An Amended Birth Certificate Isn’t a Lie

Apparently, a few days before the US killed Osama Bin Laden, President Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate. In the adoption community, many people – especially adult adoptees – noted that most adoptees would not be able to furnish such a document. You see, in almost all states, adult adoptees are not allowed access to their original birth certificates (OBCs).

When a person is born, a birth certificate is created. When a person is adopted, that birth certificate is changed, or amended, to reflect who the person’s parents are.

Many adoptees, and some people who aren’t adoptees, call the amended birth certificate a lie. I wrote about it at, just over two years ago. I vehemently disagree.

Regardless of the history of the birth certificate, at this point, the birth certificate is not a medical record. It is a legal document. Legally, I am my son’s mother. Fine. In an adoption, this is pretty straightforward. But there are other situations in which the biological parent differs from the one who might legally be a parent. In embryo adoption, the biological parents are completely different than the legal parents, and the biological mother is not the mother who gave birth to the child. In surrogacy, the woman who gives birth may or may not be the biological mother, and the legal father may or may not be the biological father. There’s egg donation and sperm donation to think about. Who’s on the birth certificate then?

I have often thought that there should be an additional two fields on birth certificates: Biological Father and Biological Mother. But I recently read a comment on an adoption blog that made me question that. I can’t find the blog post right now, but I know the person who commented is another adoptive parent blogger. She wrote that it wasn’t anyone’s business to know that her children are adopted. She wants that information to be private for them to share as they wish. She further stated that, if the children’s biological parents were listed, that would cause others in their community to treat them differently, as these people were well known (and not in a good way).

(ETA: I found the comment! It’s jensboys.)

As I’ve always said, there are two issues here: Access to original birth certificates and the birth certificates themselves.

I believe that all people should have unfettered access to their original birth certificates.

I also believe that my son’s birth certificate is correct. My name – his mother’s name – is Robyn Chittister, and his father’s name is Robert Chittister. (Yes, Robert. That’s another post.) Nowhere on his birth certificate does it say he was born to me. On my own birth certificate, the Attendant’s Certification reads “I hereby certify that I attended this birth and that the child was born at the hour, date, and place stated above.” Notice that the attendant doesn’t certify that the child was born to these parents.

The “amended birth certificates are lies” people say that the adoption decree should be enough to satisfy the legal question as to who the child’s parents are. Using the adoption decree simply isn’t practical.

  • Adoption decrees are long legalese documents, not one-pagers.
  • It would be extremely easy to fake an adoption decree. I think ours was done from a standard Word template. There’s not even a letterhead or a seal, though the judge did sign it at the end.
  • Why is it everyone’s business that the child was adopted? No, adoption isn’t something we should be ashamed of, but every individual should be able to decide if he really wants to share that information with the college registrar, the HR guy, the town clerk, the passport office…
  • What about situations in which the biological parents didn’t give birth to the child? Who’s listed on the birth certificate in the case of embryo adoption or egg or sperm donation?

I suppose the nice thing about a blog is that I can rant and rave about these things, even though no one probably cares. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

3 thoughts on “An Amended Birth Certificate Isn’t a Lie

  1. As you know, I would disagree..

    The purpose of birth certificates is to record vital statistics for the state. All states now make the statistics they record available to the citizens born within the state on birth certificates. It makes sense that it would contain actual birth information.

    Historically, amending and sealing did not begin for the reasons people defend it for now. It began to hide the illegitimate birth status of adopted children and to change the identity of the adopted child for fear the original family could find the child and interfere with his or her upbringing. As this grew out of an era of taboo for adoption, the idea was that society did not have to know, nay, the adoptee did not have to know that they were adopted. This is why people find out at the age of 42 that they’re adopted (thinking of a good friend of mine) when their passports are denied because they use a “birth certificate” that in every way looks. claims, and appears to be a birth certificate. My amended certificate, along with listing my adoptive parent’s names claiming to be a “Certificate of Live birth” with other birth information, swears by signature of the registrar to the “the true and original document on file with this office.”

    Which of course, is not true. It is not original. It is not complete, accurate birth information on a document held by the vital statistics office with the title of “birth certificate” either..

    According to H. David Kirk, this policy one of the ultimate examples of the “denial of difference” model of adoption practice where specific policies in adoption were designed to make the adoptive family appear as closely as possible to a biological family.

    Are you familiar with Malinda from the China Adoption Talk blog? She explains all this much better than I do. Lots of authors have researched and written on the topic of what ABCs for adoptees are and why. It’s very fascinating.

    Who needs to know if an adopted person is adopted? To me it doesn’t matter if someone knows. It’s not a shameful thing to be hidden. What about people, like my father, who aren’t adopted but are being raised by someone other than their biological parents? We could argue that that situation isn’t anyone’s business either but there’s no replacement certificate to hide it. There are plenty of things on a birth certificate that one could ask “why would anyone else need to know that?” Such as if a father’s name wasn’t listed. Or in some states, information about one’s mother, her weight, her address at time of birth, so on and so forth.

    Birth and biology are not synonymous for everyone, such as in the case of egg donation or surrogacy. However, they are one in the same for most. Because of this, countries such as New Zealand, require that both biological and birth parentage information be listed on the birth certificate as the most ethical way to handle that situation. Other countries, such as the U.K. are considering changing their policies similarly. There are better ways to handle those whose birth/biology/legal parentage differs from the average person than the way the U.S. does it. Far better.

    I view this issue the same way I did when I was an adolescent and saw my “birth certificate” for the first time. I picked it up, fully expecting to learn for the first time my original mother’s name on it because it is a birth certificate and she gave birth to me. It had my adoptive parent’s name on it instead. The first thing I wanted to know was “why did my birth state lie?” It was not about not viewing my parents as my parents at all–this isn’t about that. I think adult adoptees’ responses to their own birth certificates are perfectly valid, however it is that they feel about them. And the point is, we are adults now. It is not easier for us to have an amended instead of an original. It is not about who we “belong to” more or who is more our parent or not our parent anymore as though we are still children. Which this is honestly how adoptive parents and others make us feel when they tell us our perceptions of our certificates is incorrect. Self-ownership and others recognizing your autonomy as an individual is an important part of being allowed to grow up and become an adult.

    Thanks for listening 🙂

  2. Pingback: An Amended Birth Certificate Isn't a Lie « The Chittister Family | Amended Birth Certificates and Passports

  3. Pingback: Why I Don’t Support Adoption Certificates | The Chittister Family

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