I don't have a conscious memory of a time that I didn't know I was adopted. It's something my parents brought up to me time and time again to allow me to acclimate to the idea that my origin story was different than my friends and peers.
I was different.
This difference would manifest itself in physical ways, from the color of my hair to my mannerisms. But it left an impact on my emotional self, too. I felt this nagging hole inside me, this gap in understanding myself. It became like an emotional sore — I didn't always notice it, but when the smallest word or thought would nudge the area, I would feel the pain through my whole body. It was ever-present.
This desire to find resolution was the reason I chose to start my search — but it's not the same for every adoptee. Every adoptee's choice to search, or not to search, is equally valid and personal to their needs; neither is right or wrong. Some adoptees choose not to search at all.
I've broken down a list of some motivating factors as to why individuals would or would not choose to search. This is not meant to be an inclusive list, but is meant to enlighten you on some of the contributing factors. The following list is pulled from my own experience, as well as the experiences of my peers and friends.
We search because:
- We want our full, updated medical history — This is a big one for many adoptees, as it pieces together our heritage and helps us prepare for our futures.
- We are going through a huge life change, like getting married or having a baby – Any life event can spur the desire to find a birth parent.
- We feel a sense of loss or emptiness when considering our lack of history – This one is personal to my story. Every time a friend would bring up their origins or heritage, I would get emotional. I wanted my personal history to build on my sense of self.
- We want to form relationships with our birthparents – I also resonate with this reason. While no one can ever replace our parents, we share a special bond with our birthparents. It's an opportunity for us to expand on our family, not replace them.
- We want to placate a curiosity about a physical or personality trait – Where did our athletic ability (or in my case, a lack thereof) come from, or our unusually green eyes?
- We feel satisfied with our lives, but know there's more out there to understand about ourselves.
We choose not to search because:
- We simply don't want to – Not every adoptee feels the need to satisfy a void or answer every question, and that's totally normal and okay.
- We have made peace with our past, and are ready to move on.
- It isn't the right time for us. We could have emotional or time barriers that are too much to overcome – if an adoptee is going through a personal crisis like the loss of a job or a divorce, they may not be ready to handle the emotional stress of the search process.
- We are overwhelmed by the process. Searching for your birthparents is an intensive journey, and it can sometimes be too much to take in – As someone who is in the process of searching, I resonate with this. Not only does search take up a lot of time, but it eats away at your emotional energy. Some adoptees choose to stop mid-search to take care of themselves, and that is okay.
- We are somewhat aware of our past, and feel like no further information is necessary.
- We are afraid of what our friends or families will say – If you are a friend or family member, please remember to be supportive. The adoptee will experience a lot of different emotions, from elation to confusion. You don't want to be the barrier that stands in the way of an adoptee fitting the pieces of their past together.
No matter what the reason, every adoptee has a story. As allies, friends, or family, it's your job to listen to them, support them, and above all, respect their needs. Learn more about search and the guidance and support that Adoption Network provides.
Abby Zerull is an adoptee and member of the Special Events Sub-Committee.
Editor's Note: Abby Zerull authored this blog during her search for her birth family, and has since been reunited. Abby is pictured above with her birthmother and sister.