Embarking on the journey to find your biological relatives is never easy. Sometimes, the thought of it alone can be daunting: Where would you even start looking? How would they react if you were able to find them? How would you feel if you were not?... On one hand, there are so many emotions to be explored and inner work to be done to prepare yourself for this process. On the other hand, the hopefulness and excitement at the thought of being reunited with your birth family - of getting to know this significant part of your personal history and maybe reforging the once broken bonds - can make all the emotional labour worthwhile. While you’re the only one who can navigate the psychological heavy sea of the search, we can make your sailing smoother by showing you how to overcome the main obstacles you might come across while looking for your biological family.
1. Having insufficient information to start from
Especially if you have been adopted at birth or as a young child, you may find that you know next to nothing about the ones who brought you into the world and the circumstances of your adoption. Or you may possess some information, but have reasons to suspect it could be falsified or inaccurate. If this is the case, don’t despair. There are ways to dig up more facts and to make the most of the little data available to you:
Talk to your extended family
If you feel comfortable to do so, ask your adoptive family members everything they know about the circumstances of your birth and adoption. While doing so, don’t limit yourself to your parents. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings or even close family friends might remember things that your mom and dad forgot to mention or remember incorrectly. Every piece of information you can find - such as dates and places, the physical appearance of your birth parents, the name of a social worker involved in your case or of an employee at the agency which was used - can bring you closer to the breakthrough you need.
Use the services of a private adoption detective
Also known as investigative genealogists, these professionals are trained in finding and retrieving all existing public records surrounding your adoption. They may also visit the place of your birth and speak to former neighbours, local social workers and public institution representatives in order to find out everything they can to help you locate your biological relatives.
Use a mutual consent online adoption reunion registry.
While you may not know much about your biological family, they might know more about you and may have also been trying to find you. Fortunately, online adoption reunion registries, such as Adopted.com, provide a platform where birth relatives can search for each other quickly and comfortably, from anywhere in the world. All you need to do is register for free and fill in a profile containing your data and anything you might know about those you are looking for. If you have no information at all, you can just upload your DNA profile and see if it matches with that of any of the other users. A specially designed algorithm will search through the existing database of over 1 million members and if any of them seems to be looking for someone matching your profile, you will be announced and able to contact them immediately.
2. Facing difficulties in accessing your adoption records
Depending on the laws of the state you live in, accessing your adoption records can be a matter of simply submitting a formal request or it can be next to impossible. If you were part of a closed adoption, your records are likely sealed and you may be legally unable to obtain the identifying data of your birth family. However, even if this is the case, there are still some things you can do:
Ask for non-identifying information
Non-identifying information refers to characteristics of your birth parents you might need to know, but will not reveal who they are - such as their age, their ethnicity, their profession or their medical history. Any such detail you can obtain can help you narrow down the search for them or open up a new avenue (e.g. knowing their age when you were born and adopted can help you get a more accurate match when using an adoption reunion registry).
Enlist the help of a confidential intermediary
While this option is not available everywhere, 10 US states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wyoming) allow you to employ a confidential intermediary to access sealed adoption records. This professional has legal access to the otherwise classified documents and is authorised by the state to locate and contact your birth relatives to ask their permission to share their information with you. If they are successful in their endeavour and your biological family agrees, you will receive access to the records.
Make an emergency request
Sometimes, finding a biological relative can be a matter of life and death. You might absolutely need to find out your medical history for health reasons or to secure a compatible donor for a severe medical condition. In this situation, you can submit an emergency request with the court of law, showing proof of why it is vital that you obtain access to your adoption records as soon as possible. Depending on your local legislation, there may be additional bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, but there is a chance your petition will be granted if the emergency criteria is met.
3. Managing the difficult emotions of your current family
While you may be excited for the possibility of meeting your birth relatives, you might find - to your dismay - that some members of your family do not share your enthusiasm. It could be that your adoptive parents fear that they were not enough and that you might seek to replace them with your biological ones. Or it could be that your children worry you might love them less if you reconnected with their adopted biological sibling. Or even that your own siblings, adopted alongside you, might feel betrayed by your reaching out to your birth parents, whom they are not willing to meet. In any case, while it can be challenging for you to deal with these difficult emotions, taking the following steps is likely to relieve some of the tension:
Listen, acknowledge and validate
Most often, when experiencing powerful emotions, what people need most is to be heard. If you feel that you are in a mental space where you can do so, ask your loved ones to openly share their concerns about your search for your biological relatives. Listen patiently while they do so and don’t be alarmed if you hear some anger - it frequently masks fear or sadness. Try to repeat back to them what they have said, to make sure you understood them correctly. Resist the natural urge to explain that they have no reason to feel the way they do, and instead, let them know that you have heard them and will be there to address together the issues they have raised.
Provide reassurance wherever possible
While it may seem obvious to you that your loved ones are irreplaceable, remember that their fear, hurt or sadness are genuine and likely come from a place of insecurity rather than one of distrust. Try spending some extra quality time with your concerned family members. Let them know how special your relationship is to you and reminisce together about the good times you’ve shared, which no one can take away. If you feel comfortable to do so, share your reasons for seeking a reunion, as understanding often brings peace of mind. And reassure them that you are committed and will not let any new relationship with your biological relatives negatively impact your pre-existing ones.
Share your vision of post-reunion relationships
It greatly helps calm people’s nerves if they can have some idea what to expect from a future situation they are weary of. Try sharing with your loved ones the role you envision them playing in the new, post-reunion relationships you hope to be building and learning how they would feel about playing it. If they seem open to it, you can already try to involve your adoptive parents or your children in the search process from the get-go, as your helpers or supporters. And if it is something you would all enjoy, you can offer to make them a part of the new relationships reunion would bring and present this event as a chance for your family to grow. Or, if they have made it clear that they have no desire to be in any way involved with this process, let them know that you will respect their wishes and will keep your new relationships to yourself unless they decide otherwise.
4. Experiencing search burnout
The process of searching for a lost birth relative can be long and draining on your spiritual, psychological and material resources. There may be times when you feel exhausted and your mental health may start to suffer. When this happens, it is important that you have a strong support system you can rely on:
Reach out to your loved ones
Don’t be afraid to walk up to your friends and family and ask for their support during this challenging time. Remember that it is precisely these kinds of moments that your nearest and dearest are there for.
Join and adoption support group
Sharing your journey with people who have been through the very same thing can be relieving and liberating. Communities for supporting adults who have experienced adoption, such as the vast one fostered by Adopted.com, are always available to provide advice, emotional support and companionship.
Enlist the help of a professional
Sometimes, when experiencing emotional exhaustion and disillusionment, peer support is no longer enough. That is when you know it is time to seek professional advice. Schedule an appointment with your therapist or spiritual advisor, in order to receive the help you need during this challenging time.
5. Being unable to locate your birth relatives
- Never give up hope
Sometimes, even though you have tried everything, your birth relatives simply cannot be found. If this is your situation, don’t be disheartened. Simply create a free account with Adopted.com, fill in your profile with every piece of information you possess about your biological family and always keep up hope. There are already over a million people registered to our platform and new ones are joining each day. You never know when you will wake up to the long-awaited message - that we have found a match. And when that happens, you will already know that your lost birth family member was also looking for you.
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