25 Feb The Tricky Road of Adoption Reunion
Adoption reunion, it’s a tricky road. Filled with unexpected twists and turns and some jarring potholes.
First, there is no “right” way to do reunion or a search for that matter. There is tons of information out there. I followed a lot of the rules and advice. Initially, I was pretty unsuccessful.
Then, I did quite a lot of the things that weren’t recommended. This led to finding my family. So my advice is to read the stuff and then follow your gut. It’s your story after all.
In adoption reunion, I believe what generally helps is a parent and child who are both ready and willing to be found. Also, that family secrets are minimal, expectations relatively low, and that there are available support systems for all.
The above scenario happens sometimes. For most of us, it’s more complex. I hope to offer some tips for your reunion trip, however, know that each road is very unique. So always check in with yourself and do what’s best for you.
When you’re searching for a first parent if you’re adopted or an adult child if you placed a child for adoption, the work is engrossing. It’s detective work. It is thrilling to get a lead.
There are many ways to conduct a search. Do what works for you and for your budget. It’s not uncommon to get information, a genetic match to a close relative or non-identifying information from an adoption agency, and put it away. Sometimes it’s months, sometimes it’s years until the desire to search resumes.
Once family members are found, fantasy people become real. Then the challenge of if, how, and when to contact opens up a whole new phase of the journey.
If a parent or child has died before being found, a world of grief opens up that is surprising.
Reuniting changes the detective game to one of navigating logistics. How to contact, when, where, how to meet, etc… With international adoption, travel to different countries, cultural differences, and language barriers add another layer of challenging complexity.
I have not observed a reunion go without the resurrection of loss and grief at some point for parents and adult child. Often, the intensity of feeling is not matched or experienced in tandem.
In other words, one person doesn’t really understand. They don’t know how to comfort or even if they want to deal with the big feelings that arise. It’s painful. A sure way to cause disconnection of new and tenuous relational bonds.
Tips for Reunion Trip:
- Get clear about why you’re searching and what you want from reunion. Communicate it from the start.
- Understand that you’re entering a new family system. For better or worse, it will be different than the one you’re that is familiar. Examples: One family may be very close and the other isn’t, so the value on connection may be inherently different.
- Your needs for connection will ebb and flow – so will everyone else’s. It’s not personal. Allow space for breaks.
- Identify people in your family or friend group that can understand the complexity of reunion. You’ll need support and someone to talk to that doesn’t offer triggering comments such as, “but you had a great family” or “but you have children of your own.”
- Stand firm in the belief that you deserve to be in reunion. You don’t have to ask permission and not everyone will like it.
- Clear up secrets. Loved ones will need time to process if you’ve kept relinquishment a secret. They may be shocked, but your mental health will benefit from not having to carry a heavy secret alone. A lot of women were told to keep placing a baby for adoption a secret. That was unforgivable. Compassion was needed, not the burden of shame.
- Parent or adult child may need time to get used to being found. The searcher has had much more time to get ready for communication. Be patient.
- Begin/continue therapy with an adoption-competent therapist and/or find a support group to attend. You will need space with objective people.
Secondary Rejection Roadblock:
Secondary rejection is when a birth parent, or entire family, is not interested in meeting the person who was adopted. In fact, parentage may be denied altogether.
The common adoption narrative is that you were given up because your parents couldn’t care for you or they were too young, poor, not married, etc…
The story is that the adoption was about love and care for you, not rejection of parenting.
A parent who denies your entreaties to meet or even that they are your parent, destroys a lifetime belief system. It is shattering.
You’ll read that this is an uncommon reaction by birth parents. It isn’t, and it’s not about you. The reaction is about trauma and shame.
During this time, you need love and support from others and yourself. Lots of space to grieve (bargaining, denial, anger, depression, acceptance). Then comes the work of adjusting belief systems about adoption’s place in your life. I think therapy helps. It did for me.
Over time, mothers, fathers, or siblings could change their mind about meeting with you. If and when they do, you have to decide if you can open yourself up to them. You have every right to do what’s best for you.
And finally, cherish the extended family that welcome you. It’s not the same as your first mother. Kind cousins or great aunts and uncles can help you fill out your tree, share pictures, see resemblances, and regale you with anecdotes.
The further out from the parent-child connection, the less skin is in the game so it’s not as intense. There’s more curiosity and acceptance which if you’ve experienced secondary rejection is a relief. These relationships can act as a balm to your broken heart.
In navigating the tricky road of adoption reunion, I recommend that you gather trusted family and friends close, locate a support group, and find an adoption-competent therapist to support you on the journey. I’m happy to help with referrals or getting started in therapy, call or email me.
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often. Personally and professionally she is part of the adoptee and LGBTQ community. Licensed in GA & FL.