The Talk

For those who have searched for their birth families and had to have The Talk with their adoptive families, what did you say? What did your parents say? This is not imminent for me. I’m just very curious. 

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5 thoughts on “The Talk

  1. I’m interested to read the responses here, too. I always wonder how other adoptees and their adoptive families have handled this.

    My search for my birth family really began as a search for information — like many adoptees, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted a real relationship with them or what I hoped it would look like; so much would depend on what happened when we actually got in touch. I was pregnant and wanted medical information for my sake, and my child’s. And I very much wanted to be able to ask the questions I’d had for so long. But I wasn’t quite sure what I hoped for beyond that, if anything.

    So at first my adoptive parents weren’t threatened by any of this, because I made it sound so reasonable when I explained it to them (and it WAS reasonable). After I got in touch with my birth family and it became clear that we liked one another and had enough in common to develop actual friendships/relationships, it was probably a bit harder for my adoptive parents. But I confess I have never asked them how they feel about it. They were always so paranoid about my birth family — I just never felt I could involve them too deeply in my search or reunion, and I didn’t want their voices in my head, urging me to be cautious or suspicious or just content with the family I’d always had. It was less of a conversation, honestly, and more me telling them, “This is what’s happening in my life.” And then I’d answer their questions about it. But I wanted to make it clear that it was my decision, and my birth family’s decision, and that I wasn’t asking for input or approval.

    Which may sound harsh, but honestly, it hasn’t caused much drama or a big rift. I think when I write about my reunion, my adoptive parents are less than totally enthusiastic about that. I always tell them they have the choice to read or not read things I have published, and I won’t be offended if they don’t.

  2. When I made the decision to come back to Lebanon, it was greeted with a de facto “we knew this day was coming”. I wish that I had known that they had imagined that this day was coming, because then it would have come a lot earlier, when I actually might have been able to recapture something of a “lost” life here. But so be it.

    I think it is very differently processed for my adoptive parents. I imagine my father took it as a rejection, a rebellion against his efforts to acculturate me along quite particular political/cultural lines. We were never really able to talk about it. He maintained that he was proud, but somehow this flowed back through the source action, which was his decision to adopt. He used to print out everything I wrote on my diary pages online; this stopped once I stopped being an “American outsider” here, and fulfilled being an “outsider” to Americans.

    I think the idea that I would not come “home” never entered his mind. Toward the end of his life, when his mind was fogged by dementia, he would sometimes ask me outright in his tone that signified that it wasn’t so much a question but a demand: “So when are you coming home?” I never really had the heart to say “I am home”.

    Now that I’m at the end of my long attempt to re-establish identity and nationality here, re-approaching the tip of the iceberg reveals what I skillfully don’t think about, and what Nikki is alluding to above: What do WE want, and how might that mesh/not mesh with what our original family wants? So my next steps are starting actively a search, which I do have the minimal clues to start, but yet I am petrified by the very thought of it.

    I know it might not be well-received by my family in the States; seen as a further distancing. In fact, it’s the opposite: I’m assured of my place there, and so I can continue here. The discussion of it remains, I think, triggering in many ways (for them). So I try to treat it as matter-of-fact as I can….

  3. I started looking around online long before I decided to begin a full-fledged search. I think my adoptive father’s death had a lot to do with my feeling finally able to announce my intention to search. My adoptive mother supported me, but she also worried that I would “disown” her once I found my “real” mother. Of course, I have not disowned her, though it took probably about a year into my reunion for her to believe that I wouldn’t. She has met both of my birth parents, though only once. She asks about them often, but usually I try not to tell her too much about the ups and downs in our relationships because I sense her jealousy when things are going well and she criticizes them when things aren’t going well, which irritates me. It’s a constant balancing act that I do, but it has been worth it. Things are not so peachy with my birth relatives, yet I still feel a sense of fulfillment simply by knowing them that I likely would have never experienced if I hadn’t reunited with them. Things were never great between me and my adoptive mom, so I don’t feel like I’ve lost much there. I hope this helps you in some way on your journey.

  4. I have only begun my search in the last six months. My search, however, has been secret. I am not out to my a-family, from whom I am estranged. Only a few close friends know of my search, my need to reconnect with Korea and ultimately return to search in country.

    To my friends with whom I have spoken to about my search, my comments have been subtle. Simple statements that I am searching for my Korean family; that it is a difficult, often disappointing process. Expressing the deeper emotions involved in the process have been extremely difficult to share. There is much fear and anxiety in sharing my decision, process, my disappointments and hopes.

    Part of me wants very much to be more open, willing to express more intimate thoughts with those I trust. The other half still struggles with feeling my thoughts, even my need to search, are something I shouldn’t feel, I shouldn’t do.

    During my younger adolescence, the one time I expressed a testing curiosity of search my a-mother’s response was a look of sheer horror. I quickly backtracked & it was never mentioned again. I am middleaged now.

    I continue to be estranged from my a-family but have found amazing support within my own small family unit — my spouse has been extremely supportive & validating. So much so he immediately asked when we should go to Korea. My child (tween-age) has been curious and supportive as well; amazingly intuitive and provides the most insightful analogies to my adoptee-related experiences. She often speaks “adoption language” better than I do. They remind me of Jane Jeong Trenka’s “The Language of Blood” and how between our small threesome our language of blood speaks volumes.

  5. Without indulging my usual verbosity, I note analogies here with my own process of coming out to my (adoptive) parents, e.g., the idea of not being “out” to one’s adoptive parents about searching; the fear (on the part of the adoptive parent, significantly) of being disowned.

    As for being disowned, I want to be unambiguous–a great concern of mine vis-a-vis being “disowned” by my adoptive parents (for being gay) involved the financial abandonment that would have followed from that. (I came out to them mid-college.) I don’t think we serve the topic of the social costs of adoption if we ignore the “financial” element that an adoptive parents might feel a threat of being “disowned” (“after all I’ve invested in you … emotionally I mean”). The verb “disowned” itself already seems very telling.

    Cyndi Lauper sang “Money Changes Everything.” I just finished reading an ethnography that included a discussion of the monetization of social relationships. Cyndi’s right: money changes everything, at least where adoption occurs.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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