We recently talked with a biological mother in Fayetteville, Georgia, Katie Burns, to ask her about anonymity during her adoption process in 1999, approximately 20 years after the surrender documents for birth mothers were created in Georgia. Here is her story:
Were you ever verbally promised anonymity or privacy during the adoption process?
Never at any point. I placed my daughter for adoption in 1999 and was told verbatim, “adoption isn’t like it used to be.” I was told there were open adoptions then where I would know my daughter and have visits with her. Anonymity would not make any sense in an open adoption, so the topic was never discussed.
Did you ever sign anything from the State of Georgia promising anonymity during the adoption process?
I was sobbing and held my daughter in one arm on a hospital bed mere hours after her birth, while signing documents with the other hand. I was still on pain medication from the delivery. My paperwork was notarized, but there was never a notary present. The adoption agent and my parents were the only people in the room. When I read through my adoption paperwork, I did not sign anything promising anonymity. I didn’t want anonymity from anyone.
How was contact with your daughter and her adopted parents to be handled in your adoption case per the social worker?
What I was told was vastly different from what I signed. There was no paperwork signed dealing with our contact. I thought it was very odd, but I had no legal counsel and my parents were threatening me with homelessness if I didn’t give my daughter up for adoption.
I was told verbally by the adoption agent I had an open adoption where I would get frequent letters, pictures, phone calls, and visits with her. I called the agency a few months later and they told me I was in a “semi” open adoption. I had never heard that term before. I was shocked. I didn’t want anonymity. They said the adoptive family only had to send photos to the agency for 24 months. I asked for the adoptive parents’ phone number to discuss contact with them and I was denied that opportunity. I lived in terror for the remaining months that I would be shut out. When I wasn’t shut out completely, I lived in terror for the next decade until my daughter reached out to me herself.
What were you told communication would entail with your daughter?
I was told by the agency that I would be like “extended family” and would be treated like family. I would have letters, pictures, phone calls, and visits. She would know me as she grew up. That there would be no anonymity between my daughter, me and her adoptive parents.
That just didn’t happen. I saw my daughter one time before she was an adult. She is now an adult and has lived with me for over two years. We missed a lot of time that we can never get back.
Katie’s story echoes that of other biological mothers who have shared their experiences with us. She was never promised anonymity nor wanted it, but that is what was imposed upon her. Anonymity and secrecy does not help anyone in the adoption triad.