Just like every person has unique hobbies, interests, and experiences, every adoption is different. No two adoption journeys are quite the same, and no answer can be cut and pasted into any scenario. However, this article will hopefully help give you some guidance in your decision to contact your birth father.
My sister and I were both adopted, and our mom was adopted by her dad. Her mom, my grandma, divorced her first husband (my mom’s birth father) and remarried when my mom was less than 3 years old. At the time, my grandma, her new husband, and her first husband all decided it would be in my mom’s best interest to have the parental rights transferred from my mom’s birth father to her now adoptive father.
They also decided to keep that detail of my mom’s history a secret. They didn’t see a need to tell her about her biological father. Her adoptive father, Rodney (who I know to be and consider my grandpa), loved my mom every ounce as much as the children that he and my grandma had in the years to come. He especially felt a strong need to keep the adoption a secret because he didn’t want my mom to think of herself as any less of his child than her siblings.
When she was growing up, there were scrapbooks and baby books around the house for all of my mom’s siblings. Hers, however, was kept in my grandma’s nightstand, and it was made very clear that no one was allowed to look in it. My mom remembers thinking that was strange. She couldn’t imagine a reason why she couldn’t look through her own baby book.
When she was about 13, there was one afternoon when she found herself home alone. She was working on a craft and needed scissors. She couldn’t find them in the place they were typically kept, so she started going through drawers and cupboards to find them.
She made her way to the nightstand by her parents’ bed, and sure enough, found the scissors. She also spotted her baby book in the drawer. Thinking for the umpteenth time about how odd it was that she couldn’t look through her own baby book, she made the authoritative decision to open it and see for herself.
The first couple pages were mostly pictures she had already seen before framed on the mantle or hung on the walls. But there was one picture that she hadn’t seen. A man held the tiny baby she knew was her, and the caption read, “Bill is such a good daddy.”
“Bill?” My mom remembers thinking. “But my dad’s name is Rod.” She rolled the names around in her head, trying to remember if anyone in the family called her dad “Bill” for some odd reason. Turning the page, she found a family tree.
She read the names going up the branches of her mom’s side and recognized all the names several generations back. But on her dad’s side, she didn’t recognize a single name… not even the figure written in as her father. There was that “Bill” name again. And the last name was not her dad’s last name.
She put the baby book back in the drawer and went about the rest of her day like nothing had happened… like she wasn’t questioning her parentage.
Weeks later, she was at a family reunion with her mom’s side of the family. She nonchalantly asked one of her older cousins if she knew anything about this “Bill” person. The cousin denied it but then went to my grandma and told her my mom asked about him. “You need to tell Leanne. She knows that Rod isn’t her biological dad.”
So, at the tender age of 13, my mom found out that her dad wasn’t her biological father. She was adopted. As you can imagine, that was a very formative experience for her. She remembers distinctly looking at her siblings with the realization that they were just half-siblings. She wasn’t biologically connected to her dad at all. She wasn’t even who she thought she was.
Understandably, she went through a lot of processing during that time, trying to figure out who she was. She has explained this experience as having a rug pulled out from under her. It took years and a lot of love from her dad to regain trust and a healthy relationship again.
She had looked up her birth father’s name online and on social media a few times periodically throughout her life. However, it was always just out of curiosity and never because she wanted to make any kind of contact. She felt comfortable in her life and with her dad to not feel a need to find her biological dad.
We will come back to my mom and her decision to reach out to her biological father, but first, I want to share part of my sister’s story to give you context. My sister and I were raised knowing about our adoption stories. My mom didn’t want us to find out or be told when we were teenagers or even older, so she started telling us about our origins when we were still babies.
We were raised with the understanding that if we wanted to, we would be able to meet our birth parents when we were 18. Flash forward to 2014, when my sister made the decision to meet her birth mother. That experience was so special. We made the trip together as our little family of four, and it was a beautiful weekend.
My sister’s adoption was set up where real names weren’t disclosed at placement, and my parents and sister’s birth parents never met during the process. So when we stood there as a family on her doorstep nearly 19 years after placement, she felt confirmation for the first time that she really had done the right thing in placing her firstborn.
In the weeks that followed this reunion, we told family and friends about the experience. My mom told her dad, who had an unanticipated response. He told my mom, “Leanne, you really should consider finding Bill.”
“No,” she had replied. “I have you. I don’t feel like I need to find him.”
He explained that if he had had a child out there, even if they didn’t want a relationship with him, he would want to know that they were okay. That they were happy and healthy and that his decision had been the right thing to do.
After that explanation, my mom ultimately decided to find her birth father. She worried about disrupting his life, however. She felt prompted not to reach out to him directly but to contact someone else within his family. She found a daughter-in-law and sent a Facebook message explaining in a nutshell who she was and who she was looking for, and asked if she fit any description the daughter-in-law was aware of.
A few weeks passed, and the message remained unopened. Finally, a reply came, and my mom was given the information to contact her birth father’s wife. (He wasn’t on social media.) As it turns out, my mom was common knowledge among the family, and there was always a prominent hope that they would meet her someday.
My mom was able to video chat with her birth father and his wife in early 2015. “We always had hoped you would knock on our door, and this is the knock,” his wife said.
When my mom contacted her birth father, he knew exactly where all of her things he had kept were. Pictures and the likes were easy to access because it had always been important to him to keep them nearby.
As I mentioned earlier, my sister, Katelyn, made the decision to meet her birth mom in 2014. At the time, she had no desire to find her birth father. She asked her birth mom to disclose his information to our mom, however, if she ever changed her mind. Although Katelyn’s birth parents hadn’t seen each other since her birth, her birth mom knew enough information about him to be helpful down the road.
Years passed, and Katelyn got married and had a son. As fate would have it, she found herself living in a city not quite an hour away from her birth father. She finally felt a readiness and a desire to find her birth father just last year.
Similar to my mom’s birth father, Katelyn’s had been waiting, hoping, and praying that someday she would find him. He embraced her with open arms and has enjoyed getting to know Katelyn and his biological grandson.
Katelyn and her little family have since moved across several state lines, but they keep in contact with her birth father through video chatting and texts.
When I was placed, the understanding was that we would exchange first names (but not last names) and annual forwarded through the agency. This routine was carried out effectively for the first five years of my life. Around my fifth birthday, however, my birth father was told that he could no longer have contact with me. To this day, we don’t know why that was.
He recalls being devastated but respected the change of procedure by the agency. It wouldn’t be for another decade that he would be able to resume contact. He and my birth mom still live in the same city they did when I was born and had rare contact with each other. At some point, my birth father found out that my birth mom had continued contact all those years.
He was able to reach out, and I vividly remember the excitement of hearing from him again. We had assumed that the end of his communication was because he had married and was starting his own family. We were curious but never had an explanation to confirm our theories.
So, at 15 years old, I was so grateful to have communication with him. I was able to reunite with my birth parents just a few weeks apart, shortly before my 18th birthday.
My relationship with my birth father has definitely gone through bumps, and we have had to have a lot of open dialogue to establish boundaries and expectations. But now, I consider my birth father and his wife to be some of my best friends. I am so glad that at the root of our relationship is profound love and a desire to nourish our position as family members.
I do feel an urgency to express my understanding of how fortunate my mom, sister, and I have been in our relationships with our birth fathers. I am grateful for my relationship with my birth father and have loved meeting my mom’s and sister’s. However, I have also spoken with several others in the adoption community that have not had positive experiences.
Birth mothers who may not know who exactly the birth father is or have a history of abuse from the birth father. Birth fathers who may be aware of their biological children but have no desire to have a relationship with them.
I wish there was an easy answer on if you should reach out to your birth father, but there is a lot to consider. If you have a relationship with your birth mother, you may worry that reaching out to your birth dad will cause a strain on your relationship with her. That is the reason my sister waited so long. She had a lot of conversations with her birth mother to ensure that her reaching out wouldn’t cause any resurfacing trauma and that it wouldn’t offend her.
You may have adoptive parents that would feel hurt by your desire to reach out. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you may have parents who are pressuring you to reach out.
You also may fear rejection. That is a totally valid worry! There is a possibility that you may have hopes to build a happy, beautiful relationship, and that just might not be a possibility.
If you decide to reach out, make sure that you are doing it because it’s what you want to do. Don’t feel pressured by others to reach out if you aren’t comfortable doing so. Go into the situation with no expectations! If you are welcomed with open arms, it can be so exciting! But if you aren’t welcomed, you also can be better mentally prepared for the possible reality of closing that door.
I think it’s vital to have a support system, regardless of if you decide to reach out or not. You need to have people that you know you can count on and trust. Whatever you decide, I hope you are able to take your time and contemplate how you feel about it. Go with your gut.Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
Hannah Jennings lives in Idaho with her husband, Nick, and her tabby cat, Charlie. Hannah is a singer/songwriter, and loves to perform. She is also a photographer and enjoys taking family photos. She has been an adoption advocate for more than five years and loves sharing her story as an adoptee.