The Stages Of Reunion
These are some of the stages that a reunion may go through. Every reunion is different, so if your reunion does not follow this pattern, don’t be discouraged.
Fantasies that exist about one another (sometimes for years) are the first seeds from which adoption reunion grows.
Some Fantasies that Adopted Persons Might Have
For an adopted person this begins at a very young age. Children wonder what their mother is like and why their mother “gave them away”. They fantasize and create their natural mother in their mind. Sometimes their natural mother is all good or all bad or their adoptive mother is all good or all bad. They attribute certain characteristics they have to their natural parents.
- Adopted children don’t think about their natural mothers
- Adopted children have no conflicts about being adopted
- Adopted children do not have any particular developmental problems
- Adopted children think about their mothers all the time
- Adopted children have a conflict between two mothers that starts developing, at the very latest, when they discover they are adopted.
- Adopted children process their developmental milestones differently than non-adopted children
Some Fantasies that Natural Parents Might Have
Natural mothers and fathers fantasize with what little information they have about their child’s adoption. If they were told the adoptive parents cried when they received their child, they think about this their entire life as this is the only thread they have of their child’s new life. Natural mothers see other children on the street and wonder if they are her child, or if they hear about a death of a child they may fear that this is their child. Mothers may fantasize about their child’s personality, physical appearance, or family traits.
- Mothers are not allowed to search
- Mothers will destroy their children if they find them
- There is a minimum age before search is legal
- There are no laws prohibiting anyone from searching
- Mothers give their children a much needed gift when they search
- There is no minimum age for search and it is recommended as early as possible
2. First Contact
Note: Origins offers a “First Contact” intermediary service for adoption reunions to members.
Once you have located your family member, you need to decide how to make contact. Working with an intermediary can be a good idea for first contact in reunions. It gives each party a comfortable place to be honest about their feelings and fears about reunion, and it allows for space between the parties and allows for “processing” of the new information until all parties feel more comfortable and able to move forward.
If you have reunited through a Government registry, they will most likely work with you as an intermediary. They may take you through some steps such as exchanging letters, then perhaps emails, and then moving to a more personal exchange by telephone. Many post adoption departments in Provincial governments will act as an intermediary until both parties are comfortable releasing their personal information.
If you decide to make contact yourself, be aware that you may be a shock to that person. Many adoption reunions fail because of a poor first contact. This must be handled with a great deal of preparation and understanding of the process. You may feel comfortable with the idea of your family member calling you “out of the blue” and being there on the other end of the phone, however your family member may not be comfortable with this idea. Do you know their personal situation? Do you know if they are seeking you? How much information do you really know about the family member you are seeking to reunite with? Be careful…this is an area where reunions can fail.
3. The First Meeting
Once First Contact is made, and before the First Meeting, you will most probably have had many many long phone calls the likes of which your other family members will marvel at. It is like you have “fallen in love” you are so engrossed and obsessed with your newly found family member.
The first physical meeting can be very emotional. It is a good idea to have the reunion in a private place such as a private home, or in a park, or somewhere where emotions can be freely expressed without embarassment as reunions can be very emotional for both parties.
Upon meeting your loved one you may be impressed with the physical similarities between yourselves or other family members. You may spend time comparing mannerisms and may even compare hands, fingers, noses or even your silly laugh. This is perfectly normal and answers the many questions that adopted persons have had their entire lives about their physical appearance and the its’ origins. For mothers it is reassuring that their children are “whole” and safe in the world and that they continue to be their children.
Do not underestimate this physical meeting. Your cells know and remember the last time you were together and your body has a memory of that. Adopted persons and mothers have been heard to say that they “felt something shift inside them that they have never felt before or since in their lives”. It is one of the defining moments of your life.
For both parties: Cherish this profound moment and enjoy every second of this wonderful event in your life.
4. The “Honeymoon” Stage
During and after First Contact and First Meeting you are in what is called “The Honeymoon Stage” of adoption reunion. You cannot get enough of the other person. This is a stage where everything seems magical and wonderful. Your newly found family member consumes all your thoughts and your time during this period. The exciting “high” and sense of excitement that you feel is normal at this stage of adoption reunion. You may spend hours on the phone or computer or even at the coffee shop just talking and talking, asking and answering questions about each other’s lives, about the adoption, about the history and heritage you both share, about other family members and so on.
“I couldn’t believe it when my son called. I had waited thirty-one years for this day. I was so consumed with him he was I could think about for weeks and weeks. We talked on the phone for hours every day for weeks. We sent each other pictures on the internet. I wanted to tell everyone about him. I have never been so happy.” – A Mother
“During the time and after the initial contact with my mother and just prior to my returning her call I cried on and off with tears of joy and for the feeling of wholeness that began to seep into my pores. My emotions were very intense. I was on cloud nine. Was this really happening to me? Yes, it was” – Am Adopted Person
The “Honeymoon Stage” is a stage where huge amounts of information are passed to and from each other. Other family members might feel “left out” of the process or become jealous of the new relationship during this time if they do not understand that this stage is temporary and quite normal in the progression of an adoption reunion.
5. After The Honeymoon
First encounters are supercharged, but when all the excitement and information sharing is done, it can feel like you are having a relationship with an “Intimate Stranger”. Your bond with each other is a familial one, but this is a family member with which you still need to develop a relationship as you have not had each other in your lives for some time.
As mentioned previously, during the “Honeymoon Stage”, huge amounts of information are exchanged between the parties and both parties are on a “high”. Here is where the “roller coaster” analogy regarding adoption comes into play. It is as this stage that the parties realize that some of the information they learned may not be information that makes them very happy. For example a mother may find out her child was abused, or given to much older parents, or brought up in an alcoholic household, or raised in a way that she would not approve of…also an Adopted Person may find out that his/her mother went on the marry his/her father and had other children, and that s/he was the only one not included in the family, or s/he may find out that his mother cannot produce his father for some reason or worse, that his/her mother was forced to surrender to adoption pressures or that s/he was conceived in rape.
There is always information learned on both sides that may be disconcerting to the other party….and this is the period where that information starts to sink in….and the emotions attached to that information start to come into play. Sometimes mothers find out things about how their children were raised that make them angry or unhappy and conversely Adopted Persons may find out information surrounding their birth and surrender that make them angry or unhappy as well. Here is where some of the hurt and anger of adoption begins to show itself and the parties may come “down” from the euphoric “high” that they experienced in the “Honeymoon Stage”.
This is the period where both parties start to evaluate and question some of the facts that they have learned in earlier stages. It is a time of examining information more in depth, examining expectations for a continuing relationship or struggling with defining the new relationships being formed. Feelings can be confusing, complicated and even surprising. Sometimes parties “pull back” and need time to reflect on all this new information and all these new changes in their life.
This is where Fantasy meets Reality…
“I had fantasized about her my entire life. It took some time for me to realize that she was who she was and not who I wanted her to be”- An Adopted Person
” I had thought and dreamed about my son his entire life and I had always hoped he would be like my family…the reality went far beyond my expectations as he was exactly like my father and myself in his looks, mannerisms, likes and dislikes” It was uncanny”. But I was unable to give him his father, as I had tried to find him for years with no success, and he was very angry about this as more than anything he needed his father. – A Mother
6. Time Out
At this point one or both of the parties in reunion may need some time to sort through their feelings and reactions to this new experience, and work through the new information and re-balance their life after putting so much energy and time into this new relationship. After being so single-mindedly focussed during the previous stages it may feel frightening if one party wants to “pull back”. Having “just found” the person it can feel as if you are losing them all over again. A mother may feel hurt, angry frustrated or frightened if an adopted adult pull back. Conversely an adopted adult may have feelings of rejection and abandonment if their mother wants to pull back. To both parties this can be a confusing and vulnerable time.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that both of you know that this is quite normal and part of the reuinion process …you have both received vast amounts of new information, and experienced many emotions in a short period of time. Some of the new information is not good, and good or bad, all of it is very emotionally draining. It is natural for your body and brain to want to absorb this information, and give you time to process it on your own. It is a very natural part of the process.
It will help if each of you recognizes this, and perhaps even put a timeframe on your time out…”Let’s think things over and come back together in two weeks time…or whatever timeframe works for both of you”. “I understand that makes you feel angry, and understand you need time to think about it and work through it”.
Take on responsibility for your own issues and feelings and deal with them. Remember do not take responsibility for things over which you have/had no control such as the disappearance of your child’s father, or the inability of adoptive parents to accept the reunion.
All relationships have conflicts and disagreements. The “Time Out” stage is one such example.
In order to move forward, whatever issues have come up have to be addressed. Given the newness of the relationship sometimes it is difficult to bring up “what is not working” or “what I don’t like”. Yet this is necessary in order for your relationship to grow and for the future development of your relationship.
At this stage, it can also be helpful for you to have professional outside support, or use a support network such as Origins Chat or Forum to gain strength from the experience of others.
This stage can lead to a deepening of the relationship or a break down…a deepening understanding of what the ongoing relationship will entail, if anything, should result.
7. Making Adjustments
At this stage, both parties wish to resume their journey together after their “time out” and may be able to communicate and resolve or agree to disagree on some of the issues that came up during the “After the Honeymoon” stage. All relationships have conflicts and disagreements.
It is important to address those issues as one would do in any other relationship and move forward. If a mother takes the risk to address an issue she may fear that she will lose her child again, this time permanently. The same is true for the Adopted Adult. There can be a fear that their bond may not be strong enough to weather the difficulties or disagreements that arise. The bond still feels fragile, and the element of permanency does not yet exist.
It is important to continue to move forward slowly and discuss this very issue. It might even be a good idea to make an agreement together that “disagreements do not mean disassociation with each other“, but are simply disagreements within your growing relationship that can be addressed. Also….pick your battles wisely….make sure you are choosing important issues to work through – not ones that are just annoying or bothersome.
Making adjustments also means coming to terms with new family members. Mothers may find they are now instant grandmothers, and adopted persons may find they have new brothers, sisters, maybe even nieces and nephews. All of these are new relationships which will take time to forge. Try to concentrate initially on the main relationship which is mother and son/daughter and the other ones will fall into place. At some point during the reunion process it will be necessary to be able to share the reunion relationship with these important people. Many find their reunions to be more satisfying and fulfilling when the relationship is out in the open and has the support and acceptance of those important to them.
8. Ongoing Relationship
What does an ongoing relationship entail or look like? That will depend on the individuals involved and the level of ongoing contact they both have agreed to. Some become full fledged involved family members celebrating family occasions and having regular ongoing contact. Others may meet for dinner or lunch once a month, while others still are babysitting their new grandchildren and loving every minute of it. Some even take the step of reclaiming/restoring their original legal relationship through adult adoption (“adopting-back”).
The key to the success of any ongoing contact and relationship is commitment by both parties. The relationship will gradually settle into a comfortable one with fewer ups and downs just as any maturing relationship does, and as with any relationship, renegotiations occur as life changes and growth takes place and new relationship roles emerge.
As your relationship develops you will develop a shared history with one another. This takes time as you share new experiences with each other. As in any relationship, over time, cumulative experience accumulates and enhances feelings of connection, warmth and closeness.
However you forge your ongoing relationship with your loved one, remember that it is like any other relationship. It needs nurtured with commitment, attention, time, and work to grow and mature.
- “Birthright” Jean A.S. Strauss
- “Adoption Healing” Joe Soll
- “The Primal Wound” Nancy Verrier
- “Your Children” Abreah karam
- “Toronto CAS” Disclosure Package
- “Reunion Relationships” Marlou Russell, Ph.D.