Some people like surprises, while others just can't stomach them. The funny thing about surprises is that, whatever your feelings, you can't force them to happen or not happen. They are out of your immediate control.
Most people don't like to be surprised when they find out they are wrong about something or someone important in their lives. Yet who complains when the unexpected benefits them in some way? This is what recently happened for me, when I discovered that a woman I've known for two months is an adoptee who has reunited with her birth parents, and I got to hear her story.
All I knew before was that she was the child of a closed adoption. What I could not have guessed was that she found her birth parents and had experiences with not only meeting them, but also bringing all their families together on more than one occasion. Hers was a mostly happy reunion, full of surprises for the many people involved. The following is the story I heard that day. I have changed all names in order to preserve the family's privacy.
Doreen was a teenager in high school when she decided she wanted to meet her birth mother. She knew the agency that placed her for adoption, so she wrote them a letter asking if her birth mother wanted to reunite.
Because she was not yet a legal adult, Doreen had to wait until she was nineteen years old before any personal information about her birth mother could be released. Even then, she knew that her birth mother also had to agree that this information could be released. There was a chance that she would not, and that a reunion would never take place.
When Doreen reached the legal age, she wrote another letter to the adoption agency and was very fortunate to discover that her birth mother wanted to be found. Not only that, but she and her family were living very close to Doreen, and had been all her life.
At first the two corresponded with the agency acting as intermediary, but after only a few exchanges, Doreen and her birth mother decided to cut the agency out of the picture and proceed on their own.
They decided to meet at a busy nearby mall. When Carla walked around the corner, although she had never seen her before, Doreen "recognized" her mother immediately. Their physical similarities astounded them both: same hair, same walk, same height, even the same laugh. The situation in general was so much to take in, in fact, for a long time all they could do was laugh.
The two got along well, and Doreen introduced Carla to her family right away. Doreen's parents supported her search from the beginning and welcomed Carla into their home. After just a few more meetings, Carla asked if Doreen would like to meet her birth father. Carla hadn't spoken to him almost since Doreen's birth, but he was somewhat of a local figure and could easily be found.
Up to this point, however, Doreen had no intention whatsoever of speaking with her birth father, let alone meeting him. She didn't know if she was up to it, but with a mix of reluctance and curiosity, she agreed.
It took a little time for Bill to warm up to the idea, not so much because he did not want to meet Doreen but because of his family. He was married with two more children, and he had not told his wife about Carla and their baby. His wife was not happy to learn of Doreen's existence, let alone Bill's failure to disclose this information, and was even less enthusiastic about welcoming Doreen into their entire family.
Carla, Doreen, and Bill respected this. Nonetheless, Bill decided this would not stop him from meeting the daughter he never knew. When they met, there were some physical similarities of note, but what especially intrigued the two was that both were avid music fans of the same singer.
In the five-ish years since their reunion, Doreen has not spent nearly as much time with Bill as she has with Carla. There was one night, however, when Doreen was given an incredible surprise. Her birth father arranged a meeting between them at a concert of one of their favorite singers. He bought Doreen an airline ticket to the city where the concert took place, met her at the door, and began to lead her to their seats. When they got there, Doreen saw Carla sitting there, with two empty seats beside her. Doreen spent the evening sitting between her birth mother and birth father having one of the best times of her life.
It was very likely the last time Doreen would see her two birth parents together. In order to fulfill this dream of his, Bill had to arrange for it without his family's awareness. None of the three liked the secrecy of the meeting, and planned never to do it again. Still, it was a wonderful, unforgettable experience.
Doreen's search for reunion with her birth mother began fairly easily, compared with many others who search for much longer. Thousands upon thousands are still waiting for that connection. Evidence of these numbers can be seen even in a single online forum about birth family searches, such as the one on www.forums.adoption.com that contains over 12,000 messages along that very thread.
Doreen was very fortunate not only to find her birth mother so quickly, but actually to find her birth father, too. Moreover, Doreen had the unmitigated support of her adoptive parents. Lack of familial support, or even the fear of bringing it up in the first place, often deters adopted adults from searching. And if they search in secret, their quest can be more difficult without helpful information that their adoptive parents might be able to provide.
I asked Doreen if she would have gone ahead with her plan to find her birth mother if her parents had not liked the idea. "I probably would have done it anyway," she said. When asked if her compulsion to search was driven by a feeling that she was missing something, she replied, "It's not so much that I felt a part of me was missing, but more like there was this little hole that got partly filled in when I met my birth mother, and the other part filled in when I met my birth father."
I'm not sure what the difference is between "missing something" and feeling like there was "a little hole" inside. What is obvious to me is that Doreen felt something very particular, and just as difficult to describe, in not knowing her family of origin. Maybe the "little hole" she described was the hint of an open doorway far in the distance, a doorway she knew could lead her to more information about herself.
Now that she's been through that doorway, there are probably more of them in the distance that represent other dreams she wants to follow, questions she wants to answer, and other aspects to learn about herself. Now, at least, she has more support than ever to fulfill her goals.
I like what surprises teach us about ourselves. They teach us to be flexible, that we never know as much as we think we do, and that we cannot control every aspect of our lives, no matter how hard we try.
As Doreen learned when she opened up to the unpredictable world of reunion with her birth mother, she was given much more than she could have asked for. Even though there were some limits that she could not have predicted, she's had some incredible and unforgettable moments. Not the least of which are those everyday, "normal" activities she, her adoptive family, and members of her birth family can now share.