Starting the search for your birth family can be a tough call, which takes courage, determination, patience, and resilience. More often than not, adoptees face a significant internal struggle between the appeal of the most positive scenarios (such as locating their lost biological relatives and becoming reconnected with them) and the negative scenarios (such as rejection or being unable to locate the ones they seek).

When thinking about the outcomes of adoption reunions, many only consider the most obvious three possibilities often showcased by the media: a happy reunion, outright rejection by the sought-out party, or a fruitless quest where none of the lost relatives can be found.

However, many who embark on this journey find that it is rarely as simple as that. If you are already on your path to finding your birth family or are considering this step in the future, it would be best to also be prepared for other possible scenarios, which are frequently overlooked in movies or literature. This will make you better equipped to face whatever place the road may lead you.

Here is a more comprehensive list of adoption outcomes which you can expect.

1) The fairytale ending

This outcome is the one most adoptees are hoping for and the reason they have embarked on this journey in the first place. It involves finding welcoming, open and loving biological relatives, who have also been waiting to become reunited with you. As soon as you have resumed contact, it seems like you have never really been apart. This results in an emotional reunion where questions are answered in a satisfying manner and a broken bond is rebuilt into a beautiful budding relationship. You may be introduced to siblings and other birth relatives, and it feels like you have regained the family which was once lost.

While this scenario can certainly happen, it is not the most frequent of adoption outcomes. That is because people are complex and relationships rarely come this easily. While it is certainly fine to hope for this outcome and it is a genuine possibility, you may want to manage your expectations so you won’t be disappointed if things don’t immediately click into place once a reunion is achieved.

2) A relationship which takes time to build

This scenario is far more common, albeit less idealized than the previous one. It is also a positive outcome, with just as much potential for fruitful relationships. But while in this case both parties are still open to welcoming each other into their lives, either of them or both may have some reservations, need time to process the events, or are unsure how to relate to the other.

There is not something to be feared, as it is not a bad outcome. It is simply a very emotional situation, with many aspects to consider and past and present feelings to work through. It must also be kept in mind that while you are forever bound by blood, you and your birth relatives still need time to get to know each other and find a place for one another in your lives.

3) An underwhelming find

After the great emotional labor and logistical effort of searching for their birth relatives, many adoptees feel somewhat disappointed when the reality of the people they find is at odds with their dreams and expectations. Upon finally becoming reunited with your birth family, it is not uncommon to realize that you don’t feel a deep sense of connection to them at the outset, like they are not what you had hoped for. They may not be able to provide the answers you needed to hear, they may not react to you in a way that makes you feel accepted and welcome, their lifestyle may not seem acceptable or compatible with your values. Or you may simply experience a sudden feeling that while you have actively searched for them, you no longer have a need or desire to pursue the relationship once you have found them and had some questions answered.

A dream that has been unraveled by a harsh reality is always painful and it is natural to grieve the loss of the birth family you had pictured in your mind. You may find that after a while, you may be inclined to give the real-world version of your biological relatives another chance and try to make the best of the situation. Or you may decide that this is a finished chapter in your life, that you have obtained closure and can continue on your path.

4) The possibility of rejection

One of the main reasons why adoptees avoid or put off searching for their birth family is that they are afraid their biological relatives will not desire the same connection. And in many cases, this turns out to be true. You may find yourself very excited to have finally located a lost parent or sibling, only to learn that they have no wish to become reconnected. Or they may accept contact with you, only to realize they don’t really want a relationship going forward. The latter can be even more painful, as it can feel like a rejection of the person you are rather than of the notion of reconnecting with a lost family member.

It is normal to feel hurt by rejection and even to experience it as a second abandonment. However, you should try to understand that this rejection is rarely personal, and it usually has to do with powerful emotions, traumatic memories or complex life situations that your biological relative does not feel ready to face. They may be able to do so one day and reverse their decision, or it may simply be a permanent reality that you will need to accept. There is, however, an easy way to reduce the risk that your birth family doesn’t share your desire to meet you: if you search for them using an online adoption reunion registry, based on the principle of mutual consent, you will only be matched with them if they are also willing to reconnect.

5) A traumatic family history

Placing a child up for adoption is most often a very difficult and traumatizing event on its own, for both parties involved, regardless of the reason behind this decision. However, upon becoming reconnected with their biological family, some adoptees are shocked to discover that the kind of trauma or violence surrounding their birth goes much deeper than what they had expected. And it can be just as difficult for your biological relatives to relive the experience. In many cases, this is something that has been kept a secret and not discussed for decades, and other members of the family may be fully unaware of the situation.

6) When your birth relative has passed away

Unfortunately, there is also the possibility the sought out party is deceased. This can suddenly unravel any hopes you had of being reconnected with a birth relative or to obtain answers from them. If you learn that the one you were searching for is no longer among the living, take your time to mourn the relationship that could have been. Do not hesitate to rely on community support or on the assistance of a mental health professional. However, their passing does not necessarily need to be the end of your journey. While you will need to make peace with the idea that you will never be able to reconnect with them in person, you may want to explore other routes of getting to know the person they used to be: talking to their family members, visiting their home (or home town), learning about their passions and habits, etc. It might help you obtain a sense of closure and, in this process, you might even discover other relatives you never even knew you had in the first place (siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins or more.) This is often a source of great comfort to the seeking party.

7) When the trail grows cold and hope seems lost

It sometimes happens that no matter how hard you try, the whereabouts of your biological family seem to remain out of reach. This can be emotionally, financially, and logistically draining and it is understandable to feel frustrated and like you want to give up hope at times. However, there are ways to preserve your resources while continuing your search.

By creating a profile on the Adoption Reunion Registry, you can rest assured that the moment the biological relative you are searching for also joins the Global Registry, you will be matched with them and finally get your chance to become reunited. This may happen instantly, if the person you are looking for is already in the database, or it may take days, months or even years. But given that the Global Adoption Reunion Registry (Adopted.com) has over 1,000,000 member profiles, you have a good chance that the biological family members you are looking for will eventually join and you don’t have to put in any further effort while waiting for that to happen.