"Certificate of Live Birth and Parentage"

In this essay, one mother shares the story of her son's two birth certificates, one bearing her name, and another the birth mother's.

An amended birth certificate

It was what you would call a feel-good moment — typing my  six-year-old son’s name into an online soccer registration form. The kind of moment that often accompanies a long-awaited arrival.

We have arrived at the age when my younger son is old enough to play soccer. Old enough to mind the coach and kick the ball. Old enough to run laps in the same direction as the rest of the team. Old enough to be excited about the new pink (yes, pink) laces for the almost-new soccer shoes.

After filling out three pages of essential information, paying the fee, and clicking print, I came to a line that gave me a jolt: “All new members are required to mail a copy of their birth certificate to….” That line sent me into the closet, into the flame-retardant orange box, where I dug out that envelope I had sobbed into when it first arrived.

I smiled at the little Post-It I had forgot that I left there. The beautiful, feminine print, in red ink, says: “I hope you have a happy Mother’s Day.” Those words were written by the clerk in the office in North Carolina who received and processed my request for Sam’s birth certificate. So many pieces had to line up in order for that certificate to be produced, ending with the documents from the court hearing that terminated the alleged birth father’s paternity rights. The clerk’s sweet message scrawled in dainty script is not indicative of all of our communications, but it is a testament to her decision to see a little family in Maine to the finish line.

As I hold the certificate in my hand, I am stunned by my reaction to seeing my name on the line labeled “Mother.” Of course I am Sam’s mother, and have been since he was 36 hours old. But this is not a Mothering Certificate, it is a Certificate of Live Birth. And, having done one of those, too, I know I deserve a certificate for that! A woman deserves an ocean liner of certificates for carrying a child and birthing him, too.

An amended birth certificate was originally intended to protect the birth mother’s identity, but, as with most families adopting these days, Sam’s birth mother’s identity is not a secret to us. She and I share in the joy of Sam’s life. We do this through letters, e-mails, and phone calls. He is who he is because of her and because of me. Her name should be there in addition to mine. It is not just about semantics. It is about the importance that document plays in your life, from the act of registering for soccer or for school, to getting a passport, or proving that you are who you are.

Unlike most adoptive parents, I managed to procure my son’s original birth certificate, the one with his birth mother’s name on it. So Sam will have records of both of his births — his biological birth and his birth as my son. They are not mutually exclusive. If I could, I would combine the documents into a “Certificate of Live Birth and Parentage.” It would be a constant testament to the triad of adoption.

If only the people at the soccer league knew how much thought has gone into that photocopy that will arrive in their mailbox tomorrow.

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