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Did my closed adoption just crack open?

It can be really stressful for birth parents when a closed adoption is exposed.

Dear Megan,

I gave a baby up for adoption many years ago when I was raped at 18.  It was a closed adoption.  I wanted to give my child a better life and it felt like the best thing to do.  Recently my mom did DNA testing.  She was contacted by someone who I believe is my biological daughter.  My husband and family don’t know the circumstances about the adoption.  I am so stressed and unsure of what to do.  My mom says she doesn’t care if it’s a closed adoption.  She says she has the right to contact this person no matter what I decide.  I feel like I don’t have any choice in the matter.  I feel so conflicted about closed adoption.  Thanks for any help that may get me through this.  – T.



Dear T.,

Thanks for reaching out and sharing your story.  I know how difficult it can be to write an email like this.  Please know, too, that your story is becoming much more common these days, as you can imagine.  It’s so hard to know for sure the right steps moving forward when a closed adoption is exposed.  I hope that my response will be helpful to you…

Sharing your story now might be really healthy for you

I’m going to make some assumptions here about what’s causing you stress, so please take this with a grain of salt.  Are you thinking about telling your husband and family about the circumstances around the closed adoption?  If so, I think this could be a good idea.  It might be very cathartic to get the whole story out there so you don’t have to worry about others finding out from a different source.

Getting it out in the open might also help you come to terms with some of the issues surrounding the adoption.  PTSD is very common in these situations and can crop up many years down the road.  The stress you are feeling now might actually be a symptom of this.  Many birth mothers report feelings of grief, loss, and guilt throughout their lives.  This is completely normal.   Being a birth mother myself, and having spoken with hundreds of birth mothers over the years, I have found that counseling can be very helpful with this.  You could also work with a counselor on a plan to share your story with extended family.  Please let me know if you’d like a referral.  I know some great counselors who specialize in this area.

Set boundaries and be honest about what you can and cannot do

If you’re hoping to keep your mom from contacting this person, the reality is that you don’t have control over your mother’s actions, or anyone else’s for that matter.  Consider having a direct and honest conversation with her about what you want for yourself and your family.  Maybe there’s a way for you and your mother to get what each of you wants.  Tell her what you can and cannot do, and you might be able to come up with some boundaries that feel respectful to you, your mom, and your bio daughter.

Remember, too, that your mother can’t force you to have a relationship with your daughter if you aren’t willing to do so at this time.  It could be helpful to tell her what you and your family intends to do if she does contact her.  If she knows your intentions, at least for the time being, this might impact how and when she chooses to move forward.

Most adoptees just want the questions and curiosity satisfied

Finally, it might be helpful to keep in mind that the anticipation of getting in contact (how everyone will feel and react etc.) is much more scary than the actual doing of it.  Once a closed adoption is exposed, many people just want their questions and curiosity satisfied.  Especially in a closed adoption.  Sharing information or getting in contact with your daughter doesn’t mean that she will necessarily become an active member of your family, or your children’s long lost sibling.  I’ve spoken with many women over the years who were absolutely terrified to put their stories out in the open, and then experienced such huge relief at the reactions they received from their loved ones.  Most find that their greatest fears are never realized and ultimately appreciate the opportunity to process both old and new emotions.

DNA testing and social media may change the nature of previously closed adoptions

The reality today is that with all of these new technologies–DNA testing, social media, etc.–remaining anonymous in a closed adoption is going to be really difficult, if not impossible.  If you are proactive about the situation, however, you can take some control over it versus waiting for the chips to fall where they may.  You might find that confronting this now at this point in your life was absolutely the right timing for you.  That’s my hope for you 😊


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