At one point or another, adoptees will become curious about their history, including how they came to be adopted and what their birth parents are like. Open adoptions like those encouraged by American Adoptions makes answering their questions easier than ever — but figuring out how to do so can be challenging.
For adoptees, knowing where they came from can play an integral role in developing their sense of identity. Whether it involves meeting their birth parents or simply learning about their adoption process, reconnecting with adoption stories is a life-changing opportunity.
We saw this process in last night’s episode of “This is Us” (spoilers ahead). Randall, a black adopted child, travels to Memphis, Tennessee (his birth father’s hometown) to learn more about his birth family history. His terminally ill birth father accompanies Randall, showing him the important places that shaped his father’s youth and reconnecting with long-lost family members before his father’s death at the end of the episode.
Their journey is a great example of how adoptees can learn more about their adoption story and birth family in a positive manner. For many adoptees, being able to meet their extended birth family and see where they came from plays a pivotal role in their self-identity as an adoptee.
So, how can you create a positive experience for adoptees like Randall who wish to learn more about their history? Each adoption is unique, and what works for some adoptees and adoptive parents may not work for others. However, if you’re ready to begin the reconnection process, here are some tips to successfully do so:
If the Adoptee is a Child
It’s normal for children to start asking questions about their adoption when they’re younger; particularly if they have little to no openness in their adoption. However, some birth parents and adoptive parents may not think that a reconnection with birth family is appropriate at a young age.
If this is the case, you still have the opportunity for an adoptee to learn more about their adoption story — specifically, the process their parents went through.
To make an adoption story more tangible, adoptive parents and adopted children can visit the adoption agency where it all started. Adopted children may enjoy speaking with their parents’ adoption specialist to learn more about their adoption in an age-appropriate manner (many social workers are familiar with how to answer these kinds of questions from a child). Adoptive parents may also take their child to the hospital where they were born and the courthouse where the adoption was finalized. Because parents likely have photos from when the adoption was finalized, it can be fun to recreate those photos, as they’ll be something an adoptee will enjoy looking back on when they’re older.
For children adopted internationally, visiting these places may be difficult. Instead, to help adoptees reconnect with their culture and history, adoptive parents may want to look into cultural camps specifically designed for international adoptees. These camps educate adoptees about their native country and culture while they’re surrounded by adopted children just like them. Check out some international adoption camps here. If it’s a possibility, visiting their native country can be very informative for adopted children.
If the Adoptee is Ready to Meet their Birth Family
When an adoptee, adoptive parents and birth parents deem it appropriate (and the adoptee is old enough), they may take steps to reconnect the adoptee with their birth family. Like Randall and William do in “This is Us,” adoptees can visit their birth parent’s hometown and see the places that shaped their parents’ lives. While many adoptive parents are interested in accompanying their child on this journey, whether or not they go with their child will depend on their individual situation and their child’s wishes.
For adoptees, seeing their birth parents’ history and meeting relatives can be life-changing. The process can be healing for both adoptees and birth parents, so if possible, it’s highly recommended.
It’s important to recognize, however, that different birth family relatives will respond to the adoption in different ways. In “This is Us,” William has to reconcile with his own family before Randall can get to know them — which, for an excited adoptee, can be a tough waiting period. Many birth relatives will be overjoyed to meet the adopted child but, depending on the adoption situation and how well they’re prepared for the reunion, things may not go as planned. If possible, it’s best to prepare all members of the birth family for the reunion.
For adoptive families and adoptees who are interested in reconnecting with their birth family, the documentary “Closure” is a great story of how one adoptee found her birth family and got to know them. It also shows how different birth family members may react to a reunion. You can watch the documentary on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and IndieFlix.
If the Birth Parent isn’t in the Picture
Sometimes when an adoptee is ready to reconnect with their birth family, it’s not a possibility. Birth parents may not be prepared to make that reconnection, their location may be unknown or they may not be alive anymore. It can be hard for a child to accept this news, especially if they’re excited about meeting their birth family.
One way they can handle this is by writing letters to their birth parents and birth family detailing their feelings and asking any questions they have. They may also want to start a journal they can look back on when they finally are able to reconnect with their birth parents.
On the same note, adoptive parents may want to utilize any pictures or letters they already have from their child’s birth parents, as this gives their child a different way to form a connection with their birth parents. Adoptive parents should request these letters and pictures from the beginning of their open adoption so they have materials in case an adopted child wants answers before a birth parent is ready.
If the Reunion is Unexpected
Sometimes, a birth parent who previously wanted no contact will reach out to their adopted child unexpectedly. If a birth parent is terminally ill, like William in “This is Us,” they may feel a sense of urgency to tell their child about their history before it’s too late.
How you proceed with this kind of reunion will depend on many factors: the adoptee’s age, whether they’re prepared for the reunion, why the birth parent is reaching out, etc. As with any reunion, adoptive parents and adoptees will need to consider what will happen if the birth parent disappears from their life again (whether due to death or lack of commitment) after their child bonds with them. It’s a difficult situation, so make sure you reach out to your adoption specialist for advice.
If the adopted child is not quite ready for a reunion, adoptive parents may suggest the birth parent write letters and gather pictures for the child. That way, the child can view them whenever he or she is ready, even if the birth parent is no longer around at that time.
No matter how they proceed, reunions with birth parents and reconnecting with adoption stories can be difficult — but many times are well worth the challenges. As Randall says about reconnecting with his birth father: “He changed me. I love him.”
If you’re wondering how to proceed with an adoption reunion (whether you’re a birth parent, adoptive parent or adoptee), please reach out to your adoption specialist, family and friends to discuss your feelings and options. Our professionals at American Adoptions can always help if you call us at 1-800-ADOPTION.