Every adult adoptee’s situation and relationship with their birth family is going to be unique. So are the feelings that you experience when you visit your birth family. Whether you’re fairly new to visits with your birth family and you’d like to know what to expect, or you’re trying to sort through the feelings that you have before, during and after those visits, this guide may help.
Remember that the experiences of international adoptees and foster care adoptees visiting with their birth family will be very different than those of private domestic adoptees, which are the focus of this guide.
Some adoptees are surprised to find that they react to birth family visits in a way that they hadn’t expected. Be patient with yourself and with your birth family as you take time to sort through any complex or conflicting feelings.
Common Emotions for Adoptees Regarding Visits with Birth Family
Even if you’ve always had a good relationship with your birth family, you can still have complicated and conflicting feelings when you visit with them. Some of the most common negative feelings that adoptees (both in open and previously closed adoptions) experience regarding visits with birth family include:
- Feeling like you’re somehow betraying your adoptive family by feeling love and curiosity toward your birth family.
- Feeling hurt or rejected when your birth family doesn’t visit as often, or doesn’t reach out for a while.
- Nervousness that your birth family won’t approve of you or that they’ll cut off contact.
- Awkwardness, and feeling like you have (or maybe need to have) a connection with someone who is, in some ways, still a stranger.
- Sadness, or re-experiencing a sense of loss when you say goodbye to your birth family again.
- Disappointment, or not feeling as if you’re entirely emotionally getting what you need out of the visit.
However, you may experience none of those negative feelings. You may have different emotions entirely. Your situation is unique.
There are also a great number of positive emotions that you’ll likely experience in relation to your birth family visits! Hopefully, the positive thoughts and feelings will outnumber any negative emotions you experience. For most adoptees, there is a mix of both negative and positive emotions. This is normal, if a little confusing at times.
What’s most important is that you feel your interactions with your birth family are generally a positive thing in your life. If you’re having almost exclusively negative interactions with birth family, then you may need to reassess their involvement in your life.
For Closed Adoptees (Post-Reunion)
Many of the feelings that you’ll likely experience as an adoptee from a closed adoption will depend on who reached out to who, and your individual situation.
For example, if a birth family member contacted you and originally requested the reunion, you’ll likely have a range of feelings when you visit one another now, post-reunion. You may have initially felt very guarded, or resentful, or even ambivalent. Or perhaps you were excited to hear from them. Maybe your feelings have changed since your initial reunion. You may be a little slower to feel at ease with birth family visits than if you were the one to initiate the reunion. If this describes your situation, remember that it’s ok to take your time. Set your own pace and communicate your needs as kindly as possible.
If, however, you were the one to reach out to your birth family and suggest a reunion, your feelings may be at the other end of the spectrum. You may have a kind of emotional high following visits with birth family. The sudden access to information and new family members can feel exciting, confusing, comforting and more — often all at once. If this is more accurate to your situation, then try to stay cognizant of your birth family’s boundaries and needs. Even when everyone is excited and happy with the visits, taking things slowly is a good way to get to know one another without accidentally overwhelming anyone.
As an adoptee of a closed adoption who has reunited with birth family, your visits together are probably still very emotionally raw. You spent years apart. But in your visits, try to focus on the present and the positives rather than the “what ifs,” “should haves,” and “could haves.”
Everyone may still be very sensitive and emotionally heightened during your visits, because your reunion (and the resurfacing of old adoption emotions) may be fresh in your minds. Be mindful of this — for yourself and for your birth family — in your visits.
For Open Adoptees
Many open adoptees have had visits with their birth families since birth. Maybe you’ve visited each other regularly and frequently, or maybe visits were less frequent or were sporadic. Most of those visits when you were young were probably led by your (adoptive) parents, so you may have felt a little more emotionally secure with them around.
As an adult, your visits with your birth family are now your responsibility. Your (adoptive) family may or may not join you on these visits. Perhaps you’ll introduce your birth family to your own spouse or children. So although you’ve likely had visits with your birth family in the past to some extent, those visits, and the feelings that accompany them, may change over time.
Birth Family Visits Can Be Emotional, But Rewarding
There are so many different situations, different people and different emotions at play. Your experiences in visits with your birth family will be entirely your own. Again, for international and foster care adoptees, visits with birth family will be different experiences altogether than for adoptees of private domestic adoptions.
However, adoptees will usually have something in common. You’ll walk away from a visit with your birth family buzzing with plenty of thoughts and feelings.
It can be good to process those thoughts and feelings for a while after. You could do that by talking to your friends or family, other adoptees who may have similar experiences, or even a professional who has experience with adoptees.
Despite the emotional complexity that visits with your birth family can sometimes present, this is often an opportunity that many adoptees don’t want to pass up. As long as these visits remain a generally positive experience for you, then it’s probably worth it to continue exploring the relationship you share with your birth family.