Ever since I can remember, I knew I was adopted. My parents read me a story about a stork delivering me to the door. I didn’t quite understand it all growing up, I just knew that my mom couldn’t have children so they adopted me at six weeks old.
When I was a kid, I thought being adopted was cool because it made me different. But as I got older, it made me feel like I didn’t have a beginning to my story. I didn’t know why I was given up, and I was determined to solve that mystery. At age 26, after searching for four months, I finally found my birth mother.
Here are some of the things I wish I'd known before I started my search, and what I wish every adopted kid knew:
1. Adoption should be an open topic of discussion.
When I was a kid, I remember strangers asking my mom where my red hair came from and she’d say, “Her grandmother.” I wondered why she was lying.
In fact, my adoptive parents didn’t talk about my adoption at all. It was a taboo topic in our house and we had to operate as if it was the giant elephant in the room that we had to pretend not to see or talk about. My sister (also adopted) and I knew we weren’t supposed to bring it up.
Since my parents were so closed about my adoption, I never told them when I began my search. And it took me eight years to even tell them that I had found my birth parents. I also made the decision to be an adult who is open and willing to discuss even the most difficult subjects.
2. It’s natural to want to search.
I was born the kind of person who would search for my birth parents no matter what kind of parents my adoptive parents were. But I’ve met other adoptees who have said to me, “Well, I’ve never had a desire to search because my (adoptive) parents were great.”
While I respect an adoptee’s right not to search, adoptees should feel free to do so without it meaning something negative about the adoptive parents who raised us. We all have an inherent right to know who we are. The decision to search is an individual choice. Let’s respect an adoptee’s right to search without the emotional burden.
3. Adoptees shouldn’t have to navigate a guilt minefield.
I understand that adoptive parents can feel hurt or even betrayed if their child has a desire to search for birth parents. But all adoptees, no matter the circumstances, share one thing in common: it wasn’t our decision to be adopted.
Adoptees should have a guilt-free pass if they have a desire to search. Even if we come to know and love our birthparents (as happened in my case) it doesn’t mean that we love our adoptive parents any less. There is no cap on the amount of love that we can feel — it’s limitless.
4. There's no way to know what's going on in someone else's head unless you talk to them.
My advice for birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees is to suspend your assumptions about what the other people in the situation are feeling. You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you are a birth parent with tremendous guilt for giving up your baby, don’t assume the baby you gave up is resentful of you. I never felt resentment towards my birth mother. I figured there was a story I just didn’t know.
And if you are an adoptee about to embark on a search, don’t assume what you find out will be bad. Don’t make the judgment that you were rejected at birth. We all know life is a little bit more complicated, and adoption is a selfless sacrifice. We really don’t know anything more until we search.
5. For some, it's better to know than not to know (but this is a personal choice).
My search for my birth family changed my life. It answered questions and gave me a beginning to my story. I healed. My birth mom — who never talked about my adoption because it was too painful — began talking when I found her. And she started to heal. I now have relationships with lots of new family members and memories I cherish.
Adoption doesn’t have to be something shrouded in shame and silence. Adoption is something we can all talk about and embrace as a very real force shaping our lives.