Prior to adolescence, children become extremely curious about their adoption stories and get into the stage of asking questions to fulfill their curiosity. Once they reach the adolescent age they start to demand fuller and more actual answers. Some of the most popular questions that will be thrown at you are;
• Why was I adopted?
• What’s the truth about my adoption?
• Why do I feel different from everyone else?
• What will happen when I leave home?
• Who am I?
The most important question that may arise and take a big impact on everyone’s life is; is it okay if I search for my birthparents? As parents you will have to remember and understand that when your children think about their birthparents and show interest in meeting with them, it doesn’t mean that they love you any less. Research has shown that ALL adopted children ponder the existence and character of their birthparents at some point in their lives. This is why open adoption has become so popular in the past few decades. If you are adoptive parents in a situation where you didn’t go through with open adoption and your child now would like to search for their birthparents, certain factors and steps will need to come into play.
Search Support: What Every Adoptive Parent Should Know
There are many important guidelines to take into consideration that adoptive parents must consider when their adult child begins the search and reunion journey. For most adoptees, search is experienced as an expansion of sense of self and NOT as a rejection of the adoptive family. https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/search
Before the Search
1. Keep a dialogue open
You should talk with your child about their birth family from the day he/she joins the family. This conversation does not need to occur every day but to share information at a developmentally age appropriate level once in a while is important. As an adoptive parent, withholding information from an adoptee is not a sign of love and protection but a sign of disrespect, indicating their lack of trust that the adoptee can make adult decisions. In the end, openness trumps secrecy every time, no matter what the adoption story is.
2. Support but do not direct a search
In a lot of situations adoptive parents become tempted to move from showing support to taking control of the search. As an adoptive parent you may assist by providing information such as the adoption order, the social history of the birth family, papers from the agency and communications from social workers, lawyers and doctors involved in the placement. All of this is support but do NOT take over the search, it is important that the adoptee’s search must follow their own pace. Remember as parents you are there for encouragement and support through the emotional highs and lows of the process.
3. Do NOT speak negatively about the birthparents
Some adoptive parents are prone to speak of the birth family is negative tones in an attempt to bring the adoptee closer to their family. Speaking negatively about the birth family does not discourage the adoptees from searching but in fact makes the adoptees desire to make contact with their birthparents that much stronger. If you wish to keep your child close, hold adult conversations with them and never speak ill about their birth family.
4. Watch your wording when speaking to your adoptee
In search and reunion, “no” often means “not yet” or “I can’t tell you.” Sometimes adoptees reject a search for fear of hurting their parents which in some cases results in the adoptee hiding the search from their parents and in other cases it means delaying the search. To delay a search denies the adoptee the opportunity to receive the emotional support from the adoptive parents. The need to search for your birth parents as an adoptee is normal development part of the process of adoption and if you ignore or discourage the search, you are abrogating your responsibility as parents.
During and After the Search
1. Adoptee’s emotional roller coaster
Following the reunion, adoptees could come emotionally involved with the birth family and exclusion of their adoptive family may occur. As the adoptive parent you will be playing an important role as a supporter in their emotional roller coaster which will include changes in their mood, anger or depression. There are a lot of different situations that will arise in a search and reunion. There can be a huge feeling of let down after meeting their birth family or they might love them and want to spend every waking moment with them. No matter what the outcome is, just know as an adoptive parent the best thing you can do for your child is be there as their support system.
2. Facing and responding to loss of time
For adoptive parents, if you didn’t adopt your child there is the loss of the child that they never had. For the birthparents there is a loss of child that they did not get to raise and for the adoptee, there is the loss of the self they might have been if there life would have been different and the adoption never happened. Without the search and reunion, adoptees also lose a full medical, genetic and historical history that links them to their origins. In turn, all participants in an adoption must face issues of loss which is accompanied by grief. For a re-connection and reunion to work there must be mutual recognition of loss on all parties.
3. Re-connection of Adoptive families and birthparents
In a lot of cases, adoptees prefer that their adoptive parents join them in reconnecting with the birth family. Successful integration of the two families requires patience and acceptance. The two families may differ in ethnicity, life experiences and social classes. In some instances, adoptive and birth mothers make strong connections right away which will allow the adoptee to feel a sense of relief. A successful reunion of the two families will occur if both sides recognize that the search and reunion is about the adoptee feeling connected to both sides.
Searching for the Birthparents
Unfortunately, if the adoption was “closed”, it could be extremely hard to find your birth family. If you are lucky to live in a state with open adoption records and are 18 years or older, you can just ask the state for a copy of your original birth certificate. If your adoption was in: Maine, Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oregon or Alabama, you can request your original birth certificate which will have your birth parents names on it. Unfortunately, some states have limited open adoption record laws and much more research will have to come into play.
1. Adoptive Parents: As an adoptee, searching for your original identity, the first thing you need to do is to try and find as much information as you can from your adoptive parents. Ask them for any paperwork they might have from your adoption
2. Agency: The agency that facilitated the adoption keep their own records and have their own procedures involved for reunions which usually makes them a good place to start an adoption search.
3. Lawyers: Lawyers that were involved in the adoption process might have paperwork on hand with names of each party.
4. Adoption Reunion Registries: Your biological family might have begun searching for you as well and this is where adoption reunion registries will come into play. The two registries that we would recommend which have a high success rate are http://www.isrr.net/ and http://registry.adoption.com/.
5. Social Media: In today’s society, social media has become an amazing tool for adoption searches. Search engine sites such as Google and Bing have helped many families reunite as well. Here are a few tips if you use social media in your search to find your birthparents.
• The birth date, sex of the adoptees and the location are going to be the most important KEYWORDS of a search.
• Create a blog for your adoption; search blogs are much more searchable through search engines.
• Create a FB page with a good picture, share and tag the adoption search page.
The search for your birth parents could be a long process, it is great to keep a positive attitude, but try to be ready for any type of unexpected situation
Remember, whether you are an adoptive parent or an adoptee that is deciding to go down the path of search and reunion, you must be prepared to find troubling details about the birth family. Think about all situations and outcomes that could occur before beginning the search. A majority of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents will say that their search and re-connection journey was successful. Whether the reunion develops into a positive relationship with both families will depend on the willingness and acceptance of differences and changes on all their lives.