The note was written in th wavy, unsteady script of an eight-year-old but its message was firm and direct. "I was adopted when I was three months old and I want to meet them. (my parants)."
This painstakingly scrawled plea, sent to a Maryland state senator by a Northwest Washington grade school pupil was echoed more than a dozen times in a crowded committee hearing room here yesterday as adopted children pleaded with state legislators for access to information about their natural parents.
Both adopted children who had finally met their biological parents and children who have no hope of ever locating the records that would tell them who gave them birth appealed to a committee of Maryland legislators to eliminate the state-ordered curtain of secrecy that makes it difficult for many adoptees to find any clues to their origins.
One woman who had given her child up at birth added her plea to theirs. "The . . . pain never really goes away," she said. "It can only be healed when you look into the eyes of an adult son or daughter and hear that they've had a happy life - that heals the wounds."
For more than 30 years, Maryland's adoption laws - like those of 43 other states - have required that such documents as original birth certificates and hospital records be kept secret, unless a judge issues an order unsealing them.
Some protection like this is necessary, representatives of several adoption agencies argued before the state Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday. The proposed legislation "overlooks the right of privacy of the biological parents and the right to peace of mind of the adoptive parents," said Ruth Dup, director of Washington's Barker Foundation. She added that about one-fifth of the natural parents who come to that agency to give up their children specify that they never want to have any further contact with the child.
The emotional tug-of-war played out in the legislative hearing room yesterday was one more manifestation of the growing national debate over the rights of adopted children, a debate fueled in part by the recent increase in the numbers of people wanting to explore their heritage.
The legislation proposed by Sens. Clarence M. Mitchell III (D-Baltimore) and Thomas P. O'Reilly (D-Prince George's) would allow adopted children who are at least 21 years old to obtain through court records the names and most recent addresses of their natural parents.
Del. David L. Scull (D-Montgomery) an adoptive parent who is sponsoring an indentical measure in the House of Delegates - explained that the legislation includes a provision allowing social service officials, at their discretion to contact the natural parents and find out their attitudes toward a reunion, before giving their names to their child.
If the natural parent opposed the idea of a reunion, according to the measure, the agency could inform the child of this - but it could not withhold the requested information from an adult adoptee for longer than 30 days.
"It's really very difficult to communicate to one who is not adopted what it is to be without the same basic information that the rest of society takes for granted," Gordon Livingston, a child psychiatrist, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, told the committee.
Livington, who is 39, was not told until he was 37 that he had been adopted. The New York state native has since found his natural mother - who greeted him warmly upon their reunion. Livingston also said that he intends to give his own adopted son all the help he can whenever the boy decides he wants to meet his natural parents.
Nancy J. Schmitt, 34, of Potomac, asked the legislators to "give me the same right to know my roots that you give to those who are not adopted. How can you deny me my (identity) by locking away my heritage?"
The lawyers and social workers who opposed the proposed sweeping changes, however, pointed out that - while adopted children have some rights to find out about their origins - zone natural parents have the right not to be reminded of the possibly grim circumstances of the child's birth.
"It's not a rosy situation when someone's being placed for adoption," said Elizabeth Baker,,, a lawyer with Legal Aid in Baltimore. "There may be rape or incest involved, or the mother may have been 12 or 13 when the child was born, or an inmate of some institution."
Baker also mentioned a recent Baltimore case in which a 23-year-old adoptee asked a judge to unseal the records of his birth. Shortly before the made a decision on the request, the judge was told by a psychiatrist that the youth was a psychopath who was seeking his natural mother in order to murder her.