What Does Adoption Mean to an Adult Adoptee?

While adoption should have been discussed during a person’s upbringing, there may still be unanswered questions or a desire to meet a birth parent or sibling. If you discover your adoption as an adult (known as “late discovery”), there are many questions to be asked, including why the “secrecy.”

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Many adoptees feel people who know they are adopted assume things about their history and how they feel. They get their information from the media, which is often negative and are often afraid to ask questions, assuming the adoptee will be offended or upset. Adoptees don’t always know when or how to raise issues with those close to them, fearing their thoughts or questions may upset others.


Some adoptees find it difficult to know when adoption has influenced their decisions or reactions. Is it a personality trait or genetic characteristic or learned behavior?


Many adoptees feel a sense of loss of who they are and their birth family history, traditions and culture. This does not mean they aren’t living fulfilled lives. Rather there is a part of them that is missing that they want to know more about.


Adult adoptees may still have questions of identity—who they really are or how to merge two identities (birth and adoptive family and culture). If raised in a trans-racial or multicultural family or with LGBTQ parents, there may be additional questions of belonging or acceptance by others in the extended family or community. If birth parent rights were terminated, there may be lingering questions or difficult history to process. Every time an adoptee gets more information, they reassess who they are. If an adoptive parent withheld “difficult” information until an adoptee was older, or new information is discovered, there is again a reassessment and melding of who they are. There may also be anger towards adoptive parents for not sharing information sooner and a need to address this in the child/parent relationship.


Is there a hesitancy to relate, connect or commit to others because of lingering fears of rejection or abandonment? Some adoptees continue to struggle with feelings of grief and loss related to their being adopted. It is important to know why the adoption plan was made and why parents adopted. If there is no contact with birth parents, there may be a desire to search for more information or to have a reunion with birth parents and/or siblings. If adoptive parents have not shared “why they adopted” and “why they adopted you,” these conversations will be important, as well. Evaluating friendships and romantic relationships will assist an adoptee in identifying if adoption is preventing them from forming close or intimate bonds. If there are lingering negative feelings on being adopted or a resistance to trust, bond or commit, the adoption may be influencing your social network.


As a person approaches dating, family building and child bearing, there may be new concerns regarding genetic or medical history information. If not in contact with the birth family, many adoptees try accessing information from adoption agencies and professionals involved in the original adoption. Individual state regulations are available here. When more information is wanted or needed, some decide to search for birth parents or birth relatives.


Deciding to find or get information from birth parents may be done directly or through the use of a professional searcher. However the adoptee chooses to proceed, it is important to be respectful in reaching out to the birth family, and to be prepared for many outcomes—reunion, denial, rejection, finding out a parent is deceased or not getting the information being sought. For more information on preparation and searching: click here.


When life’s choices and relationships are being affected because of the adoption, it is advisable to seek counseling and support with a therapist knowledgeable in adoption lifecycle issues or with a support group specifically for adoptees. Seeking and accepting such help is a sign of strength.


Adoption means something different to everyone. The adult adoptee has spent years listening to how others feel about the adoption and why the decision to adopt or make an adoption plan was made. It is now the adoptees turn to react, question and seek information.

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