3 Challenges I Encountered in Search and Reunion

When you've embarked on a journey of search and reunion, expect victories and pitfalls.

Rebecca Tillou January 08, 2018
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I started my adoption search half-heartedly when I was in college. Technology . . . well, it wasn’t quite as savvy as it is today. After I had my first son, Dominic in 2008, I couldn’t even search for a bottle or a blanket, let alone my genetic history. When my second son was born in March of 2013, I was a supermom (well, I thought I was anyway, and my 4-year-old agreed), and I decided I wanted to know where I came from. I wanted the back story. So I began my search in earnest. 

I had my birth mom’s first name, date of birth, and the state I was born in. That was it. In my mind, it wouldn’t take long. My mind was filled with the thought that everyone and anyone is on Facebook. Even older people. My birth mom would have been 73, but my husband’s grandmother was 86 and on Facebook! I had an extremely positive outlook. (At least when I talked to myself about my search. When I talked about it with my family though, I portrayed a “realistic” outlook, if you will, given the limited information I was given. I would tell them, “I won’t find her, she is most likely dead, I have nothing to go on.”)

This right here, my different outlook around friends and family, symbolized a challenge some may face in searching for their biological family members: The challenge of not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. I didn’t want my family to think I had chosen my birth family over them. I didn’t want them fretting over the what-if’s. “What if she finds Joan? What if Joan’s family comes to the surface? What if she meets them, and decides to become one of them?” So, I had two personalities. My family is my first line of contact when something sad or exciting happens. I had to remind myself as I stumbled upon facts, clues, and photos, that their reaction may not be what I was expecting or needing at that moment. Totally understandable.

This brings us to another challenge: When you find out who your birth mom is, and the “is” actually is a “was.” That’s right. She is dead. When I was searching, I knew how old Joanie was. I knew she could have passed away. Yet, every Joan I discovered that I thought was her, if that “Joan” had died, then I was sure it wasn’t her. No way. I wasn’t able to say that when I finally discovered who Joan was, though. Her photo in the yearbook . . . my mirror image from high school days. A phone call from a search angel about a New Jersey State Document with her date of death. Joan Chanowski was my birth mom, and she was dead. I searched for a year hard core, and now I would never get to meet her.

The feelings that flowed into my heart and my soul, or lack thereof when I first found out, surprised me. I thought I would break down, not be able to speak. I just sat there, and cried quietly. A couple tears, and only after I called my mom and told her. I told my mom I had thought that may be the end result. Of course, because I hadn’t wanted her to worry, I had not told her that my heart had put up a wall to such a thought. I had to learn how to be okay with never getting the peace I hoped to obtain by meeting her.

I was lucky, I guess, in that I discovered her brother and my cousins, all who knew nothing about me. They embraced me as their friend, as part of their family, and I got to learn a few Chanowski traits. Yet, none of them, even her own brother, knew much about Joanie. She was an orphan until she was 18. She never spent much time with the family.

So, I never did get that “peace” from knowing my birth mom, or at least knowing about her. I did finally get peace when her ashes from 1999 were sent to me from the Crematory. I finally met her . . . sorta. I wept for who she was, and what she had endured. I came through the challenge on the other side. I was victorious, and at peace.

Another challenge was my reunion with my birth mom’s family was I felt there was not enough time to get to know them. I feel there will never be enough time to know every genetic trait, every family secret and inside joke between my cousins and my uncle. I wrote my uncle a letter before I met him, trying to tell him about my whole life in 2 pages. Yeah, not possible. I spent 4 days in Texas, and it was essentially a meet-and-greet. I did get to know my uncle more than my cousins, because I stayed with him.

So, it is a constant challenge to get to know people you haven’t known for years. Making up for all that lost time. It is not possible to make up all of it. I try to be diligent in calling my uncle and keeping in contact with my cousins via social media. They have their own families, though. Their own lives. Like I do. They didn’t know anything about me, they were never searching for me.  Although I had been searching for my roots, I had my family, my life as well. After finding them, my life still kept going. It didn’t slow down so I could reconnect. I had a life with my family and it didn’t include them. So, it is a challenge to get to know your birth family, at least in my experience.

My final words of advice: Tread softly into the searching realm, but tread consistently and with purpose. Among the challenges there will be victories and pitfalls. Stay strong, and carry on.

Need some help with your adoption search? Adoption Detectives may be able to help! Learn more.

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Rebecca Tillou

Rebecca was adopted as an infant. She found her birth family in May of 2013 and continues to keep in touch with them. Sadly, her birth mother passed away in 1999. She and her husband live in New York and are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Dominic and Nicolas. They also have a German Shepherd mix named Chester. She was recently diagnosed with FASD at 34 years of age. She is currently working with nofas.org and thearg.org to get the word out that there is hope, and that you are never too old to better yourself.


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