Preparing for the emotional roller coaster ride

Judy Sellin, Lead Searcher

Judy Sellin, Lead Searcher

The emotions in a search are like any emotion in life – there’s a process. In a sense, the emotional roller coaster ride — is kind of like a grieving process or a healing process. Even though your adoptive parents are your parents, there is a process to go through – some people feel a sense of betrayal to the adoptive parents because they are happy they have found their birth family. Others feel maybe even disappointed in their birth family, because for example, there’s sometimes scenarios where there’s birth siblings like half brothers or half sisters who are not totally accepting. Sometimes they even find full siblings – and that can be harder to digest, that your parents remained together after you were surrendered.

Another aspect is that it’s shocking – your emotions fluctuate from day to day – and it takes time to stabilize and digest the results of the search. Again, I think it’s just part of a process, and another part of that is you discover who you really are for the first time. When you meet birth family, you really see a reflection of yourself. For the first time, you’re meeting someone who gave you life. Even though your adoptive parents may have been the best parents ever and have brought you up in life, it’s the birth parents who gave you life. And that’s something difficult for adoptees to even describe, but they go on this ride of emotions day to day — or even hour to hour in the beginning — it’s a combination of healing and acceptance. They also require a lot of reassurance that it’s okay to have found their family, even if it didn’t turn out how they thought it would.

When we look at adoption – I don’t like to call it a lie, but adopting is an “untruth” in some aspects, because you take a child and adopt it — and bless those who adopt these children — but the name they were given at birth and their identity has been taken from them. Only sometimes will adoptive parents keep the birth name, or shorten it or keep the middle name. Often the birth names are discarded completely. So, as an adoptee, you go into a new family. Everything about your birth history is an untruth in a sense, unless your adoptive parents have really told you a lot, until the time you find your birth family.

Say, for example, you’re forty years of age, and you always thought your name was Martha Gale Smith, and then you find out your birth name was Jane Evelyn Jones, and your adoptive parents were Italian but then you find out you were of Norwegian ancestry. Just examples like that, which don’t always seem like huge significance for people who are not adopted, can become part of the roller coaster ride for the adoptee.

When we’re talking about emotional roller coaster rides, I think it’s very important, especially for adoptees searching for birth parents, to also consider another aspect of searching. Many times, of course, adoptees are married and their spouses are not adopted. I often find that although spouses can be initially supportive, sometimes they don’t always remain that way.

There are a few reasons for that; number one, it’s a situation they don’t understand themselves – they’re not adopted, so they don’t understand that void or the need to have a sense of belonging. And, I’ve seen in my own searches where spouses actually get jealous; they’ve known their spouse’s adoptive family, but all of a sudden there’s birth family coming in. Therefore, for the spouses too, there is adjustment. I think that’s something that needs to be talked over with adoptees contemplating a search. And even with birth mothers — going over that, asking their spouses “are you going to support me all the way through this?”

That’s one of the reasons I’m always there after a search. I’m there to talk, and have spent hours talking with many I have searched for, even after completing a search, because there is that emotional roller coaster ride they are on, and they need someone to ride it with them for a time.

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