For many adults adopted as children in Washington state, a change in law Tuesday will give them access to family medical history, and might help them identify their birth parents.
Genel Tucker is looking to learn more about her family via the new law, which allows people adopted before October 1993 to apply to get their original birth certificates.
Of the two sisters she has who also were adopted, she’s the only one who has not been able to find a birth parent by other means.
“They were able to find their birth moms,” said Tucker, 45. “Both of them have passed on now. I’m hoping that’s not the case for me.”
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Under the old law, Tucker hadn’t been able to get a copy of her original birth certificate because her adoption was finalized in Tacoma in 1970.
Now that she can, Tucker is among adoptees who have prefiled to get their certificates from the state Department of Health.
Before the new law, anyone adopted after Oct. 1, 1993, could get their certificates on their 18th birthday as long as their birth parents had not filed a form to prevent it.
Now those adopted earlier can seek their certificates, beginning some time after Tuesday.
In the meantime, the Health Department has been accepting forms from birth parents to request they not be contacted, to green light contact from a birth child or to ask that an intermediary establish contact.
Birth parents also can opt to prevent the release of the birth certificates.
“There’s no deadline for birth parents to file a contact preference form, and they can update a form they’ve already filed at any time,” said Christie Spice, state registrar and director at the Health Department’s Center for Heath Statistics. “If we receive a contact preference form before July 1 and it contains enough information to connect it to the original birth certificate, there shouldn’t be a problem.
“After July 1, it’s possible that we could fill a request for an original birth certificate before we receive a contact preference form.”
No matter what a parent marks, for a contact preference form to be filed, the parent also must complete a medical history form.
That’s especially important to Tucker, who suffers from a hereditary immune disorder called Graves disease, and is hoping to learn other important information about her birth family’s health.
“It’s my hope that (my birth mother) just doesn’t mark ‘unknown’ on everything,” Tucker said. “I have a health condition that could have been diagnosed a lot sooner if I had known. My oldest son has it as well. Either my birth mother or birth father must have it.”
All she knows about her birth parents is that her mother was 23 when she was born, and named Susan. Her adoptive father was the physician who delivered Tucker, and took her home from the hospital. He passed away when she was 10.
As for meeting her birth mother and her family, Tucker first must identify and find them using the birth certificate. Then: “If they’re willing, I’m willing,” she said.
“I would even be willing to meet with (my birth mother) privately,” she said. “She doesn’t need to tell anybody. If it’s been her secret, she can keep it her secret.
“I wish part of this law was able to give information about why she put me up for adoption. Just to help us adoptees get some of that closure.”
Tucker is among many trying to take advantage of the new law.
“Our staff are fielding calls from adoptees and birth parents every day at this point,” Spice said.
While the Health Department can start processing the requests Tuesday, that’s not to say someone will be able to request a birth certificate in person after that and get the record the same day.
Matching up information and retrieving the records, which aren’t kept at the state office, won’t be a same-day process, Spice said. That is why the agency is encouraging adoptees to mail in their requests.
The volume of applications means it’ll likely take weeks to finish, though it’s hard to predict, Spice said.
The agency used Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about the change, and told stakeholders such as adoption agencies and interest groups about the new law, Spice said. A section of the Health Department’s website also explains the new law.
“People who may be affected by this change in law, they may live well outside of Washington state at this point,” Spice said. “There’s no way to know what proportion we’re reaching.”
That’s the case for Patricia Nelson, who was adopted in Seattle in June 1966, and now lives in Wichita, Kansas.
“If there was a possibility of being reunited with my biological parents, that’s an open door,” she said. “I will also respect if they decline. But it’s more or less because I want to find out about my heritage, my medical background.”
Her adoptive parents told her the bit of information the social worker in Washington gave them when she was adopted, but she hopes that by prefiling for her birth certificate, she’ll learn more.
What she knows now is she’s half-Japanese, her mother’s heritage. Her father was in the military. She was born prematurely in February. The state named her Jennifer.
“It’s the curiosity factor, too,” she said. “This is a chapter of my life I would like to just play out. I really don’t know what to expect.”