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Thinking about when to search for adoption information

This information is adapted from The Adoption Reunion Handbook (which reported the experiences of adopted people who searched for information) by Liz Trinder, Julia Feast and David Howe. Wiley, 2004 and has been included on this website with kind permission of the publisher.Further details and ordering information are available on the Wiley website.

When do people start searching for information about their origins?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the earliest that adopted people may apply for a copy of their original birth certificate or adoption agency records is 18. Some people start their search as soon as they possibly can, although research studies have shown that more people tend to wait until their late twenties and early thirties.

For some people, of course, the time will never be right. We do not know the exact number of adopted people who actually search for information. There are no official statistics collected but it is estimated that more than half of adopted people decide to search.

Some people never feel curious enough to want to search. Equally some people might want to search but are worried about what they might find and so delay or never get around to searching. Another common concern was that the adoptive parents would feel hurt or angry by the decision to search.

When should I start to search?

If you do decide to start a search it is so important that the time has to feel right for you. There may well not be a ‘best’ time, but the advice from many of our interviewees was to avoid doing the search during ‘bad times’ when things are difficult for you. However well the reunion might turn out, it is very likely to be a stressful journey with difficult challenges along the way.

It is important also to choose a time when you have support around you. This might be from family and friends or an adoption worker. The reason for stressing this is simple. Starting a search can be a nerve-wracking business, however keen you are to get on with it. The decision to get information is often likened to opening a Pandora’s box where you do not know what might be found. People are concerned that the information about their birth relatives or the circumstances of the adoption might be upsetting. For others, it is simply the fear of the unknown.

Getting hold of the information held on your original birth certificate and any other information that may be held on the adoption agency’s record is a big step for most people. Only you can take this major decision. The following bullet points may help you work through what is right for you, or, if you have already decided that you want to search, give some help on how to prepare yourself.

  • Before setting out on a search for information try talking to a few people who are likely to have different opinions or have had different experiences. It may help in identifying the pros and cons as well as helping you work out what your expectations, hopes and fears might be.
  • Think about and write down on a piece of paper: What has led to you thinking about searching now? What are your expectations? What are you worried about? Who is available to support you through the process of getting the information?
  • There is probably never a single best time to get the information, but there may well be a worst time. Our advice is to delay a search if you are feeling low and unsupported until things get better.
  • Don’t be pressured into looking for information. Only go ahead if and when you are ready for it. People are often very curious and enthusiastic about other people’s searches but they won’t be the people who are going to go through it. Equally if you want to go ahead, don’t be put off if other people have a negative reaction – it is your search.
  • If you do decide to go ahead, get as much support as you can in locating information and make sure that the help is going be available afterwards.
  • Most people fear horror stories. This is very rare but it can occur and you will need to prepare for it. It is more likely though that the adoption record will be unsettling for other reasons, for example, possibly making you more aware of being rejected or unsettling you as you learn that your birth mother may have been desperate to keep you but was totally unsupported. Or, reading the record may make you more aware of feeling rejected. Again, because of this possibility it is best to go ahead when life is feeling reasonably good.
  • It may help to think about the search and reunion process in three separate steps: getting the information, locating birth relatives, and making contact. Some people will want to take all three steps and as quickly as they can. Other people will want to take all three steps but maybe with months or years between them. Or taking step one or step two might be enough. It has to be up to you what you do. The very best advice we can give is to do what feels right for you.
  • Finally, if you do get hold of the adoption record, allow yourself enough time to let the material sink in, and remember that some of the contents may not necessarily be accurate.

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