The decision to start searching for your biological family is rarely taken lightly. Regardless of the result, it holds the potential to change your life forever. There are adoptees who have always known that they are determined to find their birth relatives one day. On the other side, there are adoptees who feel they will never be open to reconnecting or don't feel a desire to. For many adoptees in the middle, struggling to decide whether to start the search is an important part of the process.
The unknown is always daunting, and putting yourself out there in an attempt to reconnect is by no means easy. Neither is engaging in the logistics needed to try to track down your birth family. That is why there are a whole range of psychological, social and practical factors which contribute to the decision each adoptee makes regarding the delicate issue of adoption reunion.
Here are some of the most common reasons for and against searching for one’s biological family that we have encountered in our experience with hundreds of thousands of adoption searches and successful reunions.
Common Reasons Adoptees Don’t Search for Their Birth Families
Psychological reasons not to search:
- Fear of rejection – This is maybe the most common deterrent of all. One of the first things which comes to mind when considering searching for one’s biological parents is “What if they don’t want to hear from me?“ or “What if they don’t like me?” Sometimes, these questions are sufficient to deter someone from undertaking a search.
- Fear of not liking the people they find – There are many stories out there of adoptees who have been reunited with their birth families only to discover they have nothing but genetics in common or that their biological parents were what they were hoping to find. This can spoil the expectation of a happy reunion waiting to happen.
- Hostility towards their birth relatives – Being placed with an adoptive family is, for many, a painful experience, which can often feel like being abandoned or rejected by their biological relatives. That is why some adoptees can harbor feelings of anger, hurt or grief towards their birth parents which would prevent them from seeking a reunion.
- Fear of opening old wounds – If coming to terms with being an adoptee has been an emotionally difficult process but has resulted in significant healing, some worry that meeting their biological relatives might upset that balance and bring them newfound pain.
- Belief that the search will be in vain – Especially if the adoption was a closed one and information is scarce, some adoptees are afraid of setting themselves up for the disappointment of a failed search. They feel like there is no way they will be able to find their birth relatives and try to protect themselves by not investing emotionally in such a quest.
- Feeling like it’s not the right time – Going through important changes or times of significant emotion turmoil can usually be mentally and emotionally draining. The added psychological stress of searching for one’s birth parents can feel like more than one can handle at such a point in their existence.
- Feeling overwhelmed by the process – Sometimes, adoptees get discouraged from trying to find their biological relatives by the seemingly daunting nature of the search process. They often don’t even know where to start and who to turn to. This can create a feeling of anxiety and apprehension.
- Not having sufficient motivation – While some adoptees have strong feelings for or against being reunited with their birth family, others simply do not. They may have insufficient interest in meeting their biological relatives or may be expecting their birth parents to search for them if they feel the need to do so.
Social reasons not to search:
- Worrying about the implications of a reunion on their adoptive parents – Some adoptive parents have (or are perceived to have) strong feelings when it comes to their children searching for their birth families. They may be afraid of being replaced or losing their adoptive child. Some adoptees want to avoid hurting or upsetting their adoptive family by searching for their biological parents.
- Worrying about the implications of a reunion for their own family – Reuniting with biological family and developing a relationship implies bringing more people into one’s life. Some adoptees wonder if their spouse or children would accept and get along with their biological parents and if it would complicate their family life.
- Not receiving support in this quest – Starting any important journey on one’s own is difficult. When it comes to something as emotionally charged as searching for one’s birth parents, significant support from family and friends is needed. If the nearest and dearest feel like such a quest is not a good idea, the adoptee might be tempted to walk away from it.
- Being concerned about disrupting their biological relatives’ family life – Placing a child into adoption is a difficult decision and one that people often make at a challenging time in their life. Many birth parents go on to have families and children which they do raise themselves. These children/family members may be unaware of having an older sibling. Sometimes, spouses don’t know about the existence of a previous child either. Some adoptees worry that reaching out to their biological parents might come as a shock to the rest of their new families.
Practical reasons not to search:
- Not possessing the resources needed to support a search – It is a common misconception that the process of searching for one’s birth family is necessarily expensive and time consuming. That said, in complex cases, the services of a genealogist or a private investigator may indeed be required and not all adoptees can afford this.
- Being unaware of modern adoption reunion tools – Some adoptees are not aware that there are many simple, fast and inexpensive approaches to searching for their biological relatives, such as The Global Adoption Reunion Registry. They believe that the process is always complicated, costly and requires dealing with heavy bureaucracy, which was often true in the past, but is no longer the case.
- Living with disabilities which prevent them from searching – Unfortunately, some adoptees are unable to express and/or act on their desire to search for their birth parents due to medical conditions such as learning disabilities, mental illness, low-functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder or similar situations.
Common Reasons Adoptees DO Search for Their Birth Families
Psychological reasons to search:
- Resolving unanswered questions – Being an adoptee often comes with many gaps in knowledge about one’s origins, about the circumstances of one’s birth, and about the reasons which led their biological family to make the decision to place them into adoption. Searching for their biological relatives can be seen as a way to find an answer to some of these questions.
- Understanding more about oneself – A human being is shaped by both nature and nurture and certain aspects of one’s physiology, one’s personality or even one’s life choices can be traced back to genetics. Meeting one’s birth parents can be seen as a way to understand themselves better and to figure out what about them is genetic and what is environmental.
- Satisfying a long-held curiosity – Many adoptees have spent a long time wondering about their biological family—what they look like, what they sound like, where they live, what their feelings and beliefs are. Searching for their birth parents can help satisfy this curiosity and put faces to what only used to be names.
- Obtaining closure – Regardless of whether or not they would like to build a relationship with their birth parents, some adoptees want to meet them simply to learn the motivation for their decision to place them into adoption and/or to let their relatives know how this decision affected them. They feel that facing this part of their past will provide them with the closure they need to heal and move on with their lives.
- Filling a void in their lives – Adoptees sometimes feel that by not knowing their biological relatives, a significant part of them is missing. They would like to do everything in their power to recover it. They do so in hopes that meeting their birth parents will fill an empty space in their heart which they have been carrying around since they were born.
- Feeling sufficiently healed and ready – When one feels at peace with themselves and has successfully healed from old wounds, they may become more open to facing their past and confident they can undertake emotional challenges that once may have seemed too difficult. At such times, an adoptee may decide they are ready to reach out and reconnect with their biological family.
- Feeling drawn towards the search – Sometimes there is no discernable reason or conscious argument for wanting to meet one’s birth relatives. It is just a compelling feeling which is gradually increasing in strength until it compels adoptees to act on it. The decision to start the search simply feels right or is suddenly perceived as something that would be beneficial to their lives and personal growth.
Social reasons to search:
- Enhancing their social circle – Some people enjoy being surrounded by big families. The possibility of rebuilding their relationship with biological relatives is appealing as it can offer them the opportunity of adding more loved ones to their family network.
- Getting another chance at a family – Especially in the case of adoptees who are estranged from their adoptive families or who have no family who are still living, meeting one’s biological parents can feel like an opportunity to feel as a son or daughter once more. They may start the search in hopes that their birth parents have also felt like they’ve been missing out on a relationship with them and are open to building one.
- Learning about relatives they are unaware of – Sometimes, the desire to reconnect with one’s birth parents is not limited to wanting to meet just them—or it may not be about meeting them at all. Some adoptees use the information available to them through their adoption records (which normally contains their parents’ identification data) to learn if they have any other relatives (siblings, grandparents, etc.) whom they are unaware of and whom they could also reach out to.
- Offering their children a chance to meet their biological grandparents – Adoptees who have become parents themselves may, at some point, face questions from their own children regarding their biological grandparents or may feel like their children may benefit from getting to meet them. This is especially true when the little ones are missing some or all of their grandparents on account of family estrangement or if they have already passed.
- Wanting to learn about their family history and genealogy – Not knowing one’s family story can feel like missing an important piece of the tapestry that is one’s identity. Many adoptees wonder to where their birth family traces their roots, who their ancestors have been, and what stories there are to be told about the lineage which brought them into the world.
Practical reasons to search:
- Learning their family medical history – Being aware of the illnesses and genetic weaknesses one’s birth relatives have experienced can be a matter of life and death, as one can be predisposed to developing the same conditions. Physicians often start their diagnosis by asking about the family medical history. And for some adoptees, the only way to answer such questions is by asking their birth parents directly.
- Needing a compatible donor – In unfortunate cases, adoptees or their children can suffer from serious illnesses which require life-saving transplants from a genetically compatible donor. In these cases, they might reach out to their birth parents in hopes that they or another close biological relative might be compatible and willing to help.
- Avoiding being too late – Some adoptees may not feel entirely ready to reach out to their birth parents, but they may fear that by the time they become ready, their biological relatives may have passed away. This is especially true after adoptees have reached a more mature age, or if they are aware of the fact their birth parents were already of an older age or suffered from chronic illness at the time of their birth.
- Having discovered a simple way to search – Many adoptees choose to start searching for their birth family as soon as they are introduced to a fast and easy way to do so. The Global Adoption Reunion Registry requires very little information and no more than a few clicks to match users with their biological relatives based on mutual consent. This solution provides the advantage of ensuring birth parents were also searching and are willing to reunite.
If you are a birth parent wondering about the reasons your adopted child has or has not yet attempted to contact you, we hope we have shed a bit of light as to why that may be. And if you are an adoptee who is struggling with the choice of starting the search for your biological relatives, we hope that this list has been of some assistance to you in identifying and weighing your reasons for this important decision. Whoever you are and whichever path you choose to take, may you find hope, strength and comfort in your journey.