Birth Search: Tips From Post Adoption Services

Steve Kalb, adoptee and former Holt team member, shares advice for any adoptees considering beginning the birth search process.

I’ve been working in post adoption services for more than 16 years. While unique histories and individual circumstances have brought thousands of adult adoptees to us over the years, many come asking similar questions about topics like adoption files and birth search. I’ll be providing insights and answers to some of those questions in this limited series I’m calling “Tips from Post Adoption Services.”

Read part one, “File Copies: Tips From Post Adoption Services.”

We receive dozens of birth search requests each year. It’s the big question adoptees are asking and the big question that many of us ponder.

Today, I’ll be focusing on some of the most common expectations adoptees have about birth search and compare those to what I’ve observed over my career serving adoptees. Let’s go!

Expectation: I’ll call my adoption agency and they’ll give me the name of my birth parents.
My observations: Holt rarely has names or other identifying information about birth families. Whatever information we have, it’s been given to your adoptive parents through the adoption process. If you’d like your own records, we hold file copies that are readily available to you. The overseas partner agency might have additional information on your birth parents, but the choice to release that information is at their discretion.

Expectation: The search process will take (x) amount of time.
My observations: Timelines for search are unpredictable. There are many variables at play like the adoptee’s current age, birth country infrastructure, the extent of the birth parent(s)’s involvement at time of relinquishment, and more. I’ve seen searches take as little as two weeks to complete and others take years. Most successful cases fall somewhere in between these extremes, but in reality, the odds of finding birth parents in a closed intercountry adoption are low. They’re not zero, though, and if you feel the need to search, I strongly encourage you to contact your adoption agency and explore your options. It’s your right to search and we’re here to help.

Expectation: My birth parents have forgotten about me and I mean nothing to them. After all, if they really wanted to know me, they could just ask the agency.
My observations: Nearly every birth parent I’ve worked with admits to thinking regularly about their relinquished child and hopes they’re healthy and thriving. However, there is a complicated web of cultural and personal barriers in place that prevent them from searching for us. In most cases, two common fears prevent the birth parents from reaching out.

First, they fear the cultural stigma of being discovered by the people/community that led them to relinquish in the first place. For many parents, our birth and relinquishment are secrets, and contact with an adoption agency risks raising suspicion.

Second, birth parents fear rejection from the adoptee. Many birth parents carry so much shame over the relinquishment that they assume we are angry and resentful towards them. It’s completely valid and normal to have feelings of anger towards our birth parents, and they know that. However, they feel our legitimate anger means we’d never want them in our lives, which for many of us, couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Expectation: When I find my birth parents, all my questions will be answered.
My observations:Kind of. It depends on the primary motivation for search. If you’re mainly interested in concrete, tangible answers to questions like “Why was I relinquished?” or “Does cancer run in our family?” these are relatively simple questions that can be satisfied by a couple of email exchanges. But if you are driven to search in a quest for identity, the foreignness of our birth parents, figurative and literal, can serve as a painful reminder of all we’ve lost in the adoption process. While this experience can help clarify some things about the adoptee identity, it can be in a disappointing way.

Despite differences in motivation, there is no “wrong” reason for wanting to search and every adoptee has a right to do so. 

If you’re looking for more discussion on this topic, our post-adoption services department created a series of videos about birth search in which a group of Holt adoptees talk about their motivations for search and the complexities of the process. You can watch them on our YouTube channel.

If you decide to embark on the birth search journey, our post adoption department is here to support you, answer your questions and help as much as we can. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected].

About the author

Steve Kalb is an adult adoptee from the Midwest. He received his masters of social work in 2009 and is currently pursuing his PhD in social work and social research, focusing on adoptee community and empowerment models. Since 2005, Steve has worked directly with hundreds of adoptees through adoptee camps and birth search counseling.  He has seen the need for, and benefit of, a strong adoptee community.

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Did you know Holt provides support to all adoptees?

Every adoptee has a unique and complex life experience. Holt strives to support all adoptees, regardless of their placing agency, by providing help with birth search, citizenship and more.

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