When Your Birth Child Wants to Meet You
Speaking from experience, I would have to say making an adoption choice for your child is the most difficult thing one can do in a lifetime. Not to diminish other difficult choices, but really, I can’t think of a comparison. It is, however, a selfless choice that is often the very best option for both mother and child.
Once the decision is made, birth mothers generally fall into two categories: the ones who don’t want to revisit this very painful period of their life, and the ones who hope every day that somehow their future will include a relationship with this child. There are always women whose feelings change with time, one way or another. But it seems that those are the two most usual coping strategies for life after an adoption choice.
And it is a matter of coping; of trying to set one foot after another and create a reasonable existence that doesn’t include the life that your body carried for nine months. Some people cope by hoping for the future. Others by putting the past behind. Neither way is right or wrong, and each person must figure it out for themselves.
The Odds Are Ever in Your Favor…There Will be a Search
In my book, Adopting Hope, I spoke to many adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees about their stories and advice. One takeaway was that the vast majority of adoptees do want to search out their birth parents. Some do it for medical reasons or biological answers. Some search hoping to fill a void or simply meet someone who looks like them. And while there are some who just don’t need to know, most do. How do you prepare for that, and what do you need to know to have a successful reunion?
Mine was a closed adoption, and I fell into the second group of birth parents. I yearned to meet my birth daughter. I made sure the adoption agency and her adoptive parents all knew that if she wanted to meet, I would be there, any time, any place. With bells on. When she was ready for a reunion at age 16, years before I ever imagined it could be possible, it was a dream come true. Here are a few things I did to help make our reunion successful. They weren’t always conscious decisions — but in hindsight, they were lucky ones.
Laying the Groundwork
First, I decided early on, right after her birth, that I would never intrude on my daughter’s life; it would be her decision if we found each other. I made sure the search would be easy, working hard to make sure the lines of communication with her adoptive parents were open. They knew of my interest in knowing her, and because I let them take the lead for years, and never pushed, they trusted that I would do that with her, as well.
I prepared myself emotionally by not allowing myself to have any expectations. I knew the opening of this relationship could have any number of results, and it would be up to my daughter to decide what they would be.
We proceeded slowly; first with a few written letters, then email, then phone calls, all leading up to the in-person reunion. With each step, I told her that she should make the first move when she was ready. This gave us time to get to know each other in a friendly, but not threatening, way, at our own pace.
Some suggestions during this waiting period:
- Be open about your desires, but not so much that you might overwhelm your birth child. Even if he is the one who initiated the search, this is brand new, uncharted territory for him, and he is processing unfamiliar feelings as well.
- Plan together and make sure everyone is comfortable with the time and place, and what the arrangements are going to be. Our reunion took place over a weekend, and I was careful that there was both a schedule and flexibility so if anyone needed a minute, there would be no pressure.
- Don’t push. Ever. Don’t ask for anything aside from honesty. It’s good for your birth child to know this matters to you, but don’t smother. The reunion is not when you make up for lost time. It’s about the dramatic moment of reconnection and getting to know each other.
- Act out of love, not need. Trust that it will all work out as it should.
The Big Day
When the day comes, take one more moment to remind yourself . . . no expectations. What is meant to be will happen. All the planning is done, and all that’s left is to embrace the day.
If your birth child is on the young side, encourage participation with her adoptive parents. Our weekend was as much about my birth daughter meeting her siblings and my husband, and me meeting her adoptive mom, as it was about the two of us reuniting. It was a truly magical meeting of two families. Try not to feel like this is YOUR time alone — if this goes well, you will have plenty of other times for just the two of you.
Stay in the moment — enjoy the time and don’t dwell in the past. Bring birth photos and ask her to bring photos from her childhood. Do your part to make it easy for everyone. There will be emotions, but focus on what makes you smile. Positivity is the order for this particular day!
Don’t overwhelm your birth child with a lot of extended family the first time. One adoptee I interviewed for Adopting Hope was put off by aunts, uncles, cousins and even friends who all descended to meet the long-lost relative. She felt engulfed by strangers who all wanted a piece of her.
Follow your child’s lead — remember this is about him or her.
Don’t panic. Once you have been reunited, remember that this child had a life before the reunion. Time will pass before the next correspondence, especially over busy periods, like holidays or college exams. This does not reflect on your budding relationship. Gentle encouragement is fine, but patience is the best tool as you build your future bond.
Wanting the Past to Remain the Past
If you fall into the first category —birth parents who aren’t interested in meeting their bio-child — I encourage you to at least allow one contact. Please don’t ignore a request. Many children search for medical reasons, and everyone is entitled to know their own genetic background. Even knowing personality traits, physical characteristics or shared interests helps adopted children fill in blanks that they’ve wondered about for years.
Having a reunion doesn’t mean you are under an obligation to have an ongoing relationship. The reunion can be as private and short as you like, but closing that door without at least meeting your child can feel devastating to a searching adoptee.
Be honest about your coping strategy, and try to explain that this isn’t about her, but rather it’s your best effort to live your life in spite of that shattering time in your past. Answer questions and try to remember that you are the hero in the story — rarely are adopted children looking to blame. They are looking for answers, and to thank you.
Lorri Antosz Benson is a two-time Emmy-Award-winning television producer, writer, author and former internationally syndicated columnist. Notably, she was the Senior Producer for DONAHUE, the acclaimed show hosted by the legendary Phil Donahue. Benson has written three books, two on adoption. Her latest book, Adopting Hope, is a tremendous resource for any parent, but especially for those in the adoption world. It is a collection of stories, lessons learned, and words of wisdom from birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees from all over the country. This book follows To Have And Not To Hold, her memoir as a birth mother, the first in a series of three books for those involved in adoption. Benson is Founder and CEO of Family Matters, her family advocacy organization. She also maintains a blog for empty nesters, Feathering My Empty Nest at www.FeatheringMyEmptyNest.tumblr.com. She and her husband Steve reside in Santa Monica, Calif. and have four children and five grandchildren.