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Reunion Perspectives for Adoptees in Closed Adoptions
The survey was entitled “Reunion Perspectives for Adoptees in Closed Adoptions.” A link to the survey (through Survey Monkey) was shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and this blog over a 3-week timeframe between April 24, 2018 and May 15, 2018. In all, there were 212 respondents. Of those, 24 were removed once parameter filters were saved; leaving a total of 188 respondents.
The parameters were that:
1) The respondent had to be 18 years old or older.
2) The respondent was adopted as an infant (one year old or younger).
3) It had to be a domestic adoption (born and adopted within the same country).
4) It was a closed/confidential adoption.
5) There was no contact between the respondent and biological family until the respondent reached an age of majority.
6) There have been at least 3 interactions during reunion. This parameter was set in place because many questions centered around intimate details of the respondent’s biological family.
There were a total of 86 questions and a free-form response. The free-form responses can be found here. Of the 86 questions, 53 questions offered an “other” option. There were 595 “other” comments that were taken into consideration and will be shared as they relate. There were 3 questions skipped by more than 2 (1%) respondents: questions 44, 81, and 83. No questions were skipped by more than 3 respondents.
A link to the survey results will be posted at the end of this summary as well as a link to our 3 currently open surveys. We encourage you to follow us here at the blog as well as our Facebook page, Twitter account, and on Instagram. Please consider sharing our currently open surveys in order for those affected by adoption to have a collective voice.
Margin of error calculator (provided by Survey Monkey)
Parameters and Housekeeping
As stated previously, the first 6 questions set the parameters for the survey. Additional housekeeping questions included gender, age, and location. The majority of respondents were female 90% (171) and between the ages of 41-50 years old 46% (87). The United States represented 80% (152) of respondents followed by the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and Austria respectively.
A large portion of the survey centered around searching for biological relatives. In closed/confidential adoptions, it is common that an adoptee is given no identifying information about their biological relatives. This creates a necessity for various means of searching ranging anywhere from hired and volunteer help to DNA and social media requests.
When searching for biological relatives, sometimes people hire the services of a private investigator or use the free services of what is called a “Search Angel.” There were 22% (42) of respondents who hired a representative to find their biological relatives. There were 31 respondents who found success through this method. There were 35% (67) of respondents who used the free services of a representative to find their biological relatives. There were 50 respondents who found success through this method. In all, there were a total of 83% (156) of respondents who found their biological relatives through a representative; hired or volunteer. There were 16% (31) of respondents who were found by their biological relatives or their representative.
- 95% (179) of respondents initiated a search for biological relatives
- 54% (102) of respondents initiated a search between the ages of 18-30 years old
- 78% (148) of respondents searched for their biological relatives off and on for a period of time
- 66% (124) of respondents had the most interest in meeting their biological mother over meeting other biological relatives
- 88% (166) of respondents said it was important at some point in their life to find others who shared their physical traits/appearance
Respondents were asked if they planned to search for biological relatives when they were still a minor. Overall, 73% (140) said yes and chose to search at different times. There were 2% (5) of respondents who did not know that they were adopted as minors. Some respondents said, “Yes and I was told I couldn’t search until I was an adult.” Another said, “I wanted to find my mother throughout my whole childhood. Making a “plan” as such was not something I considered.” And another, “I felt ambivalent about searching until my mid-twenties.”
There were 42% (80) of respondents who were never given identifying information about their biological relatives from a third party. There were a number of sources who were able to give respondents identifying information about their biological relatives. The most often cited information sources were adoptive family 20% (38) and government entity/agency 17% (32).
A number of reasons were given as to why respondents chose to search for biological relatives. In order by most frequent response; something was “missing” 79% (148), medical history 73% (138), curiosity 72% (135), to get answers 71% (134), belonging 59% (112), ancestry 55% (104), and to have family 39% (73). Additional responses included, “I Wanted to say thank you”, and “I wanted to check-in with my birth mother to let her know I was ok and that there were no hard feelings. I also wanted to make sure she was ok”. Lastly, “My need to know my truth was like my need for oxygen.”
There is a phenomenon called Genealogical Bewilderment. It is defined as the need for historical connection to resolve identity issues. There were 83% (156) of respondents who believe they had experience with this prior to reunion.
DNA and Social Media
Searching has changed drastically over the years with the advent of DNA test sites and social media. Respondents were asked a variety of questions about their use with such mediums.
For DNA test sites, 37% (70) of respondents said that these mediums did aid in the discovery of biological relatives. DNA test sites have been used by 64% (122) of respondents. Respondents were asked if they were surprised by their ethnic results, 29% (56) said Yes, while 35% (67) said No. Only 8% (15) of respondents reported a wait for DNA confirmation prior to their reunion proceeding.
The most used DNA test sites were as follows; Ancestry 53% (100), 23andMe 31% (59), My Heritage DNA 12% (23). GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA were the most reported sites referenced in the “other” comments.
Social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. assisted 40% (75) of respondents and their biological relatives in finding one another.
In the United States specifically, there are still many states that do not allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates or any records of birth without redactions. A few questions were asked about access to these records. There were 78% (146) of respondents who reported that their records were not open at the time of search. There were 19% (37) of respondents who reported that open records were used in order to search for biological relatives. Respondents were asked if they believe that adoptees should have a right to their Original Birth Certificate and 99% (185) of respondents said Yes.
Once discovery of biological relatives was made, a variety of mediums were used to make first contact. The majority used a telephone, cell phone, or web cam to make first contact 33% (63). Other mediums used in order of response were postal service, DNA test site message, social media message, e-mail, a third party facilitator, face-to-face contact, and an adoption search registry. Other means of first contact reported were, “a first mother who was a member of my support/jigsaw group” and “A friend met with her to ask permission to meet.”
- 73% (138) of respondents were the party that made the discovery in reunion
- 52% (98) of respondents found that both of their biological parents were alive at the time of reunion
- 21% (39) of respondents said that their biological father was not aware of their existence prior to reunion
- 11% (21) of respondents said that their biological parents were married to one another at some point
- 14% (27) of respondents discovered that they had full siblings
- 88% (166) of respondents discovered that they had half siblings
- 19% (37) of respondents learned that their biological parents relinquished additional children for adoption
- 19% (37) of respondents have experienced one biological parent refusing to name who their other biological parent may be
There were 10% (20) of respondents who were discovered by their biological relatives. Of those remaining who discovered their biological relatives, 55% (104) made contact immediately and 24% (45) waited before making contact. Others reported more complicated situations such as, “I was screwed around and lied to by the social worker/department. I made immediate contact as much as I was able. But they lied to my mother and said I was “thinking about” going on the contact register when I went on it immediately I found out it existed.” And another, “When the agency located them, neither one wanted to have contact with me. I had to wait until my birth mother changed her mind and sent me a letter, so while I initiated the attempt, contact was not officially made until I received her letter.” Another respondent had to meet requirements through an agency, “We wrote letters to each other that the adoption agency forwarded to each of us. We had to wait to gain identifying info until we both met a counseling requirement that the agency had.”
Respondents were asked what word would best describe their emotions after contact was made between them and their biological relatives for the first time. The answer that garnered the majority of responses was elation 31% (58) followed by anxiety 16% (30), wholeness 9% (17), hopeful 9% (17), shock 8% (16), and relief 8% (15). Many respondents stated that multiple emotions were experienced, “There were many different emotions, it would be impossible for me to choose only one.” Another respondent said, “A sudden realization that I actually have the same right to be here as everyone else, and a roller coaster of emotions. Relief, happiness, sadness, excitement, depression, and on and on.”
After initial contact was made with biological relatives, 79% (148) of respondents said they felt the need/desire to continue a relationship with them.
Being welcomed into reunion with biological relatives varied for many respondents. There were 45% (86) of respondents who said they did feel welcomed. Others had more nuanced experiences, “Welcomed my [sic] my bio mom but still a secret to my half-siblings” and “Yes, but I was still kept a secret from the rest of her family.” Other respondents reported, “Welcomed by family but not Birth mother” and “Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It has been 20 years and 16 years respectively, and things change all the time.”
It was asked of respondents if they had been welcoming to biological relatives and 82% (153) responded Yes. Additional responses included, “I was very open before I started to be blamed” and “I am suspicious of contact with other biological relatives. I felt like I was a curiosity when I met most of them.” And lastly, “It’s changed over time. I was welcoming, then wasn’t, and now that I have a child of my own, I am welcoming again.”
- 48% (91) of respondents answered that after initial contact, subsequent exchanges with biological relatives happened often
- 71% (134) of respondents said they experienced the “Honeymoon Stage” of reunion (Honeymoon Stage: characterized by excitement and great optimism)
- 90% (170) of respondents have been in reunion with more than one biological relative
There were 49% (93) of respondents who experienced a rejection by a biological relative. One respondent said, “Not exactly rejected, but my father is less communicative and may be in a degree of denial that I am his child. But some of this may be his reserved personality.” Others had similar responses, “not rejected – just family situation and painful memories – i [sic] won’t meet or connect with more than one paternal biological relative” and “At this time I don’t see it as flat out rejection as much as needing time to adjust to the idea.” And another, “My siblings have not accepted me.”
There were 17% (32) of respondents who said they have rejected a biological relative in reunion. Respondents had additional comments such as, “I keep her at a distance. I spoke to him once and we were both fine with no future contact. We just didn’t have the need” and “Not sure if it’s yes or no – I now know who my father is but refuse to contact him due to things I’ve heard.”
In regards to biological mothers in reunion, 57% (107) of respondents said that their biological mother did welcome reunion. Another 10% (20) of respondents were rejected in reunion and 16% (31) discovered that their biological mother had passed away.
In regards to biological fathers in reunion, 35% (67) of respondents said that their biological father did welcome reunion. Another 7% (14) of respondents were rejected in reunion and 19% (36) discovered that their biological father had passed away. More respondents answered that they have not had contact with their biological fathers 27% (51) as opposed to those who have not had contact with their biological mothers 3% (7).
- 79% (149) of respondents have been in reunion with siblings
- 36% (68) of respondents in reunion consider themselves to be closest with their siblings
- 27% (51) of respondents in reunion consider themselves to be closest with their biological mother
- 11% (22) of respondents in reunion consider themselves to be closest with their biological father
- 21% (40) of respondents said that they thanked their biological parent(s) for their adoption in reunion
- 57% (107) of respondents said that they were angry at some point with their biological parent(s) for having relinquished them for adoption
Respondents were asked if they had questions about their adoption and if biological relatives were able to answer them. The majority 58% (109) said that biological relatives were able to answer their questions. Some responses included, “Mostly, but there are some questions that only my mother could have answered, and she committed suicide.” Another respondent said, “They were willing to answer as much as they could. A lot is still unknown, including identity of biological father.”
As a follow-up question, respondents were asked if the reasons for their adoption told to them by a third party (adoptive parents, facilitator, etc.) coincided with the reasons told to them by biological relatives. There were 46% (87) of respondents who said they did and 26% (49) of respondents who said they did not. Respondent answers included, “Partially coincided. Adoptive parents gave the standard story (mother too young, wanted best for me, couldn’t take care of me on her own). Truth was more complicated.” Another respondent said, “That is a complex question. The reasons given by my (adopted) parents were cliché and general–not specific to a real situation. The reasons given by my mother are far more complex, and really she didn’t have much choice given the circumstances and the way society was then.”
Questions were asked about the respondent’s adoptive parents and how they have accepted reunion. The majority of respondents 72% (135) answered that their adoptive parents knew that they had been in reunion with biological relatives. Another 10% (20) said that their adoptive parents had passed away prior to reunion and 9% (18) of adoptive parents do not know that the respondent had been in reunion. Adoptive parents have been supportive in reunion for 40% (75) of respondents. For 14% (28) of respondents, their adoptive parents have not been supportive. There were a variety of responses that included, “Mother has been supportive, father does not understand why I searched for them, somewhat indifferent, a bit insulted I believe.” Another said, “Initially supportive, but now very neutral and don’t ask or seem to want to know any details about reunion.” And, “Adoptive mother deceased, father had Alzheimer’s. They were supportive but I never pursued because of fear of hurting them.”
- 44% (83) of respondents have struggled with feelings of disloyalty towards their adoptive parents for having reunion
- 43% (81) of respondents have not struggled with feelings of disloyalty towards their adoptive parents for having reunion
- 45% (85) of respondents have felt torn between 2 families since reunion
- 47% (89) of respondents have not felt torn between 2 families since reunion
- 38% (72) of respondents said their adoptive parents have met their biological relatives
Respondents were asked if reunion had caused strain in their relationships with their adoptive parents. There were 37% (71) of respondents who answered No and 25% (47) of respondents who answered Yes. Responses included, “At first there was tension, but now things are normal or even better than before. I think there is a sense of relief–the idea of reunion was worse for them than the reality.” Another respondent said, “Reunion has not, because they don’t know much about it. But coming out of the fog has ended my relationship with them.”
Reunion and Beyond
The majority 88% (166) of respondents said that they do not regret reunion with biological relatives. Most respondents answered that they had been in reunion between 2-5 years 31% (58) or 21 years or longer 20% (39). The majority 70% (131) of respondents have an ongoing reunion, but if a reunion ended, it usually ended within 2-5 years.
Some reunions have been on and off again. Respondents said, “We lost track of one another for a multitude of reasons, and have recently began communication again.” Another said, “I cut contact for a few years, but we’ve reconnected.” Some respondents have maintained reunions with some members, but not other members of their biological families. “Birthmother off and on. Last time I responded to her was 8 or so years ago–my choice. Half brother sporadic contact. Last saw 2.5 yrs ago. I see birthfather at least once a month–very close friends.”
- 58% (109) of respondents said that reunion has not been easy
- 46% (87) of respondents believe that they were not emotionally prepared for reunion
- 47% (89) of respondents perceive that their biological relatives were not emotionally prepared for reunion
- 5% (11) of respondents have lived with a biological relative after reunion
- 5% (10) of respondents have legally changed their name to a biological relative name after reunion
- 30% (57) of respondents have considered, but did not legally change their name to a biological relative name after reunion
- 1 respondent has been legally (re)adopted by their biological relatives
- 19% (36) of respondents have considered being legally (re)adopted by their biological relatives
Respondents were asked if they felt nature or nurture played a greater role in their personality and interests. Responses included 41% (77) for Nature, 41% (77) for Both Nature and Nurture, and 8% (15) for Nurture. It was asked if respondents felt they had a “better” life with their adoptive family. Responses included 38% (72) No, 29% (56) Impossible to say, and 19% (36) Yes. Responses included, “I think I just had a different life” and “Better than mt [sic] birth mothers family but not my birth fathers.”
Respondents were then asked if after reunion with biological relatives, would they say that they wished they had been raised by them. Responses included 30% (57) Yes, 30% (57) No, and 22% (43) Impossible to say. Respondents added, “I would have had a good life with either. I wish I had been raised with my half siblings” and “Yes but ONLY mother. I am much better off without my father.”
A sensitive, but important question was asked about GSA; Genetic Sexual Attraction. It is the term used for an overwhelming sexual attraction that may develop between close blood relatives who first meet as adults. Respondents were reminded that the survey was anonymous and that they were encouraged to answer according to their comfort level. There were 10% (19) of respondents who answered that they did experience GSA and only 1 respondent who skipped the question.
- 6% (12) of respondents feel like their biological and adoptive families have blended into one family
- 89% (167) of respondents have an ongoing reunion with at least 1 biological relative
- 60% (113) of respondents would describe the present state of their reunion as fulfilling
- 34% (64) of respondents have received counseling specifically related to reunion issues
- 28% (53) of respondents have had counseling and also said that it has been beneficial
- 79% (147) of respondents said that reunion stirred up previously unknown and/or unresolved emotions for them
Overall, 88% (165) of respondents said that they would recommend reunion with biological relatives to other adoptees. The final question of the survey, as with all surveys, was a free-form response asking if there was anything the respondent would like to add about how reunion with biological relatives has affected them. Those responses have been previously published and can be found here: Free Form Responses: Reunion Perspectives for Adoptees in Closed Adoption.
For a full view of the survey, it can be found here: Survey Monkey
For upcoming surveys, we currently have 3 Open Surveys that need respondents: Respondents Needed in 3 Open Surveys
Thank you to all respondents. Your voice is greatly appreciated. It is important to the Adoption Surveys team that respondent voices are elevated and shared. If you found this survey to be adequate and necessary, please consider sharing it on social media. Also, please follow the Adoption Surveys social media pages for upcoming surveys and weekly polls.