In many cases, adoption reunions can be a joyous occasion. However, if you feel unsure, you may have lots of questions. This article will guide you through some of the common emotions that may arise as well as offering helpful insight and advice that you may not have considered.
Consider the Source (Make Sure It’s Legit)
In this day and age, we must all be cautious of scams and people claiming to be who they are not. An important question to ask yourself involves deciding whether or not this person is indeed a member of your biological family. If your adoption was more open, you may already be sure whether or not this is the case. If your adoption was closed, this may be a bit more difficult to navigate.
- If you are an adoptive parent: Do you have information about the biological family such as names, addresses, photos, or other identifying info that may help to prove that the people contacting you are who they claim to be? Have they contacted you through the agency, through mail/phone, or via the internet? Do they know the details surrounding the adoption? The safety of your family is of utmost importance, so even if you are open to communication with the birth family, make sure that’s really who’s contacting you.
- If you are an adopted person: Has your family ever mentioned that you were adopted? A good place to start (if you are able, and if you are comfortable with it) is by asking your parents about your adoption story and about any information they may have about your birth family. DNA tests are available and commonly used means of identifying biological family members if you want to be absolutely certain that you are, in fact, related.
- If you are a birth parent: If you are being contacted by someone claiming to be your birth child, do a bit of research. Do they know identifying details such as the date and place of their birth? Can they provide any other information that may prove they are who they claim to be? Were you reached out to by the adoption agency or via social media? Have you considered DNA testing to prove that you are related?
In any case, feel free to reach out to the adoption agency or attorney who facilitated the adoption to find out more details and make sure that the person contacting you has found the right family. Many states also offer access to adoption records which may be able to give you more of the information you are seeking.
Which Family Member is Reaching Out and Why?
Many biological family members may wish to initiate contact. In navigating these situations, consider who is reaching out to you and what their motives seem to be. In all cases, the safety of your family should be a top priority. Consider the current lifestyle of the person contacting you, and always use your best judgment before meeting in person. Most biological family members attempting contact have only the best of intentions, but it is always wise to be cautious when meeting anyone you don’t currently know.
Are you being contacted by a:
- Birth Mother? In most cases, the birth mother of a child loves that child very much. Even if the adoption plan was her decision, she may wonder often about the child’s well-being and quality of life. She may want the child to have access to medical records. She may want to explain her decision to place the child for adoption and give insight to her situation at the time. She may be looking for peace and closure, knowing that she has done what she can to reach out and share her story/information. If the birth mother placed due to a situation beyond her control, she may have struggled with emotions like guilt and sadness for a very long time. Birth mothers may face some anxiety when initiating contact. Fear of rejection is real and it can be frightening. Having contact with a birth mother may help to answer some long-held questions about roots, identity, and about how the adoptee’s story began.
- Birth Father? Birth fathers aren’t talked about nearly as much as birth mothers are when speaking of adoption. Perhaps this is because many birth fathers are not present during the time of the birth or adoption. Some may not even know that the pregnancy or adoption has occurred. However, this is not always the case. There is a large number of birth fathers who care deeply about the well-being of their birth children. They may have the same concerns, hopes, and fears as the birth mother. Gathering information about the adoption story and the birth father’s current lifestyle may be helpful when deciding how to handle contact.
- Birth Sibling? If you are being contacted by a biological sibling, they may or may not know very much about the circumstances of the adoption. Many birth parents do share their placement story with their children, but some prefer to keep the story private due to the emotional nature, the uncertainty of what others may think, etc. There are times when birth siblings reach out independent of their parents. Their parents may not know they are attempting contact, or they may have passed away before contact was made. Meeting siblings can be exciting and interesting. Having someone who is so closely related can create a wonderful bond. You may be surprised to find out how much you have in common.
- Biological child? If you are a birth parent being contacted by your biological child, they may be seeking answers. Medical history could be important information that they have not previously had answers to. They could also be interested in learning more about the circumstances around their adoption placement. Family heritage, ethnic roots, and other inherited traits may help them as they attempt to fill in any gaps in their identity or life story. Some may hope for a relationship, others may just be seeking information.
- Other Relative? Perhaps you are being contacted by someone else altogether. With the prevalence of DNA testing through ancestry websites, more and more people are finding relatives they never knew they had. They may be attempting to put together pieces of their own family history. It is completely up to you what (if anything) you choose to share with these (or any) relatives.
Dealing With Common Emotions
Being contacted by the birth family can bring up a wide range of both positive and negative emotions for all members of the adoption triad. Journaling, a healthy support system, and therapy can be incredibly beneficial in navigating any feelings that may arise.
- Excitement and joy:
If you are adoptee who has known that you were adopted for some time, you may be excited to meet your biological family. In addition to meeting the parent(s) who gave you life, you may have biological siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. who you would love to get to know.
If you are an adoptive parent, you may be excited to share your child’s heritage with them and help them as they find answers they may have been seeking.
If you are a birth parent, you may be overjoyed at the possibility of a long-awaited reunion.
Some adoptees feel anger when being contacted by their biological family. This is also perfectly normal. They may not understand the reasons behind their adoption placement. Perhaps they have felt that they were “unwanted” by their biological family or have other underlying resentments toward them. This anger may or may not be resolved as the adoptee learns more about the circumstances regarding their adoption.
Adoptive parents may feel some anger when unexpectedly contacted by the birth family, especially if they were under the assumption that there would be no contact. A feeling of disruption can cause negative emotions to surface.
Birth parents, on occasion, may feel angry that they were contacted. Especially if their adoption was done in private without the knowledge of friends and family.
While feelings of anger are quite normal, it is always good to explore the reasoning behind it and find healthy ways to cope.
If a person is finding out for the first time that they were adopted, this can be incredibly shocking news. They may feel hurt or betrayed that this information wasn’t shared with them previously. They may also have feelings of doubt or denial that they were adopted at all.
Adoptive parents may be in shock that the biological family has contacted them. This may be a development they had not expected, and they may not be sure how to feel about the situation at first.
Birth parents may be caught off guard. They may not have expected their biological child to contact them, especially if it was a closed and sealed adoption. It may take some time to process their emotions.
Contact and reunion, even when wanted, can cause feelings of anxiety.
Adoptees may wonder what their biological family is like, how this contact will affect their relationship with their current family, and how their lives will change from this point on.
Adoptive parents may have concerns for the emotional well-being of their children, and may even be a bit concerned that the birth family will try to step in and replace them. While this is a valid concern, in a majority of cases, it is not something that is realistic. Most birth parents understand that they will never have the parent-child bond that adoptive parents have with their children. And most adopted persons are not looking for replacement parents in any way. They just want more information about where they came from.
Birth parents may face lots of anxiety as well. There may be worries about how they will be perceived by both the adoptee and the adoptive parents. Will they be resented? Will they be “good enough”? How will they explain the situation to those they are close to? There are so many questions that may arise. The “what if’s” can be a bit overwhelming.
- Peace and Closure:
For adoptees who have been searching, contacting their biological family may bring them a sense of peace and of closure as they find answers about their biological family history. They may feel a sense of completion as their story comes full circle.
In some cases, adoptive parents may feel relief that the initial concern of the “whens, whys, and hows” is past them now. While the journey will likely have new developments, adoptive parents can feel peace knowing that they are there to support and help their children as they navigate this new part of their lives.
Birth parents may find much-needed peace upon reuniting with their biological children. So often birth parents continue to grieve their birth child because there has been no closure. Finding their birth children, learning about their lives, and finding out that they are doing well can help to heal a birth parent’s heart.
Emotions are funny things and they are different for each and every person. You may have similar or incredibly different feelings and viewpoints in your specific journey, and that’s okay, too! The important thing is that you are able to deal with them in a healthy manner.
Considering Types of Contact
If you decide to respond to contact made by the birth family, you have several options. Consider the age of the adopted person. Are they a child or an adult? Consider the person reaching out. Are they at a point in their lives where they are stable, sober, and mentally sound enough for you to safely develop a relationship with them?
Letters, emails, or phone calls can be a great way to contact the birth family at first. It’s not overly personal and doesn’t share your location, but still offers a way to communicate and learn more about each other. Some families choose to stay in contact via social media. This can be a good way to keep in fairly constant contact while seeing photos, sharing thoughts, and learning about the major events happening in the other person’s life.
If you prefer to meet in person, choose a safe place, preferably in public, such as a restaurant, a local park, or coffee shop. You may choose to bring a friend or family member with you for emotional support, or you may choose a one-on-one meeting if it feels like it will be a better bonding experience.
Remember that the ball is ultimately in your court. If something seems off, or if you don’t think that you would like to remain in contact, you always have the option to limit contact or to end it completely. Alternatively, if your relationship seems to be unfolding beautifully, you can always open it up to even more contact.
Developing a Relationship
The relationship between biological and adoptive families can be healthy and loving. Honesty and communication by all parties involved is key in developing a bond. There is no such thing as too much love or too much family. It is important to note that contacting the biological family does NOT in any way mean that the adoptive family is less real, less valid, or less loved.
When contacted by birth family, remember to use your common sense as well as an open mind in making an informed decision. If you have experienced contact with your birth family, feel free to share your comments below to help others who are just beginning their reunion journey.