts were underway to restore access in those states in which it had been foreclosed.”

Read more from University of Baltimore School of Law Professor, Elizabeth J. Samuels, testimony to the Maryland House Judiciary Committee