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The adoption reunions that end in tears

Started by Chyna, Jul 30, 2022, 06:17 PM

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The adoption reunions that end in tears
Amelia Hill investigates why so many searches for birth parents result in heartache
Amelia Hill
Sun 29 Aug 2004 10.48 BST

Paul had spent his whole life dreaming about his mother. He imagined what it would be like to meet someone who looked like him, who offered unconditional love and who took away the empty feeling he had always carried in the pit of his stomach.  'I thought meeting her would make me whole. I had had a happy childhood but somewhere deep in my gut, I have always been hollow,' said Paul, now 42 years old and living in Kent.  But Paul's meeting with his mother was a disaster. 'I now believe you can never recreate that mother-child relationship,' he said. 'Away from the dreams, the initial rejection an adopted child has suffered makes unconditional love impossible to recreate in the cold light of reality.  I understand why my mother gave me up but I still find it impossible to forgive,' he said. 'Now I have to come to terms with the fact that I have spent my life looking for something that was never there.'

Paul is not alone in his disappointment. Research by the Children's Society has revealed that, eight years after first making contact, almost 60 per cent of adopted children have ceased contact with, been rejected by or rejected further contact with their birth parent.  The Adoption, Search and Reunion study of almost 500 adoptees has been released ahead of the new Adoption And Children Bill 2002 that will, when implemented next month, open the way for birth parents to trace their children.  As the first major British project to look at the long-term nature of adopted people's restored relationship with their birth relatives, the study pioneers comparisons of the experiences of adopted people who search for birth relatives (searchers) with those who do not (non-searchers).  The study found that although outright rejection from a birth relative is fairly rare a surprising number of reunions cease after one or two letters or a single face-to-face meeting.  According to Rose Wallace, a specialist in post-adoption care at the Children's Society, birth parents often have far greater expectations of their reunion than an adopted child and can make destructively excessive demands.  'The greater pressure tends to come from the birth parent, who has higher expectations of the relationship than the adopted child, who often only wants the answer to questions about their own identity,' she said.

'The parent has very conscious memories of what it felt like to part with the children and will have continued to think about the child over the years, while the child is unlikely to have have thought about the issue with the same intensity.'

According to the survey, over 70 per cent of searchers and 89 per cent of non-searchers fail to feel an instant bond with their birth parent, with one in six new relationships breaking down within one year after initial contact and almost 43 per cent of relationships abandoned within eight years. Now experts are warning birth parents not to get their hopes up when the new legislation is announced. 'Being told that a birth parent admits no feelings for you is likely to be shattering,' said Julia Feast, co-author of The Adoption Reunion Handbook, the first 'how to' guide for those searching for birth relatives. 'It is hard to see the person as anything other than callous or unnatural.'

Jackie, a 47-year-old office manager in London, was shattered when, after two years searching, she discovered her birth mother had little interest in her.  'Immediately I looked her in the eye, it was like a big hole had been finally filled inside me,' said Jackie. 'You think that when you find your birth relative, they will be everything to you but it can make things worse: you can be horribly rejected all over again or find out things about your past or your birth parents that you don't want to hear  You can end up feeling like a lesser person, a total reject,' she added. 'You have to be open to it being a dreadful experience.'

Richard Layliss, a fireman, was rejected after tracing his birth mother, Jenny. 'She wrote me an awful letter saying she would be devastated if I made contact,' he said. 'It was a massive rejection after all those years of wondering and hoping. I couldn't have anticipated how that made me feel.'

But even for those birth relatives whose reunions are short-lived, over 80 per cent of adoptees said they were glad they had made the effort, with half of all searchers and a third of non-searchers reporting how finding the missing bits of their stories had made them feel more complete.  Reunions are not always so shattering: Mark Newell, a 42-year-old teacher living in Dartford with his wife, Ruth, was adopted by Joan Newell after his birth mother, Maureen Short, gave him up as a baby.  Newell spent five years thinking about his birth mother before he had the courage to begin searching when he was 35. Within weeks he had traced her to Southend, just 45 minutes' drive from his own home.  Newell and Joan met at the train station near her home three months after he first made contact. 'I didn't know how I was going to approach it, or what I was going to call her but it was easy: I called her 'mum' straight away.  You just can't replace that lost time: we have bonded but not in the way I'd been hoping or expecting. I thought I would met my birth mum and all my problems would fall into place but they didn't,' he said.

'But whereas before, I had attributed my problems to being adopted, I think I've taken responsibility for my own issues now. It's empowering; I've become more of a man.'

For Short, being traced by her son was the end of 30 years of guilt. 'Giving up my son was the worst thing I have ever done in my life,' said Short, now 66 years old and living with her partner Peter Lee and their three sons. 'I can't believe I was capable of giving up a child. I just feel I wish I'd tried to cope.  When he called me 'mum' for the first time, it was wonderful. I can't ever forgive myself for not trying to keep him but it's Mark now who tells me I must not look back and feel guilty,' she said. 'He says we have to look forward to the future. I can't believe how lucky I am that he decided to trace me.'

ยท The Adoption Reunion Handbook is published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.