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Reunion is often described as an emotional roller coaster for some very valid reasons. Read more…

Reunion is often described as an emotional roller coaster for some very valid reasons. The stages of reunion are listed and discussed below:

  • Excitement
    The early stages of reunion produce great excitement for most birth family members. For some, that giddy sense of excitement may last years. Finally being in touch with your lost family member is a heady and thrilling feeling. Beginning your new relationship may seem like an extraordinary and sometimes surreal experience. Reunion might well be ones of the most anticipated events of your life.
  • Obsession
    Family members may caution you during early reunion about “getting carried away,” and the word “obsession” may slip out. Much like a new love relationship, you may seem infatuated with your newly found birth family member.
    Often, both parties may want to devote a great deal of time and attention to this new and budding relationship initially. After many years apart, it is quite easy to feel that you want to spend vast amounts of time together. People who are searching or in reunion often appear unable to think of much else!
  • Confusion
    Eventually, there may come a time when certain confusing issues pop up. These may include for starters
    • how to deal with holidays;
    • figuring out this new family member’s role in your life;
    • how much contact should you have;
    • when to meet other family members; and
    • what to call each other.

“Pullback” is a term used to describe a period of time during a reunion when one party retreats.

Many reunion relationships are quite complicated. One of the most confusing times in this new relationship is when one party suddenly pulls back for a time. If your birth family member stops telephoning or emailing as often, or completely, it may be confusing and cause some pain and/or bewilderment. Fears may surface that your family member will disappear into the sunset, never to be heard from again.

These “pullbacks” can sometimes last for months or years, and often no explanation is given. Pullbacks are not uncommon, and there can be many different causes which necessitate a pullback.

If you do need to pull back at some point during your reunion, try to explain to your birth family member why you need to retreat for awhile. Likewise, the other party needs to allow you some time alone and be patient and understanding.

  • Figuring it Out
    Eventually, both parties will feel safe enough to begin to tackle some challenges in the relationship. In early reunion, most people are not confident enough to “speak their piece” or try to spell out how they see the relationship and its future. When both parties feel more at ease, a dialog should begin, and compromise and negotiations may be required.
    Unfortunately, it is rare that both parties have identical views on how the reunion relationship should develop. However, if you do not talk about what you want, you cannot expect the other person to be psychic and know. That does not mean that, just because you tell them, you will get all you want. It does, however, increase your chances of at least getting some of what you would hope for in the relationship. If you can master the art of communicating honestly and thoughtfully, it will help build the relationship.
  • Acceptance
    For many, this stage is the most difficult to achieve. If you began with too many unrealistic and “pie in the sky” expectations, you may be feeling uneasy about the progress of your new relationship. If too many of your wants and desires for the relationship go unfulfilled, you may be frustrated and disappointed.
    It can be brutal to come to the realization that some of the high hopes for your relationship may never come to fruition. There is a temptation to want to make up for lost time and have the kind of relationship that might have developed had you never been separated. But no matter how strong a relationship you are eventually able to build with your birth family member, you can never totally repair the damage from all those years of separation. It is essential that you understand and eventually accept that truth.

The past cannot be regained, although we can learn from it; the future is not ours yet even though we must plan for it. Time is now. We have only today. ~ Charles Hummell

Only when you accept the reality of reunion will you be able to achieve some sort of comfort zone in your relationship with your birth family member. When you reach the point of accepting what cannot be changed, you are well on your way. Although you cannot make up for the past and ever have the relationship that was once possible, you can develop a warm, strong and satisfying relationship with your birth family member.

Building a Relationship

If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

What do you expect from reunion?

When fantasy meets reality – that defines what reunions are like. Expectations are often high, and sometimes people end up feeling disappointed. However, when we conquer our fears and search, we are usually glad that we did. One birth mother wrote a story called “My Perception and Reality” about her experience.
Decide what you want from your relationship, and work towards your picture of it. Never lose sight of the realization that whatever relationship you are able to form with your child or birth parents is a gift denied to many.

Even if the relationship that you form is not a warm and fuzzy traditional mother-child relationship, it will still much more than was ever considered in the system of closed adoptions. Aim for the stars with your relationship, but accept and cherish whatever type of relationship develops.

“Not an Easy Task” is an article about an adoptee’s reunion with her birth father and siblings. She says that, “Others need to know that meeting a birth parent has 24 hours of excitement, then you must face reality.”

The “Real” Family Talk

“You’re not my REAL mother” is an angry pronouncement some adoptive parents may hear at times. At reunion, some birth parents may hear versions of the same sentiment.

During many reunions between birth parents and adoptees, there is a discussion about who the “real” family is in the eyes of the adoptee. Most birth parents may not be expecting such a conversation. They may be blindsided by it, and left reeling. This particular conversation may be a painful discussion for a birth parent.

Many adoptees are fiercely loyal to their adoptive parents, and if they feel that their birth parents cross boundaries, they may feel a need to set the record straight and push their birth parents away. Hence, the “real family” talk ensues.

This discussion is basically a warning from the adoptee to the birth parents. It may be the adoptee’s way of reminding them that they consider their adoptive parents their “real” parents. It may be an attempt to define boundaries. The “talk” usually is initiated by the adoptee who cautions the birth parent to not forget that he or she considers their adoptive parents their “real parents.” It is a declaration of their devotion and loyalty to their adoptive parents.

It is important to understand how common this is, in early reunion. It is also crucial not to overreact to this discussion. Your child might be feeling conflicted, and trying to figure out where you fit in. However, do not take this talk as a personal affront. They may need to exert some control and remind you that they have another set of parents that they respect and love.

This is not a talk that every adopted person needs or wants to have with a birth parent; however, enough birth parents report versions of the “I know who my real parents are” talk to know that it is not uncommon.

The Pitfalls of Making Assumptions

The danger of expecting your birth family member to act or feel a specific way can create problems in a reunion. Be careful to not make any rash assumptions about how the other party feels.

For instance, here are some of the conclusions that an adoptee may have been led to believe about their birth mother. They might believe that:

  • She was quite young and unmarried.
  • She was coerced or pressured.
  • You were unwanted and unloved;
  • She was drug or alcohol addicted.
  • She chose adoption over abortion.
  • She believes that adoption is a wonderful institution.

Some of these may be true. However, unless and until you meet and get to know your birth mother, you do not know how she feels. Resist the temptation to make assumptions that may be totally false.

Likewise, a birth parent might reach some conclusions about their child. Depending on what you read or hear, you might assume that being adopted was either an insignificant issue or an issue of monumental proportions. However, until you begin to know your adult child, you have no real way to know exactly adoption has affected them. Presuming that you know exactly how they feel can cause some friction. Before you jump in and discuss the subject of adoption or their feelings about it with your child, gain some insights into how they feel.

Here are some possible ways that your relinquished child might view adoption and/or their adoptive status and family:

  • They might hate adoption and feel resentful that they were not raised by their original family.
  • They might feel that their adoption saved them from growing up in poverty or other dire circumstances.
  • They may feel incredibly fortunate for the lives that they have had.
  • They may be embittered and angry.
  • They may want to thank you knowing that their relinquishment was a difficult decision.
  • They may feel cast aside, rejected, and unwanted.

Wait until you have a clearer idea of your birth family member’s take on various adoption issues before presuming that you know how they feel. You might be able to save yourself some grief by treading lightly in the beginning. The safest route is to avoid any assumptions.

What Do We Call Each Other?

What to call each other can be somewhat of a dilemma. However, it is unwise to get too hung up on labels.

Birth Parents

Adoption.com had a forum discussion about this particular issue some time ago. An adoptee wrote a post on a forum and wanted to know, “Do I have to call her ‘Mom?’” She was quite distressed at the idea that she might have to call her newly found birth mother “mom”. Many posters reassured her that many adoptees call their birth parents by their first names.


What to call people who were adopted is often an issue, but less hotly contested than the “birth mother” issue. Nonetheless, there are some strong opinions on this topic as well.

Adoptees need to discuss this issue with their birth parents.

The Five Cs of Reunion


Talk about issues when they surface. Be clear about your birth family member’s intentions before reacting, or in some cases overreacting. It may take some time to really know and understand this new person in your life. In the meantime, you may not always view their acts or words in the manner they intended. Not every move they make should result in a confrontation. Choose wisely what to bring up and what to let go.


Your newly found birth family member may have no clue at reunion how you feel about them. Reunion is, in some sense, a time for a second chance. They may have waited a lifetime to hear how you feel, and you have waited a similar amount of time longing to tell them.

Unconditional love with no reservations or qualifications is what you need to offer your birth family member at reunion. They may benefit greatly from knowing that they are accepted and loved by you.


Proceed cautiously with your relationship, and try to take it slowly if possible. Reunion relationships most often have vast amounts of baggage attached to them which make reconnecting difficult. Understand that it will take time for trust to develop between the two of you.

Sometimes reunion relationships that begin with a “bang” may also end in the same manner. While there may be a temptation to proceed full speed ahead, your relationship has a better chance for success if you can resist moving too rapidly.

Count Your Blessings

Closed adoptions included the assumption that the parties separated would never meet again. The meaning of closed adoption is no knowledge or contact. So, if you have any relationship at all, you have already beaten some really tough odds.


Remaining consistent conveys that you are reliable and can be trusted. However, your birth family member may sometimes act in ways to test you in order to figure out if you intend to stick around. They may subconsciously need to determine how badly they can behave before you give up and retreat. This testing is a way to gauge your affection for them. However, if you pass the test, they may no longer need to continue with their bad behavior.


Mia was considering contacting her daughter less frequently since she believed her daughter might prefer it. Before acting, however, she checked with her daughter, and found out that her daughter did not want less contact at all.

Until she spoke to her daughter, she did not know how her daughter felt about the amount of contact. Mia avoided any misunderstandings by being direct and honest. If they had not talked about this issue, her daughter may have been hurt and felt that Mia was losing interest in the relationship.

Making assumptions without checking with your birth family member can cause hurt feelings and lead to wrong conclusions.

Unless and until they specifically tell you to back off, keep proving to them that you are not going away. Remaining steadfast and consistent is an important part of the whole picture. However, this does not mean if they are blatantly cruel or abusive that you meekly condone such behavior.

Tip: If you are considering any change in the consistency of your contact, check with the other party first and get some feedback from them.

If you fold up at a cross word, or on every occasion when there is a perceived slight, you are showing your birth family member that your affection for them is conditional on their perfect behavior. If you withdraw every time they do not act as you think they should, you are leading them to believe that you are not trustworthy enough to hang around when things get tough.

For birth parents particularly, their children may believe that to have relinquished them to begin with, they may not be strong or trustworthy individuals. In their minds, the birth parent did not stick around when things were tough. Therefore, birth parents may need to prove to their children in reunion that they do not intend to repeat the past.

I was born to a woman I never knew and raised by another who took in orphans. I do not know my background, my lineage, my biological or cultural heritage. But when I meet someone now, I treat them with respect. For, after all, they could be my people. ~ James Michener

Birth Parents Contacting Adoptees

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. ~ Amelia Earhart

For birth parents who intend to contact their child, there are a few points to keep in mind:

  • If your child has not been told about the adoption, expect that it will be a shock for them.
  • Your child may have been given information about you that was incorrect. Be as prepared for this possibility as possible;
  • Do not expect instant love, trust or respect. You need to earn them. Although you are related, your child may not feel the connection that you do.

Tips for a Successful Reunion

  1. Resist the temptation to introduce your birth family member to everyone imaginable during the beginning stages of reunion;
  2. Do not insist that your birth family member refer to you by the designation that you prefer. Labels are not important enough to be an issue;
  3. Listen, watch, pay attention, and let your birth family member set the pace for your relationship.
  4. Respect any boundaries that your birth family imposes.
  5. Do not compare your reunion with others. It is likely you can always find some better or worse.

Other Outcomes

Not all searches end in reunions. You may face rejection or a grave at the end of your search. Although it is rare, you may not be able to locate your family member.


Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It is the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference. ~ Virginia Satir

After spending vast amounts of time, money and energy on a search, finding rejection at the end may feel like a crushing blow.

Try to keep in mind:

  • Your birth family member is not really rejecting you as a person. They do not know you, so they have no basis to like or dislike you;
  • Often birth family members who refuse contact are fearful, pained people;
  • The initial response may not be the final one. They might change their minds;
  • Your birth family member may not be able or ready to face the realities that reunion might entail;

No matter how well prepared you are for the possibility of rejection, it will still be hurtful if it happens to you. Allow yourself the time to deal with this difficult issue.

The Rejection Network Support Group is an online support group for anyone who has been rejected after a family separation. Check out the site for some support. Adoption support groups are familiar with the issue of rejection and they may also provide understanding and comfort if you experience rejection at the end of your search.

Adoptees Who Reject

Adoptees who reject may do so for any number of reasons. They may feel no connection to their birth family, may be too afraid to take the risk of reunion, or they might have too much anger to consider a reunion. Another possibility is that they might deny that a reunion with birth family matters.

In adoptee Casey Hammer’s book, Adoption Forum, there is a section discussing reunion rejection. An adoptee, Lori G, says for birth parents, that “Your child is rejecting you, the birth parent of years ago, and not who you are today. I also think that our adoptive parents play a big role in the way we feel about you.”

Adoptee and therapist Joe Soll says in the same book, “I think the only thing that stops people – makes them say no to reunion- is fear of their own pain and perhaps of exposure.” Mr. Soll is well known in the adoption reform community as an author and therapist who specializes in adoption healing.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow. ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

Birth Mother Rejection

“Why My Birth Mother Won’t Meet Me” is an article that might provide some insight into birth mother rejection. The most important point to keep in mind is that a refusal for contact is reflective of the life of the rejecter. A birth mother who refuses contact may feel unwilling or unable to withstand the pressures and challenges of a reunion. She may already be overwhelmed with life’s challenges.

Some birth mothers become disconnected from their feelings for their children in order to survive their loss. They have been encouraged to do so. To consider a reconnection may terrify them and be a very scary proposition. To allow themselves to love their child and reunite is a risk that not all birth mothers are strong enough to handle.

Finding A Grave

As much as you might believe that you are prepared to find that your birth family member is no longer alive, you may still be highly affected to find a grave at the end of your search.

Allow yourself the time and space to grieve the loss. Not only will you be grieving for the loss of your birth family member, but perhaps the loss of a dream. You might be surprised at how difficult letting go of your dream meeting might affect you.

Consider trying to find out some information about your birth family member from people who knew her/him. Some adoptees connect with their birth parent’s friends or other family members. To learn about your deceased birth family member and to see some photos or mementos might help in your healing process.


“For some adoptees, questions about themselves cannot be answered without finding their birth families. If their search is continually thwarted at every turn, it becomes a looming frustration that stands in the way of their identify formation. Many searchers feel a need to look backward before they can look forward.” – “Being Adopted,” by Brodzinsky, Schecter and Henig

There are many valid reasons why birth parents and adoptees can benefit from search and reunion. Birth family members may need to take some critical looks at their situation before they can move on and achieve any sense of peace or resolution. As a society we now know that expecting birth parents to “forget” about their child is folly – an impossible task. Likewise, we know that losing a parent is a loss for an adoptee, even if they have no memory of that parent.

No matter what the outcome, in the process of a search, you will probably learn about yourself. Many adoptees and birth parents achieve tremendous personal growth during search and reunion. For most who search or are found, it is common to be catapulted into a period of self-examination. Adoptees want to know their past, their roots and their tribe. They may long to know who they truly are, and how they came to be the unique person that they have become. Birth parent feel a strong need to know how their child has made out in the world and where they are. Birth parents want and need some resolution, peace and to feel whole. Without their child, it feels as if a piece is missing.

Whatever your search and reunion journey has entailed, you have discovered how precarious these journeys are for many triad members. Access to adoption records is difficult in the majority of the states in the United States. Only five states allow unrestricted access to adoption records for adoptees upon reaching majority. Other states offer a dizzying array of options to access information and/or find search assistance. A few states ignore the whole issue altogether, hoping adoptees and other separated birth family members will accept their imposed separation.

On the cover of Birthbond, by Judith S. Gediman and Linda P. Brown, “Time Magazine” says, “Compelling… adoptees and birth parents move mountains to find one another.” The “need to know” is basic and as powerful as any endeavor that anyone could ever attempt, but whatever your reasons, the search and reunion experiences will indelibly change your life and the lives of those around you.

© Excerpted from the Adoption.com Guide to Search and Reunion, published by Adoption Media, LLC

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