Ten things Adoptees Want Their Birth Parents To Know About Reunion by Ross John Martin, Adoptee
1. WE’RE GUARDED WITH OUR FEELINGS AT FIRST.
A reunion with your birth family can be a wonderful thing but when I searched for my mother, I really had no idea about who or what I would find. I remember being fully prepared for being rejected, to be honest I was expecting it but I hoped at least I would know what she looked like and maybe she’d tell me about her life. I had spent years feeling abandoned by a person I had never met so I had built up some serious walls of defence around me. It had taken me years to build up the courage to find her, I was looking for something but I wasn’t quite sure what it was at that point. I think my natural mother dealt with it really well, she let me lead the way in our newly forming relationship but let me feel safe and secure to do so. She never rushed me and it began to feel natural to open up to her.
2. WE NEED THE TRUTH.
I feel like I was never told the information I was needed when I was growing up. Everything was pretty vague, I mean I knew I was adopted but I never knew why or who were these mysterious people that gave me away. How could I know about my story if I didn’t know theirs and why could I not know? Did my adoptive parents know more than they would tell me? So many questions and no answers! I could sense it upset them and quickly it became a taboo subject like the elephant in the room, always there but never mentioned. I really appreciated my natural mother being completely honest about everything that happened, It allowed me to make sense of not only my story but hers too which to be honest I had never considered before. I never realised that she suffered, I always imagined it was an easy decision for her and I was just an inconvenience so you see how hiding the truth can be damaging. She told me the truth about my adoption and even wrote it out in story form which she’d read would be a good way for us both to make sense of what happened. She did so even though it was painful for her and I loved and respected her all the more for it.
3. WE NEED TO GRIEVE.
When people hear about reunion stories they instantly think of tears of joy and a happy ever-after story. I doubt they could ever imagine that we would need to grieve, I mean why would we need to do that? We should be so happy! When I began chatting to my birth mother more and more it became apparent to me that not only was she was someone who I was becoming close to, she was a part of me that I had always felt was missing but lacked the language and understanding to know and express it before. Mixed in with the highest of highs and pure feelings of love and happiness at finding this most wonderful person who had created me was ever increasing feelings of despair and sadness for the time we had lost together. All the parts of my childhood I could have shared with her were gone forever, all the shared experiences that bonded her to her other children were elusive to me, eternally beyond my grasp. I also grieved for the way the adoption had effected me growing up, I wondered if I wouldn’t have felt so lonely and out of place if I had stayed with her, my rightful mother. I cried a lot on my own but I felt that maybe we needed to cry together as a way of bonding with her or maybe for the support and acknowledgement of the loss I had experienced, something which I never had growing up. I remember being upset that I couldn’t cry with her the first time we met and only did when I was on my own the next morning, maybe I was still as guarded as I had been all my life and unwilling yet to share my emotions. The next time we met we spent some time alone and chatted about the adoption and were able to speak more openly. All of a sudden I felt my walls crumble and my tears flowed, my mother gripped my hand and cried too and I feel like we connected at that moment and I realised to my surprise that we both grieved for the same loss. It was painful but healing to share that feeling of grieving together. Both adoptees and birth mothers had their grieving denied to them, it is disenfranchised grief, a delay to an inevitable and natural process that is cruel and damaging to deny. Sharing that with her made me feel even closer to her and her to me.
4. WE NEED VALIDATION.
Feelings can easily consume you if they are kept locked up inside. When I was growing up I didn’t have the understanding or knowledge to know that my feelings of sadness, loneliness and not fitting in were to do with being adopted and neither did my adoptive parents. In the closed adoption era adoptive parents believed they were receiving the gift of a baby with with a blank slate, they wouldn’t remember or care about about losing their natural mother, why would they? They’re just a baby. Maybe it’s what they needed to believe in order to truly feel like it was their child and they wouldn’t want to feel like their child was in pain either so just hope for the best! Well it seems that babies do remember, they spend 9 months growing inside and listening to their mothers heartbeat. The mother might speak to them as mine did, they are ready to hear her familiar voice and to be soothed by the only person who can, they lack the ability to self soothe. I was a baby waiting to meet my mother and she wasn’t there, instead I was taken away and handed to strangers. My adoptive parents often told me how quiet I was as a baby and rarely cried even if I was hungry. They thought it was great, I was easy but I guess crying for my mother didn’t work so why bother? Instead I went into shut down mode and I think that must have continued throughout my life because I often was very quiet and withdrawn. Adoptees seem to become very observant and can be hyper vigilant looking for signs that we might be abandoned although this is usually subconsciously. Some adoptees like to test their parents but others like me don’t want to upset them so we keep our feelings to ourselves, locked down deep inside where they fester and do their damage. The first time I ever spoke about my adoption, what it meant to me and my feelings about it was with my natural mother. If I ever try talking about it to others I am either shut down with comments like yeah but you had a good family etc. Society doesn’t validate the feelings of birth mothers or adoptees. My natural mother made me feel like I could open up about it and she truly wanted to understand me, talking helped us both understand each other and ourselves better.
5. WE OFTEN FEEL OVERWHELMED.
Reunion is full of highs and lows and you never know what intense feelings are going to come next. We may have feelings of intense love for a person you barely know or feelings of deep grief and sadness for the loss of that same person. We may even feel like we have regressed in age and not fully understand why this has happened. I honestly believe these feelings are natural and important, it’s the situation that is unnatural so it can be frightening and confusing unless you have researched and read about the effects of adoption. Talk to your child about how they are feeling and maybe recommend books or video, my birth mother and I are always swapping articles and book ideas! Either party may however deny that it has affected them so it may be frustrating if they don’t open up at first but with time I’m sure they will. It really helps to understand that these feelings are normal and they can be worked through together. There are so many facets of reunion that can be overwhelming especially if there’s a whole new family dynamic to fit into and adoptees are especially sensitive to the potential of being abandoned, we subconsciously look for signs! A lot of patience and understanding is needed on both sides and I truly believe all reunions have the potential of being successful if both parties want that.
6. WE’RE OBSESSED WITH OUR GENETIC SIMILARITIES.
This is something only someone who has been taken from their natural family will ever truly understand. We grew up with no reflection of ourselves in our adoptive family with constant reminders that we didn’t have what others did. In my extended adoptive family there was always talk of who looked like who and took after certain traits of their blood relatives and it was the same at my friends houses. I often wondered if there was anyone who looked like me but it was strange because I still couldn’t picture my natural parents, they remained ghosts to me. I wondered if my artist talents were inherited because no-one in my adoptive family had any kind of creative flair, my adoptive father was very serious and practical and did not get me in he slightest. I often think he would have loved a son that was an echo of his own genetics and there are losses unresolved with adoptive parents too. Meeting my natural parents and siblings was equal parts wonderful and surreal, I could finally see myself in someone. I felt giddy scanning for physical resemblance’s and traits and it was wonderful to hear about the music, art and quirky sense of humour in my birth family that I had inherited. We are so starved of this that we crave it, we want to hear about how we look and act like members of our natural family because it validates us a person and makes us feel less alone in the world.
7. WE FEEL SPLIT.
There are many ways in which adoptees feel split. We often have the feeling that we don’t fit in or truly belong in our adoptive family but then we find our natural family and find we don’t truly fit in there either. With one we share experiences with no blood and shared genetics and the other we share blood and genetics with no experiences. We often feel like the baby that was relinquished died and we became a separate person to that child. I never really felt like I had been born until reunion which is probably hard to understand. It was like I was dropped off by aliens or just found somewhere. This makes sense because our connection to those who created us had been cut off and that which most take for granted was never there for us. We feel the need for connection, the true connection we were denied but we also reject it because we expect to be abandoned. Our brains weren’t shaped by the loving bond with our mothers but by the need to survive in a world that seemed alien and avoiding abandonment seems key to that survival even though that doesn’t really help at all.
8. WE LONG TO BOND WITH OUR NATURAL BIRTH FAMILY.
Our lives didn’t begin when we were born, we spent 9 months connected with and protected by our mothers. Our whole world was literally our mother and the sounds surrounding her. Her world was ours. We were preparing for life outside of mother but it was ok because we would still be protected by her world and our bonding would continue. Likewise the mother’s body has prepared itself physically and spiritually to care for and protect her child. They know each other and are connected. We lost that connection to our universe and were suddenly surrounded by genetic strangers. Instead of being full of the love hormone oxytocin our bodies were full of stress and adrenaline in order to survive. It’s the premature development of the ego. All my life I felt like I couldn’t rely on anyone because they would just let me down. I apparently became a “stiff arm baby” and maybe I instinctively knew that spiritually I was on my own but physically needed these strangers to survive. The baby who was supposed to continue the natural bonding process with mother was frozen in time and in reunion is woken ready to continue what was broken. We don’t know how to do that as an adult, gazing into our mothers eyes and constantly being held by her is no longer appropriate so we don’t know how to bond or even if it’s possible.
9. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO CALL YOU.
In reunion you are familiar but you are still a stranger. In our adoptive families we develop roles and grow up with a mother and and a father and we are taught to call them mum and dad or mom and pop. Then you come along, our real parents but we already had parents who felt real and who have already filled those roles. So who are you to us? Maybe we want you to fill those roles or maybe we don’t or at least no longer need that, that time and that need has passed. But calling you by your name can also feel wrong, you gave birth to us, you are the reason we are here and our connection to creation. That is everything, you are more than just a friend. Much of our looks and personality is genetic and because of the two strangers who created us. I often want to call my natural mother “mum”, it feels right but it also feels wrong when I see it written it down or after I’ve said it. It wasn’t her fault but she wasn’t there in my developmental years when these roles are being formed. We may start calling you something and then stop and then begin again. Recently I’ve started calling my natural mother “mama” and it feels right or at least more right than “mum” or her name.
10. WE DON’T KNOW WHERE WE FIT.
We lived a life and grew up in our adoptive family and developed family roles whether that felt natural or not, likewise our birth families often went on to start or continue families without us. All of a sudden in reunion I found I had siblings, cousins etc that had spent their childhoods developing their family relationships with shared experiences. My mother wants to bring me into her family which is wonderful but I also don’t know what that means or how it works. All of a sudden I have a new world full of blood relations and extended family and I don’t know my place in their world or if I have the right to be there. My mother wants to bring me into her world and part of me wants to be there but part of me doesn’t trust this new world because it once rejected me.
Lyrics to Music Video Below…
I Felt Sunlight
Though it was spring
My leaf had fallen from the tree
Alone you carried me
Protected what you couldn’t keep.
I felt sunlight
When I knew your name
The clouds opened
And I lost all pain
Oh and though I grew
So strong I always dreamt of you
In my innocence
I knew you before we’d even met
I felt sunlight
When I knew your name
The clouds opened
And I lost all pain