In 1991, the Juman family filed suit against Louise Wise for fraud and wrongful adoption. It's disturbing to read that Michael Juman's severe schizophrenia led to his early demise -- in 1994, he died from an accidental medication overdose at the age of twentynine.
Two years later, the court ordered Louise Wise to provide Michael's family with his file. It showed that his birth mother met his birth father, who was also schizophrenic, at a mental hospital. Unlike most people, adoptees have two birth certificates. One is issued at the time of their birth and lists their birth parents' names. A second birth certificate, which is issued at the time of their adoption, lists their adoptive parents' names. Only a handful of states (Alabama, Alaska, Kansas, Oregon, and New Hampshire) currently provide adoptees who have reached the legal age access to their birth certificates. In the rest of America, an adoptee who would like the original birth certificate must petition the court and plead extenuating circumstances; petitions are rarely granted.
Before the 1930s original birth certificates were available to adoptees and both sets of parents. But, in an effort to deter biological parents from interfering with adoptions during the postwar adoption boom, most states sealed the records. In doing so, they also denied adoptees access to their original birth certificates. If I manage to locate my original birth certificate, which is supposedly numbered the same as the one I received at the time of my adoption, would my twin's certificate be filed just one page away? When I had applied for French citizenship last year, the certified birth certificate I'd requested from the city's vital records department to accompany the application listed the hospital's name, along with the hour of my birth, a fact I had never previously known. Seeing my mother Lynn's swirled script on the birth certificate had been a surprise. I felt comforted seeing her name on the official document, as if she were accompanying me on my quest for a new nationality. Her death at thirty-three had circuitously led me to discover the truth about my twin. I long to share this revelation with her, my real mother. If only there were a registry that could reunite me with her.
When she had written me, the director of postadoption services at Louise Wise had enclosed a sibling registration form to send in to the New York State Registry, where I had made my initial request. As she provided me with no other feasible lead, I decide to begin there, though I realize that the chance of a reunion is nearly zero unless my twin somehow also knows of my existence. Perhaps, I think, the agency can do no more than hint and they know that my twin, also looking for her birth parents, has registered. My mind is racing. Is it possible that my birth mother kept my twin and only abandoned me? Why were we separated?
As elation is overtaken by confusion, I call my dad in Oklahoma. Though we live thousands of miles apart and have differing ideas, especially about how to handle my nephew, we share a mutual respect. I find it unlikely that he would have known the truth all along without revealing it to me, but I have to be sure.
"Hello?" By chance, I catch him at a rare moment when he is not busy at work.
"Dad, I got a letter from Louise Wise."