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September 25, 2013

Adoption & Identity

by Angel Pumila

Adoption & Identity

 In the United States, a person that is adopted has very little legal rights to know the identity of their biological family.  Closed adoption procedures require all information concerning an adoption to be sealed.  This includes parental information, birth name, and even the correct date of birth listed on a birth certificate.  While this system is currently changing, allowing for more information to be disclosed to adoptees, the process can be a source of frustration and emotional turmoil throughout their journey.

The subject of adoption was chosen as a discussion topic for personal reasons.  I, myself, am not adopted, but I have been on a hunt for adoption information of someone very close to me for about two years now.  I have found is that the search for information can seem nearly impossible and that the process itself becomes ingrained into the identity of some adoptees.  “Grotevant has proposed that an initial state of unawareness or denial may be followed by disequilibrating experiences that can precipitate a crisis or exploration phase” (Kroger, 2007, p. 118).  This cycle repeats itself over and over throughout the lifespan while the individual searches for exactly who they are and where they belong.  However, the exploration is not owned by the adoptee but the laws tied to the adoption itself.

To shed light on these laws, I will share this journey.  When my grandmother was 18 years old, she learned from her mother that she was adopted.  Sixty-two years later the search for truth and circumstances surrounding her adoption remain, in part, a mystery.  She has scoured through countless archives across the country over her lifetime to no avail.  It wasn’t until she was in her 70’s that she finally found out who her biological father was through her cousin, who happened to be her half-brother.  Back in 1935, her father was married and had an affair.  He died shortly before my grandmother was born.  Then her father’s sister adopted her.  Yet, no information could be found about her birth mother.

My search has consisted of libraries, archives, Internet, d.n.a. tests, and now the court system.  I discovered her adoption papers, and that the information in them is not the truth.  The same applies for her birth certificate.  Her birth name and actual date are still unknown today.  The last step in this mystery is held in a court procedure by filing a motion for disclosure.  Yet, the chances of this motion being approved are slim to none. In Louisiana, adoptees can only access identifying information in their adoption if it is of medical necessity, rights of an heir, or requested by both parties in the adoption.  Since none of this applies, our day in court is faced with meager hopes.

This is the story of many adoptees searching for the source of their identity.  Yet in some ways, it mirrors that of adolescents bound to a culture that they do not fully accept.  “Adolescence is typically a time of experimentation and testing boundaries, but if you’re an Amish teenager, you’re faced with a confounding choice between family or isolation, tradition or the modern world, faith or uncertainty” (Wender, 2008).  According to Brodubsky, there are three scenarios at the end of this search to find oneself; identity achievement, identity diffusion, or remaining foreclosed (Kroger, 2007, p 118).  That is to say that a person either goes through a process to achieve identity, not question identity, or simply accept their identity as is.

Both Grotevant and Brodubsky explain the processes in which adolescents form their identity.  Through crisis and exploration of the circumstances we come from and the world that surrounds us, we all search for our meaning.  For some the quest is achieved, while others spend a lifetime fighting for the definition of their existence.  Ethnicity, culture, adoption, careers, sexuality, and relocation are all common topics of exploration during adolescence.  Resolution of these issues is dependent upon the experiences in our lives combined with social support and personality factors that lead to acceptance or the lack of acceptance



Kroger, J. (2007). Identity development: Adolescence through adulthood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN: 9780761929604.

Wender, S. & Escherich, K. (2008). The Outsiders: Teens Caught Between Freedom and Faith. Retrieved from


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