Why We Still Need Support
Groups & Searchers

by Barbara Free, M.A.

     One of the questions we sometimes get asked these days is whether there is still any need for support groups such as Operation Identity or for Court Appointed Intermediaries, or adoption reformation organizations such as the American Adoption Congress.
     Can’t people just search for their family members on their own on the Internet? Isn’t it easier and cheaper now to do that? Others ask if is still really not legal to search, or at least “rude, intrusive, dangerous,” and wouldn’t adoptees still be better off not knowing, and shouldn’t they just be content that their adoptive parents are the “real” parents because they raised them. And why should birth parents be allowed to search? After all, they chose to give up their children and if they cared, they would never have done that, and wouldn’t most of them rather continue to hide their shame, if they even remember having a child? And shouldn’t adoptive parents be happy enough that they have this “child” (even when he/she is grown and middle-aged) and be secure that no one needs to know any more? And these new “open” adoptions, where birth parents and adoptive parents meet, isn’t that pretty dangerous because, after all, birth parents must have something wrong with them or they wouldn’t be giving up this child, and aren’t they likely to snatch the child back?
     To people in the adoption world, particularly those who have searched or been found, these seem like outrageous, offensive questions and beliefs. But these questions, and similar ones, show the lack of information and understanding that still abounds in the general public and even among most professional therapists not directly in the adoption field. These attitudes are still prevalent in the media, which is where most people get their information or misinformation.
     The immediate answers to the above questions are, of course, that most state laws concerning search in closed adoptions are restrictive and convoluted, some requiring a compelling medical reason on the part of the adoptee, most requiring court permission, intermediaries, perhaps the permission of the birth and/or adoptive parents (even if deceased), mutual registries no one knows about, and usually requiring considerable sums of money. As for birth parents, they can and do search, for many reasons, just as they relinquished for many different reasons, but laws are even more restrictive towards them, even in states where adult adoptees have access to their original birth certificates. There is also the fact that many birth mothers have changed their last names and moved, so just having the original birth certificate doesn’t tell anyone where she is at the present. In the past, birth fathers weren’t usually listed on the original birth certificate, nor even in the adoption file. The child’s amended birth certificate, showing the adoptive parents as if they are the only parents, will only show the adoptive name, which a birth parent won’t know in a closed adoption.
     Open adoptions, or even semi-closed, without full disclosure of everyone’s names and addresses, are relatively recent in our society, so those new customs and policies do not, in general, apply to adult adoptees nor to birth parents who relinquished under a closed arrangement.
     While some adoptive parents are threatened by the possibility of reunion with birth family, many are eager for that connection, and even those who are scared generally get over it and find that relationships with their adopted sons/daughters continue and may even improve with reunion.
     Court-appointed intermediaries have served the purpose of sanctioning search, and facilitating search and reunion. They have resources and experience most adoptees and birth parents do not have (databases, access to restricted information, networking with other searchers) and are legally bound by sane ethical consideration and limits. Some are protective of this power, it must be admitted, and threatened by open records with access by adult adoptees, birth and adoptive families, but others would welcome the day when legal access makes court-appointed intermediaries obsolete. That would be a long time off in any case.
     The American Adoption Congress, of which Operation identity is an organizational member, and to which some members also belong individually, has been working for adoption reform for many years, both in changing laws to provide for access to one’s information and for changes in attitude. They have come to include such issues as donor insemination information being made available, because of the importance of persons having access to their genetic information. And what about support groups, such as Operation Identity? Are they also becoming obsolete? Many such support groups have gone out of existence, especially in the last five years. Hasn’t the Internet, online groups, Facebook, etc., eliminated the need? Apart from the reality that many older people, such as elderly birth parents, may not use the Internet at all, others find that there is still very much a need for a live group of humans, real voices, real faces, real people with smiles, hugs, tears, and tissues, who can gather to share one’s feelings, answer questions, and rejoice in one’s excitement at finding family, or offer help when needed. To say there is no need for such groups is similar to saying one shouldn’t need parents if you’re grown, or there no need to see your friends anymore if you just email them. Actually, there are a lot of people in that situation right now, electronically connected but physically isolated.
     Recently, while I was wondering if there is a future for support groups and written, printed newsletters such as this one, three things happened. A person who formerly attended our group, who had contacted a birth son some ten or twelve years ago, with somewhat disappointing results and loss of contact, had remained on our mailing list. I began to see this person in another context, and a few months ago, he said he had re-contacted the son by email, and they were now communicating. He had received pictures of the son and his family, and hopes they might meet in person someday. He was glad to have stayed in touch with O.I. for the encouragement and glad he had decided to try again.
     The second happening was one of our active members, who had searched off and on for ten or more years, with little information, but kept coming to meetings. Now she has at last found her birth mother, still living, and is thrilled to have the group to share her excitement and joy. Others of her acquaintance had said, “Give up. It’s too late. She’s probably dead. You’ll never find her.” But the people in O.I. encouraged her to persist, in spite of convoluted, restrictive laws, and the passage of time. Her birth mother had not known how to search, or even that she really could.
     The third thing was receiving a letter from an out-of-state member who has also remained on the mailing list and occasionally writes or calls, over several years, having only the newsletter most of the time. She wrote to thank us and to share that, after five years of waiting, her son was finally ready to meet her last fall. The reunion meeting went well and their relationship is developing in a good way. She thanked us for support and patience and encouragement, and thanked her searcher for the same.
     These three examples brought home again that support groups are still relevant and helpful, that searchers are still needed and helpful, and that people still need to know that some one cares enough to help and to stick with them.
     If you have found help through a support group and/or a Confidential Intermediary, let us know about that. If you’re not still active in O.I. or another group, consider returning to share your experiences and encouragement with new people. If you meet people who are searching or considering search, encourage them to attend a group. If you know people with adoption connections who’ve never considered searching, tell them your own story and suggest they consider searching, because there are more resources today, and because it is always healthier to know the truth, whatever it is, than to never know.

Excerpted from the April 2011 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2011 Operation Identity