Reunion gets real


Katie Benett
Focus on Adoption Magazine

Every adoption reunion is unique,  but most of them have one thing in common: they’re complicated. In this article, a reunited adoptee shares her advice.

Reunions in the real world

Thanks to the internet and social media, adoption reunions are becoming common. Reunions are complicated journeys through intensity, excitement, anxiety, and unknowns—and there’s no road map.

Black and white hearts

Intense curiosity and desire for connection can propel adoptees into reunion before they’re prepared. Many people expect reunions to be real-life fairy tales. All they’ve seen are televised, “Oprah-tized” first meetings, not the reality of the “ever after.”  The challenges of reality can quickly over-shadow that initial reunion high.

What I’ve learned as an adoptee in reunion is that the fairy tale doesn’t exist in the long-term. After all, we don’t live in a fairy tale world.

There’s no black and white in reunion, and no right or wrong way to go about the process. There are also no guarantees.

Don’t go it alone

In my own life, I’ve experienced a painful and traumatic reunion with my birth father. I’m also safely and respectfully reunited with two beautiful sisters and a wonderful brother.  What I’ve learned is that pre-reunion support and guidance is vital to building and maintaining emotionally healthy, long-lasting relationships.

As in any new relationship, it takes time for reunited families to build trust and for the birth family, adoptive family, and the adopted person to develop a new normal.  Reunion support and education can help people reign in blazing emotions, see the bigger picture, protect existing relationships, and safeguard fragile new ones.

Find peace with imperfection

Two hearts

In some cases, adoptees choose to put reunion off entirely because they’re afraid they’ll hurt their parents. It’s true that some adoptive parents feel threatened by reunification. They may fear the adoptee’s desire for reunion means they somehow failed as parents, or that they’ll lose their child.

Here’s the best way I’ve found to explain the adoptee’s desire for reunion to parents who feel that way.

Imagine the adopted person carries two hearts. Each heart can only be filled by its own family. An ache in one heart isn’t the result of a failure of the other. The heart that belongs to their adoptive family is complete and filled with love. It lacks nothing and needs nothing. Their second heart belongs to their birth family. That heart aches to be completed and filled with love, too.

Reunion has powerful and incredible potential if treated with care, respect, patience, and a realistic outlook. Adoptees’ souls can be set free when they find the missing pieces of their life’s story.  Birth parents can finally be released from the torture of wondering if their child is all right. 

I’ve also come to realize that it’s ok to be left with questions, not answers. I’m trying to accept that there is give and take, and I’ve found peace in developing real, human relationships without a perfect fairy tale ending.

Not everyone in the adoption constellation will share my perspective or come to the same conclusions. It’s up to each person to decide what consequences they’re willing to accept as a result of reunion, and at what expense they’re willing to pursue their own needs and desires. 

Ultimately, if each person in the constellation holds the reunion with open hands, sits respectfully with difference, discomfort, and emotional impasse, and remains steadfast in their love and commitment to each other, I believe they can learn to coexist and bond as a new family system.

Katie Bennet is a social worker, a mom of three, and an adoptee.