Thinking About Reunion

Date: March 3, 2020 Author: Communications Contract Staff Coordinator Categories: Adoptees | Adoption Support | Events | Webinars

This is one story of a young woman’s experience in reunion. This month the ACO is launching a new webinar on Search and Reunion. Register for Adoption Matters - Search & Reunion on March 11th or see all of our events.

Janet was ecstatic when she received the phone call saying she and her original mother had been found by a private searcher. Her lifelong dream was finally coming true. Two weeks later she sat in a park awaiting the arrival of Carolyn, her original mother. The meeting was everything she hoped for. Carolyn was open, warm, willing to talk and answer any questions. She wanted to know everything she could about Janet and her life. For weeks, Janet floated on a cloud of happiness and could not believe how good she felt. Finally, she was learning about all of who she was and the pieces were fitting together.

One evening, several months later, Carolyn called to invite Janet for Thanksgiving dinner. As Janet started to accept, she felt scared and realized that her hands were shaking. Puzzled by this reaction, Janet asked if she could think it over and promised to call back the next day. She spent all evening wondering what was going on. She knew she was a bit nervous about meeting Carolyn’s husband for the first time and that she would have to arrange it around her meal with her adoptive family, but neither reason felt like they fit her reaction. 

She decided to accept, went, and had a good time. Much to her surprise though, she found herself feeling shaky and upset several times later in the week. Within a few weeks, she could hardly stop crying. She would get up in the morning and go to work, returning home to spend her evenings alone and upset. She told both her original mother and adoptive parents about what was happening but was unable to feel comforted by them. The tears, upset and periodic episodes of fear and shaking continued.

Experiences such as Janet’s are not unusual as reunions occur and original parents and adult adoptees enter reunion relationships.

Complex questions and experiences emerge with reunions and there is a facing of the loss and accompanying grief that may never have been felt before. Both the adoptee and birth parent become aware of the number of years that have passed without contact or connection. Reality sets in as the realization that even without each other, lives continued - birth parents may have other children and adoptees have other parents. Through reunion, adoptees learn who they are and where they come from. Birth parents face what they experienced and lost. These new insights and understandings take time to absorb. The accompanying feelings are often unexpected and can feel overwhelming and out of control. As the numbers of adult adoptees and birth parents who are attempting to carve new relationships grows, it becomes important to understand the feelings and questions of reunion.

“Here was my best friend being excited and wanting to know every detail of our meeting and I was so overwhelmed I could barely talk."

“I really tried to keep it all together and handle it all but some part of me was so disoriented and upset, that it took over and at times I felt like I was falling apart. I am not sure anyone understands what I am going through.”

“It was as if the mask or protective coat I had worn all my life was taken away and there I was, facing my birth mother, my heritage and ME, except I had no concept of who I was and it was just too much to absorb or sort through.”

These are the statements of adult adoptees and orignal mothers & fathers after reunion.

Adoptees often do find questions are answered, pieces fit together and they feel more complete.

Original parents often experience tremendous relief and joy at knowing their children are OK.

Many also discover that these experiences come accompanied by intense emotions they had not anticipated and that there are layers and complexities to the grief they are feeling. Positive and healing reunions still have impacts and the new relationships take time and work. For some, success and happiness do not exist to the extent it did for Janet.

All of these situations occur and are normal parts of the reunion process.

Reunion is the beginning of a relationship and a journey into understanding one’s self. Any new relationship or commitment to get to know ourselves takes time and often uncovers feelings and experiences we cannot predict.

It is important to have support during reunion. The ACO has information on peer support groups and professionals who understand the realities and dynamics of reunion and know that it is normal. You can contact us at

Other resources

Adoption Support Kinship … …. provides monthly peer support meetings for individuals who are searching and/or in reunion.