Thinking Through the Search
Although you and your child may have discussed and planned for years to find his birth parents, those parents may have put the adoption out of their minds and formed a separate life. Your child may have built up fantasies, especially during adolescence, when he chaffed at rules and restrictions. If your son came to you through foster care, contact was probably forbidden until he became an adult.
Perhaps you adopted a child right after birth and your child has always known he was adopted. No matter what the circumstances, a search is a very emotional process and is not something to take lightly.
The search for birth parents is an important emotional journey for your child. You may feel a bit conflicted about the whole search. On the one hand, you want to support your child, on the other hand, you worry about what the results of the search will mean for you.
No matter when you adopted your child, you are his real parents. That connection will not change if you undertake a search. You may be worried that your child will automatically bond more greatly to the birth parents, decide that you aren't an adequate parent, or feel your family was some poor substitute. Rest assured, your child is a part of your family. Finding a birth parent may be an important journey for him, but it does not have to disrupt your bond.
A study of American adolescents performed by the Search Institute found that 72 percent of adopted adolescents wanted to know why they were adopted; 65 percent wanted to meet their birth parents; and 94 percent wanted to know which birth parent they looked like.
The search for birth parents is not just about your child and his need to know. The search can have a huge impact on the birth parents themselves, so it is important for you and your child to consider what the birth parent went through at the time of the adoption and how he or she may be feeling now.
A birth parent who chooses an open adoption does so in order to have some control over the placement and have the ability to stay in touch. Many open adoptions work out, and the child is never in a position to have to search. Unfortunately, some open adoptions do not work. The adoptive parents might cut off contact, the birth parent might drift away and lose touch, or the birth parent might make a decision to remove herself from the situation. Whatever happens, it's important to remember that the adoption is a very emotional situation for the birth parent. Even if she moves and does not give a forwarding address, she may do so with great sadness, believing it is best for the child if she disappears. Most birth parents grieve for years over the placement, and always carry some sadness inside them because of it.
Counselors advise birth moms to write their children letters explaining why they gave them up, to go into detail about doing what was right and expressing that they loved them enough to let them go. If you receive such a letter when you adopt, keep it for your child to read when he is older.
Even with the prevalence of open adoptions today, many birth moms do decide against them. Most women who choose closed adoptions do so because they want to move on with their lives.
Birth parents who are forced to relinquish their rights to the state (or, in some international adoptions, who place a child because they have no real choice between watching the child starve or placing her) also suffer loss and must grieve. A parent who made bad decisions may turn his or her life around and suffer a lot of regret about the termination.
Before you or your child begins to search for a birth parent, it is important that you understand the choices and process the birth parents went through in making the choice, or dealing with the situation if an overt or conscious choice was not an option.