I am part of a support group of adoptees who are in various stages of reunion with their biological families. The vast majority of people in the group are there because they have come to the realization that reunion is really only the first (big) step in a much longer and deeply rooted journey.
In my own experience, I have been a surface dweller; knowing that I have some issues, but not willing to look at them more deeply or to really do any work on them. I have always thought, ‘that’s just the way I am’.
It turns out that connecting and reunion, for me and countless others, is the event that has caused everything to rush up to the surface; finally there for me to discover and know- this is going to take some serious work. So I am starting to do that work. It’s going to take a long time but recognising these issues in myself has brought understanding, and that is a very good first step.
A member in the group asked a very compelling question recently. One that got an incredible amount of comments from people. It’s obvious to me that this is something that a great many people struggle with as they work through reunion; myself included.
She asked: Which is more painful, not knowing who your bio parents are, or knowing you’ve missed out?
Wow! Talk about a question that cuts right to the heart of what I’m dealing with a year into my own reunion!
I don’t remember it being ‘painful’ that I didn’t know who my biological parents are. For me is was always a compulsion to know; to look for them. I felt that it was my responsibility to look for them (as opposed to them looking for me). I was looking for resolution-something to fill the hole in me; I was looking for a glimpse behind the wall of secrecy that my adoption has placed between me and the beginning of my story.
I searched for 35 years. I searched for so long that searching became a part of me. I don’t remember feeling pain, or feeling any curiosity about why I was so compelled to search. I just had a need to know and a need to meet them which was firmly rooted in the core of my being.
Finding out who my bio parents are is something that happened in stages. I had non identifying information about them right from the beginning- a general description of each of them as well as their ethnicities and their ages when I was born. Then I finally received identifying information- their names, birthdates, and places, and a bit more descriptive information about them with non-identifying information about their families.
I found my bio father almost right away and contacted him only to have him deny any knowledge of me or my bio mom ( I now know that he was lying, and did know). He has since passed away and I know only what my bio mother’s family remembers of him. I am profoundly happy that I do know who he is and that regardless of what he was saying to me, I was able to hear his voice, even just that once. I am dealing with a great deal of frustration that I am being prevented from reaching out to his daughter (my half-sister), but I understand and agree with the reasons for now, and am exercising as much patience as I can as I await more proper timing.
Finally finding my bio mother was a watershed, life-changing, seismic event for me. Unfortunately, I never really had a chance with her; she passed away long before I even knew her name. But her daughters, my half-sisters, have welcomed me openly and lovingly in a way that I could never have allowed myself to even hope for.
I spent a month with them earlier this year. They invited me in and shared their lives with me, they shared our mother with me. And now it’s painful.
It’s painful because she’s not an idea anymore, she’s not just a name on my original birth certificate and adoption records. She is so much more than that. I am getting to know her through the memories and stories of my sisters, and the more I get to know her, the more difficult it becomes to know that I will never get to meet and speak with her. I am grieving her loss- deeply.
They shared hundreds of family pictures with me. I saw her life, I saw their lives. I’ve been told that what I am feeling is a natural part of going through a reunion, but it is difficult, and yes, painful to work through. I love my sisters fiercely and I have seen an alternate life with them spread out before me in hundreds of Kodak moments. I know I shouldn’t, but how can I not? I am mourning a life that could have been.
I have no doubt that if I get the chance to build a relationship with my paternal half-sister, I will feel much the same as I get to know her and my bio father through her stories and memories as she makes him real to me.
So which is worse? My answer to this question has to be that missing out is far worse. Not knowing was a compulsion; what drove me to keep searching and never give up, but discovering my birth family and seeing first hand what I missed out on is both wonderful and painful.