Disparate, deeply felt views reflect adoption dilemma

A hold on the law making birth certificates available to adoptees brings relief to one woman and grief to another

Thursday, December 3 1998

By Spencer Heinz of The Oregonian staff

The worlds of hope for some and dread for others collided Wednesday after an Oregon judge ordered a hold on a voter-approved law that would allow adult adoptees to obtain their birth certificates.

Mary Inselman, 77, of Sweet Home cradles her 8-year-old granddaughter, McKenna Burnett. Inselman learned six years ago that she was adopted. "I can't understand how four people could stop something that thousands of people have voted on," she says of the hold placed upon the adoption measure by a Marion County judge after four birth mothers filed a lawsuit.
"I can't understand how four people could stop something that thousands of people have voted on," said adoptee Mary Inselman of Sweet Home.

"I feel relieved and grateful," said a Portland-area birth mother who asked not to be named. "I guess someone understood that other people's lives were affected by this."

The two women represent some of the deeply felt and vastly divided responses to the order by Marion County Circuit Court Judge Albin W. Norblad to block Oregon's Measure 58 from becoming law.

The order followed a lawsuit filed by four birth mothers who sued the state under "Jane Doe" pseudonyms. They argued that they had been promised confidentiality when they relinquished their children to adoption years ago. The judge ordered a stay until legal challenges are resolved, which could take months.

Inselman said the wait is painful -- especially at her age. She is 77.

She learned six years ago that she was adopted.

A cousin broke the news at a funeral. For Inselman, that raised the question of who she was and where she was from. And it was too late to ask her adoptive parents: Her adoptive father had been killed by a car while crossing a street in 1934, she said, and her adoptive mother died in 1976.

And so Inselman pinned her hopes on Measure 58, which would provide her with her original birth certificate -- something on paper that might contain the name of her biological mother. And that, Inselman hoped, could help to answer the questions that cropped up so far along in her life.

For one thing, Inselman said, she would like to discover her birth mother's medical history because it might help Inselman's 28-year-old granddaughter. The granddaughter has undergone dialysis since a kidney, transplanted when she was 16, failed seven years ago.

On Monday, Inselman called the state vital records office in Portland to apply for her original birth certificate.

On Tuesday, the law went into limbo. Inselman said it was difficult to understand why the four birth mothers feel as though they could never give up their confidentiality.

"You've got to face what you've got to face," Inselman said.

Birth mothers and their families should be proud, she added, that the women had the courage to relinquish their children for adoption in hopes of giving them a better life.

As for herself, Inselman recalled excited conversations with her grown children -- a daughter in her 40s and two sons in their 50s -- who called her moments after Oregon voters passed the measure on Nov. 3.

Inselman said that one of them said, "Now we can find out who we are."

"Cindy," the birth mother's pseudonym, has different priorities. She says she was raped two decades ago and later gave birth to a child. She said confidentiality means safety to her.

Cindy gave birth in another state, so Oregon's law would not apply to the child. But Cindy noted that similar efforts are under way in Washington and other states, and she feels threatened.

Furthermore, Cindy said, she already had told her other children and her spouse, when times seemed right over the years, that she had been raped and given birth to a child as a result of the attack, and that she had relinquished that child for adoption to protect them both.

Cindy has exchanged letters with the child through the adoption agency. But she doesn't want to reveal her name and location to her daughter because her child has asked to get in touch with the father who went to jail. Cindy said she fears that kind of connection might lead the father to track her down.

"If she knows my identity and whereabouts, and she tells him, then he might know where I was," Cindy said. "He might be angry that I put him in jail. It might inflame an old resentment. It's a realistic fear."

She said it hurts to discuss the past, but she has started doing so to protect her privacy and that of other birth mothers who want it.

"They say that they deserve to have a piece of paper that everyone else has a right to," Cindy said of adoptees.

"But it's not just a piece of paper. It has other people's names on it. It affects other people's lives, and we made decisions based on feeling that we had privacy and that we had control and choice."

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