Those who were adopted, or who have adopted, know that family goes beyond DNA. A family is built with love, and the bond between an adoptive family and child is just as strong – if not stronger – than any other biologically-formed family. However, it is normal for adoptees to wonder about their biological background and genetic roots. This information can help adoptees form their identity, understand their history, and develop a better sense-of-self.
For those in closed adoptions, unfortunately, it is not always possible to access this information.
Closed adoption means that no identifying information is revealed, to the birth parents or to the adoptive family. This type of adoption plan is meant to protect the privacy and anonymity of all parties involved. Thus, these adoption records are typically kept confidential or sealed. However, this varies by state laws.
Currently, almost all States have statutes that permit the release of birth records and identifying information (such as medical records) when there is consent from the other party. However, more states are working to make this information more accessible to adoptees, according to government sources.
In July of 2022, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts proposed a new legislation to update its policy on access of information. Governor Baker signed this legislation into law on August 5, 2022, granting access to birth records for all people born in Massachusetts. Read on for more information.
State Laws Surrounding Adoption Records
As noted above, every state has its own set of laws for accessing birth and adoption records. All states will provide adoptees and adoptive families with access to non-identifying information. Medical history, birth parents’ ages, and birth parents’ ethnicity and race are all examples of what information may be shared. Approximately 26 states allow birth parents access to non-identifying information, as well.
In general, adoptees must be an “adult” – at least 18 years old – before gaining access to adoption and birth records. In some cases, however, the adoptive parents may be able to obtain the information on a minor’s behalf.
It is important to research your own state’s laws on accessing adoption records so that you know where to start.
Accessing Massachusetts Birth & Adoption Records
If you were adopted in Massachusetts and have a closed adoption, you may have lingering questions regarding your family history and adoption records. You may be wondering, “Is it possible to access my birth and adoption records in Massachusetts?”
The answer is now yes.
On August 5, the Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the updated act, granting equal access to original birth certificates to all persons born in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts: Now Granting Access to Adoptees
For many years, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was one of many states with limited access to sealed adoption records. It was, up until August of 2022, considered a “partial access” state.
On August 5, 2022, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a bill to grant all people born in Massachusetts the right to retrieve their original birth certificates. This bill will have a resounding impact on adoptees.
Previously, adoptees born between July 17, 1974 and January 1, 2008 could not access their own original birth certificates unless otherwise ordered by a judge. An adoptee, therefore, could not see their adoption files about their biological family, unless they first prove to a court there was good reason to do so.
In the new act, these date restrictions have removed. This enables equal access to birth and adoption records in Massachusetts, for everyone regardless of when they were born.
The vote to grant equal access to original birth certificates to all persons born in Massachusetts was unanimous in the state senate.
“Many adoptees have been waiting their whole lives to learn their history, and I am honored to have played a part in helping them access their original birth certificates,” said Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem), Chair of the Senate Committee on Rules. “For the sake of preserving our health and well-being, it is crucial to know what physical or mental health conditions to which we may be predisposed. By giving all adoptees born in Massachusetts access to their original birth certificates, this legislation closes a 34 year gap granting generations of individuals medical knowledge they have otherwise been denied.”
Accessing Medical and Mental Health Records in MA
A third-party group, such as an adoption agency, can also help adoptees obtain certain birth information or adoption records in Massachusetts.
Many people who were adopted have a strong desire to find their adoption records – not only to learn about their background, but also to learn whether they are at an elevated risk for certain disorders or disease. Some want to know if there is a family history of mental illness or genetic anomalies, so that they can be prepared as they grow a family of their own.
Whether you are looking to be proactive, or struggling with symptoms of a disease or disorder, you may find that obtaining your birth family’s medical history is very helpful.
Many states, including Massachusetts, consider medical history a part of the non-identifying information and therefore give adoptees the right to obtain these documents.
If your adoption was a closed adoption, then you may still access the biological family’s medical history. If your birth parents developed a medical condition – physical or mental – after the adoption, however, there would be no way of getting that information.
Should Birth Records Be Accessible to Everyone?
Over the years, many states (like Ohio) have “opened up” their adoption and birth records. Massachusetts became a “partial access” state in 2007, and a full, equal access state in 2022.
As noted above, the legislation to grant access to birth records has finally been passed by the Massachusetts State Senate and House.
For some, it seems like the obvious solution is to completely open up birth records in Massachusetts. Many believe that adoptees should have the right to know their histories. Many states have already permitted access, but those that oppose the change feel as though birth mothers were promised privacy when they placed their child for adoption years ago, and therefore their identities should be protected. At Adoptions With Love, we believe there should be a balance between the two sides.
An adopted person has the right to know who they are, genetically, medically, and ethnically. A birth mother should also maintain her right to anonymity if that is what she requests. A birth mother today may not be the same person she was years ago when she placed her baby for adoption. It is inevitable that her life has changed. She may now have a stable home, a significant other, a steady job, and even other children. She may be at a point in her life where she is more than ready to see her child she placed for adoption. Conversely, she may be in a situation that is simply not right for this kind of unveiling. She may have never told anyone about the adoption, including a current spouse or other children. She may not be emotionally or physically prepared for a reunion. She may not want to be contacted yet, and that want should be respected.
Are You Prepared to Access Your Adoption Records?
Those who were adopted have a myriad of reasons for wanting to search for family birth records in Massachusetts. It is a personal choice that each person must make for themselves.
You may be looking to learn more about your family’s physical and mental health history, to learn more about diseases and/or disorders of which you may be at risk. On the other hand, you may want to learn about your family’s history to better understand your origin story.
Every adoption story is different. What you learn through accessing your own adoption records could be difficult to digest. While the information will be helpful, there may be circumstances that are disappointing or disheartening. As you begin your search, be sure you are ready for all possible outcomes.
In preparation for this journey of self-exploration, be sure to have a strong support system. Whether you rely on your adoptive family, a spouse or partner, mental health professional, adoption agency counselor, or all of the above – be sure you have a strong support system upon which you can lean. This is important in case the information that is revealed is less than you hoped it to be.
Assistance Accessing Birth Records in MA
Going through an intermediary, such as Adoptions with Love, can make the process of rediscovering a loved one much easier. Not only can we serve as a neutral, third-party in negotiating the relationship between adopted child and birth parent, but we can also assure the relationship stays on good footing. Through emails, letters, even private investigations, we can help you reconnect with family, find a friend, or gain any answers you have been seeking.
Adoptions With Love is a nationwide adoption agency, and our team of compassionate counselors and attorneys has been specializing in full-service adoptions since 1986. For more information, contact us online or call us at 1-800-722-7731.