When Adoption Makes You A Liar


It had been a long haul. I believe it took six trips total to get the passports finalized. The younger kids and I were determined to attend my eldest daughter’s wedding and there had been no end of snags. We needed a loan for the plane tickets, but first, we needed the passports. And there were endless complications.

In my case, they didn’t like the way my birth certificate was worded. (As if I had a say.) Specifically, they did not like how my dad did not have a middle name, only an initial. They needed his full name. Those were the rules. So I went to my 90-something year old father and asked if I could make a copy of his birth certificate, so I could prove he was the same person on my birth certificate.

My step-mother dutifully produced the document, which by then resembled a tiny, black rag. A half-sized negative, no doubt the same one issued when Dad faced the draft board in WWII. So worn that when I picked it up, it fell limp, as if made of soft linen.

Being impossible to copy, I was entrusted with the precious artifact itself, and after presenting it to the local Health Department, they issued me a new, certified record of birth. One with my father’s full name on it.

Dad was not pleased. He never liked his middle name. Legally, for his signature and Social Security, he uses his middle initial only. Most people don’t even know his middle name. But for his eldest granddaughter – Lillie – born in his house on his birthday, he was willing to make the sacrifice.

With my latest proof of existence, I took the kids back to the post office and presented my documents. I was at the finish line. Finally satisfied, the agent smiled and said there was just one more thing:

“Raise your right hand. Do you swear the information provided is true to your knowledge?”

I glanced for a split second at my youngest daughter, standing next to me. And in that split second, she recognized I was about to swear a lie to be the truth, and I also knew it. That my adoptive mother gave birth to me. That my adoptive father’s blood ran in my veins. That my biological parents did not exist. My original birth certificate has my mother’s name only, and is boldly stamped NOT CERTIFIED, meaning not legal. Not legal, but true. While my amended was legal and certified, but a fabrication.

I could have done the right thing then. I could have protested at being put into this position, of not only lying, but doing so while pledging to telling the truth. I could have taken a stand. I thought about adoptees in New York unfortunate enough to have had their adoptions finalized over a year after their birth, who could potentially never get a passport. They would no doubt love to be in my enviable position right now.

I swear – that it’s all a sham. I have two identities, and you think the fake one is real because that one has a name. I am forced to lie in front of my children to satisfy your insipid security measures. To keep us all “safe”. I had to get my father’s middle name put on my birth certificate to make me real enough to suit you. But that doesn’t make me his biological daughter. And that is what my birth certificate states: That these people are my blood kin. So no, I won’t swear, because the State is the one who is the liar.

I wish I could report this is what I said. That I took one for the team. But it was also true that I considered my adoptive parents as real as my birth parents. I had been living as my adopted self for over fifty years; it was the only identity anyone knew. I was blindsided by the question. The kids were counting on me. And…I would have done nearly anything to see Lillie get married.

“I swear,” I said. And once again hated myself, for being adopted.

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread and contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide

15 thoughts on “When Adoption Makes You A Liar

  1. NY has since changed its policy about the “date issued” line of amended birth certificates. When I had to get an “official” copy of my birth certificate to obtain a passport for my IME trip in seminary, I called because the date on the birth certificate I received didn’t match the date on the “unofficial” copy I had. After being on the phone over an hour, they finally found someone who told me that, because so many NY adoptees couldn’t obtain passports after 9/11, they changed their policy to keep the date that our original, sealed birth certificates were issued to avoid complications. This further promotes the lies of adoption….now our amended birth certificates really make it look like our adoptive parents gave birth to us. Adoption has become like an onion….layer upon layer of lies!

    • Not only is it a lie when the date is changed, but there is a possibility that your mother hadn’t even signed away her rights to you yet. Thus your ‘amended’ filing date indicated you were born to your adoptive mother before you were even freed for adoption.

  2. On my birth certificate I noticed the doctor never signed it. Is that normal on real birth certificates? People who want to believe being adopted does not matter will tell me it’s not a big deal.

  3. I will leave this life never knowing who my birth-father is. On my BC it says, “Legally Omitted”. I found my birth-mother many years ago and asked her many times what his name was. She always said how much in love they were, etc., etc. You know, make the adoptee feel better answer. Then it turned into, “I don’t remember”. She died not long ago and I could never get an answer from her. She took 1/2 of my identity to the grave with her. I was told by the court clerk that “Legally Omitted” was just another way of saying, “Unknown” at that time in history. Sure sounds different to me and everyone else who has seen it. Yes, it is from my original BC – don’t ask me how I got it, but I suspect it was at the cost of a job for the woman who sent me my papers. What a lousy system.

    • Ellyn, while it’s wrong that this information was kept from you, there is hope in DNA testing. I know adoptees who have found their father strictly thru DNA. I hope you get answers, because you deserve them.

  4. This is so interesting to hear that others felt this way too. I’ve never taken exception to who the parents are on my birth certificate. I’ve never thought about it until now actually. But the place of birth did bother me when I got my passport. It always does when I’m asked where I was born.

  5. Not to be smug or smirky, but I can top all of your stories. How about this one: White, hetero couple goes to Middle Eastern country as expats, stay for a few years. Decide to “have a baby.” Head to orphanage, pick (according to them) the cutest baby, 3 months old. Baby was found in a bazaar appx 30 days old. Take baby home, pay for a fake birth certificate that states female in the couple gave birth to the baby. Destroy baby’s identity card provided by orphanage. Bring (or traffick, really) baby out of Middle Eastern country, head to European country. Saunter into European country, stating birth was given to the child in Middle East, offer up fake birth certificate. Go to parish to register baby. Have to fess up to the registrar, stating they had baby abroad. Registrar “feels sorry” for them, registers baby as born to them IN EUROPEAN COUNTRY. Raise baby like their own biological child, despite black haired baby looking nothing like these two blonde ppl. Baby knows nothing but feels awful and hates the mother since day one, but can’t put two and two together. Finally, baby is 16 years old and “parents” tell baby. Baby goes totally nuts, realizing their ruse. Baby asks why – they say, we just wanted it that way. Baby asks how old am I – couple says, you’re one month older really, but we changed your birth month because we have too many birthdays, wedding days etc in your “real” birth month. So we changed it. Baby then lives with a) fake birth country b) fake birth month c) fake birth day d) fake parents who never admitted they were adopters. Possible? Here’s looking at you, baby. Fifty-nine and still enraged.

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