Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fake Birth Certificates

Zoe has a fake birth certificate, issued by the State of Texas, showing that she was born in China on November 6, 2000, to me, her mother.

A complete fake. I don't know what I was doing on November 6, 2000, but I do know where I wasn't -- I wasn't in China giving birth to Zoe.

I have to admit I really hate that document. It makes me feel complicit in how adoption has been practiced -- to create these fake documents to replace real documents, to hide away the real documents, to pretend that the fact of birth to a set of natural parents just didn't happen, to change identity, to erase birth parents, to replace them with another set of parents as if birth and adoption can be equated, as if it doesn't matter who parents a child. [Click here for an overview of sealed original birth certificates of adoptees, and click here if you have time to watch a moving documentary on the subject.]

I know it's not quite the same thing -- after all, Zoe's Chinese birth certificate (such as it is! It's all of 3 lines long and doesn't list birth parents for obvious reasons; heck, since it was created for the purposes of adoption, you might call it a fake, too!) isn't hidden away. We don't pretend the Texas birth certificate is anything other than a fake. But still, it rankles.

I know all the practical reasons to get a state birth certificate -- I teach them in my Adoption Law Class! -- it's convenient for school registration, etc., so that you don't have to explain what the foreign document is and provide a notarized translation; it's easy to replace if lost, unlike the Chinese birth certificate which is irreplaceable; it keeps you from have to produce foreign birth certificate, foreign adoption decree and some American document of name change just to prove you're the parent of your child. But still, it rankles.

It rankles so much that I haven't applied for Maya's Texas birth certificate. I don't want a document that places me in the one place I know I wasn't -- in China, giving birth to Maya, on September 15, 2003. And I just enrolled Maya in kindergarden, using her Chinese birth certificate. The school's reaction? "If you say it's a birth certificate, then we say it's a birth certificate."

Maybe Maya will want one later. I don't know, maybe the practicalities will sway me in time. But for now, it rankles a bit too much.

I'm all for legal documents that tell the truth -- the adoption decrees that announce the sufficient and legal truth that I am Zoe's & Maya's mother, for example. But this legal fiction, that I'm the mother Zoe & Maya were born to, is a ridiculous and unnecessary lie.

As adoptive parents through international adoption, we sometimes think that the way adoption is practiced domestically is not our problem. But do you have a fake birth certificate for your child? If so, maybe it is your problem. And ethical adoption practices are everyone's concern, as Heather at Production, not Reproduction reminds us:

I think framing ethical adoption as a justice issue changes the way we talk about it and expands who can join the conversation. It forces the point that anyone who claims to care about social justice needs to care about the way we practice adoption. We all have a vested interest, even those not directly involved in an adoption. Often ethical adoption--especially open adoption--is approached as a matter of compassion, with the argument that the players involved deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and as little unneccesary pain as possible. Which, yes, absolutely. I am all for compassionate adoption practices. But keeping the conversation at that individual level -- even if it brings about certain needed reforms--doesn't help us address the larger social issues that surround every reliquishment and placement, whether or not we realize it.

Whether we like it or not, the choices we make along the way--especially as adoptive parents--are in some ways political statements. Not blue or red statements, but statements about the definition of family, about the value of single parenting, about the extent to which one's personal moral values should be made universal. It's not that politics should dictate our choices, nor that everyone must make the same choices. It's that we need to see how our individual choices feed into and reflect the larger social landscape. Not everyone who adopts is going to agree with me about that. But I'd argue that once we've put ourselves into the web of interpersonal transactions adoption requires--no matter how many steps removed we may be--we're either reinforcing or challenging the way things are.

I know not everyone will agree, and that's OK! But if that fake birth certificate -- so practical to have -- rankles a little? What can you do? Find out where your state stands on open access to original birth certificates for adult adoptees -- here's a helpful map. Then contact the American Adoption Congress state representative for your area to volunteer in reform efforts. Or get started on your own -- the AAC has some helpful materials here.

And if you have a fake birth certificate for your child? Label it a FAKE, tell your kids it's a fake. It's the same kind of government-authorized fake document almost all adoptees in America get, whether adopted domestically or abroad.


Anonymous said...

Zoe got an ammended birth certificate? O.O

That's just sad.

wblossom said...

You raise an interesting point that I have never really thought about before. That's why I enjoy reading your blog so much. I don't always agree with everything, but it does cause me to think about things in other ways and form a more educated opinion.

Jeff and Madeline said...

Thanks for bringing this up, it is an argument I have been waging about re-adoption and the fake bc that comes with that. In our state (OH) it is NOT necessary to re-adopt and yet many people do it. WHY? Also the fake certificate that comes lists the adopted parents as birth parents! I spoke with the county recorder and asked how they could issue a blatant lie! She could not answer me, neither could the judge. We did not and will not re-adopt or get the bogus document that most OH TRA children receive. If the AP's would take the time to ask then they would know to get a certificate of foreign birth listing the child as born in X country, if BP's are known it is listed, if not it is blank, and the AP's are listed as such. It is basically the foreign birth certificate, but registered and issued through the state so you have the ease of replacability and not having to deal with those unwilling to accept foreign documents--there is no lie. OH is not the only state that issues certificates of foreign birth. I urge families to look into it before hiring an attorney--totally unnecessary, and instead going to the recorders, paying the filing fee, and getting their CFB. You can also register COC for ease of replacement.
I would like to know how they will explain such a document to their kids in the future? I am sorry to sound judgemental, but this issue really strikes a chord with me and I have had AP's defend their names on the BC--it makes me want to wretch.

SB said...

I'm from Canada and we don't seem to have such an option, at least that I'm aware of. When it comes to "producing ID", it seems a "permanent resisdent card" or "citizenship card/passport" works in all situations, including school registration.

I have to admit, it makes me uncomfortable that an adoptive parent is listed when a birthparent should be. I'd agree it is "fake" and should be challenged.

Anonymous said...

In Ireland we do not have a new birth certificate or fake certificate. When we adopt our child we have to do some paperwork and see an attorney and then file the papers with the Government adoption authority. Then the child is listed on the register of foreign adoptions and we get issued witha certificate of adoption, listing us as the adoptive parents, and her date of birth in China and China is listed as her country of birth.

This is a legal document, and instead of replicating a birth certificate, it is what is... an adoption certificate and has all the same legal standing of a birth cert.

I would be completely uncomfortable with having a 'birth cert' with me listed as her mother.....

Having said that I am not sure that we ever received a chinese birth cert for her, or maybe it's just that I do not recognise it as such. we did receive her abandonment certificate, which is probably all she has considering her parents are unknown.

So Sad.


Sheri said...

My girls have been issued Maryland Certificates of Foreign Birth. I don't feel there's anything "fake" about these documents whatsoever. The information listed on the documents is fact, in so far as we know. Is the info complete? Heck no. I can't say with certainty when and where my kids were born, let alone to whom. But the documents does reiterate the legally accepted points (hoops/hurdles), in English, that permitted them to be internationally adopted. The CFB makes no attempt to obscure or obfuscate information, and isn't pretending to be anything other than what it is - a convenience. And, as such, I don't have a problem with this particular document. Unfortunately, not all US States have such a document as as option.

For that matter, I'd really like to have some sort of proof of their adoption, in English... without having to go thru the whole readoption process, which to my mind somehow smacks of invalidating their original adoption... but that's a whole 'nother blog post.

(word verification: abili!)

Anonymous said...

I think you people are taking this way too seriously.

Jeff and Madeline said...

I don't think glossing over a person's first parents and discussing why there is a great need for adoption reform is taking things to seriously.

Anonymous said...

Wow, well I am speechless. A Texas birth certificate erases the past and the birth parents? I can see the point. But, I always considered my daughter's document a convenience for all those bureaucratic types that need one uniform piece of paper. Otherwise it would turn in to "translate this" and "how do I know this is a legitimate document?" I don't know if I'd call it fake.. just a piece of paper that makes our life easier. We know what her original paperwork looks like, we have it in our possession.

malinda said...


Is it OK to lie for the sake of convenience? Would you tell your child that it's OK to say something that's not true when it would make your life easier to do so? If someone else tells a lie that works to your convenience, is it OK to repeat the lie to others?

Of course, those things would be completely against your core values! But it all gets sanitized when the document comes from the State of Texas. Why is that?

Talk me through it -- your child comes across the Texas birth certificate, and says, "Mom, what is this?" What do you tell her?

Anonymous said...

Malinda - Hells, bells, I feel like I am on the stand. Ha! Anyway, I never thought of it as a lie until you brought it up.

I can understand how, from an attorney's point of view, it would be an offensive document since it isn't entirely accurate.

I haven't shown it to my daughter, just because I really haven't determined it of importance. Truly, it isn't hidden - it's just a piece of paper to remove the headaches of translating, etc. She has seen all her China documents, and enjoys going through them.

I agree that what our children read and process is very important. I'll have to go back and look at it again and think about it a bit.

malinda said...


And while we're at it, where were YOU when Ms. Scarlet was struck with a blunt instrument in the library?!

Being a lawyer, I can always argue both sides, right? Here's the "it's not a lie" argument -- a lie requires an intention to deceive, and there is none here.

But I still think the problem here is the more traditional understanding of a lie -- a deliberate untruth.

And if I can make anyone THINK about an issue, I'm happy! I never really care whether I persuade someone to my way of thinking, so long as I persuade them to thinking!

That's why I so appreciated wblossom's compliment, too!

Anonymous said...

Just to take a devil's advocate position here:

I think it is a good thing for my girls to have a birth certificate that looks like everyone else's. They already live their lives in a fishbowl because our family looks different. We all already face questions constantly about their birth and adoption and what happened to their "real" parents. If they had birth certificates that listed birth parents "Unknown" and then my husband and me as their adoptive parents, it would provide an opening for more intrusive questions and comments.

It is a principle of mine, for reasons of privacy, never to supply more information to any institution - government, education, business, etc. - than is necessary to get the job done. If my children’s school, for example, needs proof they were born, then I show them the Texas birth certificates. The circumstances of their birth are not the school's business and I don't see why they should have that information. If an agency or institution has a legitimate need to know our daughters were adopted, then we can provide adoption certificates and Chinese documents.

My purpose is not to deny the adoption or my daughters' birth parents but rather to allow them some privacy and control over the information that people have about them. I have some personal experience with this. I was also born overseas, and I get tired of explaining the circumstances of my birth to everyone who sees my US State Department-issued birth certificate.

By the way, I went back and checked my daughters' Texas birth certificates and they list me and their father as their parents - not specifically their birth parents. And we ARE their parents. There is no intention to deceive. It is pretty obvious we're not their birth parents, but it recognizes the legal relationship. That’s all most institutions need to know.


Anonymous said...

I guess I think in terms of where my daughter will be 20-40-60 yrs from now. When she is at a point where she wants to do something and is stopped in her tracks because she can't produce a birth certificate. Imagine if you went to adopt your child and couldn't just go to vitalchek and place an order for your birth certificate. Bureaucracy and red tape make life difficult enough. I look at my daughter's Missouri birth certificate as something that will help her get through her life here a little more easily, and nothing more.

Elizabeth J.

cora said...

I have a Texas Birth Certificate from 1958, and it does not say anything about birthparents. It only says "Mother" amd "Father" not "birth mother" or "birth father". I was naturally born to the mother listed on my certificate, but the certificate does not indicate in any way who my "birth" mother is, only who my legal "mother" is.

I am in the process of applying for recognition of foreign adoption in Texas for my daughter, so I will soon be getting a birth certificate for her, and I will be interested in what it says.

My own birth certificate simply certifies I was born, and that Carol and Fred are my parents, not that they were my "birth" parents. Only if my daughter's birth certificate actually lists me as her birth mother would I look at it as a fake. Otherwise, I will look at it as I look at my own - a document that certifies where and when I was born and who my legal parents are.

I am my daughter's mother legally, and although she does have another mother - her birth mother - I look at the birth certificate as something that will reaffirm that I am my daughter's legal mother, just as my own birth certificate reaffirms who my legal parents are and says nothing about birthparents.

Jeff and Madeline said...

Elizabeth, the certificate of foreign birth is a "state" birth certificate and can be ordered on vitalcheck like any other. It is a state issued document, there is ease of replication and availability, and has the truth regarding parents and birth. Just an fyi.

Third Mom said...

Random reactions:

Re the amended BC providing confirmation of adoptive parenthood: wouldn't the adoption decree do that?

Re the amended looking like other BCs: the ones my children were issues in VA look nothing like the OBCs I've seen, because they're state-issued docs as opposed to the hospital-issued ones that are issued upon birth.

Our children have copies of their hojeok, or Korean family registries, which serve as birth certificates in Korea. These open up a whole new Pandora's box, however, because children born outside of marriage are listed as "head of household" on their hojeok, and therefore ostracized from birth.

From all angles, it stinks.

malinda said...

I'm pleased to see so much interest in this topic! I usually don't try to defend anything I've blogged about in the comments -- I find that people feel personally flamed when anyone disagrees with them, and then are reluctant to post again, and I hate it when that happens! But I want to address a few arguments (but not arguers!).

I understand the convenience argument, as I've mentioned before. And I even get that everyone is doing thier own cost/benefit analysis with convenience on the benefit side of the balance. And whether it's worth it depends on what you put on the costs side of the balance. I'm just identifying a few costs that concern me. So I get all of that.

But I'm not getting the argument that a birth certificate naming a mother (and father for those that do!) isn't saying that the child was born to that mother. I agree, the blanks that are filled in read "mother" and "father," not "birth mother" and "birth father." But it's called a BIRTH certificate! Don't you think that 99.9% of the people reading it believe that the child was born to the people listed as mother and father? At least until they see a transracial adoptee and adoptive parents together?

Another argument is that the birth certificate is merely certifying the fact of birth, not to whom the child is born. If that were the case, then no parents at all would need to be listed -- we wouldn't even have a blank for mother and father!

Then there's the argument that the birth certificate is merely listing the LEGAL parents, not the parents the child was born to. Again, do you think that is how most people view birth certificates? When I look at my Texas birth certificate from 1960, I don't say, "Look! There are the names of my legal parents!"

One of two things make a person the legal parent of a child -- either the child is born to them or the child is adopted by them. Birth certificates are designed to deal with the first of these reasons, because there's nothing else that could certify to that legal status since natural parents don't go to court to establish their parenthood. Adoption decrees are designed to deal with the second of these reasons, because we go to court to establish that legal status. Using birth certificates to establish our legal parenthood is to pretend that our legal parenthood came by reason of birth.

That's the last I'll say (I promise!) on the subject. I never write posts to persuade people to agree with me -- I'm mostly interested in making people think about perspectives they might not before. But when I start responding in the comments, my argumentative self comes out (am I a lawyer because I'm argumentative, or am I argumentative because I'm a lawyer?!) and I want to WIN! And then I find myself no longer listening.

So I'm turning my ears (eyes?) back on, and hope to read more comments!

Anonymous said...

OMG! You totally crack me up! You just had to get the last word after we talked at ballet yesterday. It's a good thing I like you so much or you might actually get on my nerves!!

malinda said...

Anne -- are you kidding?!!!! You like me, you really, really like me?! I'm touched!

And I just gave blanket permission to everyone in the world to get in the last word! Feel free to post about what an idiot I am, and as I promised, I won't say a word!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is so funny! Malinda, you are awesome and I hope you know that. If you didn't care so much, we wouldn't have this wonderful blog!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Sally Field, I really do like you. And just because of that, I promise not to get Maya a shirt which say "all I got for my birthday is a crappy birth-certificate" or "Why won't my mother get me my birth certificate?"!!!

malinda said...


. . . saying nothing . . . listening, listening . . . lips are sealed . . . *choking** . . . can't (gasp, gasp) breathe . . .

R. I. P. . . . .

(BTW, we have now surpassed the previous record of 21 comments on a single post!)

Anonymous said...

I cannot stop laughing at Anne's posts. The T-Shirt thing has me in stitches! (Sending Malinda a tank of oxygen)

Anonymous said...

I don't know that I've ever actually read the TX birth certificate before, but I actually got it out today and read it. I would say that it is not really a lie, but could certainly be misconstrued. It serves a purpose, for school admission and other such events. It is an easy way to "prove" that I am the mother (true), even though it neglects to clarify that I am an adoptive parent. I wonder what the state of TX would do if adoptive parents requested a different format? Would other adoptive parents object to be identified as such? Would our children in the future desire a perfectly truthful (not misleading) document or would they feel relieved at the fact that it doesn't force them to disclose their adopted status? I think it could go either way.
Sue (who posts anonymously because she can't remember her google password)

Anonymous said...

Great post!! I'm a little behind in my reading! Kansas also has the Certificate of Foreign Birth mentioned for Ohio. If anyone is interested in pursuing an option similar to this in their state (especially an attorney who knows how the system works and maybe even knows a few people who could help get it changed!!) you might check some of the state vital statistics websites to see what options are out there. I know that Chloe's COFB looks just like my Birth Certificate when ordered from the State, but the words on the paper are different. I did not get it out to refresh my memory, but I'm sure it has spaces for birthparent names, if known, and adoptive parents names. Mine is the only name on there, but the form is flexible for different family structures. I am an attorney by training, but currently employed as an environmental scientist, so I really appreciate the way you approached your rebuttals counselor!! Great job! Very enjoyable blog, sorry I'm usually just a lurker.

Anonymous said...

Without open birth records, there is one rule for some and one rule for another.

DNA records have become part of life, anyway, so for me, it's open records for all.

Kristen Howerton said...

Looks like I'm a year late to the conversation, but I just noticed this post on your sidebar and I LOVE it!! It rankles. I totally agree! I hate the fact that on my son's (ammended) birth certificate, it says my name, and then has the name of the delivery doctor underneath. As if I've ever seen that man in my life! I am fortunate to have copies of the originals. I really wasn't informed when I applied for my first adopted son. With my second, I am living in that tension between wanting to be truthful, and at the same time as a previous commenter said, wanting to keep things truthful and at the same time wanting to give him documentation that won't complicate things or bring unwanted attention every time he has to show a birth certificate. It's a tough call, but again I'm glad to have the originals so that nothing is truly "sealed".

harriet glynn said...

I think about it a lot. But I can't see a solution for it. We have his orginal birth certificate (or certificate of live birth as they call it in Canada) so that's at least a major PLUS. We had to change it in order for himto become a part of our family. In some ways, an adoption certificate would make more sense except that you can imagine the nightmare it would cause logistically as he applied for things....

Unknown said...

I already bookmarked this for future re-readings. I have skimmed through the page and I see you've written a lot of cool tips. Thanks a lot for sharing....

Birth Records

YoonSeon said...

Wow... that's really wrong. It's just a total insult to adoptees, APs and natural parents, alike. Who the hell comes up with these things? It's just all wrong.

Samantha Franklin said...

Thanks so much for writing this post. I agree, a more truthful document would be an "adoption certificate" instead of amending a human's birth certificate. It is state-sanctioned identity theft.

Amanda Woolston said...

Malinda, I appreciate you writing this.

I see comments here where people who are not adopted are assuming the falsified document is good out of convenience or assuming the adoptee won't care.

The voices of Adult Adoptees have proven otherwise. Many of us care, and we care....a lot.

The first time I saw my amended birth certificate was horrendous for me. I was very young and picked it up to look at it because it was out an no one was looking. When it listed "certificate of live birth" with all of my Adoptive Parent's information on it, I was shocked that the government would lie like that. I felt like something that belonged to me had been taken. The concept of an original out there never occured to me at the time and I spent the rest of my childhood under the impression that anything tying me to my Original Fammily was erased and gone forever.

When its a decision you make for YOURSELF, that is one thing. When it is a decision and an erasure and closure orchestrated on your behalf and then your told how the "right way" to feel about it is...that's wrong.

It's not convenience, it is absolute laziness and blatant continued ignorance to minority groups on the U.S's part.

Don't want to improve the social climate towards individuals of illegitimate birth so that they can live as equals? If they become adopted, just lie on their birth certificates!

Don't want to have to work to improve the social climate towards adopted individuals or deal with how they may or may not feel about being adopted?--lie on their birth certificates! Now no one will have to know they're adopted--not even them!

Don't want to deal with issues of race in America? Lie on the birth certificate and claim that the person was born white! (yes, I do know such adoptees whose very race was lied about on their ABC).

Some states allow place of birth to be changed as well. There's very little truthful information on an ABC--which is very marginalizing to a person who has to use that document. Convenience? I've lost count of how many times I've had to explain what an ABC is and how "no, it's not my real birth certificate, I have to pretend it is though." That is NOT convenient in the least bit.

Since when does lying make things easier? It doesn't. Many adoptees can't get driver's liscenses, passports, and security clearance for jobs. They have no access to their ancestral history and no state-acknowledged respect for their roots.

The state's solution to that? Lie some more! Some states, instead of making the OBC available, are issuing the amended with the filing dates altered so that it won't conflict with Homeland Security laws.

The reason why this bothers me so much is because amending and sealing has enforced a lot of stereotypes in society that adoptees have to deal with. I explained one of them here: http://www.declassifiedadoptee.com/2010/08/oooh-so-thats-where-that-nasty-social.html

No want wants to be lied to and then told it's necessary so that they can live life with more ease among the dominant, non-adopted majority. Why not just respect people for who they are and where they come from to begin with? Problem solved.

Amanda Woolston said...


the problem with Adoptive Parents being on the birth certificate because "we ARE the parents" is....is biological birth the only legitimate form of parentage? If not, then why is it so important to be listed on a BC to establish parentage?

One does not need to have their names on a birth certificate in order to be a parent. Only accurate birth information should be on a BIRTH certificate. The decree of adoption says who the legal parents are.

Parents who have surrendered to adoption are still parents too, it doesn't matter if their names are taken of a birth certificate or not. This isn't about family heirarchy--which again, is something an adoptee should decide for themselves. The amending and sealing process is just another lovely way society says that original families don't matter.

Rita said...

I just discovered this blog, and want to say a huge AMEN to this post. It drives me insane that my son was issued a new birth certificate with his adopted name and me listed as his mother. When it comes to bureaucratic concerns, how would it be so horribly difficult and inconvenient to have an adoption certificate? For that matter, the papers I have to show that I'm his adoptive mother is a long legal document, not a simple certificate.

I think the original birth certificate should stand, and people who are adopted should also have an adoption certificate.

Unknown said...

Hello. I noticed that this blog's last comment is dated almost 7 years ago. Well, I hope someone is still reading it and will be able to help me in my dilemma.
I'm Italian and have dual citizenship in the US as of 2013. I wanted for my husband and adopted daughter, Francesca (born in September 2003) to have the Italian citizenship, so I contacted the Italian consulate in Philadelphia, which is the district I belong to, in spite of living only 35 minutes from the Italian embassy in DC. Anyways, they told me that they needed Francesca to be re-adopted in Maryland, our state of residence, in order to have her decree accepted by the Italian authorities, because we aren't residents in mainland China. I looked into the re-adoption and noticed that the first thing they ask for is her birth certificate. I looked and looked and looked and cannot locate it anywhere in my house. I possibly had to give one original away when I applied for her first US passport and a second original when we went back to China in 2010, so she could apply for a Visa. So, I don't have a birth certificate. I looked on the internet and noticed that there's a service that can issue birth certificates for adopted children born in a foreign country but when I went to fill out the application they asked for the parents names without specifying adopted or birth parents. Of course, we do not have her birth parents information, so I put our names, but right before hitting print I backed off and started thinking that something was not right...is this birth certificate going to say that Francesca was born to ME in China, in September 2003...? I called our adoption agency and the lady who took care of us 12 years ago was very nice in calling me right back and talking to me on the phone, but reiterated that I MUST have another copy of her original birth certificate somewhere. Francesca is only 13, and it's really not all that urgent that she take the Italian citizenship. Still. I need to be able to know that at any point in her life she has some kind of birth certificate. Of course, she does have a certificate of citizenship, a US passport, a social security card, the works. But her birth certificate is equally as important. Has any of you found themselves in this situation and if so, how do you suppose I should proceed...? Thank you in advance for any help you may give me...


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