Imagine not knowing who your mother is, what your genetic heritage is, or how you might be connected to history. Imagine having difficulty getting a passport or driver’s license. For adopted individuals, this is an unfortunate reality, since many states prevent them from accessing their original birth certificates. But if mother and activist Amanda Woolston, 26, can do anything about it, that will change.
Woolston, who lives in the greater Philadelphia area, is a stay-at-home mom, part-time student, and activist by night. She takes care of blogging, corresponding with other activists, letter writing, and other activities after her sons, 2 1/2 years and 4 weeks, go to sleep. The issue is personal to Woolston, who was adopted, but it was because of her children that she became an adoptee rights advocate.
Her birth state allowed access to her original birth certificate, but she was aware many do not. Soon after her first son was born, she decided the issue was too important to be silent about. She explained, “If I lack access to the document that connects me to my roots and ancestry, they’re missing out on part of their roots and ancestry, too.”
Woolston founded Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights Advocates with several friends and fellow advocates to promote change in this portion of adoption law in Pennsylvania. She is also the Pennsylvania state representative for the Adoptee Rights Coalition.
She said, “Most people may be aware that President Obama recently released his original birth certificate for public view and that there are about 12 states that are considering or who have considered requiring a candidate running for public office to show their original birth certificate. This is something most adopted people cannot do. While everyone can now see President Obama’s original birth certificate, there are six million people in the U.S., the adopted, who cannot even see their own.”
Woolston explained that “upon decree of adoption, an adoptee is given a new birth certificate with their adoptive parents’ names on it, and the original is sealed.” This often takes place even in the case of open adoptions, regardless of the birth mother’s wishes.
Through her activism, Woolston supports legislation and provides education. She also has participated in annual adoptee rights demonstrations at the National Convention of State Legislators.
In her work, Woolston has heard stories about the children of adoptees and how not having access to their heritage has impacted them. She said, “While my children and their children will have knowledge of their heritage through me (a good friend of mine traced us all the way back to the Revolutionary War and the Mayflower!), many other descendants of adoptees cannot say the same.”
As a mother and a woman, Woolston said she fights “alongside and for all of the mothers who have surrendered to adoption who want people to know that they do not want to be hidden in shame. I fight alongside the mothers, both those who have surrendered and those who have adopted, who believe strongly that their sons and daughters should be treated like everyone else.”
She says her activism has taught her to value justice and equality for everyone. Woolston hopes to pass those values along: “My hope is to raise my children to be strong individuals who will advocate for what’s right, no matter what cause is that is important to them.”
Alyce Wilson is a Philadelphia-area mother who writes about people and events in Greater Philadelphia.
Originally published in 2010 on the Yahoo! Contributor Network