What Adoptees Must Consider Before Searching for Birth Family

Two roads diverged in a wood. And I took the one less traveled. And that has made all the difference—Robert Frost

We’re at a fork in the road now and there’s a sign pointing in two directions. One part says “Familiar” and the other, “Unknown.” 

The path called “Familiar” looks appealing because it’s broad, smooth, and well-traveled. The other road, “Unknown,” is narrow, infested with crabgrass and dandelions, and appears long unused. Ahead is a forest of trees that looks impenetrable. 

The road called “Familiar” represents the opinions and feelings of others about what we should say or do in regard to the option of searching for and reuniting with our birth families. “Unknown” is the path that leads straight into our hearts and speaks to us with a still, small voice. 

What road will each one of us take? Will we take the familiar road by listening only to the voices of others, possibly ending up with a heart full of bitterness and what-might-have-beens? Or will we take the road of Robert Frost, the narrow one, and be true to that still, small voice that says, “This is the way; walk in it”?1 

I am a strong advocate for searching, for I believe that through the searching, we will grow, no matter the outcome. Some of us might not be able to make a literal search, but we can search in other ways in order to connect with our past. For instance, Susan was left on the steps of an orphanage in Romania with only a diaper to her name. She can’t obtain any history, but she could still do some searching by visiting her birth land and seeing the orphanage she lived in. Or she could make a “life book,” filled with images of her native land. 

There comes a time for many when we know we want to search. Every time we dream about the possibility, we are pumped! We have gone too far down the adoption road to turn back. What is the driving force behind all that adrenaline? 

Our Quest for Truth

  • Truth about what is written on our sealed adoption certificates and hospital records.
  • Truth about how adoption has impacted our lives.
  • Truth about our “other” parents and family out there somewhere.
  • Truth about how our adoptive parents really feel about a possible reunion.
  • Truth about what life is all about.
  • Truth about what Truth really is. 

Bob Blanchard says, “It really doesn’t matter if the outcome of your search is good or not—it’s just important to know the truth.” We have this burning desire to know because truth brings freedom. 

  • Freedom from the adoption baggage we have carried around for years.
  •  Freedom from the paralysis of not being able to be ourselves and know it’s okay.
  • Freedom from shallow living and compromise. 

Even though we have this wonderful promise of growth and freedom that results from discovering truth, it’s scary to embark on the narrow road and, as a result, our search may wax and wane as the years go by. But that’s okay. 

Laurie says that her search flickered on and off like a light bulb, but beneath the flickering was a steady desire to know truth. “It took me a long time to decide to go ahead and begin searching,” says Ron Hilliard. “I had actually begun the process about five years earlier only to decide not to proceed. At that point I think I was mostly afraid of what I would find, and especially afraid that if I did find my birth mother, she would not want to have anything to do with me.” 

Paula Oliver remembers being excited, scared, hopeful, and wary all at the same time. “Mostly I felt like I was on a treasure hunt.” 

The Risks of Searching 

Why does the narrow path often feel so scary? Because those ominous woods that lay ahead on our path may be filled with either life-giving redemption or heart-wrenching rejection. Therefore, we must count the cost before we begin to determine if we are willing to expose ourselves to such risk. 

DISILLUSIONMENT 

The illusion of many is that if we search and find the long-lost relative and ultimately have a glorious reunion, all adoption-related issues will disappear.

Oops… there’s that adoptee fantasy again! Many adoptees in support groups chuckle when another member returns fresh from reunion. 

“Do you still feel adopted?” we all ask. 

The answer is always yes, accompanied by a red face! 

Feelings of being adopted don’t go away! Nor should they! Adoption doesn’t define us, but it is an event that has impacted us greatly.  We were wired for adoption.

REJECTION FROM A BIRTH PARENT 

Another risk of reuniting is rejection from a birth parent., which is common.

“Fear? You betcha!” says Connie Dawson. “When adoptees consider searching (getting what they need), they are faced with huge risks.” 

Connie’s fear was that if her birth family (her birth mother was dead) “rejected” her, and by contacting them she might put her relationship with her adoptive parents at risk, then she would have no one to belong to. She would be nowhere. “I would have seen to my own exile. This is the same fearful space I faced when my birth mother ‘sent me away’ and felt that every connection I had was severed. I was like any animal who is s born, who is helpless, and whose mother walks off.” 

Lorraine says that her birth father refuses all responsibility and that opening herself up to a reunion with him would be a crisis waiting to happen. She wouldn’t be able to withstand the heartache and rejection. 

FEAR OF NOT BEING ABLE TO HANDLE THE EMOTIONS. 

Another risk we must face is that overwhelming emotion may occur. 

Penny Callan Partridge says, “Many of us don’t want to risk having strong feelings, or particular feelings, stirred up. Ultimately, we are probably choosing between one set of feelings and another: the feelings that go along with not knowing versus the feelings that may be stirred up if we choose to try to learn more. But none of these fears is enough to stop the majority of us. The need to know about ourselves, to know our own stories, is just too great.” 

ADOPTIVE PARENTS MAY FEEL HURT. 

The most pressing concern for Jody Moreen when she contemplated searching was that she would alienate her adoptive parents. Though she had an open, honest, and loving relationship with her adoptive mother, the whole story of her birth and adoption was not a topic ever brought up for discussion. She had always been a very pleasing and compliant child and desired her parents’ approval. Therefore, it was difficult for her to give herself permission as an adult in her thirties to search for the missing pieces of her past. She didn’t know how her adoptive parents would interpret her search and was concerned about hurting them in any way. 

It took Renee Mills nine months to finally tell her adoptive mother that she had been matched with her birth mom through the International Soundex Reunion Registry. She was terrified of hurting her. She was flying to Florida to meet her birth mom and didn’t want to lie to her adoptive mom about her destination.

Renee asked her adoptive mother to sit down because she had something very important to tell her. It was then that she began showing pictures of her birth family sent to her by her birth mother. Tears flowed, but at last it was all out in the open.

Sometimes she senses her mom getting defensive when she talks about her birth mother, but her mom has encouraged their relationship. Renee’s birth mother and adoptive mom have now met each other and both express appreciation for the role the other plays in Renee’s life. 

The Rewards of Searching 

Obviously, searching entails some significant risks, and each of us must make our own decision. It’s our choice to make, no one else’s. 

But now on to the good part of searching —the rewards! 

FEELING OF COMPLETENESS. 

“I am complete,” says Kasey Hamner. “I know who I am and what I want in life. No more secrets and lies. No more wondering where I got my funny-looking knees or if depression is part of my family history. Knowledge is power, in my opinion.” 

Phyllis-Anne Munro has gained a much greater sense of wholeness. For years she never believed she could be or deserved to be a mother. After meeting her birth father, for the first time she felt she could parent. “I feel a much greater sense of who I am. What a gift!” 

Richard Curtis says that if growth is accomplished through truth and knowledge, then since beginning his search and reunion process, eight years of healing have occurred in his life. The results, he says, are a sense of peace, serenity, and an understanding of where he fits in the universe. 

“Understanding my adoption experience,” Richard says, “has allowed me to bring authenticity to my relationships with family, friends, and others in my life. I no longer hide my thoughts and feelings—the veil of secrecy has been lifted. People now get the real Richard since I’ve uncovered my past, understand how precious the present is, and perhaps have an idea of where I’m going and who’s going with me in the future. Perhaps these are the blessings I can also offer to others.” 

SELF-CONFIDENCE. 

“I think that searching was more about finding myself than it was about finding my birth family,” says Ron Hilliard. “The process of finding my birth family led to the realization that ‘this is who I am.’ A whole part of me was discovered, and I have found that the process of finding my true identity is still going on. I ‘found my voice’—I now speak out of a real authenticity because I have a clearer sense of who I am.” 

For Kenny Tucker, meeting both his birth parents was life changing. “I am more secure in who I am. I feel I can accomplish anything since I waded through the fears of rejection to the other side. I am humbled by the magnitude of it all.” 

Laurie’s search has helped her to accept her beginnings. Before searching she had so much anger about not knowing her past. She found a tombstone at the end of her search for her birth mother but has been able to glean information about her from relatives. As a result, she is better able to accept herself. 

A PAINFUL PAST FADES. 

Issie came to the conclusion that she couldn’t help the circumstances of her childhood, but that she could still create her own life. She was placed with parents who were dirt poor and tried to poison her mind about her birth parents from day one. “White trash,” they called them. 

Mentally ill. No morals when it came to sex. Issie doesn’t know who her father is even though her adoptive parents know and could tell her if they were the least bit loving. 

Issie used to be terrified of rejection, but no longer. Why? Because she made a life-transforming choice to say good-bye to the lies and abuse of the past and determine instead to be all God created her to be. She is a beautiful woman of faith who loves God and doesn’t have one ounce of bitterness in her heart. She believes that those who are rejected not only by birth parents but by adoptive parents are very special to God—the object of his tender love and care. She is a blessing to others who read her writing on various websites.  

INCREASED ABILITY TO LOVE AND BE LOVED 

After Frieda Moore talked with her birth mother, she finally felt like she belonged in her adoptive family. She says the love and acceptance were there all along, but she couldn’t receive or give love the way she longed to until she completed her search and reunion. She was finally able to be vulnerable enough to love and let others love her. 

DEEPENED LOVE FOR ADOPTIVE PARENTS 

When Jody Moreen found her birth family, both parents were deceased, but she had three living sisters. Not long after a successful reunion with the sisters, her adoptive parents met them and everyone was warm and welcoming. 

Jody says, “The most precious gift my adoptive mother has ever given me was when, unbeknown to me, she bought a bouquet of flowers and suggested we drive to the cemetery to visit my birth mother’s grave. We walked silently to the unmarked grave and I wept as my mother gently laid the flowers down at the site. Never in this world have I felt closer to my mother. To think that she would honor my birth mother like this has forever deepened my love for her.” 

HOW TO BEGIN

What is needed is an objective look at the whole idea of search and reunion, and a list such as this will help accomplish that purpose. 

  • Define in your own words what it means to be true to yourself. Then go back as far in life as you can remember and list the major decisions you have made. Put a “T” after the ones in which you were true to yourself and your own growth process; put an “X” after the ones in which you weren’t true to yourself. Perhaps you were being a compliant adoptee? Or, perhaps you were scared?

Whatever the case, fellow adoptee, I hope this post helps you consider your next steps, both emotionally and physically, about whether or not to pursue searching.

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