Judy Sellin, Lead Searcher
Before I commence a search, I tell the person I am searching for that they should accept what they get and let it grow from there. The sometimes sad reality is that virtually anything is possible in a search outcome. Sometimes the person being searched for is deceased, sometimes they’re critically ill, or have other health issues. Sometimes the outcome of a search is much better, and a wonderful reunion takes place. Often, the reality is somewhere in between the extremes.
Upon concluding a search, there are some good pieces of advice that I like to give. For example, I always caution adoptees before a reunion, that they should never ask their birth mother, on the first chat or a first visit, who the birth father is – give her time to digest everything and process, and give her time to tell you on her own, if she knows or doesn’t know. Take what you can get, accept what you can get.
Also, everyone needs digesting time, be it a birth mother being found or an adoptee being found, because there’s that emotional roller coaster ride that everyone goes on. They need digesting time to process everything the search has revealed.
For example, if a birth mother only wants to talk to you on the phone for a couple of months, accept that decision. Try to develop some form of a relationship; now that we have e-mail, I’ve had people that I’ve found where mother and daughter or mother and son have e-mailed for a while to get to know each other, and sometimes e-mailing is a really good thing, opposed to talking on the phone. E-mailing first can be good, because you’re communicating in all the ways before meeting. When you write, you often write what your heart is feeling, and you get to know each other that way, then you can do a phone call.
I often say that if you are the one that is searching, then you will probably be the one who has to compromise the most with the birth family that you find – it should be their call on where to take the relationship, because perhaps they weren’t searching for you. So, accept what you can get. And don’t expect this flamboyant mother and daughter or mother and son relationship, even though it does happen where the birth family and adoptee have fallen deeply in love like they’ve been together forever. Remember, they are strangers, and have different lives, so accept what you are given.
Even if a reunion doesn’t turn out how you had hoped, a successful search still gives you another chapter to your life. You still have more information than what you had before you began the search, to pass on to your family and children. So, I never think any search is really in vain, even if it doesn’t turn out to be a long-lasting relationship — you will still have knowledge you never had before you began your search.
Recently, I did a search for a birth mother who wanted to find the child she surrendered. When we located the child, she was in her forties, and basically said “thank you very much, I’ve had a wonderful life with my adoptive parents, and I have nothing against my birth mother, but I’m just not interested in a reunion.” And that is a good example of why when a professional searcher is doing a search, there’s so much more that we can say than if someone is doing their own search. So, for example, I quickly give my e-mail address and phone number and tell them that if at any time they change their mind, that I’m there and can pass that information on. If you’re searching for yourself, that’s a little difficult to do. I’ve not had that happen often, thankfully, but it’s a good example of why a professional searcher is often needed to bring about a reunion. And in that case, it was actually only a few hours later that the adoptee e-mailed me. Within weeks, a beautiful, in-person reunion was reached and a wonderful relationship was established.
In another search recently, the adoptive parents were a bit of a unique situation. They had adopted four children and wanted each of them to know their birth family and birth parents. The adopted mother was referred to me. Years prior, she had located the birth mother for her adopted son through the government, and the birth mother had written a letter saying she wasn’t interested in a reunion. Then, recently, the adoptive mother contacted me and asked if I would search. They didn’t know where she was then they had made contact, because the letter was without an address, and had been processed through the government. I did the search, found the birth mother, and spent a half an hour with her on the phone.
The birth mother still did not want to meet the son that she surrendered for adoption. I believe her decision was probably because she had not told her other children that she had went on to have, although she had told her husband. She also said she had vowed to her now deceased parents that she would never look for the child she had surrendered. I did give her my e-mail address and phone number – but also felt that I needed to come out of the search with something for the son that she had surrendered. Therefore, I asked her, if she didn’t want to have a reunion with her son, if she would give that opportunity to the birth father. Thankfully, she was willing to give the identifying information about the birth father to me, and I was able to locate him. He was willing to at least begin communications, and possibly have a relationship with the son that was surrendered. The conclusion is that sometimes there is some compromising possible, and again, from doing searches for decades, a professional will sometimes think differently about that than someone doing their own search.