Should I Try to Find My Biological Parents?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My biological parents gave me up for adoption when I was born. I’m sure they had their reasons, and I am probably better for it since I grew up in a very loving family and turned out as well as could be expected. I’ve never wanted for anything. I have a great life, a great career, and a great family of my own now. I’m 45 years old. I don’t feel traumatized. I’m actually relieved my birth parents made the decision they did. I’ve never asked my adoptive parents about them.

As I have gotten older, though, I have had more and more thoughts about my biological parents. I find myself wondering about the circumstances that led them to give me up, whether they’re still alive, and if so, what they’re like today. I wonder if they think of me, too. And I wonder what it would be like to meet them. I had never felt compelled to go down this road until recently, so I’m not sure what’s bringing these feelings to the surface.

I guess I just don’t know if it’s wise, from the standpoint of my mental health, to pursue this. Like I said, my life is great without them in it. Also, while I wonder if my life could be enhanced by knowing more about the people who gave me life and connecting with them after all these years, I am mindful of the possibility I will only learn upsetting things. Who knows? Maybe they wouldn’t even want anything to do with me.

What do you think? —Left Wondering

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Dear Wondering,

It is only natural you would wonder about who your birth parents are, what they’re like, and why they decided to put you up for adoption. Who wouldn’t be curious? You write that your life, career, and family are satisfying, and perhaps you’d like them to know that. Maybe you also wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been adopted. These days, there are numerous ways to look for people that may help you find your birth family—if you decide you want to.

Many years ago, adoption information was not recorded or, if it was, the records were closed, but since 1980 most adoptive records are open. If you decide to look for more information, you can use social media, genealogy websites, and open records that should give you access to your birth certificate and other information. I personally know one person who found her birth mother on Facebook.

You wonder what it might be like to meet your family of origin. Different people have different experiences, of course. You might find out you have siblings, for example. You might feel you have little in common with your birth family or, on the contrary, there is a lot you share. There is only one way to know the answer, but would the answer be worth the time and emotional energy you expend?

You are worried about how this would affect your mental health. That is a good question, and I suggest this is such a big question that you might want to work with a therapist or professional adoption adviser who could accompany you on your journey. You would be hunting down the past and bringing it into the present. Working out whether you really want to do that, and then how to proceed if you do, may be no simple task. Finding your birth parents and meeting them would likely necessitate a big adjustment on everyone’s part.

You may fear rejection. Many people do. You birth family may have the same fears about you, and you might also reject your birth family once you meet them; there’s no way to know. Your adoptive family could fear losing you. This delicate decision to find your birth parents requires a combination of wisdom and courage.

I don’t know if you ever watched the TV show This Is Us. It has many threads, but one of the important plot lines concerns looking for and finding a birth parent. You might want to watch the show and see what it brings up for you. Chances are, you have plenty of your own fodder.

I wonder if you know other people who have been adopted. If so, you might like to discuss your feelings with them and get to know how they understand their adoption. Talking to your partner is important, too.

It sounds like you never discussed this with your adoptive family. It may feel like a delicate issue to bring up, but they could be enormously helpful in your search and may even feel it is important for all of you.

You may fear rejection. Many people do. You birth family may have the same fears about you, and you might also reject your birth family once you meet them; there’s no way to know. Your adoptive family could fear losing you. This delicate decision to find your birth parents requires a combination of wisdom and courage.

Either decision—to know or not to know—is wise and brave. Only you can decide what is the right path for you. Whatever you choose, I admire your curiosity and your process. You are not taking this lightly, nor should you.

Good luck, and I hope you check back in and let me know what happens.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 7 comments
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  • Trinity

    Trinity

    July 7th, 2017 at 10:57 AM

    I had a good friend once who became obsessed with tracking down her birth parents only to be disappointed when learning that they had both already passed away some years before. She had devoted all of this time and energy into tracking them down and it still in the end for her led to a dead end. I think that she is till glad that she pursued it though because she felt like there was a piece of her missing without knowing fully her history and her story.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    July 7th, 2017 at 5:39 PM

    Trinity, I agree with you and your friend both, the search in itself was worth the effort.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Rosie

    Rosie

    July 9th, 2017 at 8:20 PM

    Dear Wondering,
    I have been on this journey for 10 years. I have found my birth family and I will be meeting my birth father in a few months. Unfortunately, my birth mother passed away a couple of years ago. This has been a journey of unbelievable ups and downs. It takes a lot of strength and courage to work through the emotions. A good therapist can help you there. I have read close to everything that has been published about adoptees. I suggest you start there. You will find much comfort in reading that other adoptees have some of the same thoughts and feelings that you do. As hard as others may try, only another adoptee will truly understand your feelings. Best of luck on whatever decision you make.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    July 10th, 2017 at 10:52 AM

    Thanks, Rosie, for your encouragement and advice, and most of all for sharing your story.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Tod

    Tod

    July 10th, 2017 at 4:34 PM

    Not that I am the type of person who would normally like to bury my head in the sand… but I do know that I might be afraid of what I would find out. What if there is some genetic thing and I had to learn about that? I know that it would be something that one day I would probably need to know but that could be a real disappointment if you are only focused on finding the mom and dad. I see pluses and minuses to both sides I guess.

  • Lynn

    Lynn

    July 11th, 2017 at 12:09 PM

    Tod, you’re right to look at the whole picture–that way you can make productive decisions.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Tod

    Tod

    July 13th, 2017 at 1:13 PM

    Yeah I have known people who have been disappointed with who they have found and then those who have been disappointed to not find anything. I know both of my parents so it is really hard to say how I would react if I was adopted and had to go through those kinds of questions.

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