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Adoption reunions


This month reminds us that adoption reunions were the idea that led to the creation of Reunions magazine. We have rarely revisited those intense personal reunions, but are always in debt to Jean Strauss, whose reunion story generated the idea. This year, to acknowledge National Adoption Month, PBS will feature Jean’s documentary ADOPTED: for the life of me, which follows the journey of adult adoptees searching and hoping for a reunion. We urge you to watch these very personal stories that will explain a still painful civil rights aberration for the orphan minority (pun intended) who just want to know who they are, but are kept from that information in all but one state.

The film is being broadcast on PBS with a prime time screening in New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York City on Sunday, November 7th, at 7:00 p.m., and at other times and regions throughout the coming year (Orange County, CA during Thanksgiving week!) The filmpowerfully illuminates the lifelong impact that secrets can have, not only on adoptees, but on birthparents and adoptive families as well. To learn where you can see ADOPTED: for the life of me, go to and click on “Find a Screening.”

If you are beginning an adoption search, see below for a getting started guide.

Open Reunion
by Carolyn Campbell
Her parents and in-laws feared she might stir up trouble and break her own heart but 42 year old adoptive mother Ellen Brown was determined to help 15-year old Becky find her birthmother.

Becky struggled to cope with unresolved anger and a feeling that a piece was missing in her life. She had fits of temper and frequent rage. Becky's conflicts weren't caused by her adoption but Ellen was eventually convinced that meeting her birthmother might help resolve Becky's inner turmoil.

To understand adoptee's feelings, Ellen and Becky visited adoption support groups. Ellen reported that many people in their 30s and 40s still hoped to fill a void by meeting their birth parents. She didn't want Becky to hang onto that pain for 40 years, nor to have a longing for her identity hold her back.

Ellen became firm in her conviction that finding her daughter's birthmother was appropriate, despite Becky's young age – six years below the recommended legal age of 21. "She is on the brink of adulthood. I though it would help her live a happy and productive life if she knew where she came from. I felt she needed to see her birthmother at least once – to see the whole person to make her own inner self whole," says Ellen.

Ellen was grateful to the woman who'd given Becky up for adoption. Ellen and husband, Al, hoped to have several children. After five miscarriages adoption was their last hope.
They were approved to adopt in December and the following July, received the phone call from the social worker. Ellen remembers, "They left us alone in a room with the baby. She was dark-haired, gorgeous and so tiny. Just over a year later Browns were thrilled to discover themselves pregnant. Son, John, was added to the family.

Al and Ellen were always open with Becky about her adoption. Becky thought it was great to be adopted because she felt special and different from others. In about sixth grade she began to be curious about her adoption. They attended support groups and discovered the significance adoptees place on finding self-identity. Ellen was convinced such knowledge is vital; it became important that Becky know everything. She thinks even biological children fantasize and question "what if these aren't my real parents?"

As family love expanded to include John, Ellen felt it could increase to include Becky's birth family. Rather than weakening their ties Ellen felt that establishing a relationship with Becky's birth family could create a bond they'd all share. She says, "I saw my search as expanding our family, as if Becky were getting married. I hope I'll love my future son-in-law and I hoped to love Becky's birth family.

Ellen felt Becky should write a letter authorizing the search, when she sensed it was the right time.

Ellen admits fear when the social worker found the birthmother's name, Debbie Wallace, in just three weeks. When they called Debbie, emotions were running high and Ellen felt a sense of loss. "My ultimate goal," she said, "is to make Becky a happy, healthy person by fulfilling her needs." When adoptive and birthmother first spoke, Debbie surprised Ellen by asking, "Where have you been? Why haven't you called before?

Following Becky's birth, Debbie sneaked to the hospital nursery to gaze at her beautiful dark-haired baby. After the adoption, Debbie's whole family longed for the baby they'd never seen. She never had another child. She consoled herself with the assumption that she'd agreed to an open adoption. She sent diary excerpts, letters, Christmas cards and gifts to the adoption agency for her daughter. She never received a response.

Debbie invited the Browns to visit her in Michigan. Teacher Ellen agreed as soon as the school year ended.

The families hit it off immediately during the 15-day reunion that included river-running, sightseeing, an extended family reunion and lots of time to reflect and talk. "It's eerie – like we belong here and have been here forever," reflected Ellen.

Besides their striking physical resemblance, Becky and Debbie share common personality traits. Both are strong-willed, assertive, impulsive and, like Becky, Debbie struggled to control her anger while growing up. Both like fantasizing about the future, movies, exercising and the same foods. Both growl in the morning.

Along with their warm friendship, the families reached an understanding that both the mom who gave her life and the mom who raised Becky are vital parts of her identity. After Becky met her birth family, she told Ellen, "Mom, if they hadn't placed me for adoption, I wouldn't have gotten you."

About the author
Freelance writer Carolyn Campbell has published 200 articles in local and national magazines. She has been writing for 20 years. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and four children. E-mail

Guatemalan adoptions
A group who have adopted from Guatemala is looking for people/groups in the US to share information. Contact Melvin Willis, 18 Norton Way North, Letchworth Herts SG6 1BX, England; e-mail

Searching surprises
Star Demint would have traveled around the world to meet birth family but she only had to go 10 minutes to meet a half-brother. Demint was abandoned as an infant and later, adopted by her foster mother. Not long after beginning her search, Demint was told her birthmother had died, the one thing she didn't want to hear. After more searching she ascertained that her mother died in New Orleans in 1976 and was buried in California. A call to the funeral home revealed that Demint had three brothers and two sisters. The sisters are not dealing well with the surprise of another sister but the brothers have been welcoming and supportive.
The first brother she called told her another brother lived just 10 minutes from her. She impatiently went right over to her brother's house. He said she looked so much like her mother he knew they were related when he saw her coming. Demint who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, has attended reunions with her new family in Tennessee and Iowa.

submitted by Ken August Brunner from the St. Petersburg (FL) Times

If everyone lighted just one little candle
by Alice Syman
A few years ago a member of my Orphan Voyage Adoption Search and Support Group in Arizona hosted a Christmas party. The home was a Christmas Wonderland. Thousands of lights twinkled on the lawn; the inside looked like a Santa-Land. The atmosphere was warm, loving and affectionate. The Christmas music and candlelight sparked some real magic that night.

Each person searching for someone was invited to light one of the red or white tapers arranged in a circle around a lighted taper in the center of the dining table. Those who were already reunited lit a candle for a member who couldn’t attend. Each person’s name was called as they lit a candle. Then, everyone joined hands, observed a moment of silence and visualized a reunion taking place.

During the next 16 days Janice had a telephone reunion with her birthfather and two siblings. Sadly, Victor found out that his granddaughter died 10 years earlier. Carole’s birth-daughter, and Sho-Mei’s birth family, were located. Sho-mei’s mother had died. Carl’s birth-sister, who was located in spring, but had not consented to meet with him, called; they met before New Year! His adopted daughter’s birth family was located.

Linda, a birthmother, received word that the court finally located the record of a son she had given up. She had also lost custody of several children she’d not seen since they were small. They were now all adults with families of their own. The night of the party, Linda was home alone, ill, wondering where her children were and if she’d ever see them again. She knew nothing about our candle-lighting ceremony but said that suddenly she felt all her children around her and knew she would see them again. I asked what time this happened. She said about 7:30 PM. We were lighting candles at 7:30 PM! We located Linda’s children shortly after.

As far as I know everyone at the party that night has been reunited with the person they were searching for.

About the author
Alice Syman operated Orphan Voyage of Arizona 12 years and now operates Orphan Voyage-at-St. Augustine (Florida). Orphan Voyage, founded by Jean Paton in 1953, was the first search and support organization for the adoption triad in the US. They have an adoptee/birthparent memorial site on the web; request guidelines; 904-810-5596.

Adoption Related Searching

These are very basic steps for doing an adoption search; Adoptee for birthparents; birthparents for adoptees; adoptive parents for birthparents.

The single difference that distinguishes an adoption search from any other is that, often, you begin without knowing the name of the person for whom you're searching. This is complicated by name changes when birthmothers marry.

You face a two-step process
1. Find the name
2. Find the person

There was a time when searching was done in isolation and secret. That, mercifully, is no longer true. There are many places and much help. Assert yourself.

Register with the International Soundex Reunion Registry
ISRR is a totally volunteer organization thus your complete cooperation is required. Read carefully and follow their directions to the letter. Answer every question as thoroughly as you can to give them details to make a match.

Registration is free (donations encouraged). Send self-addressed, stamped envelope to ISRR, PO Box 2312, Carson City NV 89702.

Decide if you will search or hire someone else
Searching is not to be taken lightly. It is a large commitment of time, energy and emotions you probably didn't know existed. It is not for the faint of heart. Enter your personal search with determination and be prepared for challenges, obstacles and disappointments. You may be facing a long and compelling experience.

If you decide to hire someone to help you, be prepared to provide information and financial resources necessary to complete the job. We make no recommendations because like all other help you hire, there must be a comfortable fit. Check Reunions magazine Classifieds, your local search and support organization, the Yellow Pages, the American Adoption Congress, and others who have searched (whom you know personally or meet in books and articles).

Join, attend and be active in a search and support organization; list in their registry
Join a local group for support and assistance. If you were born or adopted elsewhere, affiliate with a group in that area too. There are local groups throughout the country. Check Reunions magazine Classifieds, the Yellow Pages, ask a social worker, minister or librarian, ask someone who is searching or has searched.

Read, read, read
There are many books about searching and reunions. Many inspire. Some anger. All teach. You will learn about other people's searches. What worked. What didn't. Keep your mind, heart, eyes and ears open to the message of each. Begin at your local library.

If you are an adoptee, ask your adoptive parents.

Most adoptive parents expect their children to ask for information. Some offer it but most must be gently confronted. The best outcome should be that your parents share all the information they have, which sometimes includes the name and more. If not, they can direct you to the agency or intermediary who helped make the placement.

Be very circumspect and thoughtful about why you are searching. Medical information to survive is probably the most compelling reason to search. Think through what you hope to find and alternative realities that might be the case. Try to prepare yourself to be surprised, overwhelmed, disappointed or even underwhelmed. Use your best judgement. Let everyone adjust at their own pace.

Resources for beginners
International Soundex Reunion Registry
PO Box 2312
Carson City NV 89702

General Information
American Adoption Congress
1000 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 9
Washington DC 20036
Phone 202-483-3399

National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
11426 Rockville Pike, Suite 410
Rockville MD 20852
Phone 301-231-6512

Search and Support Groups
The Blue Book Birthparent Connection
Box 230643
Encinitas CA 92023-0643

With a Computer
There are individuals, bulletin boards, chat rooms and web sites on the Internet which you can visit or to which you can connect. Some of them are hot-linked from here. Also try Yahoo and other Internet search engines. Resources are added daily.

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