The following article appeared in the April 18, 2001 edition of The Naperville Sun...
Finding Family Far and Wide
Closed Adoption Records Stymie Adoptees' Searches
For Dianne Sizemore of Oswego, the search for her birth family took 20 years. With the support of her adoptive mother, Florence Kissel, Sizemore eventually found her entire birth family.
When she was born, her birth parents — Frank and Betty Sizemore of Aurora — were very poor and felt they couldn't afford to raise another child. With five sons already, they decided to put the baby up for adoption. They never knew they had a daughter, and shortly after the baby's birth, the family moved out of the area.
Sizemore's adoptive mother and birth mother had a mutual friend who helped find a picture of her birth family that was a clue to Sizemore's identity. Finally in 1998, she found her entire extended family, including her mother, father, and six brothers. Scattered throughout the United States, as well as one brother who lives in Acapulco, the family keeps in touch through phone calls and regular reunions.
"When we all met, my father walked right up to me never having seen me before — the family resemblance was so strong," Sizemore said.
The first time her adoptive mother and birth mother met, she recalled, they stayed up all night talking and crying, thanking each other.
"I had given up hope," Sizemore said. "It's nice to finally know what your history is, your medical history, your ethnic history. I not only found them, but found them all the way back to the 1800s."
— By Donna DeFalco
In Illinois, as in many other states, adoption records are closed, hindering adoptees searches for original birth certificates or medical information.
At the time of an adoption, the original birth certificate of the child and all the documents pertaining to the legal process of adoption are impounded by the courtin the jurisdiction where the adoption takes place. Legal documents are held by the court and the original birth certificate is held by the state's Department of Vital Records. They remain sealed except by order of the court.
In 1997, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, sponsored an unsuccessful open-records bill. Two years later, she was successful, and a a bill that expanded the Illinois Adoption Registry as of January 2000 was signed into law by Gov. George Ryan.
To sign up for the regi stry — a centralized information bank for adoptees and birth parents — participants must pay a $40 fee, which is waived if registrants provide medical information, which can be provided anonymously. Parents of adopted children can register on behalf of their minor children.
If an adult adoptee and birth mother both register and want to reveal their identities to each other, the adoptee may receive his or her original birth certificate. In adoptions, most birth certificates issued have the adoptive parents' names listed and the child's new name, not the adoptee's birth parents and birth name.
"I think that the registry was a piece of common ground that adoptive parents, birth parents and adoptees felt was an important part of solidifying ourselves as a triad," said Feigenholtz, an adoptee herself, "because we are all interconnected and that triangle should have stayed together."
Obtaining medical information can be an important factor in learning how genetic problems potentially can be passed between generations.
"Adoptees with no medical history are really behind the curve," Feigenholtz said. When she was in her 20s, she found her biological mother and learned that all her relatives lived until their 80s or 90s.
Adoptees who have turned 18 and were adopted through a social-service agency, such as the Department of Children and Family Services or Catholic Charities, can pay a fee to that agency for a search for their birth parents.
Adoptees who were adopted privately usually have a more difficult time searching and must obtain a note from their doctorprior to searching. After that, he or she must petition the court, which will appoint a confidential intermediary to conduct a search. In most of these cases, required fees can climb into the hundreds of dollars.
In addition to the Illinois Adoption Registry, other avenues include the International Soundex Reunion Registry, where nearly 10,000 Illinois adopted persons and birth relatives are registered.
— By Donna DeFalco
A Birth Mother's Journey
Melisha Mitchell spent four years and hundreds of dollars to search for the daughter she had given up for adoption. During the search, she was angered that adoption searching had become big business, with some agencies charging hundreds of dollars.
"People tend to prey on the most vulnerable," Mitchell said.
She found her birth daughter, who then wanted to meet her birth father. Mitchell decided to search herself for the man who had not been in contact with his family for 30 years.
She found him. "If I can find him, I can find anyone," Mitchell said.
In searching, she was able to use legal documents in the public domain. Nine times out of 10, Mitchell said, the birth mother's name and sometimes the birth father's names are published on the original adoption decree given to the adoptive parents.
"Up until 1962, birth mother's names are publicly available," Mitchell said.
Mitchell recently formed the White Oak Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers post-adoption assistance for anyone born or adopted in Illinois, and their birth and adoptive families.
In the past two years, she has helped more than 400 adoptees, adoptive parents and birth family members reconnect with biological relatives.
— By Donna DeFalco
Support Group for the Three Sides of the Adoption Triangle
Jody Moreen of Naperville went through her own search and reunion with birth siblings. While living in Indiana, she attended a support group for those involved in the adoption process and eventually became the facilitator for the group.
After her move to Naperville several years ago, she started a support group called Adoptees, Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents Together, which meets at Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton.
Moreen understands the importance of adoptees finding medical information — colon cancer runs in her biological family.
And just as other adoptees who searched for their birth families have done, she wrestled with the issue of remaining loyal to, and not wanting to hurt, her adoptive family.
"Anyone who goes on this, it's an emotional roller coaster," Moreen said. "You wrestle with the loyalty issue. It's putting the pieces together to come to a resolution."
For many adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents, there is also the issue of unresolved grief: grieving for a parent never known, grieving for a child given up and infertile couples dealing with not being able to have children.
"I've seen women transformed by talking and sharing unresolved grief. They finish the grieving," she said.
Looking back on her own journey, Moreen said, "I matured, I changed, I discovered my weaknesses, (and explored) the basic questions of who am I."
— By Donna DeFalco