Unique Considerations: One of the more monumental life events is approaching parenthood. Prospective parents who are adopted have unique considerations. Many have never knowingly encountered anyone in their lifetime with whom they share genetic origins. The notion of another living being resembling them or sharing inheritable traits with them is powerful. This is a time when partners need to be particularly sensitive to each other and the different challenges that approaching parenthood might hold.
The Search for the Biological Parents: Tracing biological parents is so common now it has even joined the reality TV world. Hardly a lighthearted topic, this is a very personal subject at the heart of one’s identity, self-worth and often concern for others. Throughout the adopted individual’s life, milestones and challenges can trigger the question, “ should I try to search for my parents” and “what might that search introduce into my life?”
Protecting Others: Protective of their bond with their adoptive parents and perhaps a misguided notion that to search for their biological parents might be hurtful to them, adopted adolescents and adults may feel deeply conflicted about their interest in doing a search. Equally common is the fear that what the adult child may find could be rejection or disappointment or uncomfortable comparisons with their adoptive parents. Siblings or half siblings may spring up and introduce a flood of other feelings. The Pandora’s Box aspect is daunting.
Identity Adjustments: But at the root of many of these concerns is the question “Who am I?” Establishing one’s self-image or identity is the key developmental challenge of childhood and adolescence. Imagine the prospect of finding out at age 20, 30, 40 or 50 that you are the offspring of people so different from yourself. Adolescents, at the final leg of solidifying some of the fundamentals of self-image, may feel drawn to researching their biological parents to fill in the missing puzzle pieces. At the heart of this curiosity is the urge to put some closure on this challenging developmental task. In fact, identity adjustments occur through life and enrich the experience of living.
The Unknown Is Always Daunting: Though facts about their biological parents may have been known since childhood, the prospect of meeting the biological parent/s or other offspring, or being unsuccessful or too late in a search, can be discouraging possibilities. The adopted adult may feel their life is stable and introducing these possibilities could disrupt and destabilize a system that they established years ago to deal with their adoptive identity. Coping strategies start young and can be fairly well entrenched. Denying any real interest in the biological parents is one approach. Refusing to talk about the topic or concentrating on the fear that doing so will be a betrayal to the adoptive or even biological parents, are strategies that may have served them well enough when single, but fall short when in a relationship where having a child becomes the priority.
Genetics: Concerns about the medical and genetic history of the biological parents may weigh on the spouse of the adopted partner. In an age of genetic counseling and findings of genetic predispositions for a range of medical and emotional challenges, parents feel pressure to know as much as possible about their histories. Having dealt all their lives with the knowledge of the pros and cons of their parents, the spouse may consider a search to be the common sense approach to the process of preparing for parenthood.
The Challenge to The Coupledom: If both spouses are in agreement that a search for the biological parents or information regarding them is useful prudent and possible, then the sensitivity required here is to the emotional significance for the adopted spouse as the search unfolds. However, if the adopted spouse does not wish to do a search and his or her partner is uncomfortable with that decision, then a very sensitive and respectful process needs to unfold. Tapping a place of vulnerability that is unique and specific to the adoption experience requires respect and support. Similarly it behooves the adopted partner to move outside of his or her perspective and imagine what their spouse is feeling. Stretching the bounds of empathy towards your partner even when you are emotionally threatened by the very issues they are raising, portends well for the future happiness of the shared life that is about to include a new member.
It Always Takes Courage: When the emotional stakes are on high alert, that is when the notion of courage in the Coupledom comes into play. Having those tough vulnerable conversations or seeking out a third party to help, requires a kind of emotional muscle and commitment to go where you don’t want to go. This journey actually works because all are stronger for it: the bond of the couple; the individual’s sense of self; and the family life they share together. But it always takes courage!
Respect for Your Partner’s Decision: Ultimately this is the decision of the adopted adult. The tools that will strengthen the decision making process, and the relationship, are those of shared exploration, taking the time to allow feelings to unfold and mutual respect. Time is critical here. No one conversation or one visit with a psychotherapist or genetics counselor will suffice. The tools of time, patience and empathy for each one’s perspective are required. And Courage!
©jill edelman,M.S.W. L.C.S.W.