How to Prepare for Search and Reunion with Biological Family

I just passed the 17-month anniversary mark of meeting my biological dad for the first time and I’ve become a little reminiscent and introspective, wondering what it might look like now if only I’d known a few more things before I reached out to him. I can tell you with certainty that I had absolutely no clue – zero clue – what was about to unfold. This has been the happiest, sad 17 months of my life! I’ve felt every emotion on steroids and a few that I never even knew existed. There’s definitely been times where I paused and asked myself the question everyone seems to want to know the answer to: “Would I do it again – reach out to my biological family – knowing what I know now?”

Over a period of 20 years, I’ve searched and reunited with both of my biological parents. I found my first mother who didn’t want to be found almost 20 yrs. ago. More recently, last year, I found my biological dad who had no clue I existed and bonus blessing of brothers, nieces and nephews. Absolutely, I’d do it all again, even though there’s no guarantee … but it would’ve been tremendously helpful if I’d had a little heads up before I stepped into the fray.

Decades ago, when the urge to know where I come from wouldn’t leave me alone, would knowing any of these things made a difference in my decision to search? Probably not. But, they’re definitely things that I wish I’d at least been given some heads up about before I jumped on this rollercoaster.

  • Not everyone will be as ecstatic as you are to find your family.

No one except NO ONE will be as excited about your new-found family but you – the searcher. In addition, NO ONE will be as excited about your new family as you are. Likewise, in case you forget, NO ONE will be as excited about your new family as you are! You have the most invested and the pay-off is far greater. Extend grace – not everyone will understand why you feel like you’ve just added a newborn into your family and why you must talk about them incessantly and show off every new picture. Consider them ignorant instead of uncaring. They have no clue – their understanding is minimal. Some choose to educate and understand. Many won’t. Many. It’s OK!

  • Expect the emotional tsunami – it’s real and can be life altering.

I was perfectly useless to anyone many days for much of the time I spent waiting on my birthmother to respond to me and more recently, for months after reunion with my biological father. It consumed me mentally/emotionally and wore me slick out most days. This wasn’t due solely to finding my dad, but the plethora of other emotions I’d stuffed over the last 50 years and especially since finding my birth mom who didn’t want to be found. Finding him was just the right trigger for everything else to come flying out for me to deal with all at once – abandonment, rejection, fear and re-rejection to name a few.

  • You can never make up for lost time – grief of the loss of time is completely overwhelming.

There are no words to describe the loss of finding a dad who had no clue about me but wanted to. F.I.F.T.Y. years! How do I even process 50 yrs. that was mine to live or even at the very least, know about … but wasn’t given the opportunity due to the decisions made FOR me by others. It left me with the deepest feeling of powerlessness I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Knowing that one person held that much power over me and how my life events rolled out, made me a little crazy. It still does …

Not only the loss of time with my dad but my siblings also. With the celebration of every new family member I met, there was an accompanying funeral – death of lost time. Time that will never be recovered or relived. A funeral of lost time for every. single. family. member.

Author Ann Voskamp says, ” ‘If only‘ is the saddest string of words ever strung together.” I’m convinced she’s right.

  • Expect to be misunderstood by many – even become suspect – guilty until proven innocent.

It’s a sad reality but those searching are too often misunderstood by many, including their own families sometimes. Motives and intentions are held suspect by some who don’t know you and sometimes even those who do. It came as a shock to me that others couldn’t trust my intentions…if they could read my journals and open up my heart and read it, they’d know. But they haven’t and honestly, some have their own issues/agendas and are just never gonna come around and that’s ok. I consider it God’s protection and move on with the ones who do.

My sweet dad told me at the beginning, “we’ll lock arms with the ones who care and run for as long as we can.” I know … such precious words to a daughter who shows up 50 years late. I never know just how much longer and farther we can run but whatever it is – 2 minutes, 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 yrs., it’s a gift.

  • Understand that even though your initial reunion may seem perfect, over time, things can change…people can change.

When you find new family, you walk into an established network of family dynamics, history and connections that you have no clue about. You can’t tell who is faking it and who is genuine because you don’t KNOW them. You have only their words and actions to base your understanding of the family environment. Sometimes, people don’t mean what they say and you have no frame of reference to filter any of it. So, you just have to go with what they tell you – their spoken words. Just be prepared for some not to remain excited (fake or genuine) after the initial hoopla that the lost has been found. Everyone’s true colors are revealed over time. Expect the unexpected.

  • Make sure you have a support system in place before embarking on this journey – caring family, friends or support group of others who’ve done what you’re doing.

This is ESSENTIAL! I would never have made it through the last year without friends and family who care about my journey. Not every family member or friend cares and that’s ok. Find the ones who do! Many friends texted me scripture randomly through my darkest days and I knew they were praying for me. This. is. a. game. changer. I could never have made it through those darkest days and back to the light without the support of my friends and family who loved me, encouraged me prayed for me.

  • Expect your emotional roller coaster ride to last for months, even years.

The search for my birthmother and reunion lasted for a period of about 8 years. She didn’t want to be found, so those 8 yrs. were mostly spent waiting – my favorite word. I waited 2 yrs. for her to respond to my first letter! I thought in time, she would see that I was worth keeping this time, but I was wrong….

We exchanged about a dozen letters and one visit in person over those years before I finally had to admit to myself that she didn’t want me in her life and I had to walk away for my own sanity … for my mental/emotional health as well as my family.

  • Your decision to search and reunite with biological family will impact every area of your life and every person in your present family as well.

This probably caught me the most by surprise since finding my biological family. I had no idea the ripple effect of a dad plopping into my family tree would create – or me plopping into his. Because this reunion/relationship is so life-altering to me personally, it can’t help but affect my other relationships.

Initially, time and attention were diverted to my dad and new family in a huge way. New family – my family – that I never knew and was now given the opportunity! Our family tree took on a new shape, adding not only my dad, but my brothers and their families. Usually, families grow more organically over time. This surprise grafting took understanding on the part of my husband and kids to help me through it. They understood this was something that I had longed for my whole life and they were very supportive BUT it wasn’t without sacrifice…and a ton of patience. I will never underestimate their sacrifice and will never ever adequately be able to thank them.

While there’s no possible way to be able to anticipate everything that will transpire, one final nugget – but extremely vital – is to remember throughout your search and reunion to take care of you! Too often, as adoptees, we think about others at the expense of ourselves. Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s vital! Search and reunion with biological family isn’t for wimps and you have to take care of you so that you have the physical and emotional strength to see it through.

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