A new law now allows access to birth records to 400,000 adoptees from around the world who were born in Ohio between 1964 and 1996. A few of them traveled from 14 states to gather in Columbus last night, to prepare to be first in line at the Ohio Department of Health on the first day of the new law.
For most of the 42 years since she was born in Columbus, Wendy Barkett has wondered about her birth parents, and has spent 25 years looking for them. She now lives in Texas, but wanted to be among the first to get her birth records and find out who they are. "When you don’t know, you don’t know and it’s kinda like this void. And you can make up too many things in your mind and I just want to know the truth," Barkett said.
Most of the adoptees who made the trip to get their records on the first day they could say they want to know their medical histories. Some want to know if they have siblings or other relatives. Erica Curry VanEe was born in Cincinnati 45 years ago, and is now a consultant and college educator in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She had hired a private investigator to try to find her birth parents before she realized access was closed off.
“I went on and lived my life. I never had any children so for me that biological connection of existence is really kind of the most paramount thing. But at the same time I’ve had to level set my expectations.”
Many came with family members. 47 year old child support caseworker Timothy Komara came from Youngstown, where he was born and adopted and now lives, and brought his two kids. “They had to be here with me, because they’re a part of me and this is a part of me and it’s a part of them,” Komara said.
43 year old robotics engineer Todd Hoeffel, who was born in Toledo, came from Columbia City, Indiana, where he lives with the son he adopted. “I always had a good life growing up and I got the same bond with my son, but it’s different because I can call up his birth mother and say, ‘Hey, Max wants to come see you.’ Whereas me, it’s always been hidden in the background,” Hoeffel said.
While it’s certainly not the case for all adoptees, many say they have great adoptive family relationships. Mike Thayer’s adoptive parents came from Toledo to meet him and his son, who traveled to Columbus from northern Virginia, where Thayer works for an international development organization. And Thayer said they’ve encouraged him to contact his birth parents, even if he isn’t ready to, "and that they must have gone through a very difficult experience deciding whether to give me up and to see that I had done ok in life that might be very good for them.”
45 year old whitewater rafting instructor Joey Ashbridge, who was born in Massillon, is making a documentary about his adoption experience. And he got emotional in saying he wants to find his birth mother – to thank her. “I did have the greatest mom and dad. I did have the greatest mom and dad ever. And without her giving me up for adoption, I would have never had that chance.”
Betsie Norris heads Adoption Network Cleveland, and has been working for nearly 27 years to see these adoption records opened, saying it’s a civil rights and a social justice issue. She said it’s an emotional decision to get access to the records, and cautions adoptees to seek out support because what may be discovered may not be what was hoped for. And she says she learned something about her family during her fight. “My father, who was very supportive of my search and very supportive of my legislative efforts came to me and said, ‘I realize that the bill that I initiated in the 1960s was the bill that closed the records to the adoptees,’" she said. "Luckily he and I had a great relationship, and I forgave him.”
Norris said her father worked with her to help change the law, because he’d only wanted to close access to the records to the public. But for a half a century, these adoptees – those who are most closely affected by adoption records – haven’t been able to see them. Birth parents of the 400,000 adoptees have had a year to remove their names from the records, Norris said only a few hundred of them did.