The Grief of Adoption Discovery Later in Life

This is a true story about the discovery by my brother that he was adopted at age 16 and repercussions and grief of that revelation.  I hope it helps others who have a similar experience and parents who are wondering whether they should tell their child they are adopted.  

sad boy upset at finding out he is adopted. Staring out of the window of his room.

We are moulded as individuals by our name, our parents, siblings, friends, school and the area in which we grew up. Our personality and our belief in who we are is all bound up in our relationships as we grow up. There have been many discussions about nature vs. nurture defining our characters.

Today it is the general practice to tell a child that they are adopted, that they were chosen, they grow up knowing that for whatever reason their real parents were unable to care for them and they also have a chance when older to contact their biological parents. This gives them knowledge and confidence when growing up.

However this was not always normal practice and the effects of adoption on those who find out later in life that they were adopted can be far more upsetting than finding out when you are a child.

Even today, in countries where abortion is frowned upon women may have to have secret births abroad and private adoptions arranged. When sex before marriage was a social scandal and abortion not available, many many secret adoptions were arranged.

Imagine then, at the age of 16 finding out that who you know as your parents are not, that your mother is really your aunt and your sister is really your cousin.

Imagine finding out that the aunt living in London, the cousins you barely know are really your biological family. This is what happened to my brother:

The Story of My Brother's Adoption Discovery

It was brought home to me at a very young age that grief can also be for loss of self image, or loss of identity.

My brother, aged 16, collected his birth certificate after a job interview and discovered, what to him was earth shattering news, that he was adopted.

What made it even worse was that his mother, who he knew as his aunt, never disclosed who the father had been, although she had been a young girl in service at the time so the family had their suspicions. The saddest thing was that he read the news when he was by himself.

The next few months were a sad time for him until he realised that he was still my brother and our parents' son and that we all loved him as we always had. It took him some time to accept that all of those things had not changed. In fact I had heard my aunts gossiping at a very young age, so I knew, but never said anything. I was only 10 when he found out at 16. 

The shock, numbness and sadness were the signs of true grief, a loss of identity, that lasted for months. He visited his aunt (biological mother) and her family, but came back to us realising that his main roots were with us and his friends in our area of the north of England. The secret was still kept within the family. I don't think my brother ever told his friends. It was as if he felt ashamed of being illegitimate. He had a huge loss of confidence afterwards.

There had been other sad factors surrounding this event. My mother had had a stillborn son a year before her young teenage sister became pregnant. Her mother decided the obvious solution was for my parents to adopt their nephew.

It was 6 years before I came along so we remained a small family. But then it turned out that my brother had 3 other siblings in London.

Because of the age difference, my brother and I were not close as children, but as we got older and he finished his travel in the merchant navy and I finished my nursing training we always kept in touch by phone and saw each other several times a year. He came to stay for holidays with me, wherever I moved. 

He had a small boat which he loved and we had days out with our families on that. He was only 59 years old when he died. I lost a good friend and confidant. 

Looking back, Grandma had been a wise old lady even though a lot of pain was caused due to the secrecy. She had done her best to protect her youngest daughter, a young teenage pregnant girl in an era when an unmarried girl getting pregnant was a huge disgrace and scandal and might have ruined the girl's life for ever. 

Adoption Reunion - Meeting your Biological Parents

There is a lot of pain and heartache suffered when unrealistic expectations are placed on the meeting with biological parents. If you have had a happy fulfilled childhood and love from adoptive parents then you are blessed and should treasure that.

Whatever the reason for your adoption, the biological parent has moved on, perhaps had a family and things change. Keep an open mind on how the relationship may develop. If it is good then that is a huge bonus but remember you may have nothing in common with your biological parents or siblings. It is no one's fault, just circumstances beyond your control.

It is often a closure for your peace of mind to meet and talk to your biological parents. It might be something you may have dreamed about for years. So don't get your expectations too high in case they are disappointed by your reunion. Let relationships develop or not. You may get on really well or you may have little in common. Let things go slowly and run their own course, as you would with meeting any new person.

Get to know each other if that is possible, but don't be too upset if it is not, there are not always happy endings to adoption stories. Meeting your biological parents may, whatever the outcome, help you with any loss of identity you may be feeling, and aid in getting over any of the effects of adoption that you have experienced in your life. But don't expect too much.

My brother got on well with his biological family but they were almost strangers to us all. They were evacuated to our home during the war but we were all young and didn't know the truth then. He saw them perhaps half a dozen times later in his life, but it was knowing the truth, being comfortable with himself and accepting what had happened that gave him the contentment he deserved.

Recommended Read:  

Related Pages: 

Coping with Loss of Self-Identity

Understanding Birth Mother Grief

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