Adoptees puzzle about many issues related to their adoption experience, and one of them is whether to connect with their family of origin. The chief concern is timing. We ask ourselves: Is now the right time for me? Why should I wait, or is all of this better left alone?
As I approached 50, I was sent for a breast biopsy and decided it was time to research my closed adoption. As an adoptee from the Baby Scoop Era, my twin sister and I had no information about our birth parents, genealogy, or family health history. After struggling to find the right search agency, I learned of the Confidential Intermediary Service of Illinois. Once I filled out the application and paid the fee, the Circuit Court of Chicago assigned me an intermediary.
The judge overseeing my case granted the intermediary access to my closed adoption file at Catholic Charities, and she learned my birth mother’s true identity. Once the intermediary located an address for my birth mom, she drafted an outreach. My twin sister and I were allowed to include a brief note to accompany the intermediary’s letter.
The intermediary coached me on what to include in my statement. The most important item I needed to address was, “Why now?” My note began, “I hope this letter finds you in good health. I have been wondering about you my entire life. I’m searching for you now because I have a serious medical concern and need my family health history.”
Adoptees have a lot of reasons to search for their biological relatives, but medical background and genealogy are two of the biggest ones. Knowing why our birth parents chose to make an adoption plan for us is another pressing matter. To answer these concerns, contact is initiated with birth relatives through adoption agencies and lawyers, search agencies and search angels, genealogy sites, and social media.
Deeply connected, to “Why Now?” is the second question: “Why Wait?”
Why do adoptees like me delay connecting with birth family until later in life? Despite a lifelong curiosity about birth parents, birth circumstances, and family background, I fell into the category of adoptees who postpone their adoption probe in deference to their adoptive parents. Yet, some adoptees decide to wait until the adopting parents die before launching a search. This deferral is made out of respect to their adoptive parents for the life that was provided them.
Often what drives the timing of a search is the fear that if an adoptee waits too long, the birth parents will not be alive to pass on desired information. Still, other adoptees are driven early in their lives to dig for a personal story, convinced that it’s their right to information–that they should not be prevented from knowing everything they can learn about themselves. It’s important to note that search success can be limited by the laws of the state in which the adoption was legalized, and whether it was a closed, private, or open adoption.
“Why Not?” or why don’t all adoptees decide to look into their adoption is the third question surrounding adoption search and reunion. Adoptees who don’t choose to connect with birth relatives might be content with the course of their lives; may not want to challenge or risk their relationships with adoptive family members; feel that a search is just opening up a world of trouble; believe that if their parents wanted them, they wouldn’t have placed them for adoption; are convinced that it’s too late to have meaningful relationships with birth relatives; and may not have the resources to do so.
With so many reasons not to look for birth family members, it’s not surprising that many adoptees go on about their lives choosing never to make the connection.
These three questions: Why Now, Why Wait, and Why Not? explore the most prevalent issues that affect the adoption search and reunion process. Each question should be taken into consideration before launching into a decision that will change lives. If health issues had not pressed my need for answers, I’m not certain how long I would have deferred my own search. I’m content with having found the answers I sought and with the relationships I maintain some of my birth relatives. Yet, I believe that there is no true prescriptive path. Why Now, Why Wait and Why Not? are questions that each adult adoptee must carefully discern to meet their own needs and particular situation.
Julie Ryan McGue is an adult domestic adoptee and identical twin. She writes about finding out who you are, where you belong, and making sense of it. Her debut memoir, Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging is the story of her search for birth relatives and will be released on May 11, 2021. Follow McGue at www.juliemcgueauthor.com.