Vicki Strong, right, was adopted. She now runs this bridal boutique with her birth child Krystina Billet. Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com
Vicki Strong, right, was adopted. She now runs this bridal boutique with her birth child Krystina Billet. Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

The bullies in Vicki Strong's old York County neighborhood told her nobody wanted her, and that's why she was adopted.

Decades later, that still stings the 64-year-old East Manchester Township woman because, for as long as she can remember, her view of herself has been shaped around the void of information about who she "really" was.

She feels like one of the pets at the SPCA.

"Up for adoption," she said. "That's me."

She laughed when she said it, but her face contorted to hold back tears.

It's painful for her to live with the ambiguity, she said, so she decided to create her own heritage until she's given more factual information. The blond-haired blue-eyed woman has selected to identify as American Indian because she admires native people for overcoming adversity.

She also admires the African-American community, the fair-skinned woman said, but she thinks there are problems inherent to identifying as such.

"I'm thinking I probably am not black," she said, only half joking. "But I really don't know."

Finding out: Strong and her biological daughter are among the local supporters of a state bill that would allow Pennsylvania adoptees to acquire a copy of their original birth certificates.

Under current law, adoptees can acquire a copy of their birth records, but the names of the biological parents could be redacted unless the biological parents agree to have the information released.

House Bill 162, introduced by adoptee State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin, would remove the requirement for approval from the biological parents. Adoptees age 19 and older could apply for a copy of their birth records to learn where they were born, the names and ages of their birth parents, and the adoptee's birth name.

Strong said she wouldn't "intrude on" her biological family, but she would like some information.

Strong has endured a series of harrowing medical dilemmas, she said, conditions she might have been able to prevent if she had been able to ask someone about her biological family's medical history. Her lack of information also presents problems for her daughters, she said.

In 2008, Strong entered a coma after suffering a hypertensive bleed in her brain.

Strong's youngest daughter, Krystina Billet, is only 28 years old but was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol.

Billet, one of the driving forces behind her mother's search for her biological parents, said she wants to know if conditions such as high cholesterol and hypertension run in her mother's biological family.

"Maybe if she knew hypertensive bleeds run in the family, she wouldn't have gotten sick," Billet said. "We should be able to know this. And I'd like to know where we come from. Are we English? Are we German?"

The legislation: The bill recently passed the House unanimously, with the support of York County's entire delegation.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, is a family friend to Strong and Billet, and a supporter of the bill. He said adoptees have a right to know where they came from.

"Given medical advancements, history is very relevant in treating any disease that might be hereditary," he said. "It's not merely that the individual is curious to know who their original parents are. In many cases, it's just so they feel like a whole and complete person."

The records wouldn't be accessed until the adoptee was 19, nearly two decades after the adoption and a long-enough period of anonymity, he said. The rise of modern websites that specialize in tracking ancestry -- which Strong has used to narrow the search for her birth parents -- make the state's closed adoption record law practically obsolete, he said.

It's sitting in the Senate's Aging and Youth Committee and will become law if it passes the Senate and Gov. Tom Corbett signs it.

While it passed unanimously and legislators said they expect robust support in the Senate, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has "concerns" about the legislation, said spokeswoman Amy Hill.

"It's an emotionally significant decision to choose adoption, and some women might not be comfortable knowing several years later her identity would be revealed," Hill said.

But Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland/York, said there's nothing to hide anymore and she's likely to support the bill if it goes for a vote before the Senate.

She has a friend who's in her 70s and still can't find out the names of both of her birth parents, she said.

"I know how much anguish my friend has had ... and there reaches a point when it's just, 'Come on, who are we protecting?' Some of these people are probably long since deceased."

Vance said there was once a time when there was great disgrace associated with having a child outside of wedlock, but the overall population no longer thinks that way.

"I don't know the reason for the secrecy any more," she said.

Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin/York said he would also be supportive of the bill.

"It seems fair to address the concerns of adopted individuals, that when they become an adult, they would have a right to find out that information," he said. "It seems like the trend across the country is in favor of more openness, and that reflects changing societal views of adoption and what it means for both the birth parents and the adoptive parents."

But most convincing, he said, are the consequences of not having one's own genetic medical history.

-- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.