MANSFIELD, Ohio - Beginning March 20 of this year, Ohio adoptees whose adoptions were finalized between Jan. 1, 1964 to Sept. 18, 1996 may gain access to their adoption file and original birth record from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) thanks to Senate Bill 23.
Kimmie Sapp didn’t need to wait for this legislation to find her parents, because she was adopted in 1957. Adoption records prior to Jan. 1, 1964 have been open to adoptees and linear descendants.
Sapp, now a Mansfield resident, said she began the search to find a missing piece of her history; not only for medical information, which was important, but a piece of herself. “You’re always looking for people that look like you. I don’t care how good your parents were, or how close you were with your siblings, it’s odd growing up not looking like anyone,” she said.
The search would have been easier today, with the internet at her fingertips. But in the late 1970s, a telephone book and directory assistance had to suffice. At the age of 21, after obtaining a copy of her birth certificate and finding her birth mother’s name and home town, she simply started calling everyone listed in that town with the same last name.
“The second person I called was her uncle,” said Sapp. “He said, ‘That’s my niece…but she never had a baby.’ But he gave me her phone number.”
“I called her. I cried, she cried, and yes, that was my birth mother,” Sapp said.
She said they corresponded, and even met. But life is not a fairy tale, Sapp noted.
Sapp’s birth mother had moved on with her life and had three sons. None of them knew of Sapp’s existence, and the birth mother preferred to keep it that way. “I didn’t live in her shoes. I don’t know what she went through in her lifetime,” said Sapp. “I don’t judge. She just couldn’t handle a relationship with me because she was too worried her boys would find out and lose respect for her.”
Sapp said she understood, because her adoption took place in a time when counseling was not offered to birth mothers.
She recalled her birth mother relating the experience, “She had a baby, she got to hold me, she counted my fingers and my toes, and kissed me goodbye,” said Sapp. “She said, ‘I memorized your face. I cried and cried. But when I came back to [my hometown], I had to pretend like you never existed, so I thought of you as being dead.”
“She’s not a bad person. She’s just dealing with things the way she has to deal with them,” said Sapp.
Her birth mother discouraged her from contacting her birth father, so it was ten years later that Sapp tracked him down. That experience turned out better, she noted.
“He was ecstatic. He has two daughters, and he told them immediately,” said Sapp. She said she is very close to the youngest sister, and they have much in common.
Sapp said her adopted family is wonderful, but she just needed to know where she came from. She added that for some adoptees, just finding a name is enough.
Her advice to those seeking their birth parents, “I think it’s very important. People need closure. I just don’t think anyone should go into it without thinking about it deeply.”
She said that often those parents have moved on, and it is hard for the adoptee to find where they fit into that new family.
ODH has created a video to explain the law and how adoptees may go about obtaining information. Instructions may also be found at the website.