The How-to Book on Reunion
In life, there are just some things that you truly will not know how to go about. That no one can give you the answer to.
Currently, for me, one of these quandaries is how to engage with some of my biological family members. How to contact them? How to reach them? How to strike a chord that they’ll hear from a position of not knowing them all too well, or at all. In my case, there are a lot of them! Nine siblings, eight aunts and uncles, unsure the number of nieces and nephews, and so on. I am still unraveling parts of my past and identity by learning about all these family members. It takes a toll on your energy resources and your feeling of normalcy for sure. This has caused me to think about the adoptees out there just beginning their search or their reunion.
See, here’s the thing: when it comes to adoptee searching and reunion, there is no real “how to” book. This is a concept I emphasized recently in conversation with a cousin, she stated she didn’t know how to handle the situation when I came asking questions about biological family. I tried to encourage her by relating that, there really is no book on how to deal with this. Life sometimes just throws us curveballs, and no friend or family really has the answers. Additionally, you can read all the books you like about adoption reunion, but once it comes to search and reunion there are too many conditions and characters to account for.
One persons’ story really may be so different from yours that there are not enough common themes to draw from, to help you decide on direction. Maybe another adoptee’s story is so strikingly similar that the two of you feel like you have made an immediate friend for life, yet still, they handle their reunion in ways you are not comfortable with?
Here is a list of advice I have compiled based upon both my mistakes and my successes I made upon my journey of reunion.
Since there is no how to book on reunion:
I hope this list will be beneficial for those who are getting new fresh information and leads, and are forging into reunion with well, you, yourself, and dare I say, trauma?
1. Do not take an invite to a house immediately. I believe you can trust your gut in most all situations and be correct. However, unless you have been videochatting and talking for a pretty long period of time (say several months to a year), I believe it is too risky to stay over at a new family members house. It will feel all too much. Hotels are key, please do yourself a favor and get one.
I am by no means saying you should not have a dinner or breakfast at a home of a family member. I am saying do not plan your trip to stay in their home. Once you have gained some type of relationship, in person, you can see if a stay over at family’s house is advisable. While visiting one of my sisters for instance, I spent a week at a hotel, and then for one night she an her daughter had a sleepover at the hotel with me. This was a very pleasant beginning to future spend the nights. It felt right, because we had worked it out. In fact, it felt in many ways like home. I slept better that night than I had in a long time.
With my first ever meeting of a sibling though, I forged ahead with meeting at the airport and the house, it was too much for me too quick. Especially because I was still just getting to an understanding that I had these additional siblings, rather than the three I had knowledge of from my non-identifying paperwork. The trip was still good, it had its highs and some lows, but I was not counseled in any way, and I would not advise it. Which bring me to number 2.
2. Please by all means seek counsel! Please have a therapist ready to talk to you about all these new very possibly wonderful people (but people nonetheless, with flaws, as we all have and so on). You will need someone to help you tackle it all. To assist and aid you in understanding how much to share with them and how long your visits should be. To be there for you on your return home to take it all in and help you frame it all. You can have all the wonderful friends in the world, but it is very likely that your friends are not understanding of adoptee perspectives, emotions, and will not know how to guide you if needed.
I have wonderful, awesome, over the top caring friends and still I had moments that I wanted them to understand things they just could not. Even a few times, my feelings go hurt by how they could not understand, probably the culprit, adoptee aloneness. A counselor is advised for anyone going through search and reunion and can even help videochats with family go smoothly if needed.
3. Take advantage of driving if you can. If you are going to visit a bio-family member and you can make the drive possible rather than a flight.... I say do it! There’s many reasons why here.
I believe you need a vehicle to have autonomy on the trip in general. ( I made this mistake and it was a nightmare for me since I am an introvert at heart). So if you aren’t taking your car, oh my goodness please rent one.
The drive can help you think about what you are going to do and how to handle the whole process: you still won’t know what life will hand you, but you’ll have time to think about the importance of it all, and your ways to handle it. Music on the trip I found very emotive, so many songs began to relate to what I was doing and I found this very helpful and soothing.
4. Pack accordingly: Take self-help items with you. This can look different for everyone. Utilize your ways of taking care of yourself while you are there and make sure you have what you need to do this packed. For me this was items to write with, books, extra bath items. I also brought my echo device for playing music and sleep sounds. Call me high maintenance, but I also brought my frozen face mask. I just knew I needed comfort.
In addition, make a grocery trip for the hotel stay. Keep some of your favorite drinks on hand. If you make tea, bring your favorite or buy it there.
Basically do the things that bring normalcy to your life, because this is a far from normal situation and you’ll need things to ground you and make you feel cozy.
5. Try not to be rigid about plans. Plans may change due to any number of reasons. It is nice to have an agenda of sorts, but the organic nature of one of my trips actually was probably a big factor in what made it enjoyable and also allowed for more intimate bonding.
I remember an afternoon where we played board games at the house, it was quaint and lovely. Frankly, it just could not have happened that way had we tried to make a big plan for every single day.
6. Understand that everyone’s perspective is just that. Each person you encounter along your search and reunion journey will come with their own set of circumstances. It is important to validate their feelings and even at times think deeply about their possible perspectives, based on what they have come through.
Heading into meeting my sibling pair, I really did not know too much about their sibling relationship. I found myself confused about what I should share with each of them. I found it even harder to know what they told me in confidence versus whether it was just common knowledge with the whole family. The relationships were so new I didn’t know them well enough to be aware of their family dynamics and what kind of resentments they held among each other as siblings. There were times that I was told don’t say this to ______ and so on. With siblings it can be very challenging to spend time with one and not have the other feeling left out as well. I encourage you to have a open conversation about your concerns about this from the get go if you have siblings pairs to meet.
I have a sister who has handled all of our mother’s health information and is her caretaker. I try to keep in mind she is dealing with a lot considering our mother has schizophrenia and she also has her own family, now with a new baby. Plus, she’s a working mother! Her lifestyle is just important to keep in mind because it has a lot of demands.
My aunts and sister on my father’s side had hard sets of circumstances to deal with surrounding my father. My father committed suicide in 1994, prior to that he was struggling with substance abuse following a trauma. I am told that he was wonderful with children and was gentle sweet soul that hit hard times. Even though it seems like maybe time has passed, meeting me brings that all back to the surface and I am acutely aware of this. I realized at some point that even seeing my face for the first time in person could have made any and all of them emotional in some way, since I was told I looked a great deal like him.
I feel in spite of these things my sister and I especially have done a great job of managing to find a relationship, I do believe this goes back to the importance of number 1, 3, 4 and 5 though! I had previous experience in meeting siblings and moving too fast in many ways, so I was more cautious and more gentle I think with my paternal sister. I had a better scope of who she was and why than I had of my other siblings upon meetings.
7. Give yourself breaks!
Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. If family wants to meet you everyday that is absolutely wonderful. And if things are going great, then even better! Still, find time to be alone with it all. Take a long bath, find a nearby trail to stroll one day, Maybe you don’t need aloneness as in totally by yourself. Find a coffee shop to enjoy some downtime by yourself. Go shopping or go to a local pub.
Independence can be important as you will be taking in a lot of information and meeting maybe a lot of personalities.
I spent about an hour in a coffee shop one day and went to a local pub on another per the advice of a woman I met in town. It turned out to be an awesome evening and it was a great way to end my trip. I also met a 2nd cousin there, no kidding.
But that’s a story for another time!
8. Do contact your Adoptee network: If you haven’t yet, please reach out to some of the adoptees online in real tangible sort of ways. I have a small but wonderful group of adoptees who I speak with either through messages, videochats, and phone calls. If you do not have any of these types of friends yet, please make attempts to meet some of us. Again, be safe about it but some of these friendships could become very valuable for you both and maybe be lifelong!
9. Share your story in ways that feel right to you. You do not need to blog about your experiences if it is not for you. You also do not have to use support groups if they are not your cup of tea. It is all about what works for your individual self.
You can talk about aspects of reunion with a trusted friend if you feel they are empathetically inclined. You can journal about it in your alone time and keep it all to yourself (still, please seek out a therapist). Which bring me to my last, but not least....
10. You are the best at knowing your adoptive family. As you begin to discuss your reunion with persons, be it friends, or otherwise, people will ask things. “How are your parents handling it?” “Is your brother supportive?”
In my case, my family is pretty closed off about these types of discussions when it comes to time when we’re all together. I do best to talk with my Dad about the big stuff individually. Even though my brother is also an adoptee, he is not the kind of adoptee that wants to discuss adoption much if at all (at this time). My sister-in-law however has been actively interested in how it is going and seems to just intuitively understand my need for the information and the path that I am on. My mother has said encouraging things to me, and yet at times said things that have hurt me unintentionally.
Do you keep your reunion a secret from some family? Or do you tell them? Does your adoptive family come along for the ride and meet members of your bio-family? I have heard all different kinds of reunions especially where it comes down to how the adoptive family handles it. You know your family better than anyone and it is for you to decide if they should know. My ultimate decision came down to this: I felt like as long as I had felt “different” as an adoptee and that my parents couldn’t truly understand my feelings, I wanted them to. So for me, my thoughts were, if I keep the information to myself, they know me even less. If I do not tell them about this important aspect of my life and let them know how it transpires, I will feel that they do not know who I am anymore.
You may be surprised at your parents reactions. Their reactions may be overwhelmingly positive at times and then others may be more rejecting of the new information than you would have expected.
You have a right to be hurt if your adoptive family does not want to know about your reunion. If they cower at new discoveries and or say something hurtful your feelings are valid. This is another thing I would recommend therapy is valuable for. Again, everyone’s perspectives are their own and this is another place where you will need to be aware of other’s experiences and their feelings.
So, there truly is no how to book, and for those of us who like some rules that can be a real challenge in reunion. Still, these are some of my how-to’s in reunion. I hope that you are safe in your reunion and conscious of the timing you choose to spend with each individual. If you feel uneasy for any reason, there is no shame in telling people you need some time to take it all in and you’ll return when you feel more able to handle the meeting. I hope you will reach out to those of us in the adoptee community and find ways of sharing that feel right for you.
I hate to state this, but I know it to be true, it is quite likely that you will encounter some very difficult information. Very possibly as well, some people you encounter will not be healthy for you at the time or you for them. Pay attention to your feelings and remember to take care of yourself. Know thyself and use your knowledge about yourself to inform your decisions about your ways of communicating, your meetings and travel methods, and practice your self-care accordingly!
Good luck and peace be with you.