Adopted Me: My Life as a Late-Discovery-Adoptee

September 1, 2011

Adopted Me: My Life as a Late-Discovery-Adoptee

By Jeff Hancock

I learned the truth just before I turned 42 years old: I was adopted. Over the years prior to my discovery, I had suspicions about being adopted. From my earliest memories as a young child, I had an instinctual feeling that I didn’t belong where I had somehow found myself to be. As a child, several times over the years I would purposefully open the door for my parents to break the news to me. However suspicious I felt, they were always very quick to deflect my inquiries toward another topic.

By the time I was to begin my senior year in college, I still felt the presence of that large white elephant always trailing behind me whenever I was in the company of my family. Sometimes it was a feeling of rejection or non-acceptance. There were times I felt ashamed to be around my extended family, as I never once felt as though I fit in with any of them. This feeling I have had throughout my entire life is defined as “the primal wound” [Verrier, 1993].

In her book by the same title, Nancy Verrier defines the primal wound asthe trauma each adoptee is burdened with that begins as a newborn infant, and continues throughout our lives. Every child who is separated from his or her biological mother will experience abandonment and loss.”  By the summer before my senior year in college, I was ready to shed away my white elephant, and directly find out once and for all if I were indeed adopted.

There was a lifetime of evidence to support my adoption conspiracy theory:  the kids at school, on the bus, and at church who teased, bullied, and called me “foster child”; the lack of a quilt from my paternal grandmother (she hand made one for each of her grandchildren except me); my exclusion from the Hancock family bible (a book over 200 years old with detailed names and relations); and finally, a faded Polaroid snapshot that said, Jeff, our foster child on the back.

Though it occurred during the summer of 1986, I remember it as though it were last week. I called home and I asked my mother directly, “Am I adopted?” Optimistically, I was expecting to hear a simple “yes” or “no” response. I was quite stunned at her reply, “Why, of course you’re our son!” Then Dad took the phone. He told me that I should speak to a pastor or a shrink because I had “gone off the deep end.” Both parents made it clear to me that I was their son and that I never should bring this up again as I had hurt them very much by questioning our relationship.

I immediately felt guilty for bringing up the matter. I hated myself for having upset them, especially Dad. He had a long history of heart disease, and I grew up with the daily reminder from my parents and sister that he “could die at any moment.” At the same time I was hurting from their criticisms. No part of this conversation made sense to me. I still felt adopted and even more rejected, unwanted, and unworthy than before.

Dad passed away from leukemia in 1990. He wanted for me to never know I was adopted. He told my family that he never wanted me to feel rejected for having been adopted.  (Knowing Dad, I now believe that he feared I would reject him as my father.) I remember being annoyed with my mom when she refused an autopsy following his death. My wife was six months pregnant with our first child, and I was scared that there might be something genetic in association with my father’s leukemia. I kept explaining to her why I needed to know the exact cause. Mom kept brushing it off. Now I understand why it didn’t matter.

My parents were blind to how other family members never accepted me. My mother and other family members continued to allow me to live the lie until late March, 2007.

In late 2006 there was much talk in Western New York State regarding an upcoming requirement that all US citizens travelling to Ontario, Canada would need to provide a US Passport. Entering Canada was a common practice for us. We have several college friends along the Niagara Peninsula, and we visited many times a year. I wanted to be the first to obtain my passport.

Quickly, I began asking my mother to supply me with my birth certificate, a document I’d never had in my possession. Each time I asked her to dig it out and send it to me, I was met with various excuses as to why she couldn’t find it. After several weeks I grew weary of asking her until I delivered my only other recourse: to pay New York State for a new copy. Once Mom realized that one way or another I was going to own my birth certificate, she was very quick to spill the beans and provide me with all the adoption related paperwork she had in her possession.

What Mom gave me wasn’t a birth certificate at all; it was a Certificate of Live Birth, otherwise known as an Amended Birth Certificate. Amended birth certificates vary in information they contain. The information on mine was sparse. An Original Birth Certificate (sometimes referred to as an “OBC”) contains a wealth of knowledge in comparison. This information may include the person’s weight and length at birth, parents’ names, hospital, physician, time of birth, a hand or finger print of the infant, religious faith, ethnicity, and in some cases the birth place of the parents.

In stark contrast, the amended birth certificate typically states the person’s adopted name, date of birth, the names of the adoptive parents, city and state of birth, and a raised state seal. The purpose of an original birth certificate is to certify that you were born into a specific family, faith, heritage, and ethnicity. The amended birth certificate is the only version that adoptees in New York State have a legal right to.  It states only that a person was born, and it lists the adopted parents as though they are in fact the person’s biological parents.

Ironically, had I simply gone beyond requesting my mother’s paperwork, and applied directly to the New York State Department of Vital Records, I’d have received an amended birth certificate with my adopted family listed as my birth family. Never would I have discovered my adoption.

After my discovery, and obtaining my state-censored birth certificate, I began my US passport application process. I was shocked at what I went on to learn. Passport requirements include submitting a certified birth certificate as proof of American citizenship. This birth certificate has to have been filed within a year of the person’s birth.   But my birth certificate – the amended version that the state will give me – was not filed until I was four years old.  Why?  Read on.

Before my parents adopted me, I was in their care as a foster child. Though I was born on April 18th, 1965, the only birth certificate I have access to (the amended version) was not filed until after my adoption on February 27th, 1969. Because the only acceptable birth certificate for passport application had to have been filed within a year of my birth, my application was rejected; my birth certificate was filed four years after my birth, when my adoption was finalized.

It is worth noting that In New York State, a foster child could forever remain in foster care until he or she becomes an adult at the age of 18. During those 18 years the original birth certificate is never sealed. However, once a child is adopted from foster care, whether that age is six weeks, six months, or sixteen years, the original birth certificate becomes sealed forever, with legal access only to the amended version.

Please try to imagine my frustration.  First my family denied me of the truth for nearly 42 years. Following this, I learned that my country is denying me issuance of a US passport. Finally, my lifelong state of residence, New York, continues to deny me access to the one and only item that stewards my very identity.

Beyond the aforementioned denials, I am also denied my non-identifying information as well.  “Non-ID,” as it is commonly called, is information that a social worker culls from adoption records to provide the adult adoptee information on his or her background, circumstances of birth, and so on, but stripped of any details that could allow that person to identify his parentage.

Through the New York State Department of Vital Records I was informed that the agency responsible for my foster care placement would furnish me with a report of my non-identifying personal information within four to six weeks. After many years of hoping for my information, I have recently given up of ever receiving it. Several times I have spoken with the current director of the Cattaraugus County Department of Social Services, and each time I receive a sympathetic explanation from her.

The absence of information about my life is due to a decades-old lack of structure to their archive storage practice. None of their foster care or adoption files are in any specific order. To complicate matters even further, the caseworker responsible for our records in the 1960s never noted dates, locations, employment information of the families, or any sibling information.

To carry things to the next step, that caseworker also assigned aliases to each child, and possibly to some foster/adoptive families. Though there are thousands of files in the archives, it is virtually impossible for today’s caseworkers to find a paper trail to follow to the information they are seeking for me now.

The only other source of potential non-identifying information lies within the vaults of the Cattaraugus County Family Court system. While New York State has kindly provided forms that enable adult adoptees to petition their prior Family Court for a copy of their “Original Order of Adoption” to my awareness not a single Family Court Judge has honored a single request. In my own experience, I continually petition regardless of each previous denial. There are only two family Court judges in Cattaraugus County; neither is willing to grant my request.

In a letter included with a recently denied petition, Hon. Michael Nenno suggested that if I really must know my personal information, I should consider hiring a private investigator. Beyond my familiar feelings of rejection, this incident angered me. Why should I have to spend a minimum of $2,500.00 to hire someone to gather information for me that my state and county governments can easily give to me, should they choose to do so? In my most recent petition to Justice Nenno’s court, I suggested that he and his staff do what other family court justices do, and that is to simply photocopy the files, and white-out any identifying information. Many months have now passed with no reply.  Next time I petition I will offer to pay the standard 15-cent-per-page photocopy fee. Perhaps that will finally sway him.

Not knowing the information on my birth certificate is like reading a book that has chapter one ripped out of it.  For much of my life I thought I had chapter one, but now I have to read my life all over again, but starting with the second chapter.  I want my first chapter,  just like everyone else.

It is for these very principles that in 2008 I became involved in the Adoptee Rights Movement. As a Late-Discovery Adoptee, I believe that my story is unique. Sadly, it is also representative of a bureaucratic sector of our society that fails to serve the very people it was meant to support.

Since discovery I have had a million thoughts battle in my head. Sometimes I feel grief, as if someone has died, yet I don’t know who. It’s like attending a funeral for my own sense of self, an identity that never was. I get angry sometimes; other times I’m depressed. Part of me wishes I’d been adopted by someone else. Some days I wish I’d been aborted. I don’t feel I know who I am anymore. I am so different from everyone else in my family. I’m always wondering if there is anyone on earth who may be like me.

Everyone in my small hometown, my parents’ church, my family, and my school knew of my adoption except me. I feel betrayed and taken for granted. I’m a very different person post-discovery. I was happy with the person I was before my mom’s revelation. I have no explainable way to describe who I am sitting here now.

So many things make sense to me now; countless odd little experiences over the years that suddenly now appear crystal clear. One such memory from when I was ten years old. My sister had married an emotionally and physically abusive man. On more than one occasion while they were living with us in our parents’ home, he referred to me as “the living abortion.” Even this sorry excuse of a human being was privy to my personal adoption story – 30 years before that story was shared with me.

As time continues to pass, I occasionally remember more details from my childhood. I now understand comments made to me by bullies at school and on the bus so many years ago. The many remarks, innuendos, and peculiar things spoken to me, or overheard at church, family picnics, and around town seemed odd then. Today I see why I was never accepted or included in family plans, invited to join clubs or groups at school, and avoided at church.

Because of my late discovery, I now fully understand the phrase “life-changing event.” I haven’t been able to describe just *who* I am anymore. I have only two known blood relatives: our sons. I fear for their futures not having the privilege of knowing half of their heritage or family medical history.

The most positive experience that I’ve had since my discovery has been knowing the countless other adoptees and first-families I have met through the Adoptee Rights Protest, the NYS lobby team, adoptee Facebook users, first-family members and adoptees who attend my monthly support group meetings, and several members of various state legislatures who agree with our cause and who labor to restore our right to access our original birth certificates.

I currently volunteer as an activist for restoring adoptees’ access to our original birth certificates statewide with New York’s Unsealed Initiative Project and nationally with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Also, I am a volunteer facilitator of monthly support group meetings with the Hillside Agency’s Adoption Resource Network in Rochester, New York.

Like most Americans, I had no idea that we adoptees are denied our equal rights until after my story unfolded. We each deserve to know who we are, just as each non-adopted adult is allowed to know.

Work Cited

Verrier, Nancy (April 1993). The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child. 1st Ed. Nancy Verrier Publisher.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State [online].

http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html  Retreived:August 21, 2011.



  1. Well done, Jeff. How can I post this on my Facebook page?
    I hope you get your OBC soon.

    • Sure, anytime!

  2. […] the original here: Adopted Me: My Life as a Late-Discovery-Adoptee « Sabres4jeff's Blog This entry was posted in Amended Birth Certificate and tagged amended-birth, birth, […]

  3. Hi Jeff: Well done, and thanks for your post which so coincides with my belief that we have the right to know where we came from, if only for purposes of medical history. I’m not an adoptee, but my late mother was, a fact I never knew till a cousin let it slip when I was in my mid-30s. It explained so much, particularly when I searched the Internet for reliable info on adoptees as parents. I know what adoption secrecy and denial such as you experienced did to my mother, and I am adamant that it should stop. What a great thing you did by punching through all of that and finding the truth.

    BTW, my mother and I were estranged for many years, and that never healed. About two weeks ago, I learned from an Internet posting of obituaries that she died at the age of 83 last February. I have written about this to some extent on my blog, The Cathryn Files, if you are interested.

    Blessings to you. Keep fighting for your inalienable right to know about yourself.

    Cathryn Meer Bauer

  4. Thank You for putting words to almost a carbon copy of my life. Its been almost 7 years since I discovered my own adoption story at the age of 31. Blessings!

  5. […] […]

  6. You are not alone in your feelings. I found out a few months ago at age 44. Its like no other event and it just doesnt go away. The alien inside you cant run from.

  7. Thanks Jeff for telling your story. I hope one day things change for you all.

  8. Jeff,
    We are a world apart, but I found great energy from your article & confronted my adoptive parents. Today, after 36yrs old, my adoptive mother broke the truth to me. I am now rapidly planning to locate my original identity by locating my biological parents.

    Your article gave me a lesson for life…to confront the truth & to finish what we started. Don’t give up. One who gives others hope & encouragement will not be at a loss. I understand you might still be chasing the details for your biological parents but if its of any comfort than know you have helped me in that space. God Bless.

  9. Jeff, I am writing a piece about adoption reform and would like to get a quote or two from you about how you were denied a passport. Could you email me? Leslie

  10. I found out I was adopted 2 months ago, after I turned 60. My parents died 5 years ago. I was waiting for my inheritance of $200,000.00 and realized, my brother and 3 sisters, who were not adopted, simply took it, by getting a power of attorney and draining bank accounts and selling the house, without telling me. I was the only one who ever assisted my parents, gave them $300,000.00 so they could keep their house back, when all others abandoned them, back in the 80’s and 90’s. I remodeled their home for free and basically did everything for them for 40 plus years, after I turned 20 years old. At 60, I feel totally abused. My parents were not my parents, never told me I was adopted, used me for free labor and money, since I was on AT&T Headquarters Staff, as their top headquarters staff author and trainer of proprietary software. I then opened up a travel agency, which does 2.5 million dollars a month. I thought I had a family. I gave my brothers the proceeds of a 1959 corvette when I was 21 years old, to assist him with a marital breakup. I gave my sister a $2,000.00 camera, leather jackets, just to keep warm when they had moved to Missouri and hand no camera to film their newborn.

    Finding out I was adopted, has destroyed my life. If I had known at 21 or before, I would not have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to a family, who used me for money and free work, all my life.

    I was the one of the top athletes from my high school, beating 50% of all school records since 1932. I was the pitcher on a team with 3 1st place trophies. Not one time, did my father attend one game nor my mother. In track in High School, not once did either of them show any support or interest in me, maybe that is why I tried so hard in life, to get the love and attention they refused to give.

    My brother was a drunk, 3 time drunk driver, my sisters, 2 of them without jobs all their life and youngest sister a lumberyard secretary.

    I in turn, left home at 18, honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces, the youngest manager in At&T history in California to become a staff manager at headquarters without a college education. I was telecommunications manager at the 1984 Olympics, started up a travel agency, then opened 2 more and all the while, helped my parents throughout my life, not knowing they were not telling me I was adopted, because no one wanted the free money and work to end.

    Now I have myself, no relatives, no family, because once my parents died, everyone stopped calling, and my brother and sisters ran off with my inheritance.

    I did not sue them and they can not call me because they stole my life, money and everything else I thought I had, and the memories that I was a son of my parents, was all a lie.

  11. I have only have a live certificate filed 2 years after I was born. I was told that I was not adopted all my life, I’m quite sure I am but no one will tell me the truth if I am. I just requested an original birth certificate from the state. I was told by the county that if I am adopted it will come back as “not found. ” Hopefully, that will solve my problem.

    I look like no one in my family and none of the early baby pictures look like me…and when I was a child my sister and used to joke that I was adopted

  12. […] Randolph Severson, Joe Soll, Patricia Martinez Dorner, Lois Melina, Dr. Michael Trout, Jeff Hancock, Sharon Kaplan Roszia, Adam Pertman, Joyce Pavao and Marley Greiner, among them.) Sometimes, […]

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