Hi there.
I’m posting this note regarding a very weird and extraordinary experience I went through last year. And also because there is hardly any information or resources about such a thing on the Internet, let alone video. That for birth family siblings in adoption reunions. Perhaps because my story is so rare. I don’t know of anyone who’s been through such a thing anyway.
Around Christmas the other year, my father sadly passed away. He was in ill health for some time but his death was unexpected so soon. Unfortunately I couldn’t return to his funeral from overseas (where I am) due to Covid travel regulations. The funeral which I attended online remotely was held at the beginning of February. In the interim I was given some news by my family that I had a long lost half sibling who had been adopted. It happened to be his birth daughter with a mother different than my own, therefore my half-sister.
The cold winter months after his death was the saddest time of my life. But towards the end of February, I plucked up the courage to reach out to this sibling. She had been looking for my Dad for 20 years. Days before he died, they finally made contact with an exchange of short letters but were never able to meet. Intermediaries had been used to make contact with other family members that eventually reached him. But because he passed away, it was then brought to me to get in contact. Being the next closest relation it made sense. I didn’t really know what was about to unfold though…
Initially at first I thought I’d just say hello to this person. A short intro. How do you do and all that. Not thinking much of it. Then suddenly we were emailing each other every other day, eventually writing over 50,000 words in a few months. Talking about our lives, common interests and most bizarrely having amazing coincidences, the main ones being in the same places at different times. It was fascinating. But a lot to get my head around. Vast amounts of information every day. Overwhelming. And then the long distance video chats started. Sometimes we’d talk for like 3 hours at a time, every week. And it all felt so natural. Like talking to an old friend. But even though related, we were / are technically strangers. Yet there was this incredible high that went on for a few months as we got to know one another. Just immense happiness and excitement getting to know this person. It was magical. I also kept seeing someone who had similar physical similarities to my dad, myself and other birth family members. Like looking in a mirror.
But little did I know that this is something that happens in the initial stages of adoption reunion. It’s only later when the reality of the situation settles in. Somewhat of a comedown from the initial euphoria.
We eventually met face to face 5 months after our first connect on my return to my home country. I guess had I been resident there, we would’ve met a lot earlier. We’d spent too much time online. I was also returning belatedly to mourn my father in person as well as also having other family issues. Yet, somehow me, my new found half sibling, her husband and family members went on a 9 day trip to Ireland, primarily to have a memorial for my dad but also a family reunion. Somewhat quite naively. There were some lovely times but understandably I was an emotional wreck, computing my father had gone and this sibling turning up. It was too much for both of us. A few days may have been better, but 9 days on holiday together. It should’ve been taken a LOT slower.
After, I knew we had to have a pullback stage from so much intense communication we had in the first few months. It was me who suggested it as to look and preserve the relationship. There was a period of 6 months of silence which was a very difficult and confusing time for me. The relationship crashed and burned for a multitude of reasons on both sides that were too personal.
So from this experience, I would like to give some advice and the things I’ve learnt.
The shock and surprise of it. Nothing can prepare you for that. There’s no road map. And I had a double whammy. Going from the darkest time in my life with my father dying and then this incredible high, connecting with a long lost sister. That’s a lot to process. And really gave my nervous system this huge battering.
The adopted person has known there are birth family members out there for years and has most probably seen consellors / adoption specialists for quite sometime. Where as the birth family sibling has no idea of the other’s existence and is certainly oblivious to the complexities of the reunion process. My advice before connecting is to make sure you’re educated about it. Get on forums, read up about people’s experiences. Make sure you go through an intermediary perhaps, giving you better protection. Even go to counseling, especially if you’ve had a case like mine. But as I said, there is hardly any literature out there for birth family members, especially ones who were never informed of their biological sibling’s existence their whole lives.
Another important thing is to make sure that contact is slow and not too intense. With my half sibling, the intensity of the initial contact was overwhelming as we hit it off right away. It was over the top. Part of this was because of being 10,000 miles away and not meeting up until 5 months after contact. Don’t get “carried away”. The intial stages are often loosely described as a “honeymoon period”, you basically can’t get enough of this person and pretty much other aspects of your life go out of the window. Then you’ll look back later and think, that was a lot of time invested. It’s a marathon not a sprint as they say…
And keep your guard. I was basically telling this person my whole life story, good and bad. I guess it was almost like some kind of therapy in hindsight but in retrospect I was airing my laundry a bit too much. Even though you’re 25 percent the same DNA, technically this person is still a stranger.
Be kind and not judgmental. Show respect. I was careless with some things offending the other person (and vice versa) but I think my biggest mistake was my high expectations. And also being too pushy in contact. I guess the way that my family broke the news to me contributed to that. “Hey! Your father died. It’s very sad, but we have some happy news for you. You have a sister!” My reaction.... “Wow! That’s amazing! Everything’s going to be great!”.
And the timing. It was no ones doing but it almost felt like it was engineered. I was very naive with it all. Anyone would be. I guess in hindsight I should’ve been given more time to mourn my dad and perhaps news from my family should’ve been delayed?
But having said that... Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s always been a major fault of mine throughout my life. Blaming myself if things don’t work out, but please remember. It’s not just you. Adjustments and acceptance need to be implemented for it to be a successful reunion. And this importantly needs to be on both sides. Be kind. Be gentle.
The whole experience? I guess I’ve felt very alone. I don’t know of such a thing happen to anyone, apart from my brother (who has Asperger’s therefore sees things differently, not having the same emotions) let alone finding a similar story with the finite or should I say non existent literature that’s available, especially for birth family member siblings.
It is a massive jolt in your life and there’s no compensation for it. It’s taken me a good year to make sense of it. Depending on how big the reunion is for you, it can affect your job, marriage and family relationships. And of course your mental health. The psychological impact on me for the first several months was enormous and I’ve only just come out of it, a year after first connecting. And I’ve had all of this come after a 2 year global pandemic which was a big weight as we all know. Try and get professional support if needed. Thankfully I’ve had empathetic friends I think part of my struggle was being in a foreign culture and being totally unprepared and uninformed. Some family members commented that I have mental problems. Well yeah. What a mental thing to happen in one’s life. A life that will never quite be the same again…
To finally make sense I spoke to a consellor who specializes in adoption reunions from all sides (her link is in the description below). And because of this, as I said, I felt compelled to make this make this note. Just to see if there’s anyone out there who has had the same experience or similar situation.
So if you have, please leave a comment below or share any links you may have related to the topic of how birth family members are affected, emotionally and psychologically. And how everyone is affected. I intend to create thought provoking discussion.