Thursday 18 January 2018

I'm adopted and never cared who my real parents were until now, but is it too late?

I'm adopted and have never wanted to know who my real parents are. Up to now.

I come from a loving home and a family that never hid the fact I was adopted but made it like it was a special badge of honour. My siblings are my parents' birth children. I remember during my teens asking my mother what she knew of my birth mother. I had no real interest in knowing except my girlfriend at the time was fascinated. She flatly refused to divulge and suggested I date a less nosy person.

Two years ago my father died. Everyone was heartbroken, particularly my sister. One night not long after, she said she felt like a piece of her had died that night too. I nodded like I understood but I didn't. A few months later I admitted my seeming lack of grief and she said maybe it's because he wasn't my real father. Her analogy knocked me. Did I really love my father less – because he wasn't my flesh and blood?

Two months ago my partner gave birth to a baby girl. Our baby was sick not long after she left hospital and was rushed back in for a series of tests. Part of the process – naturally – was a string of questions about our medical history and our family's health status. I could offer them nothing to help in my baby's diagnosis except my own blood tests. Since then everything has calmed down a little. The hospital blamed the sudden illness on a virus and she appears to be thriving.

My mother adores her and calls herself granny all the time to everyone's delight. But the niggling questions fester. For the sake of my child, should I investigate who my real parents are? Do they deserve to know that there is a grandchild of theirs in the world now? Would they care? How would I feel about meeting people who essentially abandoned me after birth? I can't for a moment imagine giving up my own child now, so how could they do it?

If they cared wouldn't they have tracked me down? But the biggest question of all is can I do this to my mum, a woman who has returned to her old self again for the first time since my father died?

The way I see it, whatever you do someone will be hurt. Tracing a birth parent is an emotional and unpredictable process. The end result may be a wonderfully expanded family but there will be hurdles and it's impossible to know who might find the experience most difficult.

It's important to note that finding biological parents can also be a slow process that can take months or years. Starting the search doesn't necessarily mean you will finish it.

It is possible to start the search without involvement of your mother but I wonder if you have the necessary information to begin with. The Adoption Authority or the Health Service Executive (HSE) are usually the places to start. The HSE holds the former health boards' records, that's if the adoption was conducted through your local health board. Otherwise the Adoption Authority keeps details of all registered adoptions since the early 1950s and should be able to give you the name of the authority that dealt with your case.

The Adoption Authority also established a National Adoption Contact Preference Register to facilitate contact between the adopted person and their birth parents. Contact between both parties is only organised if both sides register.

The key thing is that you avail of the advice of the authority or counselling professionals as you go. They know better than most about how emotional this can be.

Trying to understand your reactions to grief are not particularly useful. We all respond differently and the impact of death can hit people at totally different times. It's not reasonable for your sister to start comparing reactions and making judgments like this. We all have differing emotional responses to life events but it doesn't mean we love someone any more or less because our grieving is not as overwrought as others.

Your mum and dad will always be those who raised you and you are unlikely to feel a stronger bond to a man who is your flesh and blood, but whom you've never known.

It is common that people who are adopted start to seek out their birth parents once they have children too for all the reasons you've just listed. We don't know why your birth mother and father gave you up but they may well have been in very different circumstances from yours and found the concept of trying to provide a good home for a baby impossible. Most of those who give their children up for adoption do so because they believe they will have a better life with someone else. The guilt is usually immense and this doesn't disappear.

Try not to judge what drove them to such a decision but rather listen to what they have to say. While I understand your mother's reluctance to see you start the search, it is your life.

Ultimately she will want what's best for you and be sure that she is always a part of your life.

It is possible I'm sure to seek out details from your birth parents about their medical history without starting a full-blown relationship.

For the sake of your daughter, you could start from there and see where things progress.

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