At the office one morning after just completing an adoption final hearing I received a call from an unexpected voice. It was from an adoptee whose adoption we handled more than 23 years ago. That “child” was now a hopeful adult, looking to connect with his birth mother. I recalled (to myself) meeting his birth parents at their apartment in Tampa. They were a sweet couple, looking to give their baby a wonderful home. I remembered this placement well.
Nearing 25 years since our first private adoption placement, we are hearing from an increased number of adoptees reaching out to find their birth parents. Whether this increase is due to a growing interest in ancestry and personal history, open adoptions and adoption reunions filling our social media feeds, or a desire to build more family connections, many adoptees are reaching out to establish a more open relationship with their birth parents.
When I received that call from the adoptee, I initially felt excited and hopeful for him and for his birth mother, and for the opportunity they may have to connect with each other after all these years. But that initial excitement was followed by a wave of internal questions. Did the birth mother sign a consent to release her information to her child, should he be interested in finding her in adulthood? If the birth mother did not sign a consent to release information, would it be right to contact her after all these years if she did not initially express a wish to have an open or semi-open adoption? What if she had signed a release but her feelings had since changed?
I also thought of protecting her confidentiality and the life she was currently living. How would my letter impact her present life? Perhaps she created her own family after placement and did not wish to share the adoption with her partner or children. By sending her a letter, would there be a risk of someone in her family picking up the mail and asking her about why she received a letter from a law firm, causing her to have to explain the situation to them?
If she had signed a release of information, I considered whether she may be in a different frame of mind from how she felt at the time of placement. Would she be prepared emotionally to begin direct communication with her adopted child? Could I be reopening old wounds by reaching out to her? On the other hand, with her child reaching adulthood, maybe she had been holding out hope that she would hear from him and contacting her may lead to a long-awaited reunion.
From the time we established our practice we have known that these reunions would be a possibility, but the reality is much more complicated than we could have anticipated. And the questions that come along with adoption reunions can create emotional and ethical challenges that all parties to the adoption must learn how to navigate.
Adoptions today are much more open than 20 years ago. Thankfully, most current placements include direct sharing of contact information which allows birth and adoptive families to continue communication and sometimes visitation with each other over the years. This evolution toward continued contact may lead to reunions no longer being necessary in the future – a possibility that raises its own questions about how adoptions may change the picture of a “family” going forward.
And in the event you are wondering, how did my case turn out? I was able to send a private message to the birth mother (thank you Facebook). After several months she responded expressing her joy and excitement that her son wanted to find her and apologizing about the delay. She took that time to talk with all of her children and obtain their thoughts about a reunion. Her whole family was on board and wanted to take the next step. These two families have reconnected in a journey to provide the best for their child. I am not sure where things currently stand but am rooting for all of the laughs, tears, hugs, and love that we wish for in adoption reunions.
— Michelle M. Hausmann, Esq., is an attorney with Hausmann & Hickman, P.A. (www.AdoptionandSurrogacy.com) and a Fellow of AAAA practicing both adoption and ART law in Florida.