Preparing for an Adoption Search and Reunion
Fortunately, because most adoptions today are open or semi-open, adoptee searches or birth parent searches and reunions aren’t usually necessary; you can just call each other up! But not long ago, in the era of closed adoptions, birth parents and adoptees were disconnected, often permanently. Now, years or even decades after their adoptions took place, many of the birth parents and adoptees involved in these closed adoptions are choosing to search for each other in an effort to fill in the gaps of their adoption story and establish a relationship through a birth mother search or adoptee search. Remember: every adoption situation is different. Your adoption search will be equally unique. Many birth parents and adoptees don’t ever feel compelled to reconnect with one another after a closed adoption. Sometimes, one party is eager to make contact but the other isn’t emotionally ready to take that step. Are you ready, or should you hold off on an adoption search?
How to Determine Whether Or Not You’re Ready for an Adoption SearchMaybe you’re not sure if beginning an adoption search is the right choice for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself to decide if you’re ready to begin a birth parent search or an adoptee search:
- What’s your overall goal in your adoption search? What’s your overall goal in the potential relationship you hope to establish with your biological family member(s)?
- Do you have a support system of close friends or family to help you through the search process and the possibility of an adoption reunion?
- Are you prepared for the three worst-case-scenarios: 1) that you won’t find the person you’re searching for, 2) that the person you’re searching for may not be ready for contact with you, 3) that you reunite with the person you’ve been searching for and the reunion isn’t what you’d hoped for?
- How would your life be different after reestablishing an adoption connection through an adoption search? Would you benefit from a relationship or would it bring up insecurities for you?
- Are you prepared for the possibility of finding them, establishing contact and then having one party later decide that it’s too much to handle, limiting contact again?
- Are you prepared for the possibility that who you’re searching for is no longer living, or that they have a difficult life?
- Have you done your research about the search process and the laws governing adoption information in your state?
Adoption Reunion Issues to Watch Out ForWhile adoption search and reunion is often a positive and fulfilling experience for both parties, there are practical and emotional trip-ups that can complicate the journey. Here are a few of those potential roadblocks and tips on how to avoid them:
Not finding who you were searching for.Particularly with less-recent adoptions that were not open adoptions, information may be scattered and incomplete. Depending on where you live and where the adoption took place, adoption information may be sealed or difficult to access. Birth certificates or adoption records like consent forms may have critical information redacted. This is done to protect the privacy of those involved in an adoption, but it can be intensely frustrating for someone conducting an adoptee search or birth parent search. Most people start their adoption search with partial information. For example, you may have a birth date, but not a name or location. While it’s very possible to continue your search with some information missing, you can help your progress by collecting and photocopying all your personal documents pertaining to the adoption and keeping a detailed record of who you’ve spoken to during your search (such as the hospital where the birth took place, the social worker assigned to your adoption case or the county records clerk). Remember that it’s possible the paper trail may lead you to a dead end in your adoption search. This can be incredibly disappointing. You should take care to emotionally prepare yourself for the possibility of not finding much information and turn to your support system. One of the first steps you should take in your birth mother search or adoptee search is to sign up for your state’s adoption reunion registry. This is a mutual consent search registry that will show anyone who might be looking for you that you’re looking for them, too!
Assuming that the other party will share your view of the adoption.Especially in adoptions where communication has been severed between members of the adoption triad through a closed adoption, there will certainly be a lot of questions, and there may also be some complicated feelings. Everyone processes their adoption experiences differently, and the other party may have had a completely different experience than your own. Those feelings may affect the possibility of an adoption reunion or the interactions that occur during a reunion, if one takes place. Most of the time, everyone involved in the adoption understands that this was the best option for the futures of both the child and the birth mother. But that doesn’t always mean that both parties will want to establish post-adoption contact or that they both had similar emotional responses to the adoption. Thoughts like, “Why wouldn’t they want to meet me?” fail to take into account the emotions and experiences of the other person.
Trying to force a connection too quickly.If your birth mother search or adoptee search is successful, you’ll need to approach them very carefully with the subject of a reunion. These days, the most common way to reach out to someone about the possibility of an adoption reunion is through a private Facebook message. Of course, you’ll want to consider what you say (and how you say it) very carefully before you initiate any contact. You’ll also need to prepare yourself for the possibility that they won’t respond at all; maybe you have incorrect contact information, or maybe they aren’t ready or aren’t willing to have any kind of post-adoption contact. No matter what happens, you’ll need to accept their response with respect and empathy, even if it’s not what you were hoping for.
Forgetting that there are many people involved in an adoption.In addition to the adoption triad of the birth parents, the adoptive parents, and the adoptee, there are other people to consider in your adoptee search or birth mother search. Birth and adoptive grandparents, your children, their children, and many others may be affected by an adoption search. Consider how you’ll prepare them for your adoption search and a possible reunion. They may be able to help support you. They may also need some support of their own. For family members who were a part of the adoption process as it occurred, a search and adoption reunion may bring up old feelings that they aren’t as ready to revisit as you are. While the decision to pursue an adoption search is a very personal one that only you have the right to make, you should also be mindful of the feelings of those in your immediate circle.
What You Should Know About Search and ReunionHere are a few things to keep in mind before deciding whether or not to begin an adoption search or to pursue an adoption reunion:
You don’t have to search, now or ever.While many birth parents or adoptees feel a greater sense of personal fulfillment after establishing contact with the other party, many others have no strong desire to conduct an adoption search. Don’t feel pressured to conduct a search to find an adopted child or your birth parents unless you’re ready and you feel that this is something that you absolutely want, regardless of the outcome. Search or don’t search — the choice is yours to make at any point in time. Just be sure that you’re ready.
Your role in your adoption story is part of who you are, but it isn’t the only thing that defines you.Family, both adoptive and biological, is an important part of who we are as people. But it’s not all that we are. Similarly, your adoption experience is an important piece of yourself and your history, but it doesn’t have to be a major part of your future unless you want it to be. Your thoughts, convictions, and choices play the biggest role in your personal story. So regardless of what happens after you decide to begin an adoptee or birth mother search or adoption reunion, your value as a person won’t change.
Everyone has a right to their own thoughts and feelings about their adoption.Nobody can know what a person is experiencing in their lives in a given moment. All feelings in the adoption search reunion process are equally valid and should be processed in a healthy manner. Birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees, and everyone affected by the adoption will have their own thoughts and emotions to explore. You don’t have any control over the emotions of others. But you should always regard that person’s feelings with respect and with equal validity as your own. Some final adoption reunion advice before you decide whether or not to conduct an adoption search:
- Talk to others in your shoes; find fellow adoptees or birth parents who’ve searched for (or are searching for) biological family members. Talk to people who’ve reunited with birth parents or adoptees they were searching for. This will give you a more realistic impression of the range of adoption reunion experiences. They can also give you tips on how to search through their own adoption reunion stories.
- Talk to adoption search experts. “Adoption search angels,” genealogists, or other search services available to members of the adoption triad can aide you in your birth family search or adoptee search.
- Talk to a counselor or trusted third party. Verbalizing your current thoughts about an adoption search or adoption reunion to someone outside of the situation can help you to work through your emotions and give you some perspective before moving forward.