Adoption answers available
Catholic Charities helps adoptees locate birth parents
By Sara Eliasen
Who am I?
That's one of the most basic philosophical questions individuals face. But for someone who has been adopted, the question takes on still more meaning and Catholic Charities is there to help.
And this is an appropriate time to ask the question, says Maureen Vanden Hogen, volunteer contact person for the Adoption Search Program at Catholic Charities, because Gov. Scott McCallum has proclaimed November as Adoption Month, and Nov. 18-24 as Family Week in Wisconsin.
"The holidays are a time for remembering your family and your traditions," Vanden Hogen said, and for many adoptees, the holidays can be very poignant. "You wonder what your birth family would have been like and you find yourself wanting to connect with them."
Vanden Hogen, a DePere native, knows firsthand about making those connections. She's been leading an adoption support group with Catholic Charities since 1989, after locating her own birth mother in 1988 at the age of 44.
Prompted by her oldest son's genetic illness, her search for her own birth family was made fairly simple because in Illinois (her birthplace), a mother's name is listed on the birth papers. She discovered that her birth mother, Marcy Weishaar Hinker, was living in South Dakota -- and just waiting to be found. In no time they were reunited.
Vanden Hogen was delighted to learn that her left-handedness came from her birth father; that her ancestors came from Ireland, Germany and Luxemburg; that her adoptive parents had kept the name her birth mother had given her.
Vanden Hogen also learned that other family members were suffering from the same illness her son was, and they have been able to provide each other with support and medical assistance.
"For most of us, it is vital to know the truth of our origin for cultural, emotional and physical reasons," Vanden Hogen said.
In addition to meeting Vanden Hogen's adoptive parents, Hinker also met her husband, four children and their spouses. In January, Hinker will meet her first great-grandchild.
But what about Vanden Hogen's adoptive parents -- who raised and loved her since she was a month old?
They were delighted. And, when her birth mother met her adoptive parents, they all expressed appreciation for the roles each had played in Vanden Hogen's life. Three years ago, when her ailing adoptive father needed care, which Vanden Hogen couldn't provide, her birth mother, a former nurse, came and took care of him.
Vanden Hogen knows that adoptive parents may feel insecure and doubtful when their son or daughter decides to find their birth family, but she believes that supporting an adoptee in locating birth parents enhances the relationship between the adoptive parents and the adoptee.
"When the adoptee and the adoptive parents share in the process of locating the birth parents, it brings them even closer together," she said.
The process for locating birth parents is fairly simple. In 1982, Wisconsin began the Search Program, which gave adoptees greater rights to their birth records. Wisconsin law says an adoptee over the age of 18 may request, through the agency that placed them for adoption, information about their birth records that do not disclose the identity of the birth parents. After the age of 21, an adoptee may request the identify of their birth parents, if they have agreed to being identified. If birth parents have signed an additional affidavit stating their willingness to exchange information, the adoptee can begin making contact with them immediately.
For Vanden Hogen, the critical part of this process is for birth parents to update their files by contacting the agency that facilitated the adoption.
"It only works for adoptees to locate their birth parents," she said. "Wisconsin doesn't allow birth parents to locate their children."
Vanden Hogen urges birth parents to update their files whenever changes occur -- including a change of heart about being contacted.
As time goes on, she said, birth parents may decide they would like to meet the person they surrendered years ago. If they indicate that in their file, it will be communicated to the adoptee when he/she seeks information.
Vanden Hogen also encourages birth parents to update their files with medical information.
"Medicine can change dramatically in 20 years. Birth parents need to be willing to share medical information with the adoptee so that they can lead a healthy life," Vanden Hogen said.
In her work with Catholic Charities, which receives funding through the diocese's annual Bishop's Appeal, VandenHogen has helped reunite numerous birth parents with children for whom they made a plan of adoption many years ago. Catholic Charities works with the state to help persons who have been adopted or whose birth parents have terminated their rights to obtain information about them and their birth relatives.
Vanden Hogen invites anyone interested in locating birth parents, siblings, or adoptees to an informational meeting on the first Thursday of every month in Bosco Hall on the Diocese of Green Bay Campus, 1825 Riverside Drive, Green Bay. For more information, phone (920)437-7531 or toll-free, 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8234.