Term used to describe the meeting between a birthparent and an adult adopted person. (True reunions generally occur between people who have known each other, as in a class reunion where former schoolmates return to the institution to renew their friendship.) Usually the adopted person was placed at an age where the person has no memory of the birthparent.
Many newspaper articles describe the fond meeting between a birthmother and adopted adult. Hopefully, most meetings are a very positive experience; however, sometimes the birthparent or the adult adopted person is opposed to the meeting and will attempt to block it. The person may not want contact or need time to adjust to the idea. In a birthparent's case, the birthparent often has not told his or her spouse or other children about the adoption.
Some adopted adults wait until their adoptive parents are very elderly or even deceased before they seek to locate birthparents, fearful that the adoptive parents would feel offended.
Most original birth certificates of adopted children show the name of the birthmother and, since 1972, often the birthfather. Since these documents are sealed by the state, it may be difficult to do a SEARCH to locate a birthparent. Because of this, some SEARCH GROUPS actively favor OPEN RECORDS, which would allow an adopted person to obtain the original birth certificate upon attaining adulthood. Such groups, primarily composed of adopted adults, feel that they have the right to this information and that they have been unfairly deprived.
On the other hand, other groups believe that it is important to preserve confidentiality and protect the identities of the parties unless they mutually agree to meet, usually through a formal, state-authorized MUTUAL CONSENT REGISTRY or an organization such as the INTERNATIONAL SOUNDEX REUNION REGISTRY. An article in a 1999 issue of Time magazine illustrated the divergent views. A birthmother who had been raped and placed the resulting child for adoption was initially pleased with a communication through the agency with her adult birth daughter. But her joy turned to dismay when the daughter pressed hard for information about the identity of the rapist father. The birthmother feared retaliation from the birthfather if his identity were revealed. (He went to prison for the rape.)
Some birthmothers are so opposed to reunions and to open records that they have gone to court; for example, birthmothers sued to block an open records law passed in Tennessee in 1996; however, the law was upheld. Another group sued to stop an open records law put into place through a 1998 Oregon ballot initiative. That law was upheld by an appeals court in 1999 and was appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court in 2000. Other birthmothers, many of whom belong to such organizations as the AMERICAN ADOPTION CONGRESS or CONCERNED UNITED BIRTHPARENTS, are adamantly supportive of open records and reunions.
Adopted adults or birthparents may seek a reunion to satisfy curiosity but they say that they also wish urgent information. An adopted adult described in the Time article learned that she was adopted only after she was a senior citizen. She sought her birth records to attempt to locate a biological kidney donor for her grandchild. Despite her medical need (which most judges would consider and accede to, providing sealed information), reportedly she has failed to obtain the information. As a result, she is a proponent of OPEN RECORDS.
Some adopted adults wait until their adoptive parents are very elderly or even deceased before they seek to locate birthparents, fearful that the adoptive parents would feel offended. In some cases, the adoptive parents are offended, while others are temporarily hurt. The adoptive parents may fear their children will abandon them and love the birthparent more. Although there is no data on the subject, most adoption experts believe that these fears are seldom realized; however, there may be a period during which the adopted adult feels "torn" between the family who reared her and her biological family.
A study by Janet Rosenzweig-Smith, a project specialist for the New Jersey Department of Human Services and a doctoral candidate in social work at Rutgers, examined the factors related to successful meetings between birthparents and adopted adults. She found individuals over age 22 were more likely to have successful meetings, or "reunions," than younger adopted persons.
According to Rosenzweig-Smith, the most difficult and tumultuous time an adoption reunion could occur is during adolescence, which may well be an inappropriate time for an adopted person to seek out birthparents. Instead, she recommends individuals wait until adulthood and achieve a certain competency and self-confidence before attempting to locate birthparents.
The author also found a correlation between blaming a birthparent and an unhappy reunion. "The supported hypotheses regarding attribution can provide some direction in preparatory counseling with adult adoptees. Clinical techniques might be used to mitigate attribution of blame to the biological mother."
The author also found a correlation between blaming the biological father and successfully meeting with the birthmother. Adopted children may perceive the birthfather as a villain and a victimizer of the birthmother, or they may have no image of the birthfather at all.
Janet Rosenzweig-Smith, "Factors Associated with Successful Reunions of Adult Adoptees and Biological Parents," Child Welfare," 67 (September-October 1988): 411-422.
"Tracking Down Mom: Should Adopted Children Have the Right to Uncover their Birth Parents? More States Are Trying to Open the Records" Time, February?22, 1999, p. 64.
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©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
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