search and reunion

Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Birth Parent Search

During our late teens and early twenties, a main developmental task is to establish our identity while simultaneously seeking independence from our family. In other words, to figure out who we are becoming, we need to know where we came from so that we can have something to actually separate from. For adoptees, who have limited information about their origin, this is often the time when there is an increase in wondering and seeking out more information about birth family—Questions like: What makes me unique? What about my genetic history? How am I similar and different from my birth and adoptive family? Where do I fit and belong? These are all important, valuable questions. Some adoptees move through this stage comfortably by exploring these search-related questions on their own without pursuing contact with birth relatives or an actual reunion. Yet for others, these curiosities lead to a strong desire for an active search and the hope of making a connection with birth relatives.   

If you are in this age group, here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help you decide if this is a good time to pursue a search.

1.     Do I have the support in my life to embark on a search right now, or should I build my community first? 

Having a solid support system of trusted people who are accessible to you is critical during your search. Consider the kind of help that you may need and then think carefully about who in your circle of friends, family, and professionals can be there for you. Many adoptees find that well-meaning friends and family have trouble understanding what they need, and that having the support of other adoptees makes all the difference. As you explore the answers to this question, you may consider working with a coach or therapist who specializes in adoption-related concerns. Joining an adoption community or support group can also offer a network of people who have been where you are and can share their search experiences.  

2.     How will searching impact my relationship with my parents?  

This is a tricky thing to talk about. However, overlooking it could lead to bigger troubles. Consider how much or little you want to involve your parents in your search process and be proactive in how you approach this so that you are in the driver’s seat. As a young adult, it is recommended that this process be on your terms—but you need to know what you want in order for this to happen. Take the time you need to explore and define what is right for you. If not, you may be swayed by other people’s point of view, no matter how well meaning. It’s important for you to feel “in control” of the process—so you can take responsibility for the outcome as well as feel confident that you are making the right decisions. These in-between years can be a confusing phase of life because parents have often been the stewards of the child’s adoption information. As you transition to adulthood, you can learn to own your story. There are often growing pains here—parents may need some help letting go while you may need some encouragement and support to take the lead. Being ready to deal with your parent’s feelings about a birth parent search is an important part of the decision-making process. This can be hard for anyone, and even harder for a young adult who is still “in the nest.”  Bottom line is, recognize that searching affects your whole family system—especially your parents and consider this in the timing of your search.    

3.     Do I have the time and emotional bandwidth to dedicate to a search?  

Although everyone’s search experience is different, most would agree that the experience took them on an emotional roller coaster that, regardless of the preparation, was difficult to predict. Many of our coaching clients initially reached out because they were unprepared for the emotions that came up as well as the impact it had on their lives. This is also true for people who feel they had very positive experiences. With this in mind, consider what else is happening in your life and try not to overlap the active part of your search with other weighty decisions or commitments that require significant energy (application deadlines, school exams, new job, or stressful travel, etc...) Once you actively engage in the search process, it can take on a life of its own and the feelings that come with this are hard to anticipate and prepare for. As positive as your experience may be, it is likely to be consuming and distracting for a period of time.  

In closing, keep in mind that your search doesn’t have to be conducted all at once. Searching can happen in phases over a period of months or years. Consider both internal and external factors that may be influencing you and set a pace that is right for you. If there is no pressure to move quickly, it is recommended that you give yourself time to think things through. Seek the support of a trusted friend or advisor who can support you to clarify what outcome you hope to achieve, as well as how you will manage both the joys and sorrows that may arise. 

Spence-Chapin’s coaching and counseling services can support you at every phase of the birth parent search process.  Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoptionservices@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

Search & Reunion: Where to Begin

  Pamela Slaton

Name: Pamela Slaton Pamela Slaton is a Genealogist and Private Investigator in the State of New Jersey whose business mainly focuses on locating birth families. She is also a Spence-Chapin adoptee. Her area of expertise lies in having the ability to combine historical records with contemporary data.

 

 

 

Jessica

Name: Jessica Luciere

Jessica Luciere is an international adoptee who decided early in her life that she wanted to search for her birth family. She contacted a private investigator in Colombia when she was 23 years old after going through various avenues in New York, and he was able to find her birth mother with the information she had through her birth papers. Her family was found within a week. Jessica has visited her birth family many times in Colombia and maintains a very open relationship with them.

Mark Lacava

Name: Mark Lacava

Mark Lacava is the Director of Clinical Services in the Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin. He works with all members of the adoption community and has experience working with individuals embarking on the search and reunion process. He received his Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Foundations of Family Therapy Certificate from the Post-Graduate Program at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. He has been a clinician working with children and families for over 20 years.

Background Search Guidelines for New York State Adoptees

Beginning the search for information on birth parents and background information is a serious, emotional decision. We encourage anyone who thinks they want to start this journey, or those who already have, to talk to a Spence-Chapin counselor. Our staff can help you prepare for the information and feelings you may find on your search. While adoption records remain sealed by law in NY State, an adoptee who was born and adopted in NYS and is 18 years old or over, the birth parent of that adoptee, or the biological sibling of that adoptee can register with the New York State Adoption Information Registry to obtain the following information:

  • Non-identifying information
  • Identifying information if both parties have registered – If adoptees , their birth parents and /or birth siblings have registered with NYSAIR and give consent NYS will share their current names and addresses. If only one parent signed the surrender agreement, then registration by the other parents is not needed for the exchange of identifying information between the adoptee and the registered birth parent.
  • Medical Information – Birth parents can give medical and psychological information to the registry any time after the adoption. The information will be shared with the adoptee at any time that he or she registers.

Unfortunately under current NYS law an adoption agency such as Spence- Chapin cannot construct its own registry.

However adults who are adopted often contact the agency looking for information about their history. State law permits the agency to provide adult adoptees with all of the non-identifying information available in the case record. Spence-Chapin provides a profile that may include information about the birth family and the making of the adoption plan.

Birth Parents also contact the agency to update their medical and other details, and to inquire about additional information.

In addition to providing a narrative of non-identifying information, Spence-Chapin’s social workers assist adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents with short-term counseling related to search and reunion.

Spence-Chapin also provides similar information for those whose adoptions were facilitated by Louise Wise Services and Talbot Perkins Children’s Services.

Our 15th Annual Birth Mothers' Gathering

All of us, birth moms, first moms, those of us pushed to relinquish, or those having more choice but nevertheless feeling there was no other way out, those in closed, semi-closed, or open adoptions, those in reunion, those who aren’t or can’t be — we know we are mothers. We know we have been unbearably strong. We may need to whisper it first to ourselves, but then we can proclaim it to the universe and know we are heard. Just don’t take anyone or time itself for granted.