This is not a “how to do it” article. There are literally hundreds of resources online that tell people how to begin the process of finding a child who was placed for adoption. This is a “how to think about it” article, because trust me when I say that you need to have thought about this very carefully.
Wrapping Your Mind Around It
If you gave up a child for adoption, chances are there was a lot of emotional pain involved. I was in therapy for years to deal with some of the trauma surrounding my pregnancy and my daughter’s birth. It’s very possible that you see making contact with the child you gave up as part of the healing process. STOP THINKING THAT. You have absolutely no control over how your child will respond to your overture. It’s very possible the first answer you’ll get will be a no, and you have to live with that. If you have made this contact into part of your emotional recovery, then you’ll be at a standstill at best. At worst it will be devastating.
You already did something amazing when you decided years ago to act in the best interest of your child by finding another home for them. It was a really selfless act. It’s possible you feel like you have done your share of selfless acts for your lifetime. You’re wrong. Your child has a whole set of feelings attached to being given up for adoption, and to protect them you need to make any reunion happen on their terms and on their timeline, NOT yours. That means ceding control (or letting go of the illusion of control, if you will). It’s one more sacrifice, and it’s a big one, and it is not fair. It is, however, the wise move.
A Few More Guidelines
- Once you make contact, don’t come on strong. Don’t meet right away. I strongly suggest taking advantage of email. My daughter and I emailed each other for months before she asked if we could meet in person. By then she had an idea of who I was, and I had picked up on some of her concerns. By the way, I say email rather than phone or messaging, because you have time to think of your response. Trust me, things your child writes will hit you one way at first, and then another way later. You don’t want to react hastily. And for God’s sake, DO NOT friend your child on Facebook for a long while, if ever.
- Keep the rules of engagement clear. For example, your child will probably make it clear that they aren’t looking for a new mother. My daughter made it very clear that she didn’t want that, and I made sure to repeat frequently that I understood and that I didn’t want to try to become her mom. It never hurts to repeat the most important things regularly.
- If you are getting in touch with your child because you want something from them, be honest. If you need their bone marrow, tell them the first time you contact them. If your parents are dying and they want to see your child again, put it out there. I can think of few things more morally repugnant than getting in touch with your child and misrepresenting why you are doing it.
- Have someone you can talk to while this is happening. I was lucky that I had my husband, therapist and dear friend to discuss things with. I also had my daughter’s permission to share emails with them, so that helps. They helped me to interpret things less emotionally, and avoid any landmines.
- Don’t badmouth anyone involved. Even if the experience was hellish and the people involved were awful, just say it was a difficult time and leave it at that. This is especially true about the birth father. Your child probably wants to meet him, too, and it’s only fair to let her form her own opinions. If for some reason the “other side” is truly awful, trust me when I say that your child will figure it out.
- Remember that some children who have been placed for adoption feel abandoned and rejected. You should assume this is the case even if your child is keeping a game face on. Make quadruple sure that you don’t do anything to increase those feelings. Don’t go on and on about your new family and your new children. Likewise, you need to make sure that you don’t make your child feel like a second-class citizen. It is painful for adoptees to hear that you aren’t going to tell the new family because they wouldn’t understand, or that your new family is threatened, or that you are meeting with them primarily for the benefit of your new family.
- Be as transparent as possible. You aren’t under any obligation to tell your family that you are meeting your child for the first time. It’s a one time thing, and it’s YOUR one time thing. However, if you are planning to have your child in your life on an ongoing basis, your family needs to know. It is the ultimate lose-lose-lose otherwise.
- Remember that you are who you are, and you know what you know. (Is that vague enough for you?) It’s possible that other people will characterize you, the situation, or themselves quite differently from the way you remember them. This happened to me when I reconnected with my daughter, and it is a bad feeling. However, aside from one stunned utterance that slipped out before I could stop it, I was able to remind myself that I knew the truth and silence myself on the vast majority of occasions. It didn’t matter what other people tried to say. It was up to my daughter to draw her own conclusions.
- Represent your own best interests calmly and clearly. It’s possible your relationship with your child will be toxic or unpleasant. If that’s the case, you are not obligated to maintain it. You shouldn’t have to destroy yourself emotionally in perpetuity.
Don’t Initiate Contact if You Aren’t Able to Do This
It’s possible you felt very helpless during the time you gave up your child for adoption. That’s why what I’m about to tell you is so hard, because it might bring those feelings back. You need to be ready for no. You must prepare for no. Your child might not want to talk to you. They might want to meet with you once, and that’s that. You might never know why they made this decision.
If that’s the case, I suggest leaving the door open for your child to contact you in the future if they change their mind. Just make it clear you are there if they decide later they want to connect. A lot can change over the years.
(If you do get a no, I’m so, so sorry. You deserve so much more, even if you aren’t owed it. Eventually, it might console you to know that you were able to get in touch with your adult child and remind them that you love them. You’ve given another beautiful gift to that child. Hugs.)