There are a number of factors that may influence the possibility of a reunion taking place. Some of those factors also influence the intensity or character of adoption reunion experiences and relationships after reunion. These are some of the factors that may influence reunion outcomes.
Readiness of Both Parties
If both mother and adopted adults are ready and eager to know each other, contact will be much easier. However, if one of the parties is resistant or has not been thinking about reunion the process will most likely have more issues to work through and therefore will most likely take more time to achieve.
Current Personal Circumstances
The current situation in each person’s life can influence if and how a reunion progresses. If he or she has just married, had a child, started a new career, or just experienced a considerable loss, he or she may not have the emotional energy to devote to reunion, or may become overwhelmed by taking on too much, as reunion can be “all absorbing” , at least in the early stages of contact.
You may have found your child, but he or she is still a minor. Your child is still under the care and control of his or her adoptive parents and without their involvement it would be unwise to proceed with a reunion at this time. You must also want to consider the impact on your child and his or her life and proceed with caution depending on the age of your child and what they may be involved in right now. Would your child be in the middle of exams just now? Is your child just going through puberty right now? Has your child just started high school? It is wise to give some thought about what your child’s circumstances might be and the involvement of the adoptive parents before you proceed.
It may be wise to put a new relationship on hold if your current personal circumstances do not allow for the extra emotional commitment necessary for a healthy reunion right at this time.
Most unmarried mothers of the post WWII decades in Canada were groomed for shame and secrecy surrounding their pregnancy. These mothers were traumatized from the harsh treatment they received and the loss of their (usually) first born baby. Many still live in secrecy and shame from the birth of their child. The fear of telling is insurmountable for some of them. It is important to understand that many of these mothers could be in 30 or 40 year marriages and have never told their husbands of their “shameful secret.”
Your parent may be very elderly, and it is important to consider the impact of reunion on the health or well being of that parent. If possible in this case it might be wise to contact a natural sibling first to see if a reunion is possible.
Take Your Time
The use of time in reunion is very important. Many reunions go awry when people become impatient. It is important to allow the other party to process new information, formulate questions, and identify feelings surrounding the new information. By “pushing” for contact or for a response to you on any issues you may be “pushing your loved one away.” Make sure each of you are comfortable with next steps planned.
Age and Gender of Reunion Members
Where each person is in their life cycle can have a bearing on how they handle intense feelings, their ability to form new relationships, or if they have the capacity to enter into a reunion. Very elderly people for example, would be less likely to take on something new and difficult.
Alternatively, young adults who are adopted might find another set of parents is the last thing they want right now, or that their friends take precedence to any family including reuniting with new family members.
Reactions of Important People
The feelings and reactions of family and friends can influence a reunion. No one wishes to jeopardize their current relationships. If there is a great deal of stress created for an important person or people, the reunion may have to be slowed down while those issues are addressed. For example: if a Mother has not told her current family that she has another child, or if an Adopted Person was not told of their adoption, it will likely take more time and patience for a reunion to proceed as these issues are worked through, and the relationships of those family and friends are nurtured with respect to reunion issues.
Understanding the Past
Having an understanding of how adoption was handled in Canada in the past will have a very important influence ion how adopted adults approach their natural mothers. In most cases, their mothers did not choose adoption, but were unsupported and vulnerable and left with no other choice. They are not “birthmothers” who “chose adoption”. In most cases their children were taken from them simply because of their unmarried status. Learning about and understanding this history is very helpful in creating healthy reunions.
Reunions usually bring up a number of intense feelings from the past, feelings that natural mothers in particular, have most probably repressed for years. These often long hidden deep scars are very painful to open up again and fear may be ever present for those mothers to revisit those painful memories and the trauma of losing their child in the way they did. The secrecy and shame piled on top of the trauma makes it very difficult for many them. Reunion, however difficult emotionally, begins the process of healing those wounds. For some, the wounds of the past are so intense, and so difficult, they feel they cannot take the chance of opening “the vault” and sadly, the rejection of their loved ones is the outcome.
Motivation For Reunion
Why Find Your Relative Lost to Adoption?
It is simply natural for you to want to find your child or for your child to want to find you. You were bonded and that bond was broken…
For mothers, you have always been your child’s mother and you have thought about them and loved them since the day they were born and before…for most mothers, they have worried and wanted to know if their child is alright…if their child is ok in the world. They search because they are mothers and have lost their children. As a mother, you have a right to reconnect with your child lost to adoption. You do not have to feel that you may be “interfering” or “interrupting” his or her life. Some mothers have expressed that they do not feel they “have the right”, or that they are unworthy. You have a right. You are worthy. You are your child’s mother.
For many adopted persons, it is important for them to find out the answer to why – why did their mother leave them? What were the factors surrounding their adoption. Who is my mother and father? Many have expressed the need to find that part of themselves that has, up until now, been denied to them. Adopted persons also have expressed that perhaps they do not “have the right” to upset their mother’s lives….you have the right to seek your natural family…you have the right to know who you are.
You should take some time to consider what you are expecting from a reunion. What kind of relationship do you expect and/or hope will develop? Have you considered the problems that might arise if your expectations are different from those of the person you are searching for? What would be your greatest desire? What would be your worst disappointment? It is important for you, as an individual to give some thought about your reunion expectations.
For mothers it is important to remember that your child is now an adult and has no conscious memory of you in their lives, although they most probably have an unconscious memory of you and may have suffered the primal wound of being separated from you. On the other hand, you DO have conscious memories of being pregnant, bonding with your child as he/she grew in your body, giving birth to your child, the trauma of losing your child, and the lived experience of being your child’s mother since then. However, it is important to give your now grown son or daughter sensitivity and time and space to settle in with this new experience of having you in their life.
Those that have very strong expectations of any type may be disappointed … it is probably best to try not to have too many expectations…just go with the flow … it is okay to have a “wish list,” but better to go slow and see if your wishes are realistic as things unfold.
Telling Others/Effects On Others
It is important for you to give some thought about how your reunion will affect the other members of your immediate and extended family. If you are married, is your spouse supportive of the reunion? Do your children know and understand what is happening? Is their relationship to the person you are going to meet clear to them? Mothers, your parents were most probably a big factor in the adoption…how do they feel about reuniting with their grandson/granddaughter? How do adoptive parents feel about the reunion? Frequently family members can feel left out when a person becomes caught up in the emotion and excitement of meeting their natural families.
It is also important to note that no matter what, you have the right to go ahead with your adoption reunion plans whether or not those close to you support your actions. It would be nice to have their support and it would make things easier, and more joyful, but it is not necessary. You have the absolute right to reunite with your son/daughter/mother without reference to any other person or how they feel or what their opinion might be on the matter.
If your family is not supportive of your search and reunion plans, find a friend or counsellor to support you.
On “Others” – For Adoptive Persons
One of the difficulties adopted persons sometimes struggle with is telling their adoptive parents of their need to find their natural families. Many adopted persons feel guilty or feel that they may be hurting the feelings of their adoptive parents. Some believe that searching is not socially acceptable and that they may be considered “ungrateful” or that they may be criticized for searching. Some mask their intentions by using socially acceptable phrases such as “I’m not really looking”, “I’m really happy with my adoption”, “I just want medical information”, as searching has been perceived as negative in the past. Adopted persons quite often believe that their adoptive parents would either be against the idea of reunion or hurt by it, and that is not always the case, particularly in more recent adoptions. However, some adoptive parents can be quite against reunion. Adoptive parents from the closed adoptions system of the Baby Scoop Era (1945-1985) may feel threatened by reunion as they have believed the “as if born to,” myth of that era. Some find it hard to come to terms with the fact that their child has another family in the world who loves them and misses them. It would be nice to have the support of adoptive parents, but if not, then it is still okay to go ahead with your reunion plans.
The right of the adopted person to know their natural families and know their true identity is a right that supersedes all others. Adopted persons have a need and a right to find their natural families, and they should not feel any guilt in exercising that right…..it is “nature longing for itself.”
On “Others” – For Natural Mothers
Natural mothers face a different kind of difficulty. Many mothers were told to “keep their child a secret and never tell anyone”. Mothers were groomed for shame and secrecy. Many were told not to tell their future husbands. Many mothers have kept “the secret”. Some may be married for 35 or 40 years and they have never told their husbands, subsequent children, or other family members. It is extremely difficult for these mothers to “tell”….to open that vault of repressed pain and grief and tell that secret, especially to someone who thought they knew everything about you for 40 years. It takes great courage to do this, and it ery difficult. A very small percentage (less than 1%) of mothers and adopted persons place vetoes on adoption files and reject reunion overtures. The myths and fears surrounding closed adoption is too great for them to overcome. When mothers do tell “the secret”, they most often report finding strong support from husbands, subsequent children, friends and extended family and they feel free from the stress of “keeping the secret”. Telling your story is hard at first, but becomes easier and easier …as it begins a path to healing.
Mothers, you have a right to know what happened to your child lost to adoption. Keep in mind too, that your child may be seeking you and needs you in order to complete himself/herself. Do not deny yourself and your child this right and opportunity for adoption healing because of the shame and secrecy that was imposed upon you by others. If you need support to “tell”, find a counsellor, relative, or friend you can tell; then ask them to help you tell others…get support from Origins or other support groups for mothers to help you in your journey.
Understanding the Emotions Associated With Reunion
To understand the difficult array of emotion that comes with adoption reunion, one must first understand the original loss.
For mothers, they lost their child, usually shortly after birth. Many mothers were unable to see, hold or feed their babies in hospitals, or other settings. For others, the actual primal act of birth was interrupted as babies were whisked away directly from delivery tables. In many instances no eye contact allowed with their babies, and many mothers were prevented from seeing them by the use of sheets, pillows or other means. The left a wound in the psyche from which no mother was able to recover. As a group unmarried mothers were hidden, shamed, chastised, ridiculed, assaulted, punished, ostracized from society, shunned, and then thrown away after birth. They were then further victimized as they were labelled “the kind of woman who could give away her own baby” after the pressure and coercion of the adoption agenda that was brought to bear upon her. She was alone, vulnerable, frightened and helpless against the systemic and institutionalized removal of babies from unmarried mothers by the churches, Child Welfare organizations, the medical community, social workers, matrons in maternity homes, and even her own parents. Mothers live with a deep wound which she has lived with since the day her child was taken from her. Over 80% of surrendering mothers suffered a Major Depression in their life, and many suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the ordeal. She was groomed for shame and secrecy. She may never have told a living soul about what she suffered and the loss of her child. This is the wound she risks opening just to be with you again.
A mother may feel:
- Joy … to think she may be reunited with her child
- Grief … years and years of disenfranchised and unresolved grief over the loss of her child
- Shame … ashamed of the sin of being an “unwed mother”
- Terror … to tell the secret to which she was sworn so many years ago and which she has kept
- Fear … of opening the “vault” of memories and emotions, fear of reprisal, fear her child will judge her
- Unworthy … to intrude into her child’s life
For Adopted Persons
Adopted persons have lived their entire lives knowing that they had other families. They worked hard to be accepted and to do what was required of them.
They were victims of the primal wound of separation from their mothers at birth. They bonded with their mothers in utero; and were suddenly taken away from her. They have an unconscious memory of their mother and their loss, but their loss was never validated or acknowledged. They were never consoled for the loss of their mother. They were expected to become someone else, take on another identity. They lived with no one to mirror in their lives. Their original identity was taken from them and their records have been kept from them in most provinces in Canada and this is still the case. They were issued false birth certificates in new names which were not theirs, and they were expected to act “as if born to” their adoptive parents and live up to their expectations. They have wondered all their lives about their origins, about their mother. Many have reported feeling abandoned or having trust issues. They are adopted. They have no medical or family history. They are adopted. That is all they know about themselves. They struggle with the tension of loyalty to adopted parents and wanting to know about themselves. They often feel they have to “please” everyone. They have been told they are “special”, “chosen”, and “lucky”, but many report this is not the way they feel.
The adopted person may feel:
- Lonely … in the sense that they are “alone in the world” without their natural family to validate their past and their future.
- Abandoned … by his/her mother
- Hurt … deeply to the core that their mother left them. Imagine being a little child by the roadside left there by their mother – imagine how you might feel – this is deep inconsolable hurt that an adopted person feels.
- Angry… that they were left by their mother and that they had to “pretend” their whole life and no one cared about how they felt about losing their “real” mother. Angry with their mother for leaving them. Angry with their adoptive parents for not understanding them.
- Fear … of their fantasy of their mother being destroyed. Fear of being rejected again.
- Rejected … by their mother because she left him/her
- Unlovable … to their mother because she left him/her
- Guilt … for searching for their mother as it may hurt their adoptive parents , or that they will be considered “ungrateful” by their adoptive parents if they search.
Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion, by Jean Strauss. (Penguin, 1994). ISBN: 0140512950
Adoption Healing: A Path to Recovery for Adoptees, by Joe Soll. (New York: Adoption Crossroads, 2000). ISBN 0967839009
Adoption Healing: A Path to Recovery For Mothers Who Lost Children to Adoption, by Joe Soll and Karen Wilson Buterbaugh. (Gateway Press, 2003). ISBN 0-9678-3901-7.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, by Nancy Verrier. (Publisher: Author, 1993). ISBN 0963648004.
“Your Children” by Abreah Karam
Toronto CAS Disclosure Package
“Reunion Relationships” by Marlou Russell, Ph.D.