The pros and cons of adopted kids searching for biological parents
By McKenzie Wall
Imagine that you are three years old playing in the living room. Your mother is standing in the next room, chatting casually with the man tuning the piano, and you hear something you don’t understand. She says something about her newly “adopted” second child, Lisa. But your name is Lisa, and as far as you know, you had lived here all your life. Could it be that your family isn’t real?
This was my Aunt Lisa’s first memory of her adoption. She has spent her entire life searching for the security that she lost that day — her “real” parents. But unlike her, my father, Bevin, never had any trouble accepting his adoption. He says, “My mother told me the story of how excited they were to be picking up our new sister, about how they had waited so long and about how they were so excited about picking me up as a baby.” Is it possible these two different experiences shaped the lives they would lead?
Both my aunt and my father were adopted at three months old. My father remembers vividly the reasons behind his parents’ decision to adopt. His mother, my nana, was incapable of conceiving, so after struggling with this issue for five years, my grandparents decided to start the lengthy process of adoption with an agency. It wasn’t easy: their pasts were unveiled and they were questioned endlessly about their ability to be good parents.
My father always accepted his adoption. He thrived in school, surrounded himself with good friends and met and married my mother. A successful career, 26 years of marriage and three children later, he is able to look back on his adoption and say that it did not affect his childhood. His “birth parents” were only an interest for him “in the context of heritage, medical-genetic predisposition issues.” He assured me his parents stressed how much he and Lisa were “wanted.”
Despite this, Lisa was irreparably damaged, spending years wondering, “What was so wrong with me that my own mother would give me away?” She admits she was never deprived of love, but somehow she was still incomplete; “I never felt like I belonged anywhere, so I just kept to myself as much as possible,” she says.
In her early 20s, Lisa began to search for her birth parents. She constantly searched the house for anything she could find that would indicate the identity of her birth parents. She attended search group meetings and talked to multiple search agencies, the obsession continuing until she gave birth to her first child.
After that, she thought she would not need to look for her parents again. “When he was born I finally had that biological connection I had always wanted,” she explains, elaborating, “I couldn’t understand how anyone who went through a pregnancy and child birth could just give away their child.”
Over the next 20 years, my aunt’s life was turbulent — marriage, divorce, three more pregnancies and bankruptcy all shaped the woman she is today. Now, she feels differently about her birth parents. “I always said if I found them I would just follow them to see what they look like, but I would never want to meet them,” she says. “Now, I think I would probably agree to meet them, get some long-awaited answers, but I wouldn’t want them to be a part of my life. They chose not to be a part of my life all those years ago.”
In this respect, Lisa and my dad agree: the adoption is a closed chapter. My father admits that his biological parents are not his family. From his perspective, “family means those who were there — those who love and support you.”
My father had always discouraged Lisa from looking for her birth parents because he believed it would be unnecessarily hurtful to my nana and grandpa. He says, “the veil of secrecy is there for a reason, and piercing that veil will not solve any problems.” He has never taken the fact he was given up for adoption personally. Speaking of his sister and others who seek out their birth parents, he acknowledges, “They are entitled to feel the way they feel.”
Adoption has two main definitions: to take into one’s family through legal means and raise as one’s own child, and to take up and make one’s own. I believe the latter has shaped my father’s life and the former my aunt’s. They are different people because they were adopted. They are different because they were raised knowing that somewhere out there, they had an entire family they knew nothing about. For my father, his adoptive family was always enough. But I don’t believe my Aunt Lisa will ever believe herself to be whole, satisfied or complete. She will always search for the “family” she never had.
McKenzie Wall is a freshman integrated marketing communications major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.