Reaching Out: Pursuing Reunion in (Mostly) Closed Adoption

How do you love someone you don’t really know? How can you miss someone you’ve never spent time with? While this can be difficult to explain, it is a daily reality for many of those involved in closed adoptions. When you feel that a piece of your soul is out there, somewhere in the world, it leaves a void that can’t be filled by anything else. As a birth mother in a mostly closed adoption, I have experienced emotions ranging from pride and joy to grief and hopelessness⁠—and everything in between. For the past few years, I have been contemplating reaching out to (and hopefully reuniting with) my birth son. Perhaps the questions and concerns that I face in my own journey will resonate with others as well.

The Backstory 

At the age of 14, I found myself facing an unplanned pregnancy. I was a freshman in high school⁠—too young to get a job, too young to drive, and in the eyes of most people, too young to be a mother. The birth father was 21, and he was facing statutory rape charges if he continued to be involved in my life. Because my brother and I were being raised by a single father, we did not have the means to bring another child into our home. Even in such a tumultuous situation, I was headstrong and stubborn. I wanted so badly to parent my child. If love alone could have provided for him, there is no doubt he would have been well taken care of. Unfortunately, raising a child also takes time, money, and support that I didn’t have…

When I first met with an adoption counselor, the only adoptions I was familiar with were completely closed. I was terrified because I had only heard these heartbreaking stories of women being sent to unwed mother’s homes, never knowing anything about their children after birth, and having to live in silence⁠—never speaking of the adoption again. I had also seen TV movies portraying common stereotypes about adoption and its effects on people. However, by the time of my pregnancy and placement in the late ’90s, adoptions were becoming more open. I was reassured that I could choose my child’s adoptive parents, receive photos, and get updates about him as he grew. While this didn’t make the placement “easy,” it did provide me with a sense of hope and reassurance. This type of adoption was labeled “semi-open.”

I browsed through a stack of blue folders⁠—each one containing the profile and photos of a hopeful adoptive couple. After carefully considering their personalities, hobbies, lifestyles, and reading their Dear Birthmother letters, I chose the couple that would raise my son. They were kind, financially stable, and happily married. They loved to travel and spend time with family. They had pets. They attended church regularly. They had careers that were meaningful to them. Also, like a sign pointing me in the right direction, we found out that my due date was the hopeful mother’s birthday. When we met for the first time, there was an instant bond. There were tears and laughter. There were talks about the level of openness that we were comfortable with. We decided on photos and letters sent through the agency. We also decided that I could send gifts for birthdays and holidays.

For the first few years, I received photos and updates quarterly. I was completely overjoyed to see each one. I proudly showed them off to all of my friends. The other teenagers on my school bus would ask me frequently if I had gotten any more photos. I also received videos twice a year of my birth son opening presents that I had sent, spending time with his parents, and enjoying his everyday life. The videos were (and still are) like treasures to me. After a few years, once I had another child of my own, the updates slowed down. If I wanted to receive photos, I had to ask for them through the agency. I understood that life was probably busy and I didn’t want to upset anyone by nagging them for photos. Eventually, the contact pretty much stopped. While I knew vague details about his hobbies and interests, the photos and letters were no longer coming. This hurt me quite a bit, but even without the updates, I knew that he was in a happy and loving home. I knew that he was blessed with opportunities and life experiences that I couldn’t have provided him. I would still send gifts intermittently and hope that he received them.

Flash Forward

As my emotional healing progressed, I found myself doing a bit of public speaking. When hopeful adoptive parents are completing their home study and receiving adoption education classes through the agency, they sometimes get to meet a birth mother. This gives them an idea of what a birth mother might be like: the emotions she may be feeling, the questions and concerns many birth parents face, and common myths that may need dispelling. About once a year, I would volunteer as one of the birth parents who would speak and share my story with these small groups. It was an integral part of my healing and a way to use my story to help others.

After I had spoken to several groups, I received a phone call from the agency. My birth son’s adoptive mother was hoping to meet with me. Because I had not seen her face-to-face since the placement ceremony, I was nervous and excited that she was reaching out! She sat in as I spoke and shared my story with a group, and we both cried when I introduced her to the room as my son’s adoptive mother. It was like reuniting with an old friend. There has always been and will always be a bond between us. Two mothers of the same child⁠—each in a different position, but both filled with unconditional love.

She shared with me how their lives had been going and she also let me know that while she hoped that there would be a reunion someday, she didn’t think my birth son was ready yet. One of her main concerns was that the adoptive father wasn’t a huge supporter of a reunion between us. It was explained to me by the agency that the adoptive father was an engineer, and he had a mindset that organized things into boxes based upon where he thinks they should go…and he wasn’t sure where I belonged, so I was basically dismissed.

My son’s adoptive mother and I stayed in contact periodically over social media. We always made a point to let the other know that we kept each other in our thoughts and our prayers. I would soon find out that the reason she had wanted to meet with me was that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She asked if I would write a few words to send to my birth son⁠—just telling him a bit about myself and my family. I made him a scrapbook with letters from each of my family members, photos of us all, and fun facts about his biological family history. I also wrote the story of his adoption placement. Within months, his adoptive mother had passed away. I have no idea if he ever received the scrapbook.

I was completely devastated at the loss of this woman who had raised my child. My heart ached for my birth son. He hadn’t even graduated high school and he was dealing with the loss of his mom. I wanted nothing more than to reach out to him and wrap my arms around him, but I couldn’t do that. I considered attending her funeral, but I knew that it wasn’t my place. So I prayed, I lit a candle, and I allowed myself time to grieve. With her gone, I felt that any chance of a reunion with my birth son had been dashed. She was my only connection to him.

Reaching Out…Or Not: Pros, Cons, & What If’s 

As a teenager, I would often daydream about the day my birth son would turn 18. I just assumed that we would have a magical reunion and be a family from then on. I was young and naive and didn’t fully comprehend life and its circumstances at that time. I had no idea how things would play out, but I was hopeful. His 18th birthday came and went and it was fairly uneventful. He didn’t suddenly reach out to me just because he was legally an adult. I didn’t suddenly reach out to him, either. I certainly thought about it, but there was much more to consider.

While each adoption story is unique, I would imagine that the concerns I’ve had are common to many birth parents in adoptions where there isn’t much openness or contact. There is eagerness, but also anxiety. There is hope, but there is also fear. There is a strong desire to move forward and take the next step, followed by a great deal of procrastination and stalling.

So many questions raced through my mind. Does my birth son know anything about me? Does he even KNOW he is adopted? If so, what does he know about his adoption story? What if he hates me or holds some sort of resentment toward me for placing him? He has already lost his mom to cancer. She was a GREAT mom. Why would he want to meet me? What if I upset his adoptive father by attempting to contact him? What if I completely turn his life upside down and he starts to struggle in school/college or turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms? What if I wait too long to reach out and he gets married and starts a family? How will this affect all of them and how will he feel about explaining it to everyone? What if he decides he wants to meet his birth father (who has been in and out of trouble for years)? If he DID receive the scrapbook, is there really any need for me to reach out, or do I wait for him to contact me first? The anxiety literally consumed me. I wouldn’t even say it’s fear of rejection⁠—more like fear of causing problems for other people by introducing myself into their lives. If I were to find out that he has no clue about his adoption, I would probably never reach out. I would be too afraid of how it would affect him and his relationship with his family.

Even with these fears, I know that there could be benefits to the reunion as well. I could provide him with his family’s medical history. I could explain to him the story of his adoption. I could let him know that he is and always has been loved. I could tell him about the joy in his adoptive parents’ eyes when they held him for the first time. He could meet his biological siblings, who know all about him and eagerly look forward to meeting him someday. I could answer any questions he may have. He could learn about his roots. Perhaps it would bring some sort of closure to both of us. I could encourage his success and applaud his accomplishments.

I have no intention of ever being a “mom” to him. He had an amazing mom. I don’t expect us to have a parent/child-type relationship. I do, however, want to know him. What has his life been like? What is his favorite color? Has he been cursed with the dreaded allergies and asthma that I have? What features or personality traits do we share? Does he have my family’s witty sense of humor? What are his goals for the future? What’s his favorite song? What foods does he love (or hate)? These questions may seem trivial, but sometimes the little things mean a lot. There is beauty in the everyday details a person knows about someone they love. Most of all, I want to know that he is healthy and happy. I want him to know that he is important to me and not a day goes by when I don’t think of him.

Taking the First Step

It can be helpful to gain clarity by speaking to trusted and knowledgeable people who are outside of your situation. In talking with the adoption agency, other families touched by adoption, and my counselor, I have decided that I will write him a letter and send it through the agency. I had considered sending him a message on social media, but that seems so impersonal. For something this important, I think a handwritten letter will work much better. I don’t want it to be too long or too emotional. I plan to let him know who I am, a brief explanation of why I placed him, and to let him know that I am open to any level of contact he is comfortable with. I have been putting off writing the letter for months, perhaps even a year. I’m sure I will be incredibly nervous to send it once it is written. I tell myself that I am prepared for any outcome. If he wants to meet me and my family, that’s amazing! If he doesn’t, that’s his choice and I will respect his wishes⁠—though I’m sure it will be tough for me emotionally.

I also plan to send a letter to his adoptive father. Since my birth son is an adult, this letter is not to ask permission to contact him, but more like a sign of respect. A note letting him know that my intentions are good and that I am happy to address any concerns or questions that he may have. I have already written this letter, but I’m sure I will rewrite it a time or two before I get the nerve to send it off.

That’s where I am. Nothing to it, but to do it. Right? I know that I can’t be alone in these thoughts and feelings. I would love to know how others decided to reach out to their loved ones. Have you attempted to contact your biological family? How did it go? What emotions did you experience? What advice would you give to someone looking to reunite?

I hope to post an updated story in the future⁠—to candidly share how I am coping with the overwhelming joy of reunion or the disappointment of rejection. Whatever the outcome, I will know that I have done my best and that my heart and my arms will always be open. Maybe I’ll sit down and write that letter today…

Need some help with your adoption search? Adoption Detectives may be able to help! Learn more. Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry.