Question: My adoptive mother was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. It was a terrible shock and I think it made me realize that life can take very unexpected turns.
I had never wanted to find my birth mother before, but I hadn’t written off the idea either. Now, the possibility of losing my adoptive mother has confronted me with my own mortality. I’ve realized that I may never get the chance to meet my birth mother, and suddenly I feel a great sense of urgency.
I now feel compelled to get in touch with my birth mother, but I don’t want to upset my adoptive parents, especially since my mother is undergoing chemotherapy.
It feels like the wrong time and yet it feels like I’m running out of time. What should I do?
Answers: It sounds like you’ve had a difficult few years. A parent’s illness is traumatic. This also applies to the emotionally charged decision to find a birth parent. Each experience can be overwhelming on its own, but in your case, these experiences are all happening at the same time.
As you acknowledge in your letter, your adoptive mother’s illness prompted your decision to find your birth mother. And while those feelings may have caught you off guard, it’s not uncommon for major transitional moments to have a cascading effect.
“Imminent birth, illness, and death can seriously reflect our lives and sometimes bring to light some unconscious thoughts that may have previously been ignored or even suppressed,” says psychotherapist and author Stella O’Malley.
“There seems to be a primal instinct within us that tries to uncover the details of our birth,” she says. “Essentially, it’s a piece of the puzzle that leads us to an understanding of ourselves.”
In your letter, you addressed the sense of urgency you feel, but O’Malley advises you to take some time to “unpack your thoughts” with a counselor.
“The fact that this person never wrote off that idea suggests that somewhere in their subconscious there was an awareness of unfinished business that needed to be done,” she says.
“It could be very helpful for them to address that – but they should only do it if they can be adequately supported at this difficult time.”
Cork-based psychotherapist Marian Ó Tuama gave me similar advice when I told her about her dilemma. A critical illness in a parent can “expose us to our own mortality in ways we may never have considered before,” she says, and this in turn can make us more aware of the passage of time.
“I can totally understand your feeling that you are running out of time, but the reality is you have time to catch your breath and consider your options,” she says.
There are many psychotherapists in private practice who specialize in counseling adult adoptees, she adds, while several Irish organizations offer peer support services.
However, she suggests you ask yourself a few questions before making a decision: “What do you hope to gain from meeting your birth mother? Do you have questions you want her to answer? Do you want to build a relationship with her?
“What will it be like for you when you find that she doesn’t want to get in touch with you, or when she makes a commitment at first but then decides it’s too difficult?” How will you feel when you realize she’s already dead?”
Ó Tuama says it is equally important that you are aware of the process of finding a birth parent, which can be lengthy and complex.
“Once you begin the procedure, you meet with a social worker who can walk you through the steps involved and give you a timeline of how long the process might take,” she says. “Starting the process can make you feel like you’re taking proactive steps to move things forward, but you can interrupt the process at any time if it becomes overwhelming.”
The process can have several possible outcomes, she adds. “You may receive information about your birth mother and decide that the information is sufficient and you do not wish to proceed further. You may continue to contact and meet with your birth mother, or you may find that she does not want (or does not feel able) to meet with you.
“You may find that she died, or you may find that there isn’t enough information available to find her.”
Which brings us to your next question: Will your decision upset your adoptive parents? Ó Tuama wonders if it is possible for you to start this process without informing your parents. “It may not be feasible for you,” she says, “but if it is, it would allow you to explore this without having to think about how to manage your parents’ emotions and your own regarding this issue.” .”
On the other hand, O’Malley points out that this doesn’t have to be an “us and them” situation. “The adoptive parents went through a process, just like the adopted child,” she says.
“Involving your parents in the process from the start could be more heartwarming than the person realizes, as long as it’s done with sensitivity and care. Depending on the relationship they have with their parents, it could turn into an emotionally bonding experience.”
Ultimately, though, that’s your choice, she says. “It’s very important to remain sensitive and considerate of your adoptive parents, and yet your birth is yours.”
If you have a dilemma, email email@example.com.
https://www.independent.ie/life/modern-morals-my-adoptive-mother-is-going-through-chemotherapy-is-it-the-wrong-time-to-search-for-my-birth-mum-42010830.html Modern Morality: My adoptive mother is undergoing chemotherapy – is it the wrong time to start looking for my birth mother?