An Adoptee’s Experience with Birth Parent Reunion

Jenna is a social worker at American Adoptions and an adoptee who grew up in a closed adoption. She works with pregnant women who are considering adoption. She’s also recently reunited with her birth parents. Her interview below has been edited for clarity.

Read her story here.

What Led You to Search?

I never really had a huge drive to connect with my birth parents until I started working at American Adoptions.

Within the past year, I’ve connected with both of my birth parents, and it’s been a really phenomenal experience. I haven’t met either of them in person yet. There is talk of them coming this summer separately to visit. My adoptive parents obviously know that I’m in contact with them, and they’re super supportive.

My birth parents met in college. Yeah, I’m a spring break baby. They were never dating or anything. My birth father was 19, and my birth mom was 20. They both had really high expectations for themselves, education-wise, so they wanted to continue college.

My birth father credits my adoption and going through that as the catalyst for him doing better. He said he was partying and didn’t know what he wanted back then, but he said the adoption set him on a path, and made him feel like he needed to be more responsible. So, the year after my adoption, he transferred to a different school, kind of started over and then immediately got into law school and got his life on track.

When my birth mom found out she was pregnant, she was against abortion. And there was another girl at their school that got pregnant and was parenting, and she saw how hard things were for her. But I think she just really wanted a two-parent, stable home for her baby. Even though my birth parents weren’t dating, they remained friends, and he supported her throughout the pregnancy and birth and all that.

How Did You Find Your Birth Parents? What Was the Process Like?

I’ve had my birth parents’ full names since I was 18, and I’ve just never done anything with them. I initially reached out through Catholic Charities, the agency I was placed through, when I got to college. I just wanted to let my birth parents know I made it and that I thought they made a great decision.

That’s how I tried to contact them the first time. And the amount of paperwork you had to go through just to say, “Hey, I’m interested in contacting my birth parents,” was crazy.

I was 18 — I didn’t know how to do anything at the time. I barely made it to my college classes, but I had to go get stuff notarized, and I was like, “What’s a notary?” I had no idea what I was doing.

I walk in to the college notary’s office with my requests, and I’m like, “I have adoption paperwork.” And the notary was teary-eyed when she handed back my paperwork and said, “I hope you find your real parents.” I remember walking out of the building and being like, “Yeah, no, I have my ‘real parents.’ They’re the people who helped get me to this freaking college.” So I remember thinking, “Why am I even searching for my birth parents? Do I not feel like my adoptive parents are enough?” That’s a common thing for adoptees to wonder, but it can bug you.

After you submit the paperwork, you had to pick whether you wanted contact with birth grandparents, birth aunts and uncles, with siblings. It was all really overwhelming. So I just checked for birth mom and dad. There’s this virtual mailbox, essentially, and if you have a letter in there and your birth parent has a letter in there saying they want to meet you, then the agency will facilitate some type of contact.

So I put in my letter with Catholic Charities and I thought, “Maybe they will reach out someday, maybe they won’t.” The agency called back and said that they didn’t have a letter in there from either one of them. My birth parents were never even notified that that was an option for them. So, Catholic Charities told me that they had last-known addresses for them on file, and asked if I wanted them to send a letter to them notifying them that I was interested in contact. I chose not to do that at the time. I thought, “I’ll just keep that letter in the virtual mailbox in case they ever reach out to Catholic Charities, so it’ll be on their terms when they are ready.” It wasn’t like I had anything crazy to tell them.

I figured they would’ve been in the middle of having their own kids, marriages and careers. So I chose not to then, but 10 years later, when I started working here, I just Googled my birth father and he was right there. I saw his email address, so I emailed him within like five minutes. He emailed me back within 20–30 minutes.

What Was It Like to Talk to Your Birth Parents for the First Time?

Even though I knew it was my birth father, I still wanted to give him an out if he wasn’t ready. My email to him basically said, “I’m looking for my birth father. I think that you might be him. I was born on this day in this town. If you’re not him, that’s okay. Just please send me a quick note letting me know. If it is you: don’t panic. I don’t want or need anything from you. I just want to let you know that I think you made a really great decision. I’ve been able to do some really cool things with my life. I got my master’s. I’m getting ready to get married. I have a great job at an adoption agency. I’d love from hear from you, if you’d be interested.” I kept it short and sweet.

I think I expected for him to either never respond or for him to say that it wasn’t him. That was just the expectation I put in my head just in case — to be prepared for rejection.

He and I email probably once a week. His emails are always about something sweet, and he’ll share a small part of my story. Like when he sent a picture of him and me in the hospital — a picture I never even thought might exist. He talks about the time at the hospital and how scared he was, and how they didn’t have a camera to take a photo, so he had to drive back to the college campus and ask the girls’ basketball team if they could borrow their camera to take that picture. I’m like: “Oh my God. So, that’s the girls’ basketball camera.”

After I got in touch with my birth father, I emailed my birth mom. I just found her email address somewhere. I had searched for her before, and she was more difficult to find because she got married, so I didn’t know her new last name. I copied and pasted what I sent my birth father and just tweaked it for my birth mom. She emailed back within a few hours.

Her email back to me was like, “Yeah, I’m your birth mom! This is so amazing! This is so cool! I knew you’d grow up and be something awesome like your adoptive parents! I chose them! Here’s my address and my phone number if you want to connect, happy to talk soon.” She’s very straightforward and practical and eager to share anything and everything.

How Do You Feel Post-Reunion?

When I was growing up, my parents always gave me all the information they had, which was helpful — but their memories of the only time they’d met my birth parents weren’t exact, of course. Some of the things that they told me when I was growing up weren’t accurate, even though they didn’t intentionally get it wrong. Now that I know my birth parents, it’s like, “Oh Mom — that actually wasn’t right. I talked to my birth father about it and he didn’t play that sport.” But, when I was little, I held onto every tiny little detail my parents could give me — how smart they said my birth father was or things my birth mother had said when they met.

To me, because my birth parents could be anyone, the possibilities for my future were endless. I felt like not knowing my genetic history gave me a sense of freedom. My birth parents could have been all these bad things too, but I never thought about that.  That’s clearly my optimism shining through. In my mind, they could be the President of the United States as far as I knew. It was like, “I don’t have to just stay in this tiny town. I can be something better.”

When I was first about to contact my birth parents, I worried about how I had put them on this pedestal for so long — they could be any of these people who are so amazing and perfect. I thought, “When I reach out, I’m going to find out that they were real people all along. People who make mistakes and aren’t the President of the United States.”

I think that’s important to know for all those adoptees who feel like they have a hole: Knowing your birth parents is not going to fill it.

My life is good now that I know my birth parents, but my life was also good before I did.