By RENEE WEBB, Content and Design Coordinator, Lumen Media
Published with permission from Dawn Prosser, Director of Communications, Diocese of Sioux City, Lumen Media
When mothers gave up their babies in closed adoptions in Iowa, their information was kept confidential unless the birth parents specified they could be contacted by the adoptee in the future.
With new state legislation, the privacy factor has changed. A new law – HF855 – signed by Governor Kim Reynolds on May 19 allows adult adoptees to request and receive a noncertified copy of their original birth certificate that was created prior to their adoption. Biological parent information is listed on this document.
For adoptees born before Jan. 1, 1971 the law was effective immediately. For persons born after that date – any adoptee age 18 or older – may request a copy of the original birth certificate on or after Jan. 1, 2022.
Amy Bloch, executive director of Catholic Charities, said at the time the state passed the law there wasn’t that much publicity about this change in adoption records and there still hasn’t been much.
“They’ve shared very little information about this,” she said. “Iowa has had one of the strictest adoption laws in the country. It was intended to protect birth parents who make these selfless decisions to give their child for adoption, closed adoptions.”
Closed adoptions were the norm for many years, prevailing as the common practice into the 1980s. With closed adoptions, information about the adoptive parents and birth mother/parents remains private.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Health Statistics, biological parents may state their preference to release their identity and option for contact or for their identity to be removed from the original certificate of birth prior to adoption. But given the limited publicity about the change in the adoption record, Bloch is uncertain that people are aware of the new law.
“They say it is not 100% certain their name (the adoptive parent) will not be released, but it would help,” said Bloch.
Through the years hundreds of babies were placed in adoptive homes by Catholic Charities using closed adoptions. This new adoption record law, Bloch said, may lead to questions for families who lovingly placed a child for adoption through the agency but did so thinking information would be kept confidential.
“We want people to know we are not disclosing information. So many moms and dads really trusted us that it would be kept confidential. Some people made a choice in their file to either reveal or not reveal if the child came in and wanted to have contact. The new law disregards their choice now and I think that’s wrong,” said Bloch. “It is important for people to know this is happening and potentially they could be contacted.”
A child placed in an adoptive home has two birth certificates – the original with the birth parents’ names and one following the adoption listing the adoptive parents’ names. Previously, adoptees only had access to the certificate with the adoptive parents’ names.
“If an adoptee wanted to find their birth parent, they would contact Catholic Charities. I am the one who does the searches, so they would contact me and we would do a search – with the Internet and so forth it’s fairly easy to do. I would talk to the mom and let her know that the child they gave up for adoption is interested in having contact with them and ask if that is something they were interested in,” explained Bloch.
Years ago, she stressed, there was a lot of shame associated with being an unwed mother. These births and adoptions were kept very quiet and secretive. Some birth parents have not even told their current spouse or other children that they gave up a baby for adoption.
“It can bring up a lot of feelings even though the mom may be happy to hear from the child that they are doing well,” said the executive director. “It was often a difficult time and difficult decision.”
If both parties are interested in connecting, they will usually begin by exchanging emails through Bloch with non-identifying information and then it is up to them if they wish to share their names and contact information because Catholic Charities is not allowed to release that information.
Given that it can be such an emotional process, Bloch said it can be helpful to the adoptee and birth parents if Catholic Charities helps facilitate the reconnecting process.
For a birth mom to get a call out of the blue from the child they gave up for adoption years ago, it can be very traumatic. With that in mind, Catholic Charities wants people to know the law has changed and their information may no longer be private.
With this new law, Iowa-born adult adoptees are allowed to request and obtain their own original birth certificates that lists the birth parent names and information. The adoptee could look up information about their parent and contact them directly.
“This is very different from our reunification process. There is no support for anyone involved and enable for it to take place in a safe environment,” Bloch said.
If a birth parent wishes to fill out a preference form requesting their identity be removed from the original certificate of birth they should contact the Bureau of Health Statistics of the Iowa Department of Public Health in Des Moines. More information about this process and the form itself is available at idph.iowa.gov. Search for adoption record laws.
Catholic Charities has not and will not release names without the consent of all parties involved. However, families seeking to reconnect can contact Bloch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (712) 252-4547 to do so in a dignified process with an experienced intermediary. Even if someone has learned of their birth parents’ names on their own, they could reach out to Catholic Charities to facilitate the process.
“This is still a very emotional process both for the adoptee and the birth parent,” said Bloch. “The way we are able to provide support for them and process through those feelings it helps them build a relationship in a way that is very positive, rather than a knock on a door or phone call saying, ‘Hi, I am the child you gave up for adoption 50 years ago.’ For a lot of people that’s maybe not ideal.”