If you are an adoptee who has initiated a successful search, you may be confused at what comes next in the reunion process. Most adoptees who start a search NEVER expect to be welcomed by the targeted birth family member. I know when I was facing that all important telephone call to my own birth father, the last thing I expected him to say was, "Hi, I guess I'm your Dad, what took you so long to call me?"
After talking to thousands of adoptees facing the same scenario, one thing is clear. We NEVER expected to be welcomed, and most of us only planned for what to do when our contact was rejected. This leaves us totally at a loss on the steps to take to reintegrate our birth family members into our present lives with as little disruption as possible to our existing family. The Staff at Search Quest would like to offer the following advice:
START SLOW Take baby steps! Your reunion will be a roller coaster of emotions - just be aware of that. Some days you will want all of this NOW and the next day you will want none of it. You will experience extreme highs and extreme lows. This IS normal. You will wonder what happened to your old way of life....that seemed less complicated. You 'used' to know everyone in your life and all their quirks, but now you have a whole new set of people you are related too and you have to get to know them over time. Reunion does not happen overnight or in one phone call. It's a gradual process and can take as long as two years so pace yourself.
Do not immediately ask EVERY question you have always had about your birth and adoption. Write down what questions you have and then ask them over time. If you are about to make first contact by phone please be aware that you will probably NOT remember half of your initial conversation. The whole event will have a surreal quality to it. Some adoptees have described the first call as an almost 6th sense out of body experience.
Be prepared for your call. Have a pad and paper handy with your more pressing questions already written down but remember your birth family member will also have questions. Make sure you have something to drink handy (preferably non alcoholic). Reunion is a give and take and integration of thoughts and emotions and ideas. You may want to limit phone access to maybe a cell phone to begin with, then add home phone. E-mail is also a perfect way to start getting to know one another so exchange your email addresses or Facebook pages!
The #1 question that we get here at Search Quest America on making the first contact call is, "What do I say?"
My answer is always, "Say Hello!" Everything after that will come naturally. Be prepared for tears. Even the gruffest adoptees tear up during reunion. If you are contacting your birth parents, he or she may be very worried that you are ANGRY at them for placing you for adoption. You are going to need to reassure them that is not the case. Even if your adoptive home life left something to be desired it's best not to unload past baggage on them in the first call. Most birth parents either did not have a choice in the matter, or were doing what they felt was best for you by providing you with a 2 parent family to grow up in.
When meeting in person for the first time - we suggest you do not stay with your birth family. A hotel is the best place to stay so you can rest and regroup. This will allow you to have some space just for downtime and contemplation. Take a friend or spouse only. Meet in a place central to both parties and set a time limit - a few hours will be enough. Take pictures of you and your adoptive family or children (copies if possible) to give to your birth family. Don't be surprised if you and your birth mother end up comparing hands, fingers, toes, or other features. It's part of the discovery process and can be very 'grounding' to an adoptee to finally find 'someone' they look like.
Adoptees tend to be givers....do not give up or give away YOU for new-found family. It is very common to want to focus only on your reunion and put everything else on hold while you process the event, but your family and co-workers may not understand why you are ignoring them and can feel 'left out' of the whole process. Spouses, in particular, need lots of one-on-one time because they are naturally concerned about your well-being and don't want you to be hurt.
Remember, there is just one of you and lots of them! Everyone will want to touch you and hug you and you will be overwhelmed - remind yourself you cannot get to know them all at once. Guard your private space and allow yourself time to take a mental time out. You may not like everyone you meet - just because they are your birth family - they may not become your best friends. Again - take it slow - give it time. Remember, knowing the answers...good or bad, is always better than not knowing and forever wondering.
Good Luck in your Quest!
Patty Lawrence and Susan E. Friel-Williams
Susan E. Friel-Williams
CEO, Case Manager and Licensed Investigator
Search Quest America