At what point in development is search appropriate?

This is a question in response to girl478o’s post, re:  “Is it my search to begin?”

First of all, thank you for the thoughtful insights on this forum.

We are on the verge of trying again to search for our adaughter’s birth family, after failed informal and formal searches 7+/- years ago.  At that time, dd was only 2 y/o and if the searches had been successful, and if the bmother or other family would have wanted it, we would have liked to have met them and established an on-going relationship involving dd.  That way, we thought, it would have just been part of her growing up.

Now that she is 9, however, we are concerned about involving her if and when we make contact. Our plan has been to try to establish a relationship via letters and perhaps meet the birthfamily ourselves (aparents) so that if and when dd is ready, she can meet her first family and can have whatever information we’ve been able to obtain (granted, from our POV or privileged status).  Various child specialists have indicated that it’s better to initiate contact between the bfamily and child when the child is very young or is past adolescence.  Also, it is our informed belief that dd is not ready at this point.  Like some of you have posted, she just wants to be like everybody else at this point in her development; for several years, she has not wanted to discuss adoption/doesn’t follow-up when I bring it up; she says “I don’t know” when asked if she would like to be able to meet her bmother and never brings it up or shows any sort of angst around her life circumstances. Of course it’s on her mind, but unlike the adaughter of a good friend, she doesn’t (yet) grieve her loss or lot in life.

So I guess my question is, as adults, can you think back to being 9 and how it would have felt at that point in your development to suddenly meet your bmother or other bfamily?  I imagine the experience in meeting a bmother or bfather vs. bsiblings (or extended family such as grandparents) would be different from meeting parents.  Can you understand why some professionals (including a searcher who witnessed meetings between children and birth families) recommend that this not be introduced to older children (5 – 14/16 y/o) and do you disagree?  The real snag for me is the “What if” – i.e. what if something happened to the bmother, etc. (she died or moved and we lose contact) and dd misses the opportunity to know her in person.

2 thoughts on “At what point in development is search appropriate?

  1. Before we get to the point of answering how I might have felt at the age of nine, I would like to first just reframe everything a little bit so that we understand the context of what is being asked. What I mean to say is that a specialist (adoptee? adopter? specialist in what way?) saying that contact shouldn’t take place until the child is “ready” is revealing a systemic bias that is not necessarily in the child’s best interest. It’s like asking professors in Louisiana universities to comment on the oil spill and its extent–they aren’t exactly objective, given the entanglement of the corporate with academic research.

    So if we understand our position of privilege, then we need to understand those whose job it is to maintain that privilege, and who are more interested in a valid transitioning of the child in terms of their industry position. By valid I mean to say without waves, without outbursts, eased into their transracial context. They are the same as the academic professor who claims the Gulf is clean because his research funding is dependent on such a response. I admit that I have a particular problem with most of the therapists and brands of therapy that aim to help children “bond” or which claim to know what adopted children are going through. I think it is fair to say that more children are more thoroughly damaged by such interventions than had they been left alone.

    A small shift in circumstance reveals the falsity of premise and the unstated reason to avoid such an encounter. Let’s imagine what lies right across that razor’s edge of adoption–kidnapping. Let’s say a child is kidnapped, and is found at the age of nine. Would there be any question as to whether that child should be reunited with her family? Would anyone stop and consider whether this might be detrimental to her mental well being? The avoidance of the birth family thus becomes a necessary action that bolsters adoption as an institution. By that I mean that in the smooth gear-turning machine of the adoption industry, you have gone against the system. You will not be told so in so many words, but the system will aim to rectify the “error” of your ways, as it were.

    If I think back to when I was nine, I can imagine that such an encounter would be pretty devastating in incomprehensible ways for a child of that age. Then again, at a later age, were I to find out that such an encounter would have been possible and was avoided, I might go through an even more devastating emotional experience. And so I would, in retrospect, probably prefer that it happen earlier rather than later.

  2. Well, the mom I know who found her son’s family did it when he was nine. And he seems to be handling it well. In fact, he seems overjoyed to have found his grandmother and has an almost seamless relationship with his half brother. If they had waited, he might have missed his grandmother altogether… and his relationship with his half brother would not be as rich.

    Of course he also has to deal with his first mom’s absence. And he’ll also have to try and comprehend why. Because it is more real, it will also be more complex for him than a typical adoptee who can write off the hurt. But to my mind, this kind of complexity is where we find the truth and we can heal. We owe it to children to not insult their intelligence and to present the world as the spectrum of gray that it really is. Adoption is far too often presented as this black and white scenario and we are forced to choose sides.

    You stated, “she has not wanted to discuss adoption/doesn’t follow-up when I bring it up; she says “I don’t know” when asked if she would like to be able to meet her bmother and never brings it up or shows any sort of angst around her life circumstances.”

    This is of concern to me, because “I don’t know” is a child’s code for “I can’t verbalize my private feelings – go away and stop being invasive.” It indicates a chaos of emotions that seem dangerous. Most of us adoptees do not feel at liberty to discuss these things with our adoptive parents because what we really feel will hurt them. It’s also convenient for parents to accept with relief and write off what is – of course – a deep wound. And it is true, we are at that point too young to verbalize our feelings of abandonment, betrayal, helplessness, etc. It’s the parent’s job to provide a realm of acknowledgment where such realities are part of the environment in which we live, vs. the ideal play we act where we dance around dangerous topics that are introduced as issues. And it is the very nature of most adoptive households that the adoptee edits themselves to never show any angst they may carry internally.

    “Of course it’s on her mind, but unlike the adaughter of a good friend, she doesn’t (yet) grieve her loss or lot in life.”

    Just because we don’t display grief or act out doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It shows up in other ways, finds other paths, and can color our demeanor. Whenever something doesn’t add up and we have to just accept our fate, that does something to a person.

    This not knowing really does a number on us. If there’s anything you can do now, please do. It may be in the back of her mind now, but consider what decades of keeping it back can do to a person. For myself, all those years were like suspended animation, and it prevented me from having an authentic life and engaging fully with the people around me, despite my successful game face or the inevitable crashes.

    To me, there is no magic age that’s more or less appropriate. But later is never better.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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