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The Parents Network > Advice > Adoption > Adults Finding Their Birth Parents



Why is it so important to find your birth parents?

May 2004

In this last week's recommendation newsletter, somebody asked for recommendations on resourced for finding birth parents, to which someone replied ''knowing who your birthmother is will add a richness to your life that makes navigating all the new emotions worth it.'' This statement really brought up some questions for me. As an adoptee who has never really had any interest in finding her birth parents, it seems like I'm in the minority. Does anyone else feel the same way I do? If you think it's important to find them, why is it so important to find these people? I appreciate them and am grateful for their generosity, but I know who my mother is and it's the woman who raised me. I am estranged from my adoptive father (he left us when I was three) who I tried to reconnect with some years back but it has only confused thing for me. He was not part of my growing up, so I find it difficult to relate to him as a father. We have nothing in common and now I wish I had never made contact. What kind of relationship can I have with someone with whom I have nothing more in common than some DNA? How does this enrich my life? Am I missing something? I already feel that my life is so full, what can knowing who this person is add? I'm not judging, I just want somebody to provide me with some new insight. Anonymous


I look forward to reading the answers on this topic. I, too, am adopted, and I also have not been interested in finding my birth parents. Sure, I was mildly curious, and if you handed me an envelope with the info I would open it, but the benefits didn't seem worth the trouble and emotional strain. Recently I have been starting to feel differently. Mainly, I think, because my mother died a year and a half ago. Not only does this mean that I could look without hurting her or making her anxious, but it also brings home that the window to find my birth mother will not be open forever -- she is getting older, too.

Also, as my kids (biological) approach adulthood and I see the ways we are connected, not just in shape of nose, but in personality traits, too, I wonder what traits I share with my birth parents.

For now, the thought of opening a new emotionally trying chapter when I am really just recovering from my mother's death and the complicated aftermath still does not seem worth the possible benefits. But I am wondering about it more and more. -- getting more curious


I am a 35 year old adoptee and have found myself interested in searching at different points of my life but never really actively pursued it. When i was in my 20's and in therepy we explored part of my desire to seach as possible part of a greater issue with abandonment. After finishing my therepy the ''need'' to search was one of the things that ''miraculously'' dissapated. When i started to have children I became interested again for reasons of medical history and the usual ''who do they look/act like'' questions. Again I never went further that getting my non-identifying info from the adoption agency. From this i learned what my biological parents physical stats were, their interests (during college years) and my heritage which i always sort of knew but it was affirmed. It lingers in the back of my mind, but mostly for the medical reasons and curiousity- I really have very little desire for an emotional relationship - that's what my ''real'' family provides. not searching now but maybe???
I don't have any personal experience with this but my closest friend (whom I've been friends with since childhood) was adopted through an open adoption and her biological mother is also a distant relative of her mother. I have witnessed the pain and confusion that knowing her biological parents has caused her and she had remarked to me many times that she wishes that she didn't know them. And I wanted to ad, perhaps more significantly, that, from reading your post, you seem to have the insight that you seek. You seem to know your truth. Anon
You ask alot of important questions about finding one's birhtparents, and I'd like to respond based on both my personal experiences as an adoptive mother and sister of someone who relinguished her daughter for adoption many years ago, and as a psychotherapist working with adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents.

I think the primary risk of not knowing one's biological family is the secrecy that often accompanies unasked questions, and the subsequent shame that one feels as a result of the secrecy. The developmental tasks of childhood and adolescence which shape identity formation and self esteem can be impacted by doubts and mystery about one's origins. In my own limited expereince, adoptees from closed adoptions frequently wonder about the circumstances of their adoption, e.g.,''why was I placed for adoption?'', and even harbor worries about being somehow different or less lovable, without really understanding why. ''Finding someone I looked like'' was one of the compelling reasons my sister's birth daughter searched for her biological parents. And, of course medical history is always good information to have for you and your children. On the other hand, I've met several adolescent and adult adoptees who have very little curiosity about their birth families, and do not seem the least bit burdoned by such questions.

In your e-mail, you presume that you have very little in common with your birthparents other than DNA. How can you know this? Its entirely possible that you have alot in common with them including siblings, personality traits, talents, hobbies, and interests. Such things have genetic underpinnings. You also say , ''my life is full,'' as if knowing more people who love you would take away, rather than add to your riches. Of course, its not always so easy or simple. People are sometimes disappointed with who their birthparents turn out to be. And, there's no one answer for everyone.

I hope you follow your instincts on what's right for you, and in the meantime, if you need more information, or support, there are many resources available. One place to start might be PACER, an organization that provides information and support for adoptees looking for their birthparents, or those who simpy need to understand what's involved in this process. Their number is 1- 888-746-0514. Best of luck! Phylis


I'm an adoptee who sought out and found my birth mother fairly late in life (at age 34). I never felt a burning desire to know my biological parents, but was somewhat curious and wanted to know my medical history before having children. In any event, I met my birth mother and two full, biological sisters in person several years ago. Even though I didn't realize it until later, the meeting was one of the most difficult and emotionally draining events of my life. Significantly, I had not given any thought to what type of relationship, if any, I would have with my birth family after our initial meeting. As it turns out, my mother and sisters think of me as a long-lost relative and tried hard to integrate me into their family for several years after our meeting, whereas I do not view them as being part of my family. I felt no kinship with them when I met them even though I certainly thought I would. My family, as far as I'm concerned, is the family that raised me. I did learn about my medical history and am grateful for that info (turns out I am at significant risk for colo-rectal cancer and have started early screening), but some of the info (family history of mental illness and epilepsy) I cannot do anything about and don't know if I'm glad to know about it. The long and the short of it is that I probably would not seek out my birth family again knowing what I know now. I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that you may not have anything in common with your birth family solely by virtue of your shared genes. Also an adoptee
You're not alone. I'm not interested in finding my birth parents either. It helps that they (if even alive) live on the other side of the world. I wouldn't mind having their medical history, though.
Dear Adoptee Ė I am someone who decided in my mid-20ís that I wanted to find my birth parents, or more specifically, I wanted to find out who they were. Many factors went into this: 1) learning my genetic medical history, 2) learning my genetic cultural history, 3) finding out what the state knew about me that I didnít (that was a big one for me), and 4) finding out the story of my conception and birth. Also, there is something very satisfying in figuring out a mystery Ė I felt like a private investigator at times, and there was a sense of excitement and accomplishment as I grew closer to discovering my birthparentsí identities. Why some people choose to search for their birthparents and others donít may have something to do with why some people are interested in genealogy and some arenít. For the former, knowledge of how they came to be in the world helps them find a place for themselves, and gives them a sense of who they are. For others, the information has no relevance. For me, I think my interest has been sparked by the information not being available. I am way more into genealogy than my biological half-siblings are (who have always had the information available to them). I remember telling my half-brother, donít you think itís crazy to think that if so and so wasnít born we wouldnít be here? His response: ďI guess so.Ē Also, even if itís only on a completely cellular level, to some degree our genetic make-up does tell us something about who we are. In my case, my birth mother has a possibly genetic type of cancer and I am really glad I know that and can watch for it. But the satisfying thing for me is knowing where my ancestors came from and how I came to be here. When people say, ďAre you Scandinavian?Ē I have an answer. However, I should point out that information is different that having a relationship with people. I never for a moment regret that I have information about myself and how I came to exist; however I donít feel a strong need to have a relationship with my birth parents. I do NOT feel that they are my parents, more like extended relatives, while they, especially my birthmother, think of me as their daughter. Itís a bit uncomfortable, but manageable. And to me, worth the information. I believe in England (I am thinking of that wonderful Mike Leigh movie) and some states the information is open to adoptees when they turn eighteen, without contact having to occur. To me thatís the best solution, but itís not available to everyone. But if youíre not curious anyway, I say let it go. An Adoptee Who Searched and Found
I know many adoptees who, like you, never wanted to search. I get the sense that they feel like their lives are the way they want them to be, they have families and friends and no reason to seek out birth family. I too have a wonderful family, and ave never felt like my life was lacking anything that meeting my birth mother could fix, but I have always been curious. I wanted to meet someone who looks like me. WHen I met my birth mother, our physical similarities was probably the thing that moved me least. I discovered connections that I had never even thought about but so validated my who and how I am. We are both artists and healers. There are ways that she just gets me that nobody else in my life does or can. That doesnt mean she fills anybody else's role, because I have space for her in my life too. Meeting my birth mother did not make any part of my life less rich or full. It just seemed to make things make more sense. Another adoptee
It was very interesting to read the repsonses from adult adoptees about finding birthparents. I wanted to add my own experience to the mix, but qualify it by saying that searching is a highly individual experience and any decision an adoptee makes should be supported.

I first thought about searching at age 23, prompted by my adoptive mother for medical reasons. But it took me seven years to really convince myself to do it, I think mostly because I wanted to do it in my own way without the government interfering. And I was afraid they would either be dead, wouldn't acknowledge me, or had kept me secret from their families and loved ones. And I was afraid of upsetting my parents, even though my mom was in favor of my search (albeit for medical reasons only at the time). Finally, when I was sure that I could accept whatever outcome, I signed the papers and waited. I should say at this point that I enlisted a therapist who specializes in adoption issues and is an adoptee herself to help support me through the process. If you decide to search I think it would be helpful because it's hard for non-adoptees to really understand our point of view, even close friends who would see us through anything.

So what happened was something more amazing and wonderful than I could have ever imagined. My birth mother and my birth father responded immediately and enthusiastically. They had been waiting for me to contact them -- my birth father had even signed papers in anticipation of my 18th birthday should I ever decide to search. My birthparents, although not married, have kept in touch and been friends all these years. And not only did I discover important medical information (family risk of asthma, migraines and osteoporosis), but I have been openly welcomed by my birthparents and their extended families. I am in contact with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, half brothers, and all are wonderful, interesting people. My kind of people, really. And the stories you hear about similarities was really true for me. My birthmother and I are uncannily alike -- same type of college, same graduate degree, same kind of favorite pen, same favorite soup recipe (ginger carrot soup from Moosewood), same way of asking questions, same habit of staying up too late at night and volunteering for too many things. My birthfather and I traveled to the same countries, pursued the same sports and prefer the same type of birthday cake alternative (apple pie). Things like that.

My family has really been wonderful, my mom especially. She was the one who first encouraged me to search and she has since met my birthparents. My dad was slower to accept the series of events, but has exchanged letters with my birthparents, thanking them for giving him the opportunity to be a dad. My brother, who is also adopted, has no desire to search and after some conversations, he understands that my decision to search is in no way tacit encouragement for him to do the same. If you decide to search and have concerns about your family's reaction and acceptance, there is a great booklet that I gave to my parents that really helped. It's by Carol Demuth from the Aries Center in Garland, TX at (214) 414-3639. Good luck to you. MAG


A different story...A very close friend of mine [Kim] sought her birth parents soon after she turned 18 yrs old. With some luck and a helpful person at the DMV she found her birth mother first, who had prayed for the day her daughter would try to find her. My girlfriend's mother had her at 17 years of age, and was forced to give her up for adoption. She never had the opportunity to have more children. ''Kim'' and her birth mother bonded right away, and Kim was able to meet the rest of her ''family'', who she still remains close to. Kim's adopted mother was very loving and encouraged Kim to find her birth parents, then soon after died of cancer. Kim was able to learn about the circumstances of her birth, her medical history and her cultural background. To this day(she is in her late 30's now) her birth mother is a part of her life. I know that many people do not have a happy outcome to their ''reunions'', but Kim's was, and her story has always touched me. Anon
I did not see the original post but I think I understand the basic question - feel free to contact me directly if I don't respond to your issue. At the age of 25 I found my birth- mother, not to mention an entire family. Her first words to me were, ''I've been waiting 25 years for you to call me.'' That phone call was the most difficult, and the most rewarding call I've ever made. The outcome was also emotionally devastating. What I realized is that for 25 years I had been fantasizing about who/what/where she was. The truth was very difficult to handle...however, it was the truth - not particularly bad or good.

The reason to find your birth-mother is to put to rest all your questions about who she is, who you are and why you exist. Isn't the most basic question of all, ''why am I alive?'' Your birth-mother can answer that question. It may not be particularly exciting, it may cause you to feel sadness, anger, or happiness, but it will make you feel something. I can't tell you the incredible emotion that I felt when my birth- mother sent me a picture she had taken of me in a foster home when I was three months old. She had written my birth name on the back of the photo and a dress she had given me (later returned to her) had been wrapped in tissue - she had kept both in the back of her dresser drawer for my entire life. She never stopped thinking of me as her baby.

Thirteen years after that first phone call we still have a very good relationship. However, it took a lot of work...we were both determined to make it happen. I realize that our relationship is not the norm, and that most adoptees are not interested in that type of outcome. Keep your expectations low, and your goals clear. Expect to go through some emotional turmoil, even if you never had any prior emotion about your adoption. Get involved with ALMA - they can provide support groups and information as to how to go about doing a search. Good luck berko


I saw an excellent documentary on PBS a few years ago called ''First Person Plural'' about a woman adopted from Korea, raised by a white family here in the Bay Area. She journeyed to Korea as an adult and met her birthmother and siblings, which whom she did not share a language. It was a powerful movie for me...

I was raised by my mother and stepfather, and looked for and met my birthfather when I was 25. I have known him for 20 years now and it is definitely a confusing relationship for me. I have been able to move past feelings of shame: that he picked his other daughters/family instead of me, and that has been a great relief. l have a rich family history and have met many of my relatives. I know my health history (pretty insignificant). I feel that my children benefit more from this relationship than I do, as he is another grandfather to them, and that this is a gift from me to my children.

I rarely feel completely relaxed around him and always carry the question of what is family. Knowing him has raised lots of uncomfortable feelings for me, yet has also given me more insight into myself. anon


My birth mother just contacted me

April 2004

I am looking for some help. My birthmother contacted me for the first time a few weeks ago and I am feeling everything from thrill to fear. I would like to join either a formal support group or just have a few phone numbers or email addresses of adopted people who have been through the process of connecting with birth parents to help me navigate this stretch of my journey. Do you have suggestions? Have you been through this? Please, help me. I am excited and scared and overwhelmed. Oh my god, this is actually happening!


Years ago when I was going through the roller coaster of search and reunion, I was on a list-serv called the ''Adoptees Mailing List'', ran by a guy named Jeff Hartung out of UCSD. I just did an internet search and they are now called AIML, Adoptees Internet Mailing List. Here's a link http://www.aiml.org/about.htm Good luck with this journey.
Hi. How exciting for you. Let me first share with you my story. I was adopted at birth and raised on the Peninsula (near San Mateo). About 12 years ago my sister (all of us adopted at birth) tracked down her birth mother. After awhile, after my adoptive parents got used to the idea of the birth mother in my sister's life, I told my dad I was interested in tracking down my birht parents. He put me in touch with an attorney at the firm who handled my adoption who shared with me some information that had been shared with my parents at the time I was adopted (in 1962). I got access to enough information to allow me to track both birth parents down. Amazingly my birth mother lived very closeby. Anyhow, although I've made contact with both, only my birth mother has remained close to me and is today a close personal friend. My adoptive parents have accepted her (and her husband) as part of the family. It's been a very fulfilling experience. There are a number of adoptee websites around such as (pardon the name) Bastard Nation (bastards.org) and Adoptees.com. Best of luck to you. Feel free to contact me directly if you want. I'd be glad to share with you more information if you're interested. Rob
The adoption alliance group, PACT http://www.pactadopt.org/ is definitely a resource you should utilize! Anon
Hi adoptee: I connected with both of my birthparents in late 2000. I can share my experience with you as well as some really great books on adoption that I read during this very exciting but scary time. Congratulations! No matter what happens with this new relationship, knowing who your birthmother is will add a richness to your life that makes navigating all the new emotions worth it. maureene

Need help finding my birth parents

Jan. 2003

does anyone know of any good agencies that can assist in looking for ones biological parents.


Any adoption agency would be able to give the information you need. I was told, from an adoptee who works at Pact (an adoption facililtator located in Richmond), that it is relatively easy to locate birthparents. Their number:510 243-9460. Anyone there can help you. They are all wonderfule people. Good luck
Here's a great page full of links: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Estates/9590/

And I recommend you check out ALMA. They've been very helpful preparing some of my friends for the first encounter experience: http://almasociety.org/

Good luck! anon


Searching for bilogical parents: In response to person looking for resources to locate biological parents---This is such a difficult and painful area for many to delve into. I worked in the adoption field for many years and I usually referred people to Bastard Nation at www.bastards.org. Apparently, they can be quite helpful in this area. You may also want to contact NACAC (North American Council on Adoptable Children) at www.nacac.org. I found them to be very helpful to many of the families I worked with. Best wishes on your search. Make sure you have a lot of support around you. jesse
I have recently started this process for myself. I was adopted in Missouri and got some help from a lawyer friend of mine who directed me to someone at the juvenile court in the county that has my records. I would start there if I were you; most likely a phone call to the court if you know the county where you were adopted. Also, there is a resource online that I found that gives state by state information for getting access to records, which are called ''non-identifying'' records (such as medical information, etc.) and ''identifying'' records which include names and numbers. Identifying records in most cases can only be released if your biological parents consent. Lots of people everywhere are working to change these access laws, but that's the way it is for now. Here's the site: http://www.adopting.org/AccessToAdoptionRecords.html
You scroll down to your state and there will be a contact address and phone number; usually a state social services department. In some cases, as is in my case, you will have to obtain the consent of your adoptive parent to get these records. For me that's not a problem, but I understand it is in other cases. If you would like to discuss this further, please send me an email. Best of luck to you. Laura

Husband is looking for his birth family

August 2002

My husband was adopted and for medical reasons is interested in finding his birth mother (family). Do we need to hire an expensive private detective or is there another way? Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly apprectiated. anon


I have searched for and located my birth mother and father in the past few years, and I would say not hire a private detective. At least not until you do some work on your own first.

Adoption laws vary drastically by state...In Oregon, you can get your birthmom's name just by requesting it (new legislation) ... In Ohio (my birth state), you could get it ONLY if you were born 1964 or earlier (I was born in 1965) ... and so on.

Things to do:

1) Register with the free International Soundex Reunion Registry (www.isrr.net). It's a non-profit, run by volunteers. I suggest a donation for good karma. This is the best registry out there. They ultimately hooked me up with my birthmom, even though my first registration with them didn't turn up anything.

2) Read Jean Strauss' Birthright. It has lots of good, practical advice on how to search for and find people. It was the best advice I found.

3) Collect information from his adoptive parents. They might know a lot more than they've said, maybe even a name or a location or hospital.

4) Contact the adoption agency. Everyone is entitled to ''non- identifying'' information. Depending on your luck, you could get a sympathetic social worker who might give a little more information than they are supposed to. Even non-identifying information such as hair & eye color, age, etc, can be very helpful in hooking you up. Best case, you get a name. If the adoption agency seems unresponsive, put your request in writing. People's personal beliefs can really affect how they handle your request.

5) Keep a notebook with all the information you gather, requests for information, etc. It helps to be organized.

Once you have a name and state, it can be surprisingly easy to find someone. Within minutes of getting my birthmom's name, I had her address & phone number (thanks to Yahoo).

This is just dealing with the practical side. There's also the emotional side to deal with...there are so many issues involved! Even if your husband is looking just for medical reasons, some other issues may come up.

There's a lot more that can be done, and feel free to contact me if you want more information. I am very glad I did it, and only wish I had done it sooner. Although parts of the search were sad and painful, overall, it has brought me a lot of peace and acceptance.

Good luck! Meghan


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