Q: I gave up my daughter for adoption shortly after I gave birth. Now that she is grown, I want to find her. What should I expect?
A: Reunion experiences vary tremendously, and they are often bittersweet. Given the complexity of the triad involved (biological parents, adoptive parents, adopted child), there are many different paths your own reunion might take. But you can expect change. Birth Bond: Reunions between Birthparents and Adoptees – What Happens After chronicles a wide range of reunions in the form of interviews with birth mothers about their post-reunion experiences. As the authors of the book write, “Reunions rearrange lives.” (New Horizon Press, 64) This is true for birth fathers, as well.
A search for self. The quest for identity is a common concern among children, especially adolescents. In reunions with birth mothers, children given up for adoption have an opportunity to fill-in-the-blanks of key aspects of their life stories. This may provide a sense of completion, of knowing one’s own story. The birth mother, too, may have some of her questions answered about the child’s experiences after the adoption.
To stay, or not stay, connected. It may be that a need to establish a connection will lead to a fulfilling relationship, or it may be enough to learn more about one’s early history. Research investigating the experiences of 48 British adults who had been reunited with their birth mothers more than eight years earlier found that 84 percent felt the reunion had provided answers to important life questions. (British Journal of Social Work, 2001, 351–68) For some, these answers are enough and the individuals drift apart. Others build relationships. Among those who do stay in contact with biological mothers, the frequency of contact is lower than contact with their adoptive mothers.
Realistic expectations. Reagan Curtis and Frances Pearson point out that many reunions are preceded by unrealistic expectations and fantasies. (Journal of Social Work, Oct. 2010) They note that it takes patience and sensitivity to work out new roles, to decide what terms to use when referring to one another and to negotiate the obligations of the relationship. As some questions are answered, new issues emerge. Counseling from a psychologist or social worker specializing in adoption may be beneficial for thorny issues.
Pray for guidance as you seek a reunion with your daughter, remembering that we are all God’s children. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God … The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Rom. 8:14, 16)
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.