While the age old question of how much of what makes us who we are is due to nature and how much to nurture has still not received a definite scientific answer, nobody can deny that our DNA plays a crucial role in our existence and becoming.

Living with uncertainty about our genetic inheritance can feel like a piece of our own biological puzzle is missing. However, when it comes to making the decision to search for one’s birth family, it’s often the psychological and sociological aspects that drive our curiosity, rather than the biological ones.

Each of us needs to be part of a greater narrative, to feel deeply rooted, to understand where they fit in that unbroken chain of life which started with the first humans and has resiliently moved forward through millions of years of evolution, leading to where we stand today. And just as importantly, it is inherently human to need to know the circumstances of one’s birth and the reasons why the connection to one’s birth family was severed in the first place. But daring to ask these questions is an extremely difficult and brave thing to do.

There are an abundance of powerful emotions surrounding the decision to find one’s birth family and everyone experiences this quest differently. There can be fear, excitement, bitterness, forgiveness, anger, confusion, love, anxiety or most often, a combination of all of the above.

However, the one thing that is always there and drives us is hope. We hope to learn that our birth and adoption story fits our ideal scenario, we hope our birth family is also searching for us and will embrace us with open arms, we might hope to discover siblings and other extended family that we can build a relationship with and most of all, regardless of the outcome of our quest, we hope to heal the kind of wounds that only certainty and closure can heal.

The process of searching for one’s birth family can be one of great excitement and anticipation, but also a time of deep emotional upheaval, for the person on the quest, as well as for their family and loved ones. It is thus important to take some aspects into consideration, in order to make this journey as positive an experience as possible:

1. Don't be afraid to experience your emotions

The uncertainty of what might be at the end of your search is enough to make anyone more emotional than usual. You might be experiencing mixed emotions, you may second-guess yourself, old feelings might resurface, the level of anxiety may rise, you may laugh one minute and cry the next without fully understanding why. Remember that this is a normal part of the process and that there is no wrong way to feel. You may be tempted to dismiss or push down painful or unwanted emotions and to try to force yourself to feel the way you believe you should, but that repression can often have negative effects on your mental health in the long run. Accepting, acknowledging and processing your emotions, on your own or with the help of friends or a therapist, is the healthiest way to deal with them in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

2. Set realistic expectations for the process and the results

After making a big decision such as starting the search for your birth family, it is natural to hope to receive positive results as soon as possible. While in some cases, this has been known to happen (usually if the birth family was also looking for them using the same tools), in other cases, the process of finding one’s birth family may be longer and there is no guarantee of success. Remember to start the process mentally prepared to give it the necessary time, as the fact that one’s birth family does not have a DNA profile registered with the online adoption registry at this time doesn’t mean they never will. Some people have found their birth relatives after years or even decades of search, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen as soon as you would like. Also, being psychologically prepared ahead of time in case you need to receive bad news (such as the sought after person having deceased or being unwilling to communicate with you) will make it easier to accept such a potential scenario and gain closure from it.

3. Allow your loved ones to share your experience.

Finding your birth family could not only change your life, it could also change the lives of those closest to you, especially the members of your family. Adoptive parents and siblings in particular might experience anxiety and mixed emotions regarding your decision to find your biological family, fearing they may be replaced. If you have a spouse and/or children of your own, they might be concerned about how this experience might affect you and at the same time, they might experience anxiety about the possibility of gaining new relatives. Whenever possible, it helps to communicate your feelings, hopes and expectations regarding this process openly with those you love and to provide a safe space for them to do the same. Explaining your reasons for deciding to search for your birth family to your adoptive parents and siblings and reassuring them that it will not negatively affect your relationship with them might put their mind at ease and make them more supportive. Similarly, discussing with your spouse, children and other loved ones the potential outcomes of the search and their implications for your own life and that of your family can help you organize your own thoughts and feelings and at the same time, it can make your family feel included, heard and given a chance to support you.

4. Remember that you are in control of the process

One of the most damaging feeling to the human mind, which is at the root of many psychological problems, is the feeling of being helpless, powerless, of lacking control over your own life and your own circumstances. Remember that throughout the process of searching for your birth family, you are always in full control of what happens next. As the decision to start the process belonged to you, you can also decide to stop the search or go a different route at any time. Should you find your birth family, it is entirely up to you how you wish to proceed and whether or not you decide to make contact with them. There is no right or wrong way to move forward in such situation and you alone can determine the best course of action where your well-being is concerned.

5. Treat yourself kindly and take care of your body and mind

Times of uncertainty, with potentially life-changing prospects, can be stressful for anyone. It is a good idea to recognize and acknowledge that you need to take extra good care of yourself during such times. You need to be especially careful if you are prone to anxiety, as it can affect your sleep and your dietary habits.

Make sure that you are getting enough rest, that you are eating healthily and that you are allowing yourself more time for relaxation than usual. Meditation can help you clear your head when you feel that your emotions are overwhelming or that stress is getting to you. Getting plenty of exercise is also not only a good way to keep yourself healthy, but it also provides a natural high through the release of endorphins.

More importantly, do whatever is most relaxing to you, whether that means taking hot baths, working in the garden, playing video games or going skydiving - if it makes you feel good, it’s what you should be doing. If despite making efforts to relax, you are still feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed during this time, don’t hesitate to talk to a therapist - they are trained in helping you feel better.
Good luck on your quest and may it lead you to where you need to get!