by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.
I recently listened to an incredible episode of the radio show This American Life. It was the story of 2 baby girls that were switched at birth. One mother knew nothing about it and the other mother knew but said nothing for 43 years. They grew up in the same town. Finally, the mother who knew the truth decided to reveal the true story to both
of the adult daughters and the other family. The show looks at the unraveling of the true story and the reactions of both families including the adult siblings. You can hear this story @
Right after I heard that story I spoke to a woman who had been adopted as a baby and when she was in her 30’s she had decided to hire an investigator to find her birthparents.
She decided to contact them. Her birthmother did not welcome her but she built a close relationship with her birthfather. She told me that the siblings she met had mixed feelings about bringing her into their lives and accepting her as a biological sibling.
In my own experience, my brother and sister had been adopted at ages 13 and 17 respectively after their biological father had abandoned them and their mother had died of cancer. My mother and father stepped in when she learned nobody had offered to help them and decided they should come live with us. I was 12 and my little sister was 10. My mother was 32 at the time. Our family doubled in size. There was a transition period as my brother and sister tried to understand who they were, why my parents wanted to adopt them, establishing trust, and learning how they would fit into our existing family. I was too young and naïve to recognize what an extraordinary responsibility my parents had taken on. It worked remarkably well and was life changing for all of us. I can’t imagine my life without them.
Many believe they need to know where they came from to understand who they are. In the 3 scenarios described above all of the people involved asked many questions. Who would I be if I grew up with my biological family? How would life have been different? How did the family I did grow up with impact the person I became and the choices and opportunities I had in my life? Their perceptions of family and how it is defined changed overnight. Their ideas about parental and sibling relationships were also changed forever.
These are questions that adoptees and donor children often have to struggle with. It is human nature for all of us to examine our identities and how they were shaped. There are practical matters like knowing the medical history of your biological parents. Today with donor registries and Facebook there are new ways available to make connections with birth and biological relatives if you choose to try to pursue these relationships. My daughter may decide some day to try to find the woman who was our anonymous egg donor. I have told her we would support her in her efforts.
We all need to feel like we belong and have a sense of home, family, and history. This sets the foundation from which we are launched and influences our choices and ultimately the people we become and the lives we create for ourselves. In optimal circumstances it can ground us. It can feel like an earthquake when suddenly that foundation crumbles and it can result in your doubting yourself, who you are, and can compromise established family relationships that surrounded you as you grew up.
Those that are adopted or were conceived through a donor or surrogate may carry feelings about how they became a member of a family and these feelings may be carried through adulthood. What, who, when and how their birth story was disclosed will impact the psychological reaction these people experience. Feelings can vary from person to person. For many the act of searching for their biological parents can help them begin to feel some sense of control over their own birth story.
If you do choose to seek out your birth parents or donor there are things to consider.
What are the reasons you would like to connect with them? What will you tell your family members about this search and how will it impact your relationships? What are your expectations once you find your birth/biological parents and their families? How will you feel if those expectations are not met? Once you learned the circumstances of your birth story and how you became a member of your family how will you feel about it?
These are complicated questions. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. This is a very personal journey where you may find it helpful to gather support from trusted family members, friends, or counselors as you decide whether to move forward or not. I hope the choices you make offer you the answers and comfort you wish for.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.