I wanted to start searching for my birth parents ever since I knew I was adopted. Some adoptees have zero interest in learning where they came from; some adoptees have zero hope that they’d even be able successful in pursuing reunion; some adoptees feel that they will maintain a better sense of self-identity by not opening up a part of his or her life that was closed peaceably. Then, you have me. Sure, I was at peace with my adoption and had a positive relationship with my adoptive parents. I was healthy and harbored no bitterness toward my biological parents for their decision to place me. The only good reason I had for searching for my birth parents was good old-fashioned curiosity—and that is good enough reason for you to start too.
Where to Start Before You Start
Regardless of when the desire to start your search sparked, the first step to begin the process, if possible, is communicating with your family about it. Reunion can be a sore subject for some adoptive parents. Approach the topic sensitively. Seek to understand your parents’ perspectives concerning reunion. Consider their potential feelings of rejection, inadequacy, and betrayal. Reassure them of your love and appreciation for them and the personal need you have to pursue reunion. Reunion affects not only the adoption triad but everyone in your life that has ever played a role in supporting your adoption. With that in mind, don’t shy away from approaching the subject with those people in your life. You may not take their advice; you’ll probably dismiss plenty of negative opinions; communication is key to a healthy reunion, so start it early.
Finding a biological family member is a lengthy legal process. Even when all legalities of the process have been exhausted, you are still going to need as much information as you can for a personal investigation. Some reunion stories happen over the course of a few weeks, others require a few years of work. Be patient and organized in your search.
Start with your birth records, any records you have from your adoption finalization, and any resources available through your adoption agency or attorney. Talk to your adoptive parents about the details of your adoption. Names of attorneys, courthouses, hospitals, dates, and other logistical information will all be relevant in your search. These organizations may only keep records for a set amount of time and odds are that they may not have (or may not be permitted to release) the information you need.
Consider compiling your records in a folder both digitally and physically so that you can have everything on hand as you need it. Once you start involving the courts, a legal intermediary, or a personal investigator, the last thing you will want to do is shuffle through paperwork that you know you haven’t found yet. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
Think About the Five Strategies
Once you have all the information you can gather about your adoption, start considering a strategy. Some searches can be completed by opening state records. If going through the state reaches a dead end, some will consider hiring a private investigator to find their family members. While effective, these processes can be lengthier and require a great deal of work. If you are looking for a cheaper, at-home option of searching for biological family members, utilizing social media and DNA tests might be a more viable option. There is no right or wrong place to start here. Don’t give up after your first attempt.
Accessing adoption records through the legal system is an option in most states. While some states have very strict policies regarding opening adoption records, others are more open. If you are 18 years old or older you may be eligible to access your original birth certificate with one or both of your birth parents’ names. Occasionally, states will have medical histories available to inquiring adoptees.
In strict cases of closed adoption, names, addresses, and phone numbers cannot be divulged without the consent of either party. Under these circumstances, you may be able to have your records opened through a legal intermediary. A legal intermediary is a third party who can be granted access to your adoption records by the state.
If your records are up to date (meaning either biological parent regularly updated his or her contact information), then the process will be as easy as finding contact information and initiating contact between adoptee and birth parent. Before contact information can be shared, the legal intermediary will contact the part being searched for and inquire about their interest in a reunion. If they consent to release their information to their adoptee, then both adoptee and birth parent will be required to have a document outlining their consent notarized and submitted to the legal intermediary. Once both documents are signed and submitted, the legal intermediary will set up a time for both parties to contact one another whether that be a phone call, video call, or in-person meeting.
Hiring a private investigator will look similar to hiring a legal intermediary. A licensed private investigator will have access to databases in the state that your adoption took place. They would have extensive experience using the information you have to find the information you need. In addition to locating the whereabouts of your birth parents, a private investigator may also initiate contact between the two parties once consent is granted.
States, adoption websites, and adoption agencies are all sources of reunion registries. Many registries are free to use and are an effective way to reach a wide audience quickly. A registry will include your name, location, and any specific details about your adoption that are essential to finding your birth parents. Adoptees and birth parents alike use registries to get their information online and available to their respective family members. Many adoptees and birth parents find success with registries instead of approaching reunion with the state or with investigators may lead to dead ends.
Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube are all great platforms for searching for your birth parents. These platforms give you the ability to share your story with friends, friends of friends, your community, and, eventually, the world. If you get lucky, your birth parent may be closer than you thought and will see your public request for a reunion. Some adoptees will use social media as their last Hail Mary once they’ve exhausted every other option for finding their birth parents.
On Facebook or Instagram, post a picture of yourself, a baby picture, and any relevant information for your birth parent to possibly identify you as their adoptee. This will include the hospital you were born at, your birthday, the adoption agency your family used, and any unique circumstances surrounding your adoption that would be relevant to your search. Ask your friends and followers to publicly share your post so that you can reach a wider and wider audience. These posts, if effectively formatted, could go viral and reach the person you are searching for overnight.
Youtube is another great platform to share your adoption story. You don’t need any fancy video editing equipment or skill. Grab a camera and speak from the heart. Share your story, details about your adoption, and contact information for your birth parents to reach out to you. Look into different formats of reunion request videos. Some videos will follow a slideshow format, others will tell a story, and some will use written signs to tell their adoption story. Youtube videos are shareable across most other social media platforms and can be a great way to attract attention fast.
As DNA testing has risen in popularity, more and more adoptees and birth parents are using the DNA testing pool to make and discover matches. If you do choose this route, be cautious of immediately reaching out. When going through the legal system or reaching out on social media, consent of being found is always given either legally or by the birth parent reaching out themselves. Study up on the pros and cons of using DNA testing as a means of reunion, but don’t rule it out as an option.
Before You Make The Connection
The day my legal intermediary told me my birth mother’s name, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. I was elated to finally have what felt like a missing piece to my life finally found. I was terrified of the idea that my expectations wouldn’t be fulfilled. Then, I was relieved that the process of finding was finally over. Nerves came over me and then a rush of peace. Doubt started creeping in and then reassurance chased it away. I think it is completely normal to experience this conflict of emotions once you come to the knowledge that your search is over and the next step is coming: reunion.
So, after you first make a connection between the idea of a birth parent with a name and a face, it is hard to keep your emotions under control. Manage your expectations and consider your options. Communicate your fears with your support system and accept the help that they offer. Everyone’s experience with search and reunion is different; no two adoptees will experience the same type of reunion.
What you can do to prepare is to begin to manage healthy forms of expectations. Embrace the expectations regarding what you can control: your reactions, your choices, and your acceptance or rejection of the reunion. Then, let go of the things you cannot control such as your birth parents’ reaction to the reunion, their choices, and their acceptance or rejection of the reunion.
When You Make The Connection
Whether your first connection with a birth parent is over the phone, on a video call, or in person, prepare yourself for the meeting as best you can. Even if the meeting does not welcome the opportunity to share stories, pictures, or feelings and questions about your adoption, you will not regret having prepared these things.
Reunion often welcomes the appropriate space for adoptee and birth parent to catch up on lost time. But, a reunion is also an emotional time. The weight of the circumstances surrounding your reunion will make it hard to think straight in the moment. So, before you approach the meeting, think about the major milestones you’ve experienced throughout your lifetime. Take a moment to write down some detailed memories of your childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. A birth parent has probably wondered about how you spent your birthdays, what your academic interests are, what extracurricular activities you engaged in, and how you enjoy spending your time. Be prepared to share these experiences (and pictures if available) so that when questions arise, you’ll be ready.
Many adoptees seek reunion in order to gain closure surrounding their adoption. By now, you’ve been caught up in the thick of a major chapter in your adoption story. When you prepare to meet a birth parent for the first time, think about your adoption story from the beginning. There are 3 sides to every adoption story: the birth parents’, the adoptive parents’, and the adoptee’s. Your perspective and experiences are unique–prepare to share them with your birth parent if you are comfortable doing so. Then, come up with a handful of questions to ask your birth parent about their adoption story. As you share your feelings regarding your connection, your future connection will be strengthened.
After You Make The Connection
Search and reunion is a whirlwind of emotions, work, and perseverance. But, at the end of the tunnel is the potential for a relationship. Think about your desires concerning a relationship. Those desires may or may not change after an initial connection is made. Either way, be clear about what you expect out of a relationship and listen to and respect your birth parents’ wishes. Strive to foster a healthy relationship of appropriate boundaries, regular communication, and common ground. If you do your part to prepare, no matter what reunion has in store for you, you can have peace of mind knowing you did all you could to open grounds for a successful reunion.
Courtney was adopted at 3 days old. Growing up in a home where adoption was discussed openly, she always had a passion for sharing her story. When she was 18, she reunited with both of her birth parents and continues to have a positive relationship with each of their families. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in professional writing. Since then, she’s had the opportunity to create and edit content in areas such as fitness, health and wellness, financing, and adoption. When she isn’t behind a book, you can find her dancing in the living room with her 11 nieces, attempting to cook, and tending to her extensive collection of house plants.