Birth Certificates (Dads in Texas, part II)

newborn baby wrapped in blanket in hospital small

Expanding on my own comment from my latest post, in:

It’s been rightly pointed out that a birth certificate is meant as a record of *birth* so the mother would be the one who gave birth. Also, that calling a surrogate a “gestational carrier” is dismissive of the bonding that no doubt takes place between mother-child in utero.

Several thoughts:

Record of birth. If it is strictly concerning an event and nothing more, why is a father listed? Instead, wouldn’t the witnesses of the blessed event be recorded, instead? Not only the doctor or midwife, but also all the nurses, the doula, and family and friends who had a ring-side seat. They were actually present. The father, on the other hand, could have been anywhere. Yet his name, age, race, and sometimes occupation is on the form.

And why isn’t the length of labor included, or method of delivery? If this is a record of birth, wouldn’t that be more important than what the supposed father does for a living? Cause of death is required on death certificates, yet manner of delivery is omitted from birth certificates.

Birth certificates in the US were created for the purpose of registering citizens with the government. Each state has its own form, and all births and deaths are recorded via the health department (Vital Statistics). Even though a standardized federal form was created, there are thousands of versions being legally used.

This was an interesting article in New Republic by Liza Mundy in Feb, 2013:

She points to the obvious problem with our current mess of “factual documents” that we call birth certificates. We already have the humiliating and archaic “amended” certificates that supposedly turn adopted parents into biological ones. These official records are lies and not benign ones. In an effort to create respectability, the State has sold-out its adopted citizens.  If  “love” was really all that mattered, not biology, we would not have laws against incest; yet we legally block people from knowing their genetic history. Either it matters or it doesn’t. Going on the premise in agreement with all of civilized society that incest is wrong, sealed records are dangerous, as are incorrect records.

Another problem with screwing with peoples’ lives via sealed records, is that an adoptee who was issued an amended BC more than a year after birth (which is very common), cannot obtain a passport. They had no choice in the matter of their birth or adoption and no say in the law. They have done nothing wrong, yet cannot legally travel outside the country. Tell me again how adoption is a beautiful thing and adoptees have nothing to complain about.

Which brings me back to the purpose of those forms.

Besides being a record of the birth itself, the BC is also assumed to show parentage. Parentage meaning genetic, not social. That’s what we as adoptees are fighting for. We have the “real” (social, legal, spiritual) parents listed on our amended birth certificates, via adoption. We expect the truth (genetic/biological) on the originals.

With the explosion of egg and sperm sales, and surrogacy, and of course closed adoption, it will be the person with a true account on their BC that will be the oddity in the near future.

As another adoptee said, a birth certificate should not be looked at as a title of ownership. I agree. But, to show the facts, the names of the people providing the genetic material to create the person the certificate pertains to must be included, or it’s worthless. If that means adding a third line, one for genetic mother and one for birthing mother, so be it.

Which brings me to another point: genealogy.

You cannot trace ancestors thru a surrogate. Although yes, bonding no doubt takes place, the surrogate did not provide DNA. This is why I am adamantly against anonymous egg and sperm sales. These are people being created, not a living doll for parents to play with. The baby will grow up and if they are anything like me or other adoptees/genealogists, they will have a very real need to know their ancestors. Being told their genetic mother or father was a nice person from the fertility clinic who needed a little cash for college isn’t going to cut it. This is why a birth certificate cannot be only a record of birth, and certainly not a title of ownership. People should not have to resort to DNA testing to know where they came from.

Yet another thought, on genetically bonding with a surrogate who did not provide the gamete:

If the child breastfed from yet another woman, would that woman also need to be listed somewhere as a mother? In Islamic culture and possibly elsewhere, breastmilk is thought to bind to the bones of the child, biologically connecting woman and child. So would a wetnurse need to be added to an amended birth certificate? If this sounds far-fetched, go back and ponder the case that started my tirade. Two men who are legally married in some parts of the US, who bought eggs from one woman, had the eggs fertilized with their combined sperm in a lab, and paid yet another woman to carry the embryos to fruition, who now want to wipe out any mention of female involvement whatsoever in the form of amended BCs for their sons, if they can convince a judge to let them cross-adopt. Wetnursing seems fairly normal now, doesn’t it.

I’m not saying a surrogate is not a mother. I’m not saying an adoptive mother is not a mother. I’m not saying these two men shouldn’t be considered fathers and listed as such. I’m saying the criteria for birth certificates is lacking and needs to catch up. We have simple DNA testing now. We supposedly have oversight concerning egg and sperm sales. (I’m not going to call a paid service a donation.) There is no good reason in this day and age to deprive (as the Family Research Council says) any child the benefit of a mother and a father, at least on paper. And that should start with getting the facts straight on birth certificates.

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread



One thought on “Birth Certificates (Dads in Texas, part II)

  1. The mother is whoever gave the egg cell. Period. We understand this about amoebae. Why don’t we understand this about human beings? If the gestational carrier is bonding with the baby, this is a problem, not a thing to celebrate. I don’t fault her for doing so but why are we intentionally creating this emotional bond, especially for the baby who had no say in the matter (the GC at least is getting paid), when we know we must break it in order to complete the transaction?

    There’s something people don’t understand about human reproduction and I blame lazy scientists and crappy K-12 science education: The egg cell is your first cell. It is you, minus 23 chromosomes. 23 more chromosomes are all the sperm cell brings to the table. The egg has everything else the cell needs including cell membrane, nucleus, mitochondria (this is why you get mitochondrial DNA from your mother only), etc. It is YOU, needing only that additional DNA. I would go so far as to say it’s the mother who is actually reproducing, while the father provides necessary genetic material to complete the process. I’m sure that idea would tick a lot of people off, but that’s what the evidence tells me.

    There’s no such thing as an “egg donor” really. No matter where that egg is fertilized and grows, a “donor” is becoming a mother, but she’s signed off on her child-rearing to complete strangers and taken money and walked away. Something to consider for anyone out there thinking it’s a substitute for getting a job.

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