A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a former colleague and friend, Brett. Over salads we chatted about life, our children, and how things were going at our respective jobs. Eventually, Brett asked me about my family. He is a very generous man and a generative thinker (in truth, he’s a bit of a savant) who has kindly, and avidly, followed my story since it began back in October 2016 when a heart attack prompted me to strike out and find my biological family.
He made a comment which in turn became a revelation to me. He said, “What’s so remarkable about your story is that everyone involved has been willing to grow.”
I had never thought about my search and ultimately the reunion in that light. I have always thought I was one of the lucky adoptees whose adoptive family supported their search while the biological one accepted them. That was how I saw it. Yet Brett’s statement got my mental engine running and after a bit of revving I think he’s onto something.
My search happened quickly. After sharing what little non-identifying information I had about my biological parents with a crafty genealogist named Christina in the middle of November 2016, she quickly went to work and within two days had found my birth mother. Her rapid discovery propelled me with Mario Andretti-like speed into a crossroads for which I was most definitely not prepared.
You see, I had not yet informed my family that I had initiated a search as I was waiting to do so in person over the holidays only a few weeks away. My family is scattered across the country and we are all together once or twice a year. Face to face – maybe with wine in hand cozily ensconced before a roaring fire – was my preferred method to broach the topic. Now, however, I had answers. And these answers were big time information about me! I felt duplicitous not telling them or going any further with the search without my mom, dad and sister knowing. Similarly, I didn’t want the momentum of the search to slow down even one tiny bit. Christina was on a roll.
So the first thing I did was call my sister. I wanted her thoughts before springing the news on our parents. She was my starting point and the outcome of that conversation would shape everything.
After I told her about Christina’s discovery I said to her, “Sarah, if you don’t support me in this search I’m not taking it any further. I need your support or I’ll stop.”
I felt a little guilty putting so much on the line for her, but I said what I meant.
“I support you bro-bro,” she replied.
That was exactly what I needed to hear. She wasn’t threatened nor did she think I was crazy. She supported me. In Brett’s paradigm she was willing to grow.
Once we hung up, I immediately called my parents and had the conversation. I didn’t feel great having the conversation over the phone but we had it nonetheless, three thousand miles removed. To my great relief, they were supportive and understood my motives. They, too, were willing to grow albeit somewhat cautiously so, which was understandable. As a parent myself, I get it.
And so my search unfolded. I made contact with both birth parents, their spouses, my three half sisters and a smattering of biological uncles, aunts and cousins. I was embraced with smiles, tears, hugs, and we entered into reunion. Gratefully, they have all been willing to grow, each at their own speed. All things considered our reunion has been wonderful.
I know of many failed reunions. Some could be the fault of the adoptee, some could be the fault of the threatened adoptive family, and others are the fault of the reluctant biological family (nothing saddens me more for adoptees in adoptionland than when they have to deal with another bout of rejection at this level). I personally know adoptees who’ve had their birth mothers flat out reject them, or siblings who dictate the terms of the relationship to the adoptee, or fathers who won’t admit that the adoptee is their child. I’ve had an adoptive mother accost me in public for encouraging adoptees to find their biological truth. I have also heard of adoptive parents who go completely mental when their adopted child wants to seek answers.
So maybe the core of it all is this simple question, are the parties willing to grow or not? For a reunion to have a chance to achieve massive success, I posit all parties involved must be willing to grow. The members of the triad – the adoptee, the adoptive family and the biological family – must grow with the process. If some members fail to, the effort is likely doomed.
Taking it one step higher, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone we encountered was open to growing? Isn’t that what life is all about, or should be about? With a tip of the cap to the film Shawshank Redemption, get busy growing or get busy dying.
This might be Brett’s Paradigm.