PORTLAND – Kathy Dionne and Donna Walls grew up in houses about a mile apart from each other in Sanford. They attended the same schools, although they were a year apart in grade level. But it wasn’t until a year ago that they found out they were half-sisters.

Dionne, 54, was adopted right after birth. Her birth mother had decided to put her up for adoption and chose another couple in town after she learned the woman had just lost a baby.

Walls was born a year later to the same birth mother as Dionne. They never learned of their relationship with each other until last January, when Dionne got her original birth certificate under a new Maine law that allowed adult adoptees to see their birth records.

Arms around each other at The Maine Studios in Portland on Saturday, the two marked a belated anniversary of that law with a few other adoptees, adoptive parents and biological parents who opted to let their children be adopted by others.

Maine is one of only a handful of states that allow adopted adults to see their original birth certificates, which provide the names of the mother and, sometimes, the father, making it easier for those who have been adopted to find their birth parents.

Prior to the new law, it was up to probate judges to release the birth certificates after an adoptee filed a petition, said Cathy Robishaw, the co-founder of OBCforME (Original Birth Certificates for Maine), which pushed for the new law.

Robishaw said that provision was followed inconsistently, with some judges readily turning over the records and others who almost never did.

The new law went into effect in January 2009 and Robishaw said Saturday’s anniversary celebration, which included screenings of five films on adoptions and adoptees, was scheduled two months ago, when a snowstorm forced it to be postponed.

Robishaw said up until the new law was enacted, adopted children had to rely on their adoptive parents to find out they had, in fact, been adopted, and then petition for the original birth certificates. Adopted children are given amended birth certificates that list only their adoptive parents, she said.

Since the law took effect, 755 people from 40 states and three foreign countries have requested original Maine birth certificates, according to figures compiled by OBCforME.

In addition, 29 biological parents have filled out paperwork under the law’s provisions that allow them to submit medical histories and indicate whether they wish to be contacted by an adopted child, the organization said. A majority have agreed to be contacted, Robishaw noted.

Robishaw had known since she was a small child that she was adopted, but her curiosity about her birth parents wasn’t sparked until she had her own child.

Seeing someone who looked like her made her wonder who she looked like, she said.

She didn’t get a judge’s approval to see her original birth certificate until 1993, Robishaw said, and she learned that her birth mother had died 10 years before. No father was listed on the certificate.

Robishaw found a half-sister she didn’t know about, she said, but getting the document also was important, even if it didn’t lead to a reunion with the woman who had given birth to her.

“It was still nice to have that piece of paper because it was mine and about me,” she said.

For Dionne, the discovery process started with passage of the new law. Her adoptive mother once asked if she wanted to know who her mother was, she said, but she wasn’t interested.

That changed when she heard Maine was considering a law to open up original birth certificates. She was among the first to apply for the documents last year. “I felt, maybe I’ll do it just for me,” she said.

The birth certificate led her to Walls, Dionne said, and the two instantly became close.

“We talk every day,” Dionne said, noting that she and Walls live about a five-minute drive from each other. “We can sometimes finish each others sentences.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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