Friday, 3 August 2007

Adoption - tracing and the law

Some of the emails I've been receiving after this post have led to this post...

Tracing and the Law

It depends what country you are in. But before you even begin, there are a few things you need to consider. This is not something to be entered into lightly.

1. You don't know what you will find.

This means that you may well find a birth parent who has longed to see you all your life, but it also means that you may equally find a birth parent who never wanted to see you again. They may openly recoil at the fact that you have reared your ugly bastard head and chase you from door. Or they could be mentally ill, a drug addict, dead. You could have been the product of a harrowing relationship, of incest, or rape. This sounds harsh but when you don't know, anything and everything is possible, and you need to consider how you would deal with this if the worst turned out to be the case for you. A good book to read might be Yesterday they took my Baby by Ben Wicks, but there are lots out there. Read one. Please!

2. Reactions will vary.

They may have remarried and kept your existence a dark secret. Your appearance on the doorstep may threaten their very existence now, so have a heart. Don't just appear out of thin air. If and when you discover their whereabouts you need to make a gentle and subtle approach. You must consider the needs and wishes of the birth family and be prepared to back off if asked. This will be painful and difficult so you need to ask yourself if you will be able to do this if required. If you can't, then maybe you shouldn't be tracing just yet.

On other other hand, you may encounter a birth family who embrace you a little too much - a birth mother who wants to be your mother and make up for lost time. This can be just as difficult, especially if you still have your adoptive family close to you, and you have a birth mother becoming abusive towards your adoptive mother! This can, does, and has happened.

3. Everyone's feelings will have to be considered.

Many adoptees wait until the death of their adoptive parents before embarking on a trace, but many of us don't. You will need to be sensitive to the needs of your parents and siblings too. They will need to understand why you are tracing your birth relatives, and you may need to help them feel secure about their position in your life.

Extended birth family members may not know about you and may find it equally difficult to cope with this 'new arrival'. In my own case, my eldest cousin, who was the eldest grandchild, suddenly found herself the second oldest when I turned up out of the blue. I felt so guilty about that, but she handled it so well. I was lucky. Other situations I have read about didn't turn out so happily.

I am not trying to put you off tracing here, and I'm sure you already know it is not easy or something to be rushed into, but speaking from the position of one who has been there, done that and got the t-shirt, I'd like to say it again - don't have any expectations, be prepared for rejection (and equally to be wholly reclaimed), and think about the long term effects - on everyone.

Still want to trace?

Of course you do! I have breast cancer screening now that I never would have got had I not traced. I believe that we have the right to know our genetic heritage for medical reasons if nothing else. I believe that for all the issues and problems I have had to face as a result of tracing, I am much more of a complete person than if I hadn't traced. I can look back and see where I came from, and you know, there's a sense of peace in that.

If you don't want to trace, that too is fine though. You cannot allow anyone else to force the issue on your behalf, and your children may be the ones to do this. If this is the case, you may need to reconsider perhaps, because adoption affects everyone, not just you. It affects your kids because they cannot look back any further than you. They end up as adoptees by proxy, and should have access to medical history if nothing else. Perhaps?

Where to start?

There are loads of websites out there and search boards. You can trawl through those for hours on end, and some people strike gold. Some want to charge you lots of money, and others are free. Some are focused on the birth relatives, others on the adoptees. Lots of ruthless folks find it easy to prey on the emotion and the desperate so be warned. If you can hack it, the best way is undoubtedly through a government organisation/social services because they are trained to deal with the adoption triad (of which you are one third) and more importantly, trained to help you through the process. No - most importantly - they tend to have access to the information you need!

For information

For all adoptees, but especially those in the UK Adoption Search and Reunion is as good a place as any to start. This site contains useful generic information on tracing and how to deal with it emotionally. For search registries, start here. If you were born after 1975 you now have a legal right to your information but still have to go through the social service channels.

In Canada The Canadian Adoptees Registry is a good place to start. Also try Canada Adoption Registry Connect. The laws change from province to province but if you are over 19 years of age and were adopted in British Columbia, then you can access your details by filling in the form found here. Please note that birth parents have the right under BC law to request they cannot be found, and if so, you will not be able to retrieve your information. Maddening but there you have it.

For US citizens there are now hundred of sites who want to make money from you for searches. Forget them. Start by searching the message boards. Use the first 'start here' link above, and try looking on Sunflower Birth Mom to see if your birth mother is searching for you.

Last words...

Adoption search and reunion was a long road for me, and both my families. We all had to adjust and re-adjust. But it was, in the long run, the best thing I ever did, because I am whole (well half whole - I still can't locate my birth father). My mum and dad are okay with it all now - sometimes I think they are more okay with it than I am! - and I have regular but not over the top contact with my birth family. It's worked out well but has not been pain free.

If you really want to find out more, read what people are saying on the blogs for adoption. And er... if you are searching, or thinking about it, and want support, feel free to email me and I'll do what I can to support you.


Jon M said...

H. I usually can be relied on to make a flippant comment or two but I was humbled reading this, genuinely. Cheers! I think there's a drink for you on Facebook! :-)

hesitant scribe said...

Jon - thank you for my drink! You - humbled?! Surely not! ;-) The sentiments are dearly appreciated though.

ChrisH said...

I'm glad that it worked out for you. Best wishes, Chris.

Chilli said...

But social services do treat you like a half-wit, be warned everyone!

The feeling of knowing where you came from, that wholeness, of having people that look like you must be amazing......

One day, one day!

hesitant scribe said...

Chris - yes I was fortunate in many ways.

Chilli - yes - I know, honey... one day fingers crossed!