My Closed Adoption and the Movement to Change the System
Serena is a member of California Youth Connection, an organization that helps foster youth learn leadership and advocacy skills. She originally wrote this piece for The Chronicle of Social Change.
Growing up, I always knew my siblings and I looked so different.
I have an olive skin tone with dark hair and almond-shaped eyes. My little brother has a dark skin tone and curly hair. My sister, on the other hand, has dirty blonde hair and fair skin. My siblings and I do not look related whatsoever. I always suspected we were not biologically related. It was a slip of paper that changed my world.
One day when I was twelve, as I prepared to rehearse some piano music, I came across a piece of paper in a stack on the piano – something with my name and the phrase “adoptive child” above it. Upon reading this, I took a moment to try to let the information sink in.
Not knowing whether to feel upset, shocked or happy, I debated if I should tell my siblings. I did not know how to process such an impactful discovery, and I had no idea how they would take it. So I proceeded with caution as I went to my younger sister and discreetly told her what I had seen. She was stunned.
Of course, as little brothers do, our brother was eavesdropping and heard the news as well so we invited him to join our conversation. As we talked, some things began to make sense. For example, if I was adopted, my siblings had to be as well, which would explain why we had such different complexions. Naturally, my siblings and I had millions of questions about our backgrounds, starting with how different our lives would have been had we stayed with our biological families, and wondering if we had any biological siblings.
We felt these were important questions to ask but with our mother, we knew it would be tricky to do so. We had to be careful with how to approach her.
We sat her down, and I explained all the events leading up to this moment of truth and how we wanted to know why did she not tell us we were adopted. She was very shocked to find out we had learned this revealing news, and confessed she had not wanted us to know for two reasons. First, she wanted to protect us from the truth because our stories were hard to talk about, she said, and second, she could not determine when it would be appropriate to talk about such a sensitive topic. In addition, she said, my siblings and I had closed adoptions.
I appreciated our mother’s effort to prevent us from coming to reality about our biological history at an age when we would not be able to comprehend or handle it. However, I quickly felt a sense of lost culture and identity. I had never known how to identify myself or what nationality I belonged to. That was the most unanswered question I had.
Anyone would agree that questions about one’s own identity and culture are, of course, reasonable questions for a child to ask.
Although I was 12 when I discovered I was adopted, it was not until age 17 that I felt an urge to search for my biological family.
By that time I had entered foster care, so I had a social worker whom I notified about my desire to search for siblings. My social worker advised me to contact my lawyer since she did not have as much access to my case history as my lawyer did.
My lawyer was more than glad to help and told me she would try to find some information. After a week, she called to give me my adoption case number and both of my biological parents’ names. She told me about the search process. By California law, youth are not allowed to initiate contact with biological parents or siblings without a signed waiver until the age of 18 due to the fact that adoptive parents have full rights over a child until they reach that age. This meant I had to wait a year, which I saw as a setback in my search for biological family. I was discouraged. I did not know where to start in my search with only my parents’ names and my adoption case number, so I did not bother to look any further.
I was 19 when Christina, my oldest biological sibling, found me on Facebook.
She told me she had been looking for me all these years and finally found me. I was so overwhelmed with joy and felt an outpouring of love once I heard this. I was finally going to be able to create a sibling connection for the first time in almost 20 years. Since then, we have maintained contact and have become close, which was one of my biggest wishes, but one that was difficult to ask for since I was in a closed adoption.
Yet, the future looks hopeful for adoption cases as California Youth Connection (CYC), a youth-led organization working to transform the foster care system through legislative and policy change, is working on a bill to help maintain sibling connections after adoption.
Being in an active CYC chapter and a legislative committee member myself for over two years, CYC has empowered me to advocate for foster youth with a passionate heart, determination, confidence and motivation. The love and heart this organization runs on is so powerful that since its beginning, it has passed over 25 bills!
This year, CYC has been focusing on a bill which aims to convene a facilitated team meeting–a Child and Family Team (CFT) or Team Decision Meeting (TDM)–to create a post-adoption contact agreement to maintain sibling connections following adoption finalization.
I deeply hope legislators see how important this is to the foster care community, and agree to support this bill. As for me, I know my adoption story has truly impacted my life for the better and I hope for those who want to keep their siblings in their life, that this bill will help make their wish come true.