A school-age child who was adopted through Abrazo as a baby recently came back with his parents for a visit with our staff. He had one very important question for our director that his parents could not answer for him. Elizabeth was out of town that day, so the staff set up a FaceTime with this young boy, so he could voice his concern, and it was this: “where is my birthmother? Doesn’t she know I miss her?” Our director swallowed hard and thought fast. She knew that the boy’s birthmother is still in town but struggles with having chosen to keep the birth and adoption a secret from everyone in her life, which restricts her abliity to be in relationship with this child and his family at this time. She placed because she knew she couldn’t be the parent he needed most, but she did so not realizing he might still need assurance and affirmation from her from time to time, in order to feel at peace within himself. Yet how does one explain to a child why even something as positive and loving as an open adoption can still leave adults struggling with their own sense of shame, loss or grief?.
For the adoptee who wonders where their birthmother is and why she doesn’t seek contact, not knowing can feel agonizing, lonely and hurtful.
It doesn’t matter how much the parents who adopted them assure them they are loved. They still worry about how their missing birthparent is doing, and whether she/he thinks about them like they think about her/him? They want her or him to know they’re all right. And sometimes, the curiosity just to know that missing part of themselves, to see and hear and meet that one genetic connection, may feel like it’s eating them alive.
The good news is that innate sense of longing is entirely normal. Still, that fact doesn’t make the lack of access any easier to deal with. Even adoptive parents who secretly struggled to understand the importance of openness come to recognize that living with their children’s connection with their birthparents would have been infinitely easier than dealing with the pain of witnessing the adoptee’s loss of any birthfamily contact over the years.
The Covid pandemic, likewise, has left numerous adoptees of all ages concerned about the welfare of birthparents who’ve fallen out of touch.
When Open Adoptions Don’t Stay Open
At Abrazo, we believe in open adoption and we urge all our of birthparents and adoptive parents to enter into voluntary post-adoption contact agreements. Why? Because we want folks to commit to keeping in touch over all the years that follow the adoption. We know this can be healing and positive for all parents in an adoption plan, and it can be empowering for adoptees, as well.
Still, Texas law prohibits legally-enforceable post-adoption contact agreements, so all parties know that agencies can’t “make” anyone stay in touch if they don’t want to. Beyond that, though, even the best of open adoption programs cannot always overcome the tidal wave of post-adoption grief that sometimes washes birthparents out to sea and makes it seem “too hard” to stay in touch, however hard the adoptive parents try to keep their child’s other parents informed and engaged.
For the adoptee who wonders where the birthparents are and why they didn’t stay in contact: you are not to blame. They alone know the reasons they need time and space to come to terms with their decision. You are not responsible for their pain, and they would surely want you to know this. They have not forgotten you, and they do hope you are happy and doing well in life. For whatever reason, they are not in a place just yet where they feel ready to reconnect. They may be in denial. It’s possible they have a spouse or offspring still unaware of your existence. Or they may not be proud of where they are in life, and they might want to wait to reconnect until they feel more ready or until they know others in their life are ready to know the truth.
How to Live with Not Knowing (for now)
For now, though, please remember that your birthparent knew he or she couldn’t meet your needs in life, and that is why he or she chose the parents and the home for you that they did. They couldn’t have known you’d still have any need for them, and this reality might even scare them, if they don’t know how to be there for you now? They might even worry that they could fall short of your expectations, and disappointing you now would make them feel even more inadequate than placing a child made them feel way back when. But that’s on them, not you. You are not responsible for their choices, nor for their feelings about those decisions.
So how can you deal with your feelings about their choices? You can join the American Adoption Congress, an important organization for adopted persons. You can check out the site I Am Adoption. You can call Abrazo during business hours (1-800-454-5683) and ask to speak with one of our counselors. You can send letters or poems or pictures to the adoption agency for your birthparent and ask to have them kept on file for whenever they do get in touch and ask about mail. You can ask your parents about helping you search for them, just to see if there’s any news of how or where they are? You can always keep them in your prayers.
Remember, it may not always be this way. In time, the missing birthparent/s may be ready for contact. They can’t ever be the parents you may have needed them to be all along, but reconnecting may help your family circle feel whole again. Sometimes, though, when adoptees do reunite with their missing birthparents, they find they don’t feel much connection at all, or it’s more like just finding a friend or distant relative. Some adoptees find it wasn’t the birth connection they needed, at all; it was the realization that they are who they are even without that.
For the Adoptee Who Wonders
Your birth was a miracle. Your life matters. You didn’t ask to be adopted and you didn’t have a say in that, so it’s your right to feel however you feel about that. You don’t it to owe anyone to feel grateful. It’s normal to wonder what life might have been like, if you hadn’t been adopted? (But here’s the thing: life without adoption isn’t perfect, either. It’s just different.)
We are who we are because of the roads in life that we travel, and every single human being gets a different road map, with varying directions and destinations and challenges and pitstops. Where and how you wish for your journey to to go is ultimately your choice to make, and we hope you find the view will be beautiful, once you get there.