A Simple Piece of Paper
What happened when Illinois allowed adopted citizens to have their original birth certificates? In 2011, Illinois became the 10th—and largest—state to reverse sealed-records laws, providing adult adoptees access to their birth record. A Simple Piece of Paper tells the emotional stories of 16 Illinois adoptees, following them as they receive their birth certificates and react to what is revealed.
Jean Strauss, who made the film, said she began working in adoption reform following her own reunion with her birth family in 1988. “People sometimes describe the change as providing access to records. But it’s really restoring a right. These are people who have had no right to access information about themselves,” she said. Although people are often concerned about violating the privacy of birthmothers, nationwide more than 98 percent of birthmothers indicate they would welcome contact and/or the sharing of information, she said.
Strauss said she was amazed to see how much closure adoptees experienced soon after getting their birth record. “People often find out difficult things,” she said. However, “the mere act of giving them the piece of paper empowers them in a way you can’t imagine.”
Viewers meet several adoptees who develop close relationships with their birth parents or siblings. They also meet Linda, whose birthmother didn’t want a relationship. But after getting her piece of paper, Linda felt free and open and grateful to her adoptive parents in a way she hadn’t before. “I thought that if anything could fill that empty place in me, it would be to have my birth parents in my life,” Linda said. “And you know what, I don’t think I need them. I think maybe I have everything I need.”
Watch a preview: