The Reunion Series – Part 3
When You Want To Meet Your Birth Parents
It’s been a long time coming. Or not. Everybody’s different. Hopefully, you’ve known your whole life that you were adopted. There is definitely a right time for being given that information. There is not, however, a “right time” to be reunited with your birth parents. There is also not a wrong time. It’s completely up to you.
If you never come to the conclusion that a reunion is important to you, you may be in the minority among adopted children, but you are not alone. There are plenty of adoptees who decide that a reunion is a Pandora’s box that they’d rather not open. My birth daughter’s adoptive dad (who was himself adopted) AND her sister both decided a search for birth parents was not something they needed to do. If that’s your choice, be at peace with your conclusion and know that plenty of people feel the same way and live satisfied, fulfilling lives.
The majority of adoptees, however, are interested in a search and/or reunion. Many of you simply want to obtain your medical history and fill in any DNA questions you might have. Others are excited to see a face that looks like theirs or meet someone who might be similar in a biological way. Some want to know if there are siblings or other relatives. And others are searching for something deeper: a relationship, their birth story or answers to questions that have always been present.
The Planning Stages
So now you’ve done your search and successfully found your birth mother or father. And best of all, he or she is amenable to meeting. Perhaps you’ve exchanged letters, emails or a phone call. What’s the best way to proceed?
Carefully, and patiently. While this is very much about you, it’s important to remember the two other parts of your adoption triad and put yourself in each of their positions.
If you can, involve your adoptive parents in the planning process. Many parents have difficulty letting go of the fear they feel about sharing you with another parental figure. What if you really like them? What if this turns into a relationship that takes a part of you away from them? This is a great time to let your parents know that nothing will ever change the fact that they are your parents and you love them. Reassuring them of their place, and reminding them that this reunion is not a reflection on your relationship with them, is very important. And giving them a part in the preparation illustrates how much you value their support.
Perhaps your adoptive dad can help with planning your route if you’re driving, or making your plane reservations if you’re flying. Maybe your mom can go shopping with you for the perfect outfit. Run your ideas of where and when past them and listen to their input. And look for clues of sensitivity. If they seem to suffer with the information you are giving them, you might need to spare them every detail and switch to a “need to know” strategy. It’s best, however, not to hide these events from them. Your desire to search and get answers is natural, and a family-supported reunion is optimal.
Your birth parents are also experiencing a litany of emotions, and they can be all over the board. They could be on a bell curve from being overjoyed to being devastated. From agony to ecstasy. Take the time to gently take the temperature of the situation, and if they have agreed to a reunion, always try to imagine things from their perspective.
If your birth mother is surprised and hasn’t told anyone, don’t insist on meeting siblings or meeting in her hometown. Be sure to ask what works best for her and be sensitive to her needs and the timing that works for her. When my birth daughter wanted to meet, I couldn’t have been happier, but she was very understanding when I told her I’d need time to tell her half-sisters about her first. I had been waiting for the right time to tell them, and I never expected her to be ready for a reunion at age 16. She patiently waited until the opportunity presented itself and then we proceeded with our plan.
Finally, be courageous. The whole process can be intimidating and nerve-wracking. Things may not always go smoothly, and it will definitely take courage to go the distance. Just months after our long-awaited reunion, my side of the family was having a large reunion. My birth daughter gamely wanted to be part of it, and believe me, it was very brave to drop down in the middle of strangers and deal with the inevitable curiosity, questions and instant love. She handled it like a champion.
Enjoy the big day, and stay in the moment. Leave your expectations at home, because in an emotionally charged event like this, there are no guarantees. Proceed with an open heart. If this has been a closed adoption up until now, bring photos of your childhood. Prepare stories from growing up that can lighten a mood or be meaningful. Think deeply about the love of both your birth parents and your adoptive parents. Understand that this may be difficult on many levels, and just be patient.
Hopefully, this reunion will be the start of an enriching relationship for all. There are no promises of course, but good planning and a tender approach will give you the best chance for that. In my book, Adopting Hope, the top three post-reunion regrets adoptees mentioned were pitting or playing birth parents against adoptive parents, expecting too much from the reunion, and not remembering the sacrifices made by both sets of parents for their sake.
If you’ve planned well, this can be a milestone time in your life, and possibly the beginning of new and enriching relationships. Just take care that it is not at the expense of your adoptive family. My birth daughter brought her adoptive mom with her, and it made the reunion even more special. We were lucky to develop the bond we made at the reunion into a blending of two families into one. If you act from a place of love, patience, sensitivity and kindness, you will have the best chance at a positive outcome.
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.