This topic has become dear to my heart because as many of you know who read my blog, I have been in a position to be refused information. Actually that is the story of my whole life as an adoptee -- being refused information, so you would think I would be used to it by now!
However, God blessed me with a tenacity of steel and many smart friends who are also tenacious, information seekers. One of my friends and I found a birth mother yesterday in less than a few hours, and located her Facebook profile, complete with pictures of all family members. You can literally go from zero to 100 when it comes to adoption reunion. (I use the term "reunion" loosely as the term covers any finding of information, just not a meeting of people).
So today I want to write about what to do when you hit a road block. One of the biggest road blocks of all is spending most of your life fantasizing about your birth mother and then being smacked in the face with the realization that she has refused to meet you. Another common situation is when your birth mother refuses to tell you who your birth father is. Believe it or not, I am not alone in this reality. I have talked to umpteen adoptees in the same boat, so let's chat about these situations.
When a birth parent refuses contact
This is devastating to many adoptees when this occurs and it will feel like rejection, even though the parent is not rejecting you, per se (they don't know you!) -- they are rejecting what you represent to them. If you represent trauma, fear and pain -- they will act those emotions out on you. Sadly, many birth mothers are unhealed from the original relinquishment and when you (adoptee) show up, it will re-trigger pain and fear in your birth parents. It's quite possible that the pain and fear will calm down with time (once the shock wears off); however for many adoptees, being shut out of their families of origin is a long-term reality.
Remember it is not YOU they are rejecting, but what YOU represent to them. This may not feel like much of a difference but having a strong support system of people who love you and really know you, helps immensely.
Strict Orders to Stay Away
Many adoptees are told in no uncertain terms that they are unwelcome in the birth family and are "barred" from all contact with other family members. However, you and I both know this is just one person trying to dictate the choices of everybody else they are related to and is not in the least, realistic. Every person in your birth family has a right to decide for him or herself whether they will want to know you. You as an adoptee have every right to get in touch with your own siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. without being expected to answer to an angry and hostile birth parent. On the other hand, there are situations when reaching out to siblings or close family members may not be the best decision if you are a secret to them. Each person will have to decide what is the best course of action for their family situation. And remember, a relationship is a two-way street. Nobody is entitled to a relationship and nobody is bound to stay in an unhealthy relationship -- that includes reunion.
If your birth parent is kind to you and asks you to give her/him some time to process her emotions and be the one to tell other family members, then by all means, give her time and space. Being "found" is stressful and a huge life adjustment, regardless of which party is on the receiving end.
However, I have heard stories of many hostile rejecting birth parents who are nothing close to reasonable -- they are the ones who basically give you the message that you have no right to exist -- and some will tell you they wish they had aborted you <--------who would even think to say this to somebody?
If this happens to you, reach out for support. Do not try to deal with the emotional fallout alone. Try to remind yourself that this type of reaction is an expression of your birth mother's pain and is not a reflection on you, Pray. Journal. Talk to your support group.
Here is another thought that only occurred to me about a year after I originally posted this blog. I am a woman of faith and I have come far enough post-reunion to believe that many times certain relationships do not come to pass or last as a way of protection for us. Just because you have done your homework and know a person does not have a criminal background before appoaching them, does not mean that a person is psychologically and emotionally healthy enough to be in a relationship. Sometimes rejection protects us from further hurt that a potential relationship could cause us. Be open to this idea even though rejection hurts.
I hate to use the word "lies", but if we are going to cut to the chase -- many unhealed birth parents lie to their relinquished children in order to save face and not have to own up to their own choices at the time of relinquishment. Being the kind and caring, people pleasing adoptees many of us have been trained to become, we are usually empathetic to our birth parents' plight. We understand that they were young, naive, single, without support, shunned by society, etc. I'm not talking about those types of situations. I'm talking about situations like these:
- Your birth mother may be reluctant to admit she got pregnant during a one-night stand.
- Your birth father walked away without any support but doesn't want to admit it
- Your birth mother knows who the father is but is lying to protect herself (or the father's current family) because she may never have told him
- Your birth mother may not want to admit your father is from another race/ethnicity/socioeconomic level ("the wrong side of the tracks") or may have been married or engaged at the time of your conception.
- Your birth mother has been traumatized, raped or it is possible there was incest going on in the family (this creates understandably deep shame in most women)
Any of those situations could be true and in addition, there could be many other reasons why you -- the adoptee-- are told a "fairy tale version" or "harsh and cruel" version of your existence in this world. Again, this is not about YOU personally -- this is about what you represent to your birth mother. If all birth mothers were loving and sacrificial like the adoption industry has brainwashed people into believing, then adoption reunion would be wonderful and beautiful for all involved. Unfortunately, reality is not so kind. (This is not to imply that ALL birth mothers are bad, or to even imply that MOST birth mothers are mean or cruel). Some are not in a place to process the overwhelming emotions that reunion brings on. Some are not able to face the pain and reveal the secrets they long ago buried. The closed adoption era is full of shame and secrets and the consequences of shame and secrets stretch far and wide and sometimes are taken to the grave.
So what to do?
Some birth mothers will need time to process sudden contact by an adult child. Some birth mothers may still be in the closet and will need help and support to feel safe enough to acknowledge you. Give your mother time and then you can always try again at some future date. I know many adoptees who were rejected the first time they contacted their mothers and were successful at a later time. Be very patient and never give up if you believe that your mother just needs time and space to process this major event.
Remember that a majority of mothers want to know their adult children; however, there are a minority that are not in a place to revisit a traumatic time in their life.
Like in all life's dissappointments, we have to grieve the loss and move forward. We have to admit that we had certain hopes and expectations about finding our mothers and them being happy about that and for many, this did not come to pass.
Many adoptees who have found rejecting birth mothers, have gone on to establish relationships with other members of their birth family. Many I know have met cousins through DNA and Ancestry family trees. Many of us find that cousins who are not close to the original birth family are far enough removed to not be swayed by the birth parent's feelings. Other adoptees have active relationships with close relatives who are willing to "defy" the orders of the birth parent because they are loving people and want to know their sibling/niece/cousin. However, many times other relatives will follow the lead of the birth mothers as they know her and not you.
If the version of your conception and birth and relinquishment does not ring true for you, do some investigating on your own. Call your adoption agency or ask the Court for your non-identifying information. Although some agencies have reported inaccuracies, many others were spot-on in their information gathering. Many adoptees have used just their Non-ID to find their families of origin.
There are many resources at the genealogical library, on the internet, amongst private adoptee search and support groups, and through DNA that bring answers. DNA tests are now down to $99.00 each and they bring to light many answers just not available to us before. You can learn your ethnicity and if your parents are related to each other through DNA testing (go here to my DNA testing page).
I had a recent breakthrough in my own search using Polk City Directories in the town where my birth family was from. Polk City Directories in the 60s (and other decades) tell you addresses and places of employment of the family who lived in that community.
Obituaries are invaluable. When examining my family tree, I had the sudden realization that my great grandfather died when I was in utero. Studying my great grandfather's obituary helped me to understand my family better and retrace my family's steps at the time I was conceived. Using the Polk Directories, I was able to pin down where everybody was living and working at the time of my birth.
My message to you is to never allow an individual you may or may not call "mother" or "father" to stop you in your quest for information about yourself. And if you get flack from others for seeking out information that people want to hide from you, you can always ask them this,
"Do you know who your mother and father are?" (my husband has actually said this to people!)
"Can you open your photo album and see the faces of your ancestors staring back at you?"
"Do you have an accurate copy of your place and date/time of birth with the names of those who conceived you?"
I am fortunate to have a huge support system of other adoptees who "get it" in addition to a supportive spouse, and really my best advice to anyone who has been roadblocked in their search -- get support from others who understand. If you need a therapist, find one who understands adoption issues (they are few and far between). If you just need a friend, join an adoptee support group. Other adoptees are invaluable in your search because we understand all too well because we have been there.