Giving Up The Guilt: Why Adoptees Should Not Feel Guilty About Searching

Guilt: Everyone feels it at some time in his or her life.

Rebecca Tillou December 21, 2016
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Guilt. Everyone feels it at some time in his or her life. I am sure many people have had many instances in their lives of feeling just a tad guilty if they ate an extra cup of ice cream, to feeling extremely guilty if they had a deep secret they were keeping from someone they loved.

I am no stranger to guilt. Most of my guilt plays out when I don’t exercise or I indulge in half a pint of ice cream. I do have one event that happened in my life though, when guilt slithered its way around my brain, through my body, and curled up nice and tight right in my heart. What precipitated this guilty feeling? Searching for my biological mom.

I know there are many adoptees out there that desire to search for their biological ties, but the guilt they feel for searching consumes them, and stops them before they even begin. It is guilt of looking for the person or people who placed them with another family, when they had parents who loved them no matter what, and had raised them when their biological parents couldn’t.

I have always been curious to who gave birth to me, what her life was like, and what a future with her would look like if I found her. When I started to search, I felt guilt rise up within my soul for even wanting to search and find. I mean, my parents loved me, raised me, and would do anything for me. I was part of a family. Their family. By me searching, I thought they would worry I didn’t feel loved enough. I felt so much guilt taking time away from my husband and children to sit at the computer for hours and look up every Joan in the United States. I contemplated not divulging my search to my parents, but then I felt guilty for keeping it a secret!

So, one night, after a Joan had returned my phone call and explained she was not my birth mom, my mom asked me why I had run away, up the stairs to answer the phone. The guilt panged at my heart–the guilt of not telling her that I had started the search. The guilt of needing and wanting to search, to know who I looked like, to know my birth mother’s childhood and adulthood. My mom looked at me as I disclosed my latest secret. She then replied with one word. “Oh.” Her eyes though, said so much more.

I thought once I had told her I was searching, she would embrace me and tell me I had nothing to hide; she was there for me, as was my father. I had hoped my guilty conscience would melt away. Well, my mom finally spoke after a minute. She told me she understood my desire. She told me my dad understood as well, they were just worried down the road, or right around the corner, I would get hurt.

The guilt I felt about searching, the guilt I felt about not telling her right away slithered away into the back of my mind. I felt free. The guilt came back though.

As I got deeper into the search, spent more hours at the computer, my parents would come visit and look at me with disapproving eyes. We would go to breakfast and my parents would tell me how I needed to stop my obsession. I needed to spend time with my family. They were right. I felt so guilty.

Then, when I found Joan Chanowski, learned about her life and her death, and reunited with my uncle and cousins, another round of guilt swept through me. I felt guilty for meeting them, for making friendships with them. I felt guilty because I felt that my parents would feel I had replaced them.

Over time, my mom started to ask about Joan’s brother and my biological cousin Linda. I would talk with her, but I was always nervous, I still felt guilt for going through with the search.

Once I found my birth mom, then I located my biological cousins. I was chatting with my dad about a new cousin I had been introduced to. I will never forget. He looked at me, and whispered, “You found Joan. You know she is dead. What else do you want?” I think my guilt would have washed my house away had it been real. He made me feel so guilty for searching.

As an adoptee who had a desire to search, and went through with it, I don’t think there is a way around feeling guilty for searching, if your parents and you have a wonderful relationship. I don’t think we as adoptees should feel guilty. I think our emotions and our desires are natural. I think we have a right to search. I don’t think guilt should be part of our search.

Why should we feel guilty for wanting to know our roots, to understand what our family already knows about themselves? I would like to tell everyone to kick guilt in the gut when it rears its head during your search. You may try to kick it, to get rid of it. I think it is impossible to give up the guilt, and in the end, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. I think that while we shouldn’t feel guilty for discovering from whence we came, guilt is our reminder that we are loved to the moon and back, and feel so much love towards our family.

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Rebecca Tillou

Rebecca was adopted as an infant. She found her birth family in May of 2013 and continues to keep in touch with them. Sadly, her birth mother passed away in 1999. She and her husband live in New York and are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Dominic and Nicolas. They also have a German Shepherd mix named Chester. She was recently diagnosed with FASD at 34 years of age. She is currently working with nofas.org and thearg.org to get the word out that there is hope, and that you are never too old to better yourself.


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