Robin and I have had conversations about her experience reuniting with her biological family and my expectations of my granddaughter wanting to re-unite with us one day, so we decided to write a joint post to shed some light on key issues in search and reunion and how they differ for us due to our different perspectives. And, hopefully, to dispel some myths.
Robin: Adopted persons who search are not smarter, more interesting, more curious, or in any way, shape, or form better people than those who choose not to search. Every person in a closed adoption was put there without his or her knowledge or consent. And unless you are adopted, you cannot fully understand the psychological and practical realities of being adopted.
Kellie: When I imagine if I would search if I were adopted, I believe I would search for my first family. However, I came to that conclusion using the lens I have today. So, I can say I would search, but I really do not have the set of experiences required for an answer.
Robin: I think what many people who aren’t adopted fail to do is to really try to understand the psychological ramifications of searching from the adoptee’s point of view. Adoptees are searching for the parents who gave them away. It is reasonable to assume that if you were given up for adoption you were an unwanted child. Adoptees have experienced what is, in my opinion, the most profound rejection (or at least what can feel like a rejection) any human being can face. And most people, adopted or not, don’t like to set themselves up for further rejection. And if an adoptee does succeed at finding her natural family, integrating this other life into one’s psych, one’s self-image and even one’s world view is not easy. In fact, it can be pure hell. It can feel like you lived the wrong life. Not an easy matter for anyone to come to terms with.
Kellie: Those of us who aren’t adopted can say “Adoptees are made to feel ingratiated to their adoptive parents and therefore guilty for searching.” Or “They’ve been brainwashed to not want what they cannot have.” Or “They are like the rest of the world in believing what the adoption industry spins and even if they donâ€™t, wouldn’t it be difficult for them to “out” themselves as one of the few who disagreed.” We could say a lot of things. We all have theories, but we all also have a different set of experiences. Robin, you make it clear to me there are consequences and reasons beyond my scope of vision.
Robin: I agree with everything you say, Kellie. Several decades ago, when Florence Fisher published her superb book, The Search for Anna Fisher, search and reunion were totally frowned upon. Now it appears that attitudes have done a 180 degree turn and something is considered wrong with an adoptee who doesn’t want to search. I support any adoptee who only wants their adoptive family as their family, as long as this is their own free choice and not a coerced one. The important issue is that every adoptee comes to the realization that her wants and needs are every bit as important as everyone else’s and that she find her own voice.
Kellie: It is tough for first families to deal with the possibility of their lost child not searching. It is difficult for me to contemplate my granddaughter not wanting to know us or waiting until I am dead before the wanting starts. I often feel like we are in a race to the finish line. I have to hold myself back from wishing my life away to the time when I will be able to see her and know her again. It is difficult to hear she may feel as if she were “rejected” by her mother and the rest of us. She wasn’t. Our motivations for adoption had nothing to do with rejecting her.
Robin: That is why I added above “or at least what can feel like a rejection”. I know that my natural mother did not mean to reject me by any stretch of the imagination. The harsh reality, though, is that once a child is given up in a closed adoption, the child doesn’t owe the natural parents anything. And I hate to say this (because I really wish it wasn’t true), but the only things the natural mother owes the child are the name of his father and other family members and his medical history. We do allow biological parents to give their child up for adoption in this culture, and after such a separation, no one is required to have a relationship or to even look for the other person.
The one unequivocal right adoptees have is to their own information, the truthful record of their birth, their Original Birth Certificate, as well as any other files, documents, court proceedings, etc., that pertain to their own life. The adoptee is a party to the court action, even though he or she was too young to actively participate. And, of course, the right to use this information to search if that is what he or she wants.
Kellie: I absolutely agree. Regardless of the reasons why a child is relinquished or who relinquished, that child has the right to know who they are, where they come from, and any medical history. It makes no sense a parent has a right to sign away a child’s rights. Children are not property. They have rights.
The adoption industry does a wonderful job with women and families saying they are doing a wonderful thing by relinquishing their child. You go off believing you are making someone happy and you are giving your child and grandchild a wonderful home. Something MORE than you are or could ever be. For those of us who have felt we made a mistake, we blame the adoption propaganda for stealing our children only to have it turned on us saying we “chose” this. No one put a gun to our heads. We “chose”. You want so badly for the adoptee to see that you were conned. You want so badly for them to see the injustice that was perpetrated on you. You search for some reason they may not want to search for you. Something other than they believe they were rejected or they believe you aren’t good enough. Eventually, you have to take responsibility for being conned out of your child. You have to take responsibility for letting yourself become a victim and for letting your child become a victim. It is a difficult and bitter pill to swallow. For those of us who can’t swallow that pill, we search for alternate reasons because the mind can only endure so much.
Robin: Learning more from your perspective, it sounds like if the relinquished child never searches, or does search but ends up not wanting a relationship, that the first family is in a sense being punished twice. And basically you are being given a lifelong sentence for the ‘crime’ of naivete. This is why, in many cases, I think it is better if the first parent(s) or a family member is the one who initiates the search and makes the first contact. That can go a long way toward helping the adoptee understand that he or she was never forgotten and is accepted as a member of the original family. The non-adopted often think that if they were in our shoes they would move heaven and earth to find their natural parents. Well, that does happen to be exactly how I felt. I was so determined I think I would have walked every step of the way to my original hometown. But it is not always that simple, and the fact that I would have moved heaven and earth to find my original family doesn’t make me in any way superior or more right than someone who has no interest in searching. Every adoptee should be supported and encouraged to do what is right for him.
The decision to search, or not to search, is more complicated than it seems for adoptees. Many of us non-adopted individuals believe it to be an easy answer, but it isn’t. The considerations and consequences of searching are numerous and can end in pain. Robin has shown me it is not an easy decision for an adoptee, and I need to be prepared for any outcome as there are so many variables that may facilitate or complicate any reunion.