You may have spent your entire life imagining this moment and yet, it may still have taken you surprise: you are about to meet your birth family for the first time. Whether it feels like the prize at the end of a long, difficult search or the lightning strike that disrupted your peaceful existence, the emotions surrounding this event can never be fully anticipated.
The hypothetical has just become real and what used to be empty names and notions long buried in your past will soon be standing before you in flesh and bone. Offering so much promise, and yet, risking to dispel so many possibilities…
Before you embark on the delicate and emotional journey of reuniting with your birth family, take some time to prepare for reconnection. Like everything that grows, familiarity and affection must be nourished. And to do so, you first need to lovingly prepare a fertile soil, where both you and your new relationships can flourish.
1. Recommit to yourself
Before being anyone’s child, parent or sibling, remember that you are your own person. And this relationship is so intimate that there isn’t even a word for it. Too often, in our deep desire to be what the world expects of us, we put our own needs last, we sacrifice our time and energy and settle for less than we deserve. And each time we do that, we drift a little bit further away from our primary source of strength and comfort.
In times of great emotional upheaval, you need your most powerful ally by your side. So before you even try to open yourself up to anyone new, take some time to reconnect with yourself and recommit to your own well-being. You can start by doing the following:
Honour your emotions
Sit with every feeling that comes up and simply listen to what it has to tell you. Don’t judge it, don’t rationalize it, don’t wish it away. Just let it flow through you.
Journaling may be a good way to channel and make sense of your powerful emotions. When you are feeling overwhelmed, write down everything that comes to mind, indiscriminately. Then read everything again when you are calm and try to figure out the main message.
Reassert your strength
Think of all the challenges you have been through that have led to the very point you are standing today. Of all the roadblocks you overcame in searching for your birth family. How many times did you wonder if you would make it through? How many times did you feel like you couldn’t take another step? Yet every time, you did. You have faced everything life had in store for you and you are braver and stronger for it.
Take out one of your old photo albums and talk kindly to the little child, the awkward teen, the naive young person on each page. Tell them about the challenges that lie ahead and how they will find a way to face them.
Reconnect with yourself first
Put aside a day or two out of your busy life to spend some quality time with yourself. Rest, relax, nourish your body and your spirit, do some of the things you love most and never seem to get around to doing. Take yourself out walking or dining and watch yourself react to the world. Rediscover the safe, reliable, pleasant company you can offer yourself and don’t be afraid to be swept off your feet.
Once you have a firm grasp of who you are and are committed to unconditional self-love and self-compassion, you are ready to face anything the world can throw at you. If it helps, you can give yourself a small reminder that you can keep with you every day: a meaningful piece of jewellery, an inscribed pin or a tattoo could make good options, depending on your style and preference.
2. Understand your journey
A strong foundation for connection requires a deep understanding of our own needs and motivations regarding the prospective relationship. This helps keep us grounded, delimitate our boundaries and determine whether things are moving in the right direction.
In anticipation of the first encounter with your birth family, take a moment to clear your mind and determine what your hopes and goals are for this new relationship. While you don’t have to decide everything yet, having clarity regarding why you want this reunion to take place can make it easier for you to manage your expectations. Here are some questions to help guide you towards making sense of what you’d like to happen next:
When agreeing to reconnect with your birth family, were you fulfilling the dreams of the child you used to be or honouring the wishes of the adult you are now? How are they different?
What are the most positive things you hope this reunion will bring to your life?
What do you hope to bring to the lives of your biological relatives?
What are the main three questions you are hoping your birth family will answer?
Is there anything you feel you may need to let go of or sacrifice in order to make this meeting possible? And if there is, are you comfortable with it?
What are some things you need to hear and what are some things you need to be able to say before you can start rebuilding a relationship with your birth family?
3. Validate Your Need For Connection
Before finding your birth relatives, anything could happen. Now that they are within your reach, ancient fears are likely to arise. You may feel overwhelmed with grief and anger, while at the same time, remain excited, positive and curious about the new journey ahead. One which may hold reconnection, atonement, gratitude and love, or disappointment, regret and the reopening of old wounds. And you may be painfully aware that whatever you may find at the end of this path, it can never be un-walked.
On the one hand, you may be rightfully tempted by the chance to heal a part of you that was once broken and to enjoy the love which is rightfully yours, but you have been so long denied. On the other hand, you may not help but fear that opening your heart to your birth relatives can leave you vulnerable to what would feel like a second rejection.
If you are struggling with the idea of truly opening up to a connection with your biological family, keeping the following things in mind might be helpful:
Your desire for meeting your birth relatives and learning more about them is not just about extending your family - it is about reconnecting with a missing part of yourself and recovering a piece of shared personal history. Everyone deserves to know where they came from. Whether this new relationship will work out or not, you will gain insight that will add precious detail to your personal puzzle.
People are less likely to regret mistakes they have made than paths they have not taken. If you have been searching for your birth relatives, even for a short time, it means that a part of you yearns for reconnection. And leaving it unsatisfied may take its toll in the long run.
If your biological family also agreed to meet, their desire to build a relationship with you is likely mutual. As is, probably, the doubt and fear in their hearts. Searching for a child given up for adoption is not something done lightly. Taking this vulnerable step together may indeed lead nowhere, but if you take a chance and let it, it may also lead to amazing things.
4. Make peace with potential adversity
Dozens of different scenarios have probably been running through your head ever since reconnecting with your birth family became a real possibility. But all of them only seem to end in even more questions: Will they be how you had pictured them? Will they have the answers you have been hoping for? Will they accept you for who you are? Will they know just what to say? Will they be able to handle this meeting? Will you?...
This is the part where the steps you have taken so far are starting to pay off. Alone, with the help of a loved one or guided by a therapist or spiritual advisor, try walking through the most disappointing scenarios. Take breaks when you need to, but gently press forward to see them through. As they unfold in your mind, use the following insight you have obtained so far to frame your experience:
You were a child when your adoption happened. You were vulnerable, powerless and did not get a say in determining your own fate. However, now you are an adult. You are strong, you have a powerful voice and everything that is going to happen will only take place with your consent and within your boundaries.
Were it to occur, rejection or disapproval from your birth relatives would not be a reflection of your worth, but a matter of incompatibility between the person who you have chosen to be and the needs and expectations of a genetically related stranger.
While biologically related, you are not the same as your birth family. You are an entire world made of dreams, thoughts, experiences, emotions and abilities, which have developed apart from them. It would be alright if you felt underwhelmed, hurt or disappointed by who they turn out to be. It does not mean that because you share their genes, deep down, you also share their flaws.
Should you find yourself emotionally unable to see the difficult scenarios through, remember that this does not reflect any fault of your own. It is simply a message your heart is trying to send you that it needs a little more time to catch up with your mind. Until that happens, you may want to consider postponing being reunited with your birth family for a while and seeking support to avoid getting overwhelmed.
5. Keep an open mind and a hopeful heart
Once you have arrived at this step, you may already be feeling more peaceful and confident than at the start of this process. However, reality seldom meets expectations. While your birth family may not resemble the people in your darkest scenarios, they may still be entirely different from what you had in mind. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Spending significant amounts of time fantasizing about an encounter can put unbearable pressure on the actual event. And it can substantially increase the chances of things not going to plan. But some of the best things can happen when you go off the beaten path.
If your expectation from this reunion is to eventually forge a relationship with your birth relatives, it may be more helpful to look at this first in-person meeting as a prologue, rather than a definitory event. While first impressions matter, keep in mind that emotions run high for everyone involved and that people cope with them in different ways. Some awkwardness, timidness or even overeagerness can be expected, which may not necessarily persist as your relationship progresses. So don’t get discouraged by minor bumps in the road, stay hopeful that if this relationship is meant to be rekindled, everything will work itself out as you get to know each other a little better.
Here are some things you can try to help your first encounter :
Choose a quiet, neutral location - a coffee shop or diner may be the most comfortable places for a first meeting with your birth relatives. Home visits can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if there are other family members around.
Bring a conversation starter with you - a few thoughtfully selected photos of yourself and your loved ones can act as a visual support as you talk about your life.
Start with discretion - While you may be eager to find answers to all the things you have been wondering about for so long, it might be best to choose a few of the most pressing questions for this encounter and save the rest for next time. This can keep the conversation more relaxed and two-sided and can help you avoid information overload.
Listen compassionately - when nervous or excited, it is easy for people to say things that come out wrong. If something your birth family say bothers you, ask for clarifications, to avoid misunderstandings.
Give things time - while there is undoubtedly so much lost time to make up for, if all goes well, there will be other occasions to catch up on each other’s lives. First encounters can be emotionally draining, so don’t feel sorry to bow out when you feel like you’ve reached capacity. Everyone involved will likely feel more relaxed and at ease once the initial meeting anxiety is over.
Wherever your adoption reconnection journey may take you, sharing it with like-minded people, who have been where you are standing and know exactly what you are going through, can be extremely liberating. The Adopted.com community is always here for you and would love to hear your reunion story. Over 1 million members look forward to sharing your experience and to provide insight and support when you need it the most.