Do not assume when an adoptee finds their biological family, all their problems will be solved, and the case will be closed.


They say to prepare, but there is no real way to prepare for what some adoptees find when they make the choice to search for biological family.

Searching for and finding biological family as an adoptee is opening up Pandora’s box repeatedly. It is the beginning of a new era of uncovering the secrets that so many think they have protected us from. Even under the best of reunion stories, it is still the beginning of a new painful path that adoptees experience.

If we’re lucky, one door closes, and another door opens. And that’s just it if we’re lucky. Society says at least you have found your truth when so many other adoptees would die to find theirs. Even when the truth has been excruciatingly painful, society thinks we should still feel LUCKY. Even our fellow adoptees suggest this at times, and I understand why they feel this way, mainly when they haven’t found their biological families yet.

I think our friends, families and loved ones sense us in agony before we search and find and in all honestly they hope we will feel “better” after we find out truth. However, when they still see us in agony after we reunite, it hurts them to see us hurt. They want to take our pain away, and they have high hopes reunion will do that. Truth and reality is, it usually doesn’t. It brings on a new set of heartbreak, pain, grief and loss.

Searching and finding biological family, I like to describe it as trading one type of pain for another. Both types of pain are different but equally painful. The pain of the unknown for adopted individuals is like the feelings a parent might have who has a missing child somewhere out in the world. Imagine your 10-year-old child was abducted on the street, and they vanished with no trace ever to be found. The agony that parents must feel every waking moment of every day having their child missing.

Adoptees think similar to this, but it is not just one family member. It’s their very own mother, father, grandparents on both sides, siblings on both sides, and cousins on both sides. We’re on an island all alone, searching in our minds from the moment we find out we are adopted for our biological connections. This is painful from the very beginning. If you don’t think so, I would like to ask you how many adopted individuals you have gotten to know and listened to their stories over the years? I have gotten to know hundreds, if not over a thousand, and not one of them has said adoption has been 100% wonderful. It’s complex, emotional, and painful at best.

Can you imagine what it feels like to not know what your mother looks like?

Or her name?

I know you can’t because it’s unimaginable.

The big difference is, parents of missing children are expected to feel the feelings they feel having a missing child. Society saves space for them, their grief and loss. They have some memories to hang onto, and they have their child’s names and they know who they are. My heart goes out to these parents, because I know it’s a nightmare on every level but I wanted to describe the difference in what adopted individuals experience.

At all costs, we are just supposed to be grateful. If we aren’t, we are labeled as ungrateful, angry, and many other hurtful words.

This is not helpful to the adoptee experience.

To feel whole, complete, and like I was an actual living human being, I had to find this woman that gave birth to me. I had to see her face and know who she was. I fought the closed adoption laws in Iowa like HELL to find her. If I didn’t, I would be dead right now. In my mind, this would solve all the pain I experienced and the heartache I lived with my whole life all the way back to coming home from the hospital with strangers at a few days old.

Living in the unknown is a different type of pain. It was for me anyway. I describe it as agony. Every waking moment of every day for me was painful. I was sad, filled with anxiety, and as I grew into my pre-teen self, it turned into self-sabotage and self-hate. All I needed was HER.

During this time, I had anticipation and high hopes that one day I would be reunited with the woman who gave me away, but things would be different this time. If she “loved me so much,” she had to want to know me and have me back in her life, right?


She never wanted to be found, she never wanted to meet me, and she was nothing like what I dreamed about finding my whole life. She was quite the opposite. She was a disappointment on every level and I am still 20+ years later, upset by this disappointment. She considered herself doing me a favor meeting me one time, and we had a 2-hour visit together. After this visit, she shut me out and never spoke to me again. During the visit, she asked me about my life and how my childhood was. I have always been an honest person, even when it hurts. I expressed to her I never bonded with my adoptive mom, and my adoptive parents divorced when I was a year old. I was raised on welfare, food stamps and experienced significant emotional, mental, and even sexual abuse in my adoptive home.

It crushed her, and it was too much for her to handle. Twenty years passed, and she shut me out, not being able to face HER DECISION. She assumed I would have the better life promised to her. I received a message she had passed away, and I traveled to Iowa to her funeral.

I was told by some of her closest friends at her funeral that she was distraught that my adoptive parents divorced, and if she had known that was going to happen, she would have kept me. They said this REALLY BOTHERED HER.

Knowing this truly helped me understand why she shut me out, but it didn’t take away the pain or lessen it. The pain of being rejected by a biological parent is indescribable. The pain of being rejected by your mother, the woman who brought you into the world, is a pain that never goes away. Check out The Primal Wound to learn more.

I’m trying to relay that we should never assume that just because an adoptee finds their biological family that it’s going to be the key that turns the page for them. Or imagine that their life will finally be complete and that they can eventually MOVE ON. Sometimes what we find is so devastating, moving on isn’t an option for many of us. For those of us who can, somewhere along the lines we’ve come to a place of acceptance.

Telling adoptees to MOVE ON or GET OVER IT is never helpful.

It’s actually quite the opposite. High hopes are shattered to the ground, and the disappointment of what was found sets in and rips our hearts to shreds. The grief and loss process continues and will remain a significant component of our lives for the rest of our lives. Adoptees are the kings and queens of adaption, and we do our best to put on a smile for the world to see. It takes everything in our power to pretend that everything is okay deep inside. But it’s usually far from it.

We also must remember that this adaption behavior and pretending is instilled into many of us from a very early age. When we learn that our greatest heartbreak is our adoptive parents’ greatest blessing, we discover our feelings aren’t important. This makes us feel like we aren’t important. We must keep them hidden for fear of upsetting our adoptive parents. Our heartache and heartbreak for the mystery woman we fantasize and dream about are insignificant compared to our adoptive parents’ feelings of finally becoming parents.

The mental mind paradox that any adopted individual has to endure is enough to take us out of this world. It’s way too much for one person to bear. Non-adopted individuals can’t comprehend what the big fuss is all about. Accepting they never will understand because they don’t have the experience has been a critical component to my healing journey. Even when non-adoptees TRY to understand, they simply can’t. We do appreciate those who TRY.

Aside from the failed reunion with my biological mother and rejection from her, I experienced the same failed reunion and rejection from my biological father. Even after DNA confirmation that I am his daughter, he has no desire to know me or have a relationship with me. He said that he would have kept me if he would have known about me, but I was adopted without his consent, so he had no say so. In his eyes, it’s too late now. Double rejection and double heartbreak is a hard pill to swallow. It’s heavy to carry, and the pain surfaces in the grief and loss process for me, which I’ve accepted it will last a lifetime.

Aside from being rejected by my biological parents, I found a long-lost brother who was the best part of my search and reunion. We spent five years catching up for lost time, making new memories together, and being elated that we finally found one another after all these years apart. This reality turned into a shattered nightmare when DNA testing showed we shared no DNA. I can’t even put into words how this experience has made me feel. The heartbreak is accurate, and I have no words to describe it. Pain on top of pain.

After a lifetime of dreaming, I get to meet my biological grandmother at least one time, I succeeded. I can’t express how thankful I am that I had enough courage to drive across the country (even after being told by my biological father that I could not meet her) to meet her for one hour as she lived in a nursing home in Iowa. I stayed one hour, and was a dream come true. It opened the connection to my first cousin, who thought she was the only granddaughter. I was honored to be invited back to Iowa for a second visit to meet her and her family and see my biological grandmother a second time. She took me to the land where my grandparents lived, which she described her childhood memories as being like “heaven.” Even with this being a dream come true, when I returned home and the dust settled, this “reunion” became so emotional for me that it set me up for intense grieving I wasn’t prepared to experience. I became sad, depressed, and things spiraled out of control. My grief and sorrow for what was lost and what I missed out on being robbed of these relationships were all I could bear to handle. I was so sad. I just wanted my life to end because of all the pain, the grief, the loss I was feeling. Death seemed like the only way to escape the pain.

Learning to live with a broken heart has been a key component to my healing journey.

Even ten years post reunions with biological parents and all the pain I have experienced in that time from other dynamics to my adoption journey, I still wouldn’t change the fact that I chose to search and find my people. Even when they haven’t accepted me, knowing my truth has been healing in its own way. I don’t regret it, but handling the aftermath is something I will be navigating for the rest of my life.

Even when our loved ones might expect reunions and finding our TRUTH might be the answer for our healing and freedom, in some regards, it can be. Still, the other side is that we suffer in silence carrying the tremendous pain and sorrow of what should have been, what could have been, and all that was lost because of adoption. The difference for adoptees is that our world doesn’t acknowledge we should even be feeling this way; they do not leave space for us and don’t understand why.

Reunion is still just as messy as adoption, and it looks different for each of us. Even being embraced by one or both biological parents carries pain. It brings grief, and it brings loss. Instead of the outlook that when adopted individuals find their biological family, it will be the CURE ALL for the adoptee, let’s reframe things to help them embrace what they are about to experience. It could be happiness; it could be sadness; it could be a combination of both. It could be feelings that are so complex, they don’t even understand them themselves. It could be emotions so difficult that they withdraw; they use coping mechanisms to get through and become shut off.

There is no limits to what an adoptee might find when they search for their biological family. I think many of us are set up for the greatest disappointment of our lives when we assume our birth mother “loved us so much” but her actions of rejection show quite the opposite. Many of us find addicts, graves, happy homes without us, that our biological parents married and had more kids after us, or single women who never married or had more kids. Sometimes we find parents who are happy to be found, and others who want to slam us in jail for pursuing them. Sometimes we are received but only if we agree to remain a secret. Sometimes siblings embrace us, and sometimes they reject us. Some of us are told our biological parents are dead, but we later find that was a lie to discourage us for searching. This happened to me! (never believe what you have been told, until you prove it) I’ve heard it ALL over the years!

No matter how the adoptee responds, non-adopted individuals must meet them right where they are, and they should accept this is a lifelong journey for the adoptee. They should also accept that nothing they say or do, can take our pain away. Being adopted never goes away, so our feelings won’t go away either. The sooner non-adoptees can get this, the easier it will be on the adoptee.

We must remember that no matter how the adoptee feels, it’s normal for a not normal situation. There is nothing ordinary about being severed from your roots, abandoned by your biological mother, and fighting the world for your truth. To my fellow adoptees, I love you, I see you, I hear you. XOXO PK.

Don’t forget this article along with all my other articles are available in audio for your convenience, just look up Pamela A. Karanova Podcast on Google Podcasts, iTunes , Spotify. and Amazon Music. Interested in treating me with a coffee, to add fuel to my fire? Click here. Many thanks in advance to my supporters!

Thanks for reading.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova

13 thoughts on “Do not assume when an adoptee finds their biological family, all their problems will be solved, and the case will be closed.

  1. “Even when the truth has been excruciatingly painful, society thinks we should still feel LUCKY.” Unhelpful to hear someone infer that we should only feel LUCKY. Why is it so difficult for those in our social circle to validate what has been UNLUCKY. One reason: Acknowledging another’s pain, a form of empathy, is impossible for some people, especially those with narcissistic tendencies. “Cheer up [you’re lucky]” is much, much easier.

    Pamela, I think you have covered everything in this article that needs to be said. I admire your talent and tenacity in saying it so well. What struck me more than anything was how one could substitute the word birthmother for the word adoptee in most of what you wrote. Huge chunks of your words are the exact things your first/birth mother has felt and has either struggled through the pain or has run from it. (Example: Denial, repression, booze, drugs, mental illness, workaholism, unfulfilling relationships, REJECTION, etc.)

    The main difference, I believe, is that the first mother is the CULPRIT, “the woman who gave me away,”….”HER DECISION.”
    No one should have to live a lifetime of insufferable guilt and SHAME. That is a life sentence with no hope of parole.

    Thanks for reading my comment, Pamela. Keep on writing your truth, which you do so well.

    1. Good morning to you!

      I couldn’t agree more on the “LUCKY” statement. It’s really pretty disguising how society can paint a picture of mothers and babies being separated as lucky. I sit and ponder how twisted it is, and I likely might write about it soon.

      Thank you for the kind words on the article! So appreciate it and the validation. I believe you are correct in inserting birth mother in where the adoptee is. I have a lot of empathy and compassion for birth mothers, but I lack much for A parents. I know for certain, my birth mother was an alcoholic before she had me, all the way to her death. I was told at her funeral that she was never seen without a drink in her hand, even throughout her pregnancy with me. So she had issues long before me, and took them to her grave. I am so thankful that at the end of my time here on earth, whenever that might be I can say I didn’t die like her and my sobriety is VERY important to me, not just because of that but because I have damn near died drowning in the adoptee pain that has come from living a sober life, but it’s not just for me but for my kids. I didn’t want to be like my birth mother, or adoptive mother. Both died from substance addictions which ultimately killed them.

      I am so sorry that birth mothers also live with such pain and I’m sorry for your pain! I will keep writing, because it seems to be so healing not just for me, but for others. Thank you for your encouragement and support! That’s not something I get from my adoptive parents, or birth parents – I never have and never will get their support so it means a lot! Sending you many hugs! XOXO Pamela

      1. Ironically, March 26 is the date I surrendered my first born to adoption. At the time, my brain was full of psychological toxins, which I won’t go into. I don’t try to explain this psychological state because words cannot do justice to the many emotions I had. As time passed, I questioned why the social workers at the religious agency totally ignored the poisonous context in which I surrendered a part of me. The “situation” was totally ignored; to them, apparently it did not exist. It’s as if removing the baby from my life would wipe the trauma slate clean. What ignorance! Malpractice? The social worker could tell herself: “Job done. Good job, McNeela.” This was a Catholic agency. Was God pleased? Perhaps the agency operated with that rationale.
        Thank you so much for your kindness and empathy, Pamela. I know your life has been a struggle, more than most of us, and it’s remarkable that you have conquered so much. Your children have inspired you to stay strong (and that works for many of us).
        You help us look at adoption through a different lens.
        The other day, a photo of a waterfall in my home town made me think of you.
        You are a Giver. Hugs to you.

        1. Good morning to you, so sorry for the delay, I wanted to respond more yesterday but life got in the way.

          I’m sure yesterday and the days leading up to it are excruciatingly painful for you. I can imagine describing that state of mind would be almost impossible. So sorry you went through that, and your son also. I am so utterly disgusted by all you and so many other women experience in regards to the manipulation and coercion used in the adoption industry. I just can’t reason with it even a little bit. It’s made me look at “God” and Christianity totally different and also the social workers, agencies, and pregnancy crisis centers, etc. so much to say about this topic. It makes me so sad anyone can dress up separating mothers and babies, and support it. 😥 So sorry for your heartache and pain. Did you ever get to reunite with your son? (It’s okay if you don’t want to answer) or if email is best (more private)

          Ty on the kind words. I often ask myself and wonder what it would feel like to want to stay alive for myself (not just my kids) and I’m not sure I’ll ever know that. As far back as finding out I was pregnant with my soon to be 27 year old daughter, she gave me a reason to live. Now my twins will be 23 soon, and it’s still the same. So glad you saw a waterfall in your area and thought of me. I love that so ty for sharing. Hopefully when my time is up, that’s how people will remember me, and also butterflies. I love butterflies. 💛☀️🥰

  2. OMG so well written. I never contemplated looking for my birth mother. Such was my shame and guilt at being given to strangers as a baby. I was found by my birth mother and 2 full brothers. It’s opened up so many hidden traumatic memories. I love my brothers very very much and have re connected with my birth mother BUT they don’t understand , can’t hear me and refuse to listen when I say that for me it does not take away My pain and my trauma. It’s caused a whole range of other issues as I recall hidden memories

    1. Good morning, Liz

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

      I am so sorry for your heartache and pain. No matter how we slice it, it’s still painful. I can so relate to all of the hidden traumatic memories. Some of them subconscious and some not, but they surface in the wildest and crazy ways! You are so right, they don’t understand and they can’t possibly. I’m going to write an article about that soon, because acceptance that non adopted individuals can’t possibly understand our pain was a HUGE key component to my healing journey. I will TRY to explain to those who truly want to learn, but the rest I have to let them go because it’s not worth the agony of feeling misunderstood and invalidated over and over again.

      I started doing IFS work, that has helped me identify different parts of me that surface at different times. It’s really helped me a ton! Sometimes we store hidden memories and we can’t access them because other parts of us are protecting them. It’s really fascinating to identify these parts, and understand where they come from and why they are protecting us. if you are at all interested in learning about IFS, there’s a ton of videos on youtube and online. 🙂

      Sending you HUGS today! Along with some sunshine! XOXO Pamela ❤

  3. Pamela, I did search for and reunite with my son. We have been in a long-term reunion.
    I am glad you speak so honestly to and about adoptees, “…let’s reframe things to help them embrace what they are about to experience. It could be happiness; it could be sadness; it could be a combination of both. It could be feelings that are so complex, they don’t even understand them themselves. It could be emotions so difficult that they withdraw; they use coping mechanisms to get through and become shut off.”

    “There is no limits to what an adoptee might find when they search for their biological family.” That is so true! It is good to be psychologically prepared. People who search (and that includes first/birth mothers!) face much uncertainty, which creates much anxiety. I kept repeating my mantra: “Happiness is in inverse proportion to one’s expectations.”

    The vulnerability of the seeker is huge. The potential to be hurt is huge. We have to remember that those we find can also feel extremely vulnerable and may be sensitive to the tiniest nuances.

    So why do we search? Why do we reunite? For many of us, it is a driving force, often taking precedence over anything and everything else. It cannot be stomped down, cannot be laid to rest.

    The reunion may be warm and friendly, until it isn’t. Then, we hurt, and hurt bad. One has to cope, one has to use some survival skills. In my mind, patience and determination is key. Even if one is hurt, we don’t want the search and reunion to cause damage. If we hurt the other person, we are also hurting ourselves. If the other person hurts us (intentionally?), they also hurt themselves.

    Reunion cannot be only about genealogy. It is about feelings!
    My family witnessed my years of search and reunion. I’m not sure how it affected them. They have feelings, too! Adoption has a ripple effect, affecting many people!

  4. Hi, I have a couple things to say. First of all adoption agencies will lie and not reunite you with your real mother. Some adopters can request this, a social worker is sent instead pretending to be an adoptee’s mother and the reunion is damned on purpose at the adoptee’s expense.
    Please spread this info as trying to find our families can be hard enough.

  5. Crystal, I totally agree about the lying part! When I started to search for my son, of course I contacted the agency at some point. I was put in touch with Pat G, who handled my queries. Of course, I learned nothing that could help me — just a bunch of blah, blah, blah. How useful is non-identifying information?! My son was an adult at that time, an age when he could serve in the military, while denied contact with knowing his real mother.

    With no help from Catholic Charities, my son was identified (with an entirely new name, of course) and my subsequent detective work uncovered many interesting things, somewhat sinister in fact. Pat. G., the social worker was a neighbor of my son’s adoptive mother. We can guess whose side she was on.

    Pat G. was also an adoptive mother. It is very disheartening when I learn that some adopted people think the agency is telling them the truth. Some information may be half-truths; some may be blatant lies. When a first mother learns that her child has been sold a cock and bull story, she is even more devastated. Will her son/daughter believe the mother, or will they take the social worker’s false information as gospel? Unfortunately, adoption is a purveyor of many untruths. And uninformed people wonder: Why are adoptees angry?

  6. Gods you hit the nail on the head here. I am 2 years into reunion with my parents and the only way I can describe it to my non-adoptee friends is that “its complicated”. I’ve been accepted by everyone in my family pretty nonchalantly, which makes me all the more outraged I was relinquished at all. And yet here I am, telling myself how gosh darned LUCKY I am and how grateful I should be feeling that these people speak to me at all. I shouldnt have to feel lucky that my own flesh and blood deign to speak to me about mundane things.

    1. Hi Ginger,

      Thank you so much for sharing here! So sorry on the delay in my response!

      I feel so much of what you have shared. I have talked to countless adoptees who share similar stories as you, and the pain is still unbearable. I am so sorry for your pain and the pain of all my fellow adoptees. Your feelings are very valid! XOXO

  7. Ginger, you sum it up so well: “It’s complicated.” It seems impossible to explain to others the many feelings that crop up when reuniting. Of course, the sad part is that many people would not listen, even if we could explain. Only people with similar experiences can understand.

    To me, your post describes ambivalence, and this occurs because reunion can produce a flood of both positive and negative experiences. I found the following definition when doing an internet search for ambivalence:

    “What does ambivalence mean?
    ambivalence [ambiv′ələns] 1 a state in which a person concomitantly experiences conflicting feelings, attitudes, drives, desires, or emotions, such as love and hate, tenderness and cruelty, pleasure and pain toward the same person, place, object, or situation. To some degree, ambivalence is normal.”

    I think the last sentence is the most important! It is helpful to recognize ambivalence when it occurs, which you have done when you talked about outrage. You write that you were “accepted by everyone” (which seems to be a positive outcome of reunion) but you dislike the nonchalance of the acceptance.

    Ambivalence is normal for all of us (I believe). It is really helpful if one can accept one’s ambivalence!

    I’m sure it is grating to sometimes think you need to feel grateful for something most people (non- adopted people) take for granted.

    I hope my comments are helpful and don’t sound too preachy.

    1. I think it’s not necessarily ambivalence I feel but rather I am very guarded. My adopters were horrible, abusive narcissists. Living in a very unpredictable and sometimes violent environment, my survival was dependent on being able to keep my abusers placated. My thoughts/wants/needs were inconsequential and I carried that into adulthood.

      I’m in a rough place in therapy right now, working through the deep dirty darkness of my traumatic past. Trying to figure out who exactly I am and finding the freedom to live my authentic self. I fear slipping into the familiar self destructive patterns of pretending to be someone I think will be safe from rejection. I fear that the me I really am will prove to be too fill-in-the-blank for them. I fear my aloofness will make them think I don’t care about them when I really do.

      I got a lot to work on, definitely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s