Solving adoption mysteries can seem like opening Pandora’s box. Learning the truth might feel both freeing and frightening at times.
Now, if you’re just wondering who Pandora was and what was up with her box, click here. The expression comes from an old Greek myth. The moral of that story is basically that being too curious can sometimes open up a can of worms.
If you are struggling to make sense of an adoption mystery, though, you probably “get” why understanding who you are and how your family connects matters deeply.
(And you know why any answers to be found are way less frightening than all the unanswered questions.)
How Adoption Mysteries Happen
Everyone gets “born into” at least two families. You belong by birth to the family of your biological mother and the family of your biological father– whether or not your parents are married.
Under Texas law, though, you belong only to your legal parent/s. At birth, that’s your biological mother and any man she was married to during pregnancy (whether or not he’s your biodad,) unless a court rules otherwise.
Any legal parent has the right to give up (or relinquish) their right(s) to their child. This enables someone else to become the legal parent in their place through adoption. However, nobody is ever legally required to provide the actual document verifying an adopted child’s birth to that adoptee, and this essentially is how most adoption mysteries get created.
If you’re an adult adopted as a child, it’s more than a mystery why you’re prohibited by law from viewing your own original birth certificate. It’s a civil rights violation. That’s why progressive Texans keep fighting to get the laws changed: to eliminate adoption mysteries. Knowing who you were is a big part of knowing who you are. And knowing your ethnicity and your family medical history can help keep adoptees alive, even.
Real-life Adoption Mysteries
Adoption mysteries were common in closed adoptions that were marred by secrecy and shame. Such stories are often featured on television programs like “Long Lost Family” or “Unsolved Mysteries.” (Who left a baby in a shoebox on the church doorsteps, and why? Tune in at ten!)
Abrazo knows two adult adoptees who grew up in different states. One was shocked to find out he had been adopted only after his parents passed away. The other grew up knowing he was adopted, but never really knowing why. Each approached their different adoption agencies for information about their origins. And each learned that he’d had a brother he never knew, who had also been adopted. Both struggled to make sense of an adoption mystery. Who were his birthparents? Why was a full birthsibling also adopted? Where was the other adoption done?
Eventually, those two agencies discovered both men had the same birthmother. She refused to have any contact with either adoptee. Yet she revealed she had purposely placed both babies in two separate states. She did this because both pregnancies had resulted from a long-running extramarital affair. And she denied contact with either adoptee because she was still married. She never told her existing children nor spouse about either birth– nor had she told either adoption agency she was a married woman. (Adoption mystery solved. Questions answered, at long last.)
Adoption mysteries can occasionally arise in open adoptions, too. One mother asked Abrazo about determining paternity of the baby she was placing for adoption since she and her husband were divorcing due to her admitted infidelity. The “other man” had wanted to know if the baby could be his? After consulting a genetics specialist, we learned it was impossible to resolve this mystery through DNA. Why? Because the husband and the other man were not just brothers, but identical twins. (All parties eventually decided, given their history, that adoption probably was for the best.)
Solving Adoption Mysteries
Adopted persons typically have two ways of solving adoption mysteries, if they can’t get answers directly from family or an adoption agency. One option is getting a court order to open your adoption file. The other is doing a DNA test through Ancestry.com, or a similar resource.
Please respond with kindness, if you’re contacted by an adoptee who thinks you’re a long-lost relative. It can be a shock to be contacted, but remember: it took a lot of courage for that adoptee to reach out for answers. Ask them nicely to forward you documentation, before providing any private family information, to be sure there’s a genuine connection. (Then pursue genetic testing, as well, to corroborate the findings before involving other relatives.)
Finding (or being found by) new relatives does not necessarily mean you’re going to feel any instant connection. This may (or may not) result in the growing of new family relationships. Sometimes, what the adopted person is seeking is just answers or history or medical information, nothing more. Take things slow. That way everyone has time to process new information, and come to terms with it.
Solving adoption mysteries can be liberating. But it won’t always solve every adoption heartache. Keep this in mind, and adjust expectations accordingly. Adoption is a process that is always borne of loss. So even the “best” of adoption discoveries may still entail some sorrow, anger or regrets. Contact an adoption professional for referrals, if you feel you need help to solve an adoption mystery or manage an adoption reunion.
You only get one lifetime to solve your own adoption mysteries, so use your time wisely, and you’re likely to find the truth can set you free.