Online and Face-to-face Individual, Couple and Family Therapy Therapy

              Patricia Roles, MSW, RSW, Social Worker and Reunited Birthmother            
  Specializing in Adoption Triad Issues and Adoption Reunion    

Adoption Reunion - A Journey for Birthparents

by Patricia E. Roles, MSW, RSW

Birthparents refers to birthmothers and birthfathers as both are significantly involved and affected by the adoption decision and adoption reunion. Reunion in adoption is a complex process that starts well before the reunion itself occurs. Birthparents may even start thinking about reunion with their children at the time of planning for adoption relinquishment.

Adoption reunion for birthparents may be a fantasy that has developed over many years and may have been formed as part of a mechanism to cope with the grief of losing a child. Birthfathers have tended to be the forgotten link in the family tree, but more recently research has looked at the impact of adoption relinquishment for birthfathers and has found that they too have grieved and dealt with significant loss and impact on their lives.

Birthmothers have more focus on connected lives as this is part of Women’s psychological development. Women have more concern for relational ties. Women place a high value on connectedness, and focus on sensitivity to the needs of others. Women’s lives are often shaped by social values and social roles. A component of a woman’s sense of self-worth is related to connection.

Given this focus on relationships and maternal drives, the loss of a baby is a deep connection to lose. This is a deep grief that went unrecognized until more recently. Birthmothers’ attempts to keep the experience secret reinforced feelings of guilt and shame.

The shame and guilt implied that they birthmothers had done something wrong by society’s standards. Because women had not adhered to the societal mores of their time, they came to believe that their own devaluation was deserved. Adoption relinquishment can affect guilt, overall well-being and self-esteem.

Adoption doesn’t take away the shame birthparents feel for having given a child away. People now say, “How could you give a baby away?” In previous years, the shame was more about getting pregnant and the secret was about the pregnancy and how that reflected on the type of person the young girl was.

Adoption reunion means letting go of the secret and facing the shame and guilt. It is hard to go through adoption reunion for birthparents and keep it a secret. Secrecy in reunion takes away the potential joy of being reunited. Opening up the secret is a major process for most birthparents, both mothers and fathers. So preparing for reunion means preparing for opening the veil of secrecy and the self-judgment that goes along with the shame. Some birthparents decide that they won't tell anyone about the reunion possibilities when they start searching or registering with an adoption reunion agency in case no reunion results from the search. However this means that birthparents are faced with many major crises and adjustments at the same time. Being on the emotional roller-coaster of reunion as well as opening up the fact that you had a child who you placed for adoption as the same time, can be incredibly overwhelming.

Anger is another process that can surface. Is anger bad? What is behind anger? Anger can feel better to some than the hurt, pain, loss, or vulnerable feelings. Anger may help to feel more in charge and less powerless. Anger allows action.

Anger is a natural part of grief related to the loss through adoption. It can also be fueled if birthparents feel a lack of choice, feel uninformed or not included, or feel disappointed at false promises around the adoption. Some birthparents may feel angry at themselves, at parents, at professionals, or at the partner in the relationship. Anger can get triggered in reunion as the loss is re-triggered. Past pain surfaces when memories are evoked. Birthparents also get in touch with what they missed over the years of not having raised their children and this is another loss on top of the initial loss.

Anger can be one way of coping. Too much anger stops the voices from being heard and can interfere with reunion. Intense or overwhelming feelings can scare adoptees into retreat. Sometimes the anger is directed between the birthmother and the birthfather or toward parents of the birthmother or birthfather who may not have been supportive at the time. The relationship between the birthmother and birthfather gets brought back into focus at the time of reunion. Some birthparents figure they can have a reunion without dealing with the other parent, but adoptees usually want to know both birthparents which is only fair.

Dealing with relationship issues between birthparents is one way to prepare for adoption reunion. This can be challenging if there was a lot of conflict or pain in the relationship around the relinquishment. Some birthmothers feel abandoned by birthfathers. Some birthfathers didn't feel included in the adoption decision or weren't even told about the pregnancy. For others it was their first or a very significant love relationship that may get awkward if intense feelings get rekindled during adult lives when partners may be married. This is a complex issue in and of itself and often neglected. Some birthparents will say this is a reunion with their child but don't recognize that this is a package and re-connection the other birthparent is part of that journey. Just as in blended families, the better the biological parents get along, the better the children cope. This is also true in adoption reunion.

Adoption reunion evokes feelings like in a love relationship. When parents have a baby they too fall in love with the baby. When parents find that baby, now grown up, strong feelings and bonding can be evoked and it can be like being on a honeymoon. Individuals can feel such intense feelings that it can be all consuming. Some people want to rescue their adult child or the adult child may want to rescue a birthparent. Sometimes siblings get into this intensity too while other siblings can feel left out or fearful of the new place this birthchild may take in the parents' lives. It is important to take reunions slowly and not make rash decision and let the honeymoon take its course so you can see the other person in a more balanced way. Siblings needs also need to be highly noticed.

Sometimes at the beginning of contact the parties hang on every phone call, every email or every letter. They may fear the relationship is so tenuous and fear rejection that a delay in a communication may be overreacted to. It is a very emotionally draining time when self-care and support is essential. That's where the less secrecy there is, the more potential support people can be there. Having contact with others who have been through reunion may be very helpful as others may not fully understand what you are going through. This may be in the form of support groups, chats on the internet or counseling. It can be helpful to have a counselor as a mentor or guide as you navigate through this journey of reunion. It can be a lengthy process as the moment of talking or meeting face-to-face is only one part of the journey. It can take months or years to integrate reunion into peoples lives.

Reunion brings up any unresolved issues for birthparents. For each person the issues may be different. It also affects kinship relationships over the lifespan. For instance, significant events emerge in life of adoptee and decisions have to be made about who is defined as family and who is to be included such as: graduation, marriage, or pregnancy. There are no rules or guiding principles. There is a need to develop models for how both families can navigate just as occurs in divorce, blended families or within extended family networks.

Adoption reunion between adoptees and birthparents also includes the relationships with adoptive parents. Again, they are part of the package. You can't have a reunion with someone who is adopted and not be mindful of the adoptees relationship with his or her parents. Being respectful of everyone's diverse needs and fantasies about the reunion is very important. Everyone has a fantasy and they are likely very different. Expectations too can differ. Sometimes birthparents say they just want to know their child is okay, or adoptees say they just want medical history, but once the connection is made there are other wishes or expectations that start to emerge and come forth.

Sometimes birthparents meet a dead end in the search or find someone who doesn't want contact. Or birthparents may find they don't relate well to the child who is now an adult and perhaps hold different values or has a different way of life. Sometimes the fantasy or expectation isn't even close. Some people face a loss through death. Opening up the possibility for reunion means trying to prepare for the unexpected which is really hard. Sometimes the results are incredibly rewarding and the connection that develops after reunion is profound, and adoptive parents also feel included. Anything is possible.

The complexity in adoption reunion is endless. It also depends on where you are in your developmental place in life. You may be single without children, a single parent, married with other children and possibly have other full siblings to your birthchild. The more support and preparation you can do to get yourself ready for adoption reunion, the more you can affect the success when contact occurs. If you keep your adult child's needs first and foremost in your mind, then this will help to guide your decision-making. Most of all hold on tight and try to enjoy the ride with as much patience as you can muster. Whatever you find means an end to the unknown and the wondering. This along will provide some peace of mind at the very least.

About Patricia Roles, MSW, RSW, BCATR

Patricia Roles is a registered social worker in private practice with the BC College for Social Workers in British Columbia, Canada, and is a registered art therapist with the British Columbia Art Therapy Association. She has a master's degree in social work and a post graduate certificate in art therapy. She has worked as a social worker and therapist for 35 years, including 25 years as a clinical supervisor in the social work discipline of a tertiary care pediatric teaching hospital in both medical and psychiatric social work. Her work with children, youth and families has included special expertise in family therapy, art therapy, adolescents and eating disorders as well as children and youth with chronic and life threatening illnesses. She also has extensive experience in the adoption field and is a reunited birthmother. Her publications, including Facing Teenage Pregnancy and Saying Goodbye to a Baby, can be viewed on the Books and Links page on this site.

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Workshops and Presentations:  

Patricia Roles also presents workshops in a variety of areas including: birthparent loss and grief, birthparent counseling, adoption reunion issues, eating disorders and family therapy, art therapy with loss, art therapy with children and youth, art therapy and eating disorders, family art therapy using a narrative therapy framework, art or family therapy with eating disorders, e-counseling and family therapy via telehealth. You may contact Patricia Roles through the feedback email on this site to inquire about workshop presentations or speaking engagements.

Contact Patricia Roles, Virtual E-counseling Room, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Counseling:  

More information is available about adoption counseling services including: online support for birthparents' loss and grief; online coaching for adoption triad members in the process of or contemplating adoption reunion; and stepparent adoption child interviews at: Adoption Services


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If you are a birthparent experiencing grief and loss, searching for your child, or going through adoption reunion, seeking help can be one way to help you cope with the roller coaster of emotions. Reunion can trigger intense feelings of unresolved grief and evoke past emotions related to the relationship between birthparents. Counseling can help to prevent past issues from interfering with successful reunion.

Online counseling is available on this site via e-mail with Patricia Roles. This is an alternate way to get professional help and support over the internet without leaving your own home. It is less expensive than face-to-face counseling.


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Face-to-face counseling is now available in Vancouver at the Fairmont Medical Building on Broadway at Cambie

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Phone: 604-375-9215


Other Publications on Birthparent Loss and Grief:

Saying Goodbye to a Baby: Vol 1 - The Birthparent's Guide to Loss and Grief in Adoption*
Publisher: Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC, USA

This publication is now available in a Chinese translation and is published by Parenting Source Press, and division of Cite Publishing Ltd. through the Chinese Connection Agency, a division of The Yao Enterprises. Contact the Child Welfare League of America through their web site at www.cwla.org for more details.

Saying Goodbye to a Baby: Vol 2 - A Counselor's Guide to Birthparent Loss and Grief in Adoption
Publisher: Child Welfare League of America, Washington, DC, USA

Pregnancy and Infant Loss: Book Chapter - Birthparents' Grief: Relinquishing a Baby for Adoption
Chapter in textbook entitled: Loss During Pregnancy or in the Newborn Period: Principles of Care with Clinical Cases and Analyses, edited by James R. Woods, MD and Jenifer L. Esposito Woods, MBA
Publisher: Jannetti Publications Inc., East Holly Avenue, Box 56, Pitman, NJ, USA, 08071
Loss and Grief

Article written by Patricia Roles on Birthparent Loss and Grief: Birth Parent Loss and Grief:

Other Articles on Loss and Grief

Article on Stillborn Grief by Jörg & Mary Barth: Stillborn but Welcome: The Short LIfe of Paul Michael


Article on Children's Grief by Marcia Breitenbach: Supporting Our Grieving Children To Cope with Katrina and Other Losses

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Patricia Roles, Individual, Couple and Family Therapist     (604) 375-9215
© Patricia Roles, Virtual E-counseling Room, e-mailtherapy.com, Burnaby, BC, Canada



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