Continuing on in this vein is my advice to biological parents anticipating the arrival of the adoptee.
Bear in mind, that my musings are just that–musings. And they’re mine. I’m sure that any adoptee, adoptive parent or birth parent could add perhaps chapters along the same line. My intention is to give insight, especially to those who might be facing this experience for the first time.
As with adoptees and adoptive families, the birth family should not have any expectations. I know that’s hard to say and it’s even harder to put into practice. It is only natural for the birth family to have expectations–what does he look like? What are her interests? Does he have similar behaviors? Questions (expectations?) such as these are understandable. How can a parent or a sibling (half or full) not wonder and be curious? It’s normal.
In approaching this dynamic, it’s important for the biological parents to accept the adoptee as he is–no qualms, no questions. Now, as with the advice for an adoptee, I think it is completely appropriate for the birth family to distance themselves if the adoptee is racist, bigoted, drug-addled, etc. This goes hand in hand with creating boundaries and protecting oneself and one’s family.
But it can be very easy for birth parents to project onto the adoptee desires and wants that the adoptee is not capable or willing to accommodate. Expecting the adoptee to have or adopt similar socio-political belief or religious beliefs is completely unreasonable. The adoptee is now an adult and has determined what he is going to believe and the paths he will take. Expecting the adoptee’s life to be different than it is, in order to satisfy the birth family’s expectations is completely unrealistic. The adoptee is his own person and his choices for career, marriage, etc. are his and his alone. The birth family should also not expect the adoptee to be similar in every interest and fashion to the children in the birth family.
The birth family should also refrain from re-living the circumstances surrounding the adoption. Unless the adoptee asks, it’s probably best to leave the subject alone. Now, most adoptees are going to have questions; it’s only to be expected. If the topic is too difficult to discuss (such as in the cases of rape or incest), this should be told up front. It is very easy for the birth family (especially the mother) to place blame onto the adoptee for the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. Oftentimes with the pregnancy, the experience is very painful–hence the mother’s decision to give up the child. However, it must be remembered that the adoptee was a victim, so to speak, of circumstance, an innocent child that had no say in the pregnancy and is not responsible for the adoption.
The birth family, and especially the mother, will have to determine if a reunion is in their best interests. Will the pregnancy and adoption experience be re-lived? Is there still anger over the situation? Is there bitterness? Is it possible to create a distance from these negative feelings so they’re not inadvertently projected them onto the adoptee? If not, it might be best to rethink any reunion.
As I stated with the adoptee, it’s imperative that communication remain open between both parties. It can be difficult to discuss things like a future together or what each party is seeking in this reunion. But I believe it’s crucial. It’s best to set the boundaries early so that everyone knows the score. As the relationship progresses (if it does), these boundaries can be moved. Do you want to be called “Mom” or “Dad”? Does the adoptee want to do so?
Remember, too, that the adoptee has a very special need to know his biology. Without the reunion, the adoptee can possibly be given a death sentence because he will know nothing about potential health issues. Is there a propensity in your family toward mental illness? Tay Sachs? Sickle-cell anemia? Breast cancer? Prostate cancer? Heart disease? The questions are numerous and crucial not just for the adoptee but for his children and grandchildren.
In my particular case, I found out in my late thirties, twenty years after knowing my family, that my birth mother died of colon cancer at age forty-four. I had known she died of cancer, but I had never even thought to ask what type. I found my family in 1978. At that time no one was discussing adoption and certainly no one was making the choice to search for birth families. If they were, it was swept under the rug. There was still a certain gaucherie about the whole situation, as though embarrassment was appropriate regarding adoption.
As a result, the subject of hereditary problems wasn’t discussed. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late nineties that these issues came to the forefront. My full brother underwent a complete physical for a new job and was asked about family health history. He had to ask our aunt about health issues from our mother’s side. It was then that we learned about her colon cancer. And we learned that our uncle, aunt and grandparents had also died of colon cancer. That made us both high risk. My brother’s doctor told him to get a colonoscopy immediately. He was in his mid-thirties. At the time, colonoscopies weren’t recommended until the age of fifty. He told his doctor about me since I am three years older. His doctor said I should get checked, too. Since then, I have had four colonoscopies. At the risk of sounding indelicate, polyps were found twice. Imagine if I had never been checked? Imagine if I had never known my family? Now imagine how crucial it is for the adoptee to know his medical history.
Birth families also need to consider the impact on their children when the adoptee appears. Are the children full-blooded siblings or half? Either way, the birth parents need to have frank discussions with them. What will be the adoptee’s place in the family? Only the birth parents can answer that–and it should be discussed with the kids. The appearance of the adoptee will turn the nuclear family upside down. Suddenly there is a new child in the family competing for attention and affection. They will have questions that must be answered.
When the adoptee arrives, there will be a whirlwind of activity. There will be excitement, curiosity, joy and intense emotion. This will be more intense for the mother. If the birth father is in the family, it will be intense also. But for the children, it can be a time of frustration, jealousy and resentment because so much attention will be foisted upon the adoptee.
This is to be expected. The adoptee is in a unique situation. He’s family, yet he’s not. There’s similarities yet there’s walls. How does one break down the walls while maintaining boundaries? How does one confer acceptance that’s acceptable? There will be a honeymoon period that will fluctuate in its length depending on how often the parties are able to be together. So much will revolve around the adoptee that the other children can feel left out. Frankly, everyone will be walking on eggshells, yet with an exuberant gait that will break those same shells.
Of course, the kids will have to make their own relationship with the adoptee. This should also be discussed with the family. If there are any children who are against the reunion, the family will have to address that. If the reunion moves forward, the family will have to be up front with the adoptee about anyone who is uncomfortable with the reunion so the adoptee can be prepared.
Extended family members can be involved or not be involved, depending on the birth family and the adoptee. Because this is such a sensitive issue and truly involves mostly the nuclear family, the relatives are not necessarily that important. Unless relatives were involved in the adoption, the nuclear family can determine how much involvement there will be.
If there is involvement with the extended family, it should be made known that the adoptee is to be treated with respect, not as a pariah. There is no obligation for relatives to accept the adoptee as family. But there is also no reason to treat the adoptee as though he is an illegitimate bastard–a truly infantile attitude borne of an era of ignorance. It will be the birth family’s responsibility to stand up for the adoptee against such attitudes.
In my experience, it is oftentimes easier for the extended family to accept the adoptee than for the nuclear family to do so. The adoptee is one more cousin, one more nephew/niece, one more grandchild among many. In the nuclear family, though, that “intrusion” is more significant. If relatives are more accommodating than the birth family, the birth family is going to have to deal with that in an appropriate manner. Will there be animosity because the extended family is accepting the adoptee and inviting him into their lives more readily? Will there be problems between the birth family and the extended family because of this acceptance? The birth family needs to understand that the extended family has every right to accept or reject the adoptee–just as the birth family does.
This topic can go on indefinitely. As I stated earlier, millions of adoptees have met their families and have similar, yet different experiences that they could add. However, as an adult adoptee who has traveled this journey for 36 years, more than half my life, I have a perspective that is not often discussed. I believe it is a perspective that is broad yet by no means comprehensive. This issue of reunion between an adoptee and a birth family is in a constant state of flux and there are truly no rules set in stone. Yet there is information and that needs to be expressed.