Birth Parent Preparation for Legislative Testimony
Updated: Apr 19, 2022
By CTTA Board Members Patricia Taylor and Kathy Aderhold
Preparing to testify
Wear professional clothing to the legislative committee meeting, such as clothing you would wear to a job interview. Do not wear jeans or t-shirts or other casual attire. Have clean hair and nails, and light makeup. If you want to be taken seriously, dress for success. The committee members and other speakers will be professionally dressed as well.
Performance Anxiety You will probably be nervous. That is not unusual. However, it will be helpful to remember that the Legislators are really your neighbors, elected by people like yourself to represent the voters of their district. In most instances, they will be kind and attentive. There will be that occasional legislator that has no interest in your remarks and, blatantly wanting you to know that, will be scanning their phone or demonstrating their lack of interest in some other rude way. Ignore them.
Image: Brooke Lark on Unsplash
Teamwork Typically, there will be several other people who are in agreement with you who are also there to present their position. Rely on them to support you. Consult with them during the breaks. Have lunch with them. As for those that are there to speak against your position, be polite but do not engage. You are there to convince the Legislators, not the opposition.
Plan what to say
It is very important to be familiar with the language of the bill. Obtain a copy of the bill, read it thoroughly and discuss its’ goals and implications with like-minded colleagues. Mark the bill up with any questions. Pursue the answers to those questions before preparing your remarks.
You will have about three minutes to speak. Have your remarks written down and practiced, in order to be sure that the remarks fit into the time frame. Have copies of your remarks prepared for Committee members if requested.
It's hard to think about speaking in public if you've never done it. It is especially hard if you've kept your relinquishment a secret for many years or even decades. Before agreeing to speak to the legislators, begin to feel comfortable telling your experience to family, friends, and acquaintances.
When you testify, speak from your heart without anger. In a few sentences, tell your story and how it affected you. The legislators will not want to hear every little detail of your experience (remember you will only have a few minutes), but do want to hear about what happened to you personally. Avoid 3rd party stories ("I've heard of women who experienced" blah...blah...blah) and stick to your own experience.
Focus your testimony on being a mother who wanted (or wants) to have contact with your lost and adopted child. These legislative bills are meant to give adoptees access to their original birth certificate, so most of what you say should speak to how you support that.
The opposition continues to bring up the issue of birth/first/natural mother confidentiality as a reason to keep records closed. Though most of us were not promised confidentiality, there are a few who were or thought they were promised. Try to include a sentence or two about confidentiality in your experience. For those who surrendered 30-50 years ago, the issue of secrecy was paramount and many were convinced to believe we should keep our relinquishment a secret. Those ideas are not as scandalous today as they were in the past and open adoptions are much more common now. However, as you prepare your remarks, it is helpful to keep in mind that there may be legislators on the committee who are secret birth parents or are adoptive parents who fear their children searching and want to prevent it. Again, try to keep the focus on the adoptee's right to obtain their own history and information, rather than on an adoptee determined to search out their birth parents.
On the Day of Testimony
When you go to the Legislature or any Legislative Committee to speak, you really have to set aside the entire day and often well into the evening. Be prepared and know where to park; bring the cost of parking with you. Many places will take credit cards in the parking lot, but not all. You may want to consider car pooling with another testifying person.
When you arrive at the committee hearing room, you will probably have to sign in as a testifier for the specific Bill for which you are planning to testify. The sign-in list is typically located outside of the committee hearing room or at the back of the hearing room. After you sign up to speak on the Bill in question, just wait to be called. That can involve a very long wait. While you are waiting, be respectful of the fact that the Committee is in session and conduct any discussions outside of the hearing room.
Always begin by thanking the Committee Chair by name and thanking the Committee members for allowing you to speak in support/opposition to Bill # (whatever it is). At the end of your remarks, thank them again and wait for any questions.
The Topic is Opening the Original Birth Certificate Assume that the Legislators know nothing about the realities of adoption and are operating under the societal myths surrounding adoption. Do your homework before your appearance to determine if there are any triad members on the committee that will either align with you or oppose you, depending upon their triad position. Do NOT include that information in your remarks but be prepared for various reactions from triad members.
Emotions If you become emotional while presenting your remarks, that is ok. Adoption is a very emotional issue for members of the triad and allowing those emotions to surface is one way to communicate how deeply felt the experience is. Once you get to the point in your adoption journey where you are ready to speak about it in such a public way, you have already been through a lot. Honor that!
After the hearing
Congratulate yourself! Regardless of the outcome, you spoke your truth. Relax and take credit for that.