Since before you and I were born, our lives were changed in a way that would offer us unique obstacles and opportunities. Timing appropriate for reunions can be a new step and opportunity. Since our beginning, major pieces of our lives were shifted and rearranged and put back together. The adoption process is beautiful and tragic and complex, to say the least. Although our lives’ journeys took a major turn the day we were born, it doesn’t mean we can never put all the missing pieces back together. An adoptee’s decision to begin the search and reunion process should never be taken lightly. Choosing the right time to begin the reunion process is heavily influenced by the way you prepare for the reunion process.
My experience with reunion will look different than anyone else’s. No two adoptees will be ready for a reunion at the same time under the same circumstances. We can still learn from one another’s experiences and grow in unity as we do it.
My Reunion Story
In my experience as an adoptee of closed adoption, the option to reunite wasn’t even available until I turned 18. Even then, there was no telling if, at 18, I would necessarily be ready to pursue reunion right away. Understanding the importance of this waiting period as a child made me want to learn all I could about myself and my adoption so that I could be prepared for the day when the reunion was an option that I was willing to explore.
In my position, the only way to determine when the reunion was right for me was to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for it. I credit my parents with the openness and willingness to discuss my adoption and listen to my feelings. I firmly believe that if not for my parents’ support in my growing process, I wouldn’t have been prepared and ready to reunite with my birth parents when I had the desire to do so.
I talked to my parents and others about how my adoption affected my perspective of my identity. I wasn’t defined by my adoption, but it played a major role in my upbringing and understanding of the world. My mom and I would discuss my desire to meet my birth parents and the possible siblings I had. My reasons for wanting to reunite stemmed from curiosity and a need for closure. Those desires and curiosities would often stir up expectations of what reunion would look like and mean in my life. With time, I learned how to harness those expectations to be realistic so I wouldn’t set myself up for disappointment. My parents taught me that reunion would open the door to relationships that required a certain level of emotional and mental maturity. I understood that reunion adds a level of complexity to my personal family dynamic that would require support and love on all fronts so that I could navigate those complexities.
When I did turn 18 and the option to find my birth parents was available, I felt eager and prepared to start the process. I used my support system, began the process, and quickly made a connection with my birth parents that resulted in a relationship that has continued to enrich my life to this day.
One of the most common challenges that adoptees face is conflicts with identity. Adoption doesn’t define who we are, but it does have a significant influence on our lives. So, where is the balance between identity and influence? If we are not careful, then we can enter a crisis when it comes to our identity.
Many people will credit personal identity with where he or she came from and what family was built upon. The dilemma, for adoptees, is that a child’s origins are divided between the adoptive and birth families. This is why adoptees may struggle with individual identity because a child doesn’t know which origins to embrace and how to emotionally navigate that division. In an attempt to close that gap, adoptees will begin the search and reunion process.
This strategy seems to be reliable–until it isn’t anymore. When a reunion results in a negative experience, when family ties are threatened or severed, and if expectations fail to be met, an adoptee can enter an even deeper crisis of identity that he or she is unable to cope with. Because of this, adoptees who are seeking to reunite with birth parents must build a solid foundation of personal identity disassociated from family and origin. His or her sense of self must be developed in a way that an individual can be confident in an ability to stand strong through any obstacle that a reunion may invite.
Remember, this does not discount the influence or support that a family can give to an adoptee, it simply encourages a strong sense of self and identity.
Another great exercise for adoptees who are looking into reunion is to define an individual purpose for the reunion itself. Are you looking to gain closure with your adoption? Are you itching to satisfy your curiosities about your genetics? On a more serious note, are you looking to fill in some gaps in your medical history that are essential to your health? There are many reasons adoptees want to pursue reunion, but an important step to take before doing that is defining personal desire to do so in the first place.
Once an adoptee discovers and defines his or her purpose for a reunion in words, that individual will then be able to confirm whether or not a reunion will satisfy that desire. Weigh whether or not your reasons are demanding of an immediate reunion, or if it would be better to take more time as an individual to grow and progress before welcoming the world of reunion into your life. Once you discover you “why” and decide that a reunion will satisfy that “why,” you’ll then be prepared for what comes after the reunion.
Establishing healthy expectations for the reunion can be one of the most difficult parts of preparing for the reunion itself. The dramatization of tv shows, the fictionalized moments in movies, and the years of our own imaginations running wild, may have painted a picture of reunion in our mind that just isn’t realistic. One of the best exercises that adoptees can do in a personal way in preparing for a reunion is to develop and maintain realistic expectations.
One way that you can let go of unhealthy expectations is to ask yourself what you can control and what you cannot control. You have control over your choices, your words, and your actions. If you center your expectations on those things you can control, then you will be less likely to experience disappointment from the choices, words, and actions that you cannot control—the choices, words, and actions of your birth parent.
After you’ve established a healthy set of expectations for a reunion, you should also begin to consider what will happen after the reunion. Based on your reasons for wanting to reunite, you may wish to continue or discontinue a relationship beyond reunion. If your reasons for reuniting are solely to gain closure and satisfy a curiosity, you may not have a desire to continue a relationship with your birth parent or parents. On the other hand, some adoptees may have the desire to pursue a relationship with a birth parent, but learn that this relationship may not be healthy. You may also learn that the birth parent’s desire to continue the relationship is not reciprocated. Just as you must consider your own desires for a future with your birth parent, remember and respect his or her boundaries.
Maturity can be difficult to define and equally difficult to measure. When we consider the kind of maturity that is necessary for a healthy reunion, there are three abilities that an adoptee should have developed. The adoptee should be emotionally capable of a certain level of empathy and consideration for others. He or she should also be prepared for rejection with appropriate coping mechanisms if needed.
In cases of reunion, a mature adoptee will understand that the meeting isn’t all about him or her. A birth mother or birth father who agrees to a reunion is agreeing to open a part of the past that has been closed for several years. As long as you have been alive, your birth mother or father has probably had you on the back of his or her mind, causing a birth parent to wonder who you are, where you are, and how your life turned out. Adoptees should strive to respect and understand what a reunion could mean to a birth parent. At the end of the day, that understanding can greatly affect the adoptee’s continued relationship with that birth parent.
No one wants to think about it, but we all must consider the possibility of rejection within a reunion. For some, rejection will come before a meeting, for some, it will come during, and for others it may come after an initial reunion. While there is no way for an adoptee to completely prepare for this type of reception of rejection, it is important that adoptees in general, are aware of the possibility of rejection and have safeguards in place to cope with whatever outcome individuals are faced with.
The process of searching and reuniting with your birth parents is emotionally taxing. You’ll be tested in ways you’ve never imagined before. Your patience, strength, and expectations will be rattled at one point or another. It will be those moments that you will need your support system to rely on for encouragement and reassurance. Communicate with your family and ask for support and understanding during a time that you will need it than most. Be sensitive to your family’s concerns or reservations about a reunion and ask for respect throughout the process.
Whether or not an adoptive parent or family is supportive of the reunion process, an adoptee is going to need the support of friends and loved ones as well. Often, adoptees overlook the importance of preparing and communicating with extended family and friends when adoptees start the reunion process. This community may not be as closely related to your adoption, but these people stood by you and have been a major part of your upbringing as someone who was adopted. Include family and extended parties in conversations about your desires for a reunion and your appreciation of the understanding and support throughout the process.
As important as it will be to prepare your support system for a reunion, it is just as important to be a support to your family and friends. No one understands what it is like to stand in your shoes with your desires and your decision to reunite. Because of that, there are many who may struggle through the process to understand what reunion will mean for you and a relationship with you. Just as people support and love you, return those gestures as a source of information and reassurance of your love for others.
A major milestone for any adoptee is gaining closure with his or her adoption. Closure within an adoption triad involves achieving the kind of closure that brings peace with a placement, understanding of the reasons behind a placement and feeling fulfilled in a life path. For some adoptees, this type of closure can be experienced without a reunion. For others, a reunion can be the last step in finding closure in one’s adoption.
Reunion can help fulfill an adoptee’s need for closure by answering the questions that couldn’t be answered by an adoptive parent. The connection between a birth parent and an adoptee is unique and can be healing for both parties.
The question of when the best time for a reunion depends on when an adoptee is thoroughly prepared for a reunion. Some of the most important steps an adoptee can take in preparation for a reunion is finding peace in personal identity, defining specific desires, developing appropriate expectations, gaining a sense of maturity, building strong support, and understanding the purpose of closure. As an adoptee develops each of these areas, when the time comes that he or she feels it is right to begin the search and reunion process, that individual will be ready.
Courtney Falk 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, sheâ€™s had the opportunity to create and edit content in areas such as fitness, health and wellness, financing, and adoption. When she isnâ€™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.