Should I Encourage My Adult Adoptee to Befriend the Birth Mother?

Do I want my adopted child to have a relationship with his or her birth mother? This is a question I have asked myself often over the last 30 years. We adopted our son in 1990 just as semi-open and open adoptions were becoming more popular. There was still a lot to learn about this new development in the adoption world. We were uncertain about the idea in the beginning. In fact, we turned down an opportunity to adopt when the birth mother wanted an open adoption. However, when we were faced with the choice a second time we jumped at the chance. We quickly asked when we could meet. Our journey into a semi-open adoption began shortly after that phone call. 

The Decision

My husband was a lot more ready to share the life of our son with his birth mother than I was. While I was extremely grateful for her loving sacrifice, I wasn’t prepared for her to be a part of his life. I had a fear of her wanting him back if she were to have contact of any kind with him. We made a verbal agreement to send pictures and updates through the attorney’s office until he was 18 years old. She also sent cards and gifts to him on his birthdays and at Christmas. This was not part of the agreement, but it was appreciated and made it easier to explain to him about his adoption. My fear quickly disappeared as I saw her move on with her own life while also rejoicing in his accomplishments. We were excited to hear about how her life was changing and sharing in the growth of her own family. 

When our son was 5 years old, we told him about his adoption. Of course, at this young age, he didn’t completely understand it but replied that he wanted to tell her thank you. Over the years we would share more information with him as he would ask questions. When he was 10 years old, we took him to the city of his birth so he could see where he was born. Although he never felt any less loved by us, he often felt like the black sheep of the family. He would sometimes share with us that he thought he was a mistake. When he was 18, we had a heart-to-heart discussion where I showed him everything we had kept in his personal file over the years. I answered any questions he had and assured him that he most definitely was not a mistake. He was loved and wanted very much. I asked him if he wanted to meet his birth mother and he said not yet. He had the answers he needed. At that time, I became friends with her on Facebook and we eliminated the middle man at the attorney’s office. I no longer had to worry about her finding him and taking him away from me!

The Reunion

Six years later, at the age of 24, he decided he was ready to meet her. We planned a family vacation where we could meet at a public location and share a day of fun together. As it turned out, we ended up spending much of our weekend together getting acquainted and sharing stories. The initial reunion was not like you see in the movies. There was little emotion from either of them as they embraced for the first time. Not that it was a bad thing, just not what I had anticipated.  The day went on as if we had always been friends. I think because they had been a part of each other’s lives in some way over the years, it made the reunion easier for them. As we shared the weekend together as two separate families, we quickly became one. I assumed it would change their relationship, but it didn’t. Casual contact continued, but it never became more than a friendship. When he got married in 2019, she and her family attended the wedding as guests. I remember dancing the mother/son dance and feeling a little guilty that I was the one sharing that dance with him as she looked on. Then I realized that she was okay with it. She had made the decision to give him the life he had, and I indeed was the mother who had raised him. It was a tender moment for my son and me as we shared that dance remembering the little boy who was now a man. Although I sometimes think they should have more of a relationship, I am grateful that he feels confident in the life they share and knows that it is enough for both of them. 

“Relationships with Your Birth Parents”  lists the following guidelines when maintaining a relationship as an adult with birth parents.

  1. Keep your promises to one another. Whether it’s being on time to dinner or remembering birthdays, be sure to follow through on promises in order to have mutual trust.
  2. Have one on one time. Being together in groups with extended family can be great but individual time will help you get to know each other better now that you are an adult.
  3. Be honest and open. Communicating your needs and desires is not always easy but it is necessary to prevent any misunderstanding. Be aware of the other person’s feelings and try to understand to avoid misunderstandings.

Any family relationship requires effort from both parties to succeed. Keep your interactions positive and your relationship will be worth it.

Second time around

Ten years later, we entered the world of adoption for the second time. The situation was completely different and we found ourselves in unknown territory. We had been doing foster care for four years in hopes of adopting. After years of infertility, I became pregnant but had a miscarriage. The doctor thought it may have been caused by stress. When I became pregnant again a few months later, we made the decision to discontinue foster care. When I got to a healthy point in my pregnancy we resumed care. We were blessed with a healthy baby boy. When he was 5 months old, the Health and Welfare Dept called us about a 2-and-½-year-old girl who would soon be available for adoption. This had been our goal from the beginning. After a short visit, we decided to forego the transitional visits so as not to confuse her. She had gone through a lot already in her short life. There were a lot of pieces missing from her puzzle. Little was known about her past which made it difficult for us to navigate her behaviors. We did our best, but at times we were only meeting her physical needs. We tried counseling, but she was resistant to the help it offered. She was often argumentative and hard to reason with. Affection was only given or received on her terms. Still, we loved her and continued to support her in whatever her current passion was ranging from basketball to dance to volleyball. She is a gifted athlete. Throughout her life, she would say that when she turned 18, she would go find her mother. She never told me that I wasn’t her real mother, but I would get the impression that one day she would leave me. 

As she approached her 18th birthday, I began searching for her birth mother. She was not aware that I was doing this. We knew she had a half-sister who had lived with her grandmother for a while as a child (this was not a shared biological grandmother). We had a letter that she had given to the state when they learned of her location. I used the name on the letter to begin my search. I was able to locate the name through a people search website. I bravely made a phone call and reached the woman who had raised her half-sister. Slowly, pieces of the puzzle began to be put together. She was able to give me the names of other family members who could possibly lead me to her birth mother. Eventually, I was able to locate both her half-sister and her biological mother through social media. At this point, I shared the news with my daughter. She talked to her birth mother via Facebook for a couple of hours, but was still left with unanswered questions. Several conversations were held with her half-sister and a relationship began to grow. However, the conversations stopped between her and her birth mother. 

I decided to take my daughter to her birthplace for her 18th birthday and to meet her half-sister and birth mother if they all agreed. Her half-sister quickly responded with a resounding yes, but the response from her birth mother was not so energetic. She was not ready for that step in their relationship. It brought up too much guilt from the past. We respected her decision. 

A few months later, we made the trip and visited the hospital where my daughter had been born and did lots of sightseeing. We met her half-sister at the restaurant where she worked and had breakfast. She had an 18-month-old little girl and was about 5 months pregnant. She kept referring to my daughter as the little girl’s aunt. This wasn’t easy for my daughter as she was essentially a stranger to them both. When my daughter’s birth mother left her behind, she was 9 months old and her half-sister was nearly 4. She had vivid memories of the months they spent together and wanted to be a part of her life again. She longed for the sister she never had and for the life that her sister had been given. After the visit, the conversations became more infrequent and the relationship never progressed. Her biological mother still has no desire for a reunification or relationship. The dream of finding her mother and living happily ever after did not come true. But, it is a decision they have both accepted. I always thought I would have to fight to keep my relationship with her, but now that isn’t reality. Someday they may change their minds, but for now, we are all content with the choice that has been made.

Should I Encourage My Adult Adoptee to Befriend the Birth Mother?

Author Gary Clapton, reports on the finding of a study done in Scotland between 1996-2006 regarding the reunification of birth parents and adoptees. “The reunion of birth parents and adoptee constructs an unparalleled relationship and is truly a totally unique emotional experience.” The word reunion implies joining together again and therefore imposes and raises expectations that may not be fulfilled. Essentially, it is the meeting of two strangers seeing each other for the first time. The study suggests that over the long-term, most reunions develop into some form of relationship that is neither a replacement for adopted persons nor lacking in depth and meaning. For most, these ties deepen and develop a longevity that carries with it many expressions of kinship.

I have witnessed the reunion of my sister and her biological daughter. It was difficult for me at first as I was having my own doubts about my adopted children choosing their birth mother over me. Each time they see each other, old and new feelings are brought into the picture. There are old feelings of sadness and the life they did not share together and new feelings of how their lives have gone on successfully without the other in it. Trying to combine these two emotions can be difficult. Over the years, reunions are still hard to navigate.

When you combine two separate lives into one for a short time, some feelings are kept inside to make the most of the experience and time together. After all, the love and unique connection are all that matters.

Cindy Hill was introduced to adoption when she was 9 years old as she watched her 16-year-old sister place her baby for adoption. She had no idea how adoption would impact her life.Cindy married her high school sweetheart and they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this past June. They have six children, two of whom are adopted. In addition, they have 12 busy grandchildren. Pre-Covid, they enjoyed Sunday dinner together each week. During their four years of foster care, they had 34 children in their home, either for respite care or long-term placements. Cindy has always had a great love for children, especially newborns and young teens as they learn to navigate the world. For the last 12 years, Cindy has been a substitute teacher for grades K-12 for their local school district. She is an active member of her church congregation. Cindy loves yard sales and finding bargains to decorate her home. She has always enjoyed writing poetry and keeps a journal. (13uponthehill.blogspot.com) She and her husband have one son at home who will graduate in May, leaving them as empty nesters with their small herd of cattle.