Preparing for Birth Family Search

Through this blog, we have been able to meet and chat with a lot of different people from all over the world. We hear from adoptees, spouses, parents, siblings, and everyone in between. All of these various groups and people, of course, bring a lot of different ideas, but the really common thread throughout tends to be deep interest in Whitney’s birth family search and reunion. As with our Advice to Adoptive Parents, we have a lot of things we would really like to say when people ask questions, but we normally hold back because they might seem too harsh or a bit too much for a first interaction. But we do think that there are really key things to understand and consider before an adoptee considers entering into the search process. Whitney really wishes someone had talked with her about them before she took a dive head-first into reunion. So we have decided to share here…

Thoughts to consider before your birth family search:

Your search must be your own idea and of your own volition.
This may sound obvious, but its importance cannot be overstated. An adoptee should enter into the birth family search process only if he/she desires it for him/herself. The urging of a spouse or parent or sibling may, yes, be their way of demonstrating support. But this decision should not be taken lightly and it certainly should never be based upon satisfying their curiosity about whether or not you have siblings or what your grandmother looks like. Your family and friends will not be the ones dealing with the complex emotions that come along with a birth family search and/or reunion. No matter how much they love you, they can never understand what the process feels like, unless they have gone through it themselves. You must weigh the risks and benefits for yourself before deciding what you want to do. This is not selfish. This is your right. Be 100% sure you are beginning to search only because you want to.

Understand that, once opened, the door cannot be shut.
We will repeat this a million times and shout it from the rooftops. It is imperative to understand that once you have set out on this journey, there is no turning back. You cannot undo a reunion. You cannot anticipate the amount of time it will take to locate your birth family. It is possible that the results will come back as quickly as Whitney’s did – just 48 hours. She did not have time to change her mind once she initiated search. Before you send in your paperwork, understand that this is a once-and-for-all decision. Be 100% sure that this is what you want.

Be realistic.
This is a tough one because it is much too easy for adoptees to dream about their perfect birth family. Some have grown up their whole lives fantasizing about what their family could be like. Whitney thought her brother would be Rain or a dude from one of the K-Pop groups! In fact, your birth parents and siblings are just people, too. So even though they may be different from your adoptive family, they will still have quirks that are really annoying. Maybe some character flaws. It’s possible they are not even a family unit. And you will certainly have a lot of really tough hurdles to overcome, even the most basic things like language and cultural differences, which are hugely important. It can be difficult, but it is really important to get yourself off Cloud Nine, bring yourself back down to earth, and understand how unlikely it is that your fantasy will be a reality.

First, understand then, manage your expectations.
This is so difficult because it requires that you be candid and real with yourself. Whitney knows about this all too well. She struggled a lot with feeling like she always had to put on a happy face, even if that was not how she was truly feeling inside. But one of the most important things will be to identify your expectations going into the search process. What are you truly hoping to gain through your search and possible reunion? These may be things you feel bad about or things you have never before put into words. Maybe you have not had the relationship you hoped for with your adoptive siblings so your honest expectation (despite what you might say) is that your birth siblings will be awesome and you will become best friends and they will fill that void for the relationship you have been longing for. Perhaps this is true of a parent relationship. Whitney has discussed her dizzying relationship with Omma. She had a hard time understanding what Omma expected of her and how to normally interact with her. Through cultural differences, a strong language barrier, and a lot of personality clashes, it was almost enough to send her over the edge on many occasions. If Whitney’s main ideal had been to seek out a perfect mother/daughter relationship, she might not have survived the pains of reunion. Search yourself, understand what you are seeking, and manage your expectations.

Prepare for the best.
This is a difficult idea to tackle because it is often believed that a “best case scenario” in BFS is a reunion with subsequent regular contact, visits, relationship-building, etc. While this is true in some cases, even the “best” situation can be so complicated and exhausting, causing you to deal with a wide range of strong emotions. You must be prepared to deal with the addition of a whole new family to your life, complete with a whole new set of expectations, ideas, and norms. How will this fit in with your life as it is now? Your adoptive family relationships? Know that even the “best case scenario” brings with it a whole new can of worms to deal with.

Prepare for the worst.
This is really difficult because nobody wants to imagine “the worst,” but to be honest, this is many adoptees’ reality. You must prepare yourself. How will you react if you find out the story you have believed your entire life is not actually your story? What if your birth family is unable to be located? Or worse, what if they are located but they just don’t want to have anything to do with you? Many adoptees see this as a type of “second rejection” which, of course, brings a lot of tough feelings to sort through. Know that this is a huge possibility. Don’t even think about searching if you don’t think you could handle a situation like this.

Learn the culture.
This cannot be overstated. Speaking from experience, the humor in cultural differences is very short-lived when you are trying to navigate a foreign place, particularly your “motherland.” It becomes less and less funny when you are trying to live life with some type of normalcy but keep drawing unwanted attention to yourself by being ignorant of cultural norms. Patience will run out quickly on the part of all parties! Do yourself a favor and learn what is acceptable and what is not. You will regret it later if you ignore this advice.

Learn as much of the language as possible.
Going along with the cultural note above, this is really important! Nobody expects you to be fluent, but it will really help you later on if you can learn some language basics now. Basic Korean hangul (written language) can be learned in a single concentrated day. Don’t make excuses about how it is unfair for you to have to learn the language because you were sent away from that home country. That thinking will accomplish very little and serve to frustrate you to no end. Suck it up, get a book, and start studying!

Get over yourself.
This goes along with the previous point. There are a lot of adoptees who have experienced a lot of hard things. Make peace with your situation and move on. Do not be the one who is always crying “Woe is me!” because it makes yourself and everyone around you miserable. Don’t use your life experiences as an excuse. In birth family search and reunion, you need to see the big picture and focus beyond yourself to see all of the parties involved. How does this huge life-altering experience affect your adoptive family? Birth siblings? Birth parents? It is not your job to take care of everyone else’s feelings, but it is not your right to act selfishly, either. Consider how the situation affects everyone.

Do not try to do it alone.
Search and reunion is a huge, defining moment in the life of an adoptee. Even the strongest of us needs support. It can be a very difficult time; it can be a very happy time. Either way, you need someone to share it with. Seek out the support of family and friends. Find people who have gone through the experience and can give advice. Get a professional counselor who will challenge you and ask the hard questions others cannot. You are not weak for seeking help. You are being wise.

What other important points have we left out? Comment or DM us your advice!


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© We the Lees, 2016. All Rights Reserved

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