Bill of Adoptee Rights gains support locally and across the state

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Bridget J. Gordinier holds a picture of her daughter, Cherilyn M. Bush, whom she placed for adoption in 1978, at her home in Hammond. Ms. Gordinier is an advocate for a state bill that would give more rights to adoptees who want to access their original birth records.

Bridget J. Gordinier had almost given up hope of ever speaking to her daughter, 35 years after she was born.

“I lost all hope. I knew I would never see her again,” Ms. Gordinier said.

In March 1978, Ms. Gordinier made one of the most difficult decisions she would ever make: to place her daughter up for adoption.

“I was 17 at the time, and just was not able to raise a child on my own,” she said. “I let her go, knowing that she would get a better life than what I could give her.”

“It was a different era back then,” Ms. Gordinier said. “People didn’t talk a lot about it — it was kind of hush-hush.”

There were also very few options for parents who chose to place a child up for adoption in the ’70s, she said.

“I knew that I was signing every right away,” Ms. Gordinier said. “I would never get to know anything about her — where she went or who had her. My only option would be, on her 18th birthday, I would be able to register with New York state.”

So, 18 years later, Ms. Gordinier did exactly that. She made her information public, hoping that her daughter, now legally an adult would be looking for her.

However, the prospect that she would ever be reunited with her daughter was dashed by restrictions in New York’s legal system.

Even if her daughter was registered and looking for her, Ms. Gordinier said, her daughter would get only “non-identifying information,” and that would be after she went to court to get it.

Under New York state law, original birth records have been restricted to adoptees since 1935. When adoptions are completed, the state issues an amended or adoptive birth certificate.

Adoptees who need their original birth record to find information about their genealogy or family medical history, or — in Bridget’s daughter’s case — to contact a birth parent, are unable to access it, regardless of their age.

REUNION

Fast-forward another 18 years, to October 2013. Ms. Gordinier stood in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut in Canton, hugging her daughter, Cherilyn M. Bush, who was now almost 36.

“I didn’t think I would ever be able to do that,” she said. “I just thought that I didn’t want to let go — never wanted to let go again.”

It was their first moment together in more than three decades. Ms. Gordinier had found her daughter through a “search angel,” a woman from New York City who specialized in helping to reunite adoptees with their birth parents.

“I gave her the little bit of information that I did have, and then a week later, my phone rang and it was my angel,” Ms. Gordinier said. “She said, ‘Your daughter is in Brasher Falls.’”

For the 35 years they spent apart, Ms. Gordinier and her daughter never lived more than a two-hour drive away from each other.

“She grew up in Massena, and I was always either in Brier Hill or Hammond,” she said.

In fact, Ms. Bush and her biological brother, who is a couple of years younger, both attended SUNY Canton.

“They can tell each other parties that they were at on the same night,” Ms. Gordinier said. “He was really good friends with one of her best friends in college.”

‘PAYING IT FORWARD’

Nonetheless, it took mother and daughter 18 years to find each other. Ms. Gordinier said that is why she is fighting for New York to pass a piece of legislation called the Bill of Adoptee Rights.

“My daughter started searching at 18,” she said. “I was registered when she turned 18. We could have been together at her age of 18 instead of 18 years later, when she was a month away from turning 36. I don’t want anyone else to have that time stolen from them.”

Ms. Gordinier is active in New York Adoption Equality, an organization working to reform state adoption laws. She will join thousands of other New Yorkers on Thursday when she takes part in a campaign called “A Simple Piece of Paper.”

The campaign’s name reflects just what its supporters seek to gain: a simple piece of paper, or in this case, an adoptee’s original birth certificate. Participants will post photos of themselves displaying the hashtag #ASimplePieceOfPaper to social media.

“It’s about being treated with equal dignity by the state,” said C. Catherine Henderson Swett, the organization’s downstate coordinator. “All adoptees are denied their original birth certificate in New York state. We are fighting to restore access to the people whose names are on them.”

The bill would allow adoptees to access their original birth certificate upon turning 18. Ms. Swett said it is a basic civil right, and she is confident the bill will be signed into law in the next couple of years.

“There is overwhelming support,” she said. “We just need a few more Assembly members to confirm that they support the bill.”

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is one of the bill’s cosponsors. She was unable to be reached for comment despite several attempts this, and last, week.

Ms. Gordinier said fighting for this bill is her way of “paying it forward.” She said she believes adoptees should have the right to access their birth information upon turning 18.

“It’s a struggle to get passports, go into the service, or get a job in some fields because they don’t have their original birth certificates,” she said.

Ms. Gordinier said denying adoptees this information can also be dangerous for health-related reasons.

“There are people out there that are carrying around hereditary, life-threatening diseases that have no idea,” she said. “They could be taking preventive measures, but they just don’t know.”

Ms. Gordinier and her daughter see each other regularly now. Ms. Bush has three children of her own; she lives in Central Square.

“Things are really great,” Ms. Gordinier said. “I was just at her house the other day.”

She and her daughter have occasional setbacks, but Ms. Gordinier said that is to be expected.

“We’re very lucky,” she said. “We are building a beautiful relationship.”

Ms. Gordinier said she is traveling to Albany on April 21 to gather with other members of the New York Adoption Equality organization as they continue lobbying for the bill’s passage.