Born the youngest of five children in Buffalo, New York, USA, in 1956, the author’s name at birth and baptism was Doris M Sippel. One month after the death of her mother, Doris was relinquished at the age of four months to prospective adoptive parents. She held her birth identity for the first year and one week of her life. As with all adoptions, her birth certificate was sealed, changed and falsified upon the finalization of her adoption when she was given a new name. The Catholic Church altered her baptismal certificate three years later.
Siblings she never knew found eighteen-year-old adoptee Joan Wheeler in 1974. Shocked, Joan immediately accepted that she had two sets of real parents. Knowing her adoptive parents lied to her and didn’t want her to ever know the truth, she also learned this closed adoption was anything but private. Secrets were traded across prohibited family lines—just don’t tell Joan or her father.
Joan’s circumstances sparked her interest in the larger issues unique to adoptees. She became an activist in the International Adoption Reform Movement advocating for adoptees’ personal and civil rights in response to discrimination against, and segregation of, bastards and orphans. As Joan’s knowledge increased, her adoptive and natural families held onto stigma, myths and taboos of secrecy. No one approved of her ‘going public’. They labeled Joan as ‘obsessed’ with adoption. She had to be silenced.
This is Joan Wheeler’s incredible 35-year journey.
“State Law presumed my illegitimacy, sealed my birth certificate, and issued a false one to legitimize my ‘new’ birth by adoption. I present my documents here as evidence of fraud by the State and the Catholic Church. State-by-State efforts to restore adoptees’ civil rights to our original birth certificates should continue, but are not enough. Equality-in-Access to birth records is a Federal issue. Our government must stop producing false birth certificates for adoptees — and require true birth records for the donor-conceived. Family preservation and guardianship must replace adoption. Until we can achieve that goal:
1 Birth Certificate + 1 Adoption Certificate = Adoption Truth.”
Ms. Wheeler shows us both the legal and social obstacles for adoptees. She details the damaging effects of closed adoption and family rumors on first the unsuspecting adoptee, her adoptive parents, her natural family, and later, her now ex-husband and their children. Negative social stigma and personal attacks drove this author to the brink of suicide as she was terrorized by both adoptive family and natural family because she dared to accept her first father back into her life and she continued to publish her views on adoption reform.