IOWA — Deann Cook always knew she was adopted and by the time she was a 22-year-old newlywed she wanted to find out everything she could about her birth parents.
“It was pretty easy because my parents were represented by a private attorney and he had information,” she remembers. That included her original name. “It was news to me at 22 that I hadn’t always been Deann,” Cook exclaims, “my legal name was “Laura Christine for 15 months of my life until the adoption was final and the birth certificate was changed.”
That’s when Cook realized the birth certificate she has is a lie. “None of the names are accurate. That’s not what happened on July 29th 1969! My parents didn’t know me then!”
The reason Cook and other Iowa adoptees can’t get their original birth certificates is because they are sealed. There is a concerted effort to change the law, and it’s already happened in 29 other states. Cook says it’s important because her birth certificate is a legal document that belongs to her and it’s her civil right to have it.
The objections against allowing adoptees to access their original birth certificates fall into two camps. One is birth mother privacy. “They have this notion that birth mothers were promised privacy and confidentiality and that’s not the case,” Cook explains. The other set of objections is that adoptees shouldn’t want or need any more information, “There’s just this lack of understanding that someone would want information about their origin. We should just be happy and lucky and grateful and move on.”
Deann didn’t want to move on when she started getting information about her birth mother. “She had never married so she was in the phone book,” she shrugs, “she was literally in the phone book!” She had her husband make the initial call. “She said – who ARE you? He said his name and she said – no, who are you to HER? And he said – I’m her husband. And she said – I need to call you back! And she hung up!”
Deann and her birth mother talked on the phone a few days later. “Then that week we mailed photos to each other. Then maybe a month later we met in person and spent 2-3 hours together.”
Not only did Deann and her birth mother form a close relationship, but it also extended to Deann’s mom. “What my mom told me she learned was that she only knew adoption in that closed adoption era from the perspective of adoptive mothers who were treated really well. She did not understand until Collette shared some stories with her, what it was like to the birth moms.”
The era Cook is talking about is what’s called “The Baby Scoop Era.”
“It’s referencing how adoption was handled in the 50s, 60s, and into the 70s. People use clichés like she made a loving decision or she made a choice,” Cook explains, “the truth is these were young girls who were pressured to one degree or another by society, families, churches that there was only one way to go and it was to surrender their child and move on and pretend it never happened. ”
Deann and her birth mother made up for twenty-two lost years by spending a lot of time together during the next twenty. “We had a really full relationship. Our family was one big family. My mom, my kids, my in-laws…we were all one big family.”
If you’d like more information on the effort to change Iowa law about adoptee’s birth certificates, visit the Iowa Adoptee Rights Facebook page.