I am addicted to the UK version of the show “Long Lost Family.” Episode after episode, birth mothers search for the children they were often forced, coerced or just to young to care for; children, many of whom were raised in loving adoptive families, search for decades for their birth parents. Regardless of the circumstances of their birth, how successful and accomplished they’ve become, or how many decades have passed since their adoption, almost everyone of the adoptees highlighted share an unquenchable thirst and desire to reconnect with their birth families.
I have never fully understood this “hole” in the sole feeling I’ve heard described as well as witnessed by some close to me. No matter how accomplished and successful someone has become that sense of rejection at birth often times erodes and undermines their very being. Feelings of “not being good enough”, of being “unlovable”, or “not knowing who to trust” are prevailing themes among the adoptees highlighted. Not knowing where you come from, your ethnicity, who you look like, if you have siblings, is the person sitting next to you on the bus your family, has to be maddening. For the birth mothers’ “guilt”, “shame”, “despair”, “longing”, “worry that you did the right thing”, or “if your child is safe”, plagues their thoughts especially on holidays and birthdays. They all describe having little to no peace until they can know if their child has had a happy life. In order to get through life, many have been able to compartmentalize their emotions rather than being consumed with anxiety and despair. For the children searching, sometimes for decades, that peace often evades them. The lengths they go through to track down their birth parents is heart wrenching to watch. To see a 40 something year old man, with a happy and healthy family of his own, long to be hugged by his biological father is something I will never forget. When they are finally united, his only request is for his father to call him “son”.
For those parents who adopted children, and gave them all they had to give, their children’s need to search for their biological parents must be threatening on so many levels. I marvel at those adoptive parents who are secure in the knowledge that they are their children’s parents and a reunification will not change that. In the best-case scenario, the biological and adopted families will form a new “normal”. In some instances, I would surmise, that the fairy tale endings they are hoping for, are just that, fairy tales, after all life sometimes gets in the way and differences, personalities, nuances, and geography prevent that everlasting Kumbaya.
For some, knowing where you came from, understanding the circumstances leading up to the adoption, and feeling loved and not abandoned by your birth family is enough to begin the healing process. For others, with that knowledge, the sense of completion is instantaneous. When the reunions do not go as planned as in the case of one birth mother, in spite of numerous requests, could not summon up the strength to meet the daughter she gave up for adoption, the outcome is devastating. In another scenario, the birth mother and daughter had conflicting expectations so shortly after the reunion their relationship ceased to exist.
In today’s world, there are many configurations of family; Grandparents raising grandchildren, single parent families, same-sex couples with or without children, those living in multi-generational households, families whose children were conceived through IVF, or families made complete through adoption. Each family is unique in its own way, in its own truth. There is no blueprint on how to raise a “perfect” child, and as we know perfection doesn’t exist. As today’s modern families continue to evolve, society must adapt to those changes. The cloak and dagger, secrecy shrouded, closed, sealed record adoption process has to change. The right to know your history and personal truth is a right not a privilege. Thankfully, open adoption, which may consist of pictures, letters and/or visits by the birth parent and open IVF donor acknowledgement, once a child becomes 18, are becoming more commonplace. For the child, an open adoption or donor acknowledgement once the child reaches 18, takes the mystery out of their equation.
The show, Long Lost Family opened my heart and mind to feelings of empathy, compassion, and understanding regarding life’s experiences outside of my purview or own personal truth. Because someone appears well adjusted, from a good family, and financially stable, my assumption would be that everything is right in his or her world. The depth of sadness a birth parent or child seeking his or her birth family feels, just not knowing, was something I trivialized believing that their successful life post adoption was good if not good enough. For some, maybe it is enough, but for others the hole in their sole will not be healed until they find the answers they seek: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where do I belong? Am I good enough?
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.