Family Medical History…What About Adoptees?

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona in 2005 began an initiative to encourage supposedly ALL Americans to learn about their families’ health histories. This would be a way of promoting personal health and preventing diseases.  He has even collaborated with others to offer a new web site and free computer program to help families collect and record this information.

Dr. Carmona stated, “The bottom line is that knowing your family medical history can save your life. Millions of dollars in medical research, equipment and knowledge can’t give us the information family medical histories can.

However, how are the millions of adopted across the country who have their records sealed suppose to obtain the information that Dr. Carmona says could save their lives?

Many question why adoptees search for their birth family or at least information about them. Most of those who question come from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives.

They have little to no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

Through the first thirty-two years of my life I did not care about birth parents, family, heritage, medical history or any of that stuff. I had enough issues involved in just growing up and making something of myself, without having to spend time contemplating that bigger picture.

I should note, to this point of my life, I did not know even the names of my birth parents.

1982 changed all that!

I suffered my first heart attack. I still remember the doctor asking, “What is your family medical history?” I was embarrassed when I had to respond “I do not know!”

I am one of the fortunate ones. I was not adopted, but was placed for adoption at birth. I rode the merry go round of the foster care system for eighteen years. After my heart attack and embarrassment of not being able to answer doctor’s questions I began searching for the answers.

Even as one who was not adopted, many closed their doors and records to me during my search. I can only imagine the extreme difficulty adoptees have in getting the answers which could save their lives!

I know adoptees who have been searching for years, without success, to find the very basic of information; a birth parent name. This is due to he laws concerning adoption still on the books in many states.

I have known adoptees, even when the release of medical information about family could have saved their lives, were refused their request for information. This is wrong and has absolutely no justification.

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same it’s considered abnormal? Seems hypocritical to me!

I now know my family medical history. This, however, came about only after eight long and costly years of searching for my birth family before the days of Google, etc.

My search was, in comparison to adoptees, relatively easy despite the length of time it took.

My search had its ups and downs. My initial search to just find the information needed to locate my birth Mother to get medical information, took four years. It would take another four years before I would find and meet my birth Father. They have both since passed away. During that time, I learned how to be a detective; to ask questions, which to most would have appeared stupid. I even had to learn to lie to just get the information I wanted.

I found my birth Mother, my birth Father as well as siblings. None were very cooperative in answering my questions about family health, heritage or genealogy. If they had been, it might have saved me sixteen more years of research.

My search went far beyond my original intent. The question is; WHY? Why did I go beyond the original intent of getting simple medical information? Why did I want to find my birth Mother? Why did I ever want to meet her? Why did I want to know my roots? Why take twenty years spending great amounts of time, energy and money researching my family history? Why look for living members of an extended family?

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information; then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

I have found most the answers to my questions. The void that was in my life has been filled. I now feel I am a whole person; I know who I am and where I came from. I am now in the position that children raised by their birth parents are in. I no longer have to feel different or abnormal. I found far more information about my family genealogy than I ever expected to. I found and met members of my extended family. I can now see in pictures family resemblances and say…see I belong! In learning about my great grandparents, aunts, uncles and Polish people as a whole, I learned, in so many ways, why I am the person I am today.

This is why I and others search, the desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you…you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I had a good life prior to beginning my search and have done well during the search. The end result of my search just has made it better.

Since the 1970s, some states have opened up their adoption laws, opening Adoption Registries. Many adoption agencies now enter into open adoption agreements. However, in many cases, the adoptee is at a distinct disadvantage if they choose to search for their birth parents or any information that might identify who they are.

Though things have improved in the past twenty or so years, much more needs to be done. Most state Adoption Registries require both the birth parent and the adoptee to grant permission for identifying information to be shared with the other party. If consent is not given or if nothing is on file indicating either way, any requests for information will be denied.

Current laws, even with updates, still play havoc for those adoptees from the 1930s, 1940s and even 1950s. In many cases, the birth parents or adoptee, do not know the new laws regarding Adoption Registries. Also, the birth parents or now adult adoptees have passed away. Even in death, information cannot be given. In most cases, the law that supposedly was “in the best interest of the child” has become, “best interest of the birth parent, dead or alive.”

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family medical history, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world.

To those who are not adoptees, or from a situation such as mine, I ask you; “Knowing all that you know today about yourself, family, family medical history…how would you have liked to have all that information kept from you? Would it leave a void in your life? These are the conditions under which adoptees are expected to live. In truth, you know you would not like to live this way; why would you expect an adoptee to be any different from you?

To birth parents, I have a message. We understand, in most cases, your decision to give up your child was made only after a great struggle within yourself. We know what a painstaking decision it was that you made. We know you made that decision because of the love you had for your child, and that you wanted what was best for him or her. I ask that you continue to act in the best interest of your child, who is now an adult and no matter how good a good a home they went to, or how well they have done in life, may still feel incomplete. PLEASE, file information with your respective state Adoption Agency from which your child was adopted. Give your consent to have it released to your child when they reach adulthood. Let them fill the void within their lives. Without your consent this information will never be made known to them.

Adult adoptees, who search for answers, do not mean you any harm. They do not want to disrupt the lives you have since built for yourselves. They just want and need answers to questions to which only you can unlock the door. Even if you do not wish for any type of relationship with your child, provide the information that would allow them to be whole.

My search was satisfied when I was able to sit with my birth Mother and find out the true story of my birth; the gut-wrenching decision she made to give me up, and why; my true Polish heritage and the vague medical history that would allow me to better care for myself.
I would have been satisfied if she had just provided me these facts in a letter and not agreed to meet me. I would have had the basic information I desired.

The fact she agreed to meet me, despite how our relationship turned out, was above and beyond what I had hoped for or expected during my search.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family medical history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my heritage is

This is why I searched. This is why anyone would search. To any adoption agency employee, state Adoption Registry employee, or more importantly, birth parent who may read this…allow adult adoptees to have the thrill I have had. Allow them access to the information they may need or want to fill in the blanks in their lives. Allow them to become whole! This is vitally important for adoptees of earlier generations. They need the information while it might still be possible for them to meet the birth parents whom for whatever reason, had to give them up. If the birth parent or adoptee is already deceased, then the adoption records should be opened without question.

My question now to Dr. Carmona is, “Will he join the battle for open records?” He sees the importance of ALL to have their medical history available to them. Does he truly believe ALL or will he allow millions to continue to have the doors to this information closed to them?

Dr. Carmona addresses only one of many reasons adoption records should be opened to adult adoptees. There are numerous other reasons. However, if one’s life can be saved through family medical information or diseases fought or even prevented…this should be enough reason to open the sealed vaulted doors.
It is OUR information locked behind the vault doors and we have a right to it!

For those privileged to have their family medical information and wish to organize it, print it out and have it added to your doctor’s records for you; you may download it at:
The program is called “My Family Health Portrait.” 

My web site:

4 Responses

  1. My father & my husband’s mother are both adopted, so we only have half of our medical history. Since we are considering having a child sometime, this is somewhat worrying. It isn’t just the first generation that has problems, but later ones, too.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  2. Good point…not to mention those of us who do not know from who our paternal lineage came or where to look for “the sperm donor” because a stupid young man decided to take advantage of a young girl and then run away rather than step up and accept his responsibility in the ensuing pregnancy.

  3. I read your posts for a long time and should tell that your articles are always valuable to readers.

  4. it is always interesting to know each of our family history *

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