Most adoptees wonder from time to time where they came from. They become curious about their roots. Plenty of adoptees seek out that information at some point. Where does that desire come from? Some would argue that humans have an innate need to know their origins. Some would call it a primal desire. I disagree. I don’t think that is the case at all. I think society unintentionally pushes us to the place where the questions live. I think it’s how we react individually to those nudges that affects our degree of need. People search for many reasons. Most adoptees search to fill a void in their life or because they are unhappy and wish to start anew. Most search out of sheer curiosity. Wanting to find your birth family is normal. It is a completely normal progression of events.

If the desire to know one’s past was inborn, then what of the late-discovery adoptees? They are on a seemingly average path, and then suddenly they learn they are not biologically part of their family. If they were born with such curiosity, wouldn’t they have suspected something was amiss all those years? That is not always the case. Most late-discovery adoptees are in complete shock when they find the truth. Then those around them start to ask questions, and the searching for answers begins.

I was adopted as an infant by a couple in a closed adoption. I just happened to look very similar to my adoptive mom. Everywhere we went people would comment. Standing in line at the bank a woman would say, “You know, you look just like your Momma.” Shopping in the grocery store a man would observe, “Well, if she isn’t the spitting image of you.” It was fine, really. We never corrected anyone. We just smiled and went on with our day. People didn’t know any better. To me, though, each time that happened it was a reminder that she was not actually my birth mother. The only times I ever thought about being adopted were in response to what others said or did.

Then there were school projects. They were all well-meaning, I’m sure. There was the family tree project that felt a little fake. The “guess my heritage” holidays were always fun. I’d pick up the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirt and wonder if I was actually Irish. Doctor’s office paperwork was super easy. I could fill the forms out in record time. I’d write in my name, address, phone number, insurance, and draw a big line through the rest of it. None of those were a big deal, but they invoked questions that were stored in my brain.

Once in high school there was also fear. What if I ended up dating a relative? Out poured a new list of queries. What happened to my birth parents? Did they stay in the area? Did they have more kids? That’s when I started interviewing my date’s parents. I’d ask if they were certain no one in their immediate family had ever placed a child for adoption.

Once I reached child-bearing age, a whole new onslaught of questions invaded. My friends were having kids, and I started to hear about various health conditions. Did any genetic diseases run in my family? My file said “no known medical conditions,” but that was a long time ago. What had shown up since? Would I have a healthy baby? Then the baby came and I had waited the whole pregnancy for him to look like me. Instead he looked exactly like my husband, which people remarked on every day. So now there were more questions. If no one looked like me, then who in the world did I look like? Surely I must look like someone, but whom?

I had a happy life. I never felt out of place. My adoptive family always felt like my “real” family. Society pokes and probes, though, ever so gently. We teach kids to “be yourself” and “be proud of your heritage.” For adoptees, those lines aren’t always defined. We aren’t giving them the information. We are inspiring them to seek it out. That is completely normal. Wanting to find your birth family is not a slight on your adoptive one. The search is what you make it. If all you want is a fact-finding mission, go for it. If you want a full relationship with frequent visits, go ahead and make contact. Whatever level of information you want is okay. What you do with your search is completely your choice. Wanting to find biological relatives is a natural progression of life. This life is yours, and your journey is what you make it.

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