During my sophomore year in college, while home for cousin’s wedding, I casually mentioned my desire to start my search for my birth family, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
I soon realized I had started World War III, as different family members took sides, for or against. I soon wished I had not mentioned the topic at all, and quietly retreated from it as quickly as possible, not wanting to upset anyone as badly as I apparently, and unintentionally, had.
Growing up, my parents never hid my adoption from me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I was adopted. Adoption was treated in a very normal and positive way for my brother and me.
Still, I’ve always had a desire to know more about my biological family. As family would get together, and look at the different cousins, commenting on which one looked the most like Grandma, and who had whose physical traits, I’d feel quite left out, wondering who I looked like. Whose eyes do I have?
When, as a young child, I would ask this during these gatherings, the table would become very quiet, and the topic quickly changed.
As a young adult, my having been adopted became even more of an issue, as I soon was faced with doctors asking me about my family medical history, which I knew nothing about. During my first pre-natal appointment, for example, I nearly broke into tears when I was asked about my mother’s pregnancies. I wish I knew.
The day I held my daughter for the first time, the thought hit me that she was the first blood relative I ever got to meet, and my desire to search for my birth family reawakened.
The Decision to Search
One of the decisions I think every adoptee faces is whether or not to search for their biological family. Some adoptees have no desire at all to search. My brother, though raised in the same family and also adopted from birth, had no curiosity whatsoever about his birth mother. I’ve since met many adult adoptees, and most of them have some desire to know about their birth families, but many are either afraid of what they may find out, or worried their search would hurt the parents who raised them and have been there for them all this time.
Adoptees search for their birth parents for a variety of reasons. Most of the adoptees I know have searched to find out more detailed medical information, as we become more aware of genetic factors in illness. Others desire to know, once and for all, the reasons and circumstances surrounding their adoption. Many want to know something of their family history, and where they come from.
For me, the decision to finally start my search came after years of prayer. My husband and I talked about it after the birth of our oldest child, and his main concern was the chance that a search could cause me emotional pain, and so we began to seek the Lord for wisdom in this matter.
Finally, after several years, we both felt peace about a search, and then decided to begin.
Because this topic was especially painful for my mother, we chose not to talk about it with her until after we had a successful search. Though I knew that my search had nothing to do with her, my mother felt that any desire I had to find my birth mother was an indictment against her mothering, and I didn’t want her to feel that way. I wasn’t looking for a new mother. I was looking for some answers and some closure to that chapter of my life.
My friend Nicole’s mother was quite different. When Nicole turned 18, her mother told her that if she ever wanted to find her birth mother, she’d do whatever she could to help facilitate that search. With her help and support, Nicole was able to track down her biological family after college.
I soon learned that it was also best not to discuss this decision to search casually, as many people, even in the church, have strong opinions about an adoptee’s decision to look for their birth parents. Many people are under the erroneous assumption that an adoptee’s desire to search for their biological family is rooted in some sort of ingratitude towards the sacrifices their adoptive parents have made for them. Others assume that the adoptive parents must have been inadequate as parents to cause their adult child to want to search.
The thing is, an adoptee’s desire to search is not about their adoptive parents; it’s usually about a longing to understand their own roots, or at least to get some much-needed medical history.
Starting a Search
Deciding to search for my birth family was only part of the battle. I knew that the actual search could be much more complicated. The legal aspects of any adoptee’s search, I learned, depended on the agency that handled my adoption and the laws in my state, but I was able to glean much information from the many online forums and email groups geared towards conducting a search in my state. The people on those forums not only offered me some great advice but also encouragement as I went forward with my search.
Once I finally decided to search for my biological parents, my first stop was to adoptiondatabase.org, a database of biological parents and adoptees who are currently searching. I knew that there was a possibility that one or both of my birth parents were already looking, and may have registered with the database, or they could be frequently checking the database to see if I had registered.
The adoption agency which handled my adoption was the next place I contacted for information. Because my adoption was a closed adoption, my records were sealed, and I wasn’t able to view any identifying information (information which could identify my birth parents). However, the agency was able to create a report of my Non-Identifying Information, which provided me with more detailed information about my birth parents and the circumstances of my adoption as far as the agency knew of.
For a small fee, I had received a four-page document that offered me details I hadn’t know before: the name my mother gave me at birth, the area she was living in when I was born, and some information about my extended biological family at the time of my birth.
My non-identifying information revealed quite a surprise to me: I had moved 150 miles from my home town, but within a mile of where my birth parents were living when I was conceived; ever since I moved up here, people would ask me if I was related to ____. As it turns out, I really was!
The agency told me of another service available in my state. I could hire a confidential intermediary through the courts to help me in my search. This CI would be able to look at my sealed records, track down my birth parents, and ask them if they wanted to have a reunion. The cost of this service was rather steep, and so my husband and I decided to keep this as our plan B in case we were unable to find my birth parents on our own.
Once I knew where my biological family lived, I knew that I needed to be very discreet about making contact. Obviously, I couldn’t just show up at the next family celebration and announce who I was.
I had been counseled from other adoptees that, depending on the background of your biological family, there was a good chance that my birth mom kept her pregnancy a secret from all but a handful of people. This turned out to be true. My birth mom had been counseled for years by her pastor that she should not mention me to even her future husband, and to just move on.
The result was that no one besides her parents ever knew she had a baby, and so discretion was key in not causing turmoil in her life. After all, I had spent at least 12 years praying about the decision to search, and several months in my search. She had all of three seconds to digest the news when I called her on the telephone.
I had also been wisely advised to check my expectations. Some reunions may have Hollywood endings, where everyone is happy and hugging, but that is not always the case. I had to guard my heart often, to be sure that my expectations remained realistic.
Laura, who found her birth mom while we were in college, told me that after dreaming of the day she’d meet her birth mom for all of her life, the reality of the moment, standing on her doorstep, with awkward silence hanging in the air was quite anticlimactic and disappointing.
My own expectation was, for that reason, rather low. I simply wanted to finally have some closure, and to have something to write on the pesky forms at the doctor’s office the next time I was in. I left any possibility of a future relationship up to each of my birth parents.
As I searched and planned out contacting both of my birth parents, I came to realize that my biological parents most likely had families now, including children and spouses who may not be open to someone from the past showing up in their lives. However, sometimes even a brief reunion can bring some healing and closure for a birth parent who struggles with their decision to give their child up for adoption many years ago. If anything, a reunion can be a good occasion for an adult adoptee to simply express their thanks.
My reunion with each of my biological parents was not of the Hollywood variety. However, I was able to finally silence the questions that had swirled in my mind for most of my life, and by birth mother was able to see that she made the right decision when she chose life.
Copyright 2009 Kimberly Eddy. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.