You have seen the ads on TV. You have read the incredible stories online. And more than likely, you are familiar with DNA testing kits and the information they provide. As websites and tests like 23andMe and Ancestry.com grow in popularity, so does the hunt for answers regarding people’s ancestry.
Unfortunately, the DNA-testing trend is not always a “happy ever after” outcome – particularly in the realm of adoption search. These websites and test kits have been (often negatively) affecting adopted persons, birth parents, and even adoptive parents. Read on to understand why this is influencing people involved in closed adoptions, and a better way for adoptees to learn about their genetic history.
Searching for Biological Family Members
When a child is placed for adoption through a private adoption agency, a legal and binding arrangement is made. Expectant/birth parents have the option to choose an open adoption, in which they can keep in touch with their child over the years. As a result, the child has access to important information about his/her biological family. Adoptive and birth parents both agree to this open relationship. Open adoption is becoming more and more common; however, closed adoptions still exist.
If a birth parent wishes to remain anonymous via closed adoption, he or she can make that clear through the terms of the adoption. A birth mother may choose to have her information stricken from the birth certificate, for example. If contacted later on in life, the birth parent may reach out to his or her adoption agency and express the need for privacy. For adoptees who have no access to information through the state or adoption agency, however, DNA testing has become a game changer.
The recent surge of companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have empowered adults who were adopted – as well as birth parents who placed a child for adoption – to find biological family members on their own, whether they have registered with a search service or not. How, you ask?
DNA and ancestry businesses connect all genetically-related people. If a birth parent’s relative is registered with a DNA service, he or she may be traced back to an adoptee who is searching for his or her biological family. Personal information is given out through these services.
For many, the rise of DNA testing kits have started an ethical debate. There are those who believe that all people have the right to learn about their origins, and find out who their biological parents, siblings, and cousins are. At the same time, there are those who argue that the privacy of the birth parents as well as the adoptee, should always be respected, especially those who made confidential plans through a private adoption agency. Birth parents, after all, make selfless sacrifices to give their child the best possible life. Sometimes, they are faced with difficult circumstances, and do not feel it is safe or in the child’s best interest to keep contact through an open adoption arrangement. It is also possible that the adopted person is not ready for such a reunion.
There is also the possibility that, should a birth parent not wish to be contacted by his or her child, a forced reunion may happen as a result of ancestry services – and it may not be the happy, memorable moment that the adoptee had been imagining for years. An adoption reunion gone wrong can be traumatic and emotionally devastating to all involved. That is why going through an adoption agency is always recommended.
Real Reunion Stories: An Adoption Secret Uncovered (Too Late)
The story of 19-year-old Adele May serves as an example of the troubles with sites like ancestry.com. In the year 1940, Adele was a pregnant teen in New York. With the help of her mother, she traveled to Georgia and made an adoption plan for her baby. At this time, the majority of adoptions were closed. As a result, her records were sealed until after Adele’s death.
Following the adoption, Adele moved forward with her life. She met the love of her life, and raised six smart, healthy children. She later had 10 grandchildren. For the rest of her life, nobody knew about her adoption – until the day that Jon, one of her great-grandsons, decides to do “23andMe.”
Soon after, a 78-year-old woman named Gretchen contacts Jon and tells him that they are related. She tells him that she was placed for adoption as an infant. Her records were sealed until 10 years ago, when her biological mother died.
Jon brings this news to the family. They are all in shock. Gretchen wants to know her biological family—she wants medical and familial history and an understanding of her biological mother.
This has thrown the family into disarray. The siblings are split – three want to explore the relationship, and three do not feel they are emotionally ready to cope with this.
This shocking revelation sends Adele’s children into a state of confusion, doubt, and pain. Who was their mother? What were the circumstances of her pregnancy? Did their father know? Were their lives a lie? What other hidden secrets are there?
On one hand, it is important for Gretchen to understand her biological roots; on the other hand, there was a reason Adele did not share this information. Now her six adult siblings do not know what to make of this. They also do not have the ability to speak with their mother directly.
Real Reunion Stories: Another Truth Unveiled
Adoptions With Love worked with one couple – Judy and Thomas – to make an adoption plan for their baby. As students, they were not at the right time in their lives to raise a child. They were also no longer in a relationship and wanted their child to have a stable and secure upbringing. So, they chose to make an open adoption plan. This meant that they would keep in contact with their son’s adoptive family.
Making an adoption plan was a very difficult and emotional decision for Thomas, and he struggled a lot before coming to terms with the adoption. As much as he loved and cared for this baby, he knew he was not ready to be a father. Believing he was the father of this baby – and wanting to do the “right” thing – he went through a lot mentally and emotionally throughout the adoption process.
Note: he and Judy both believed that he was the biological father of the child. They did not get a DNA test, and both terminated their parental rights. A test on Ancestry.com soon told a different story.
After the adoption, the adoptive parents (Carol and Jim) chose to do an ancestry test online. When the test results came back, they were shocked – Thomas, the supposed birth father, is of Chinese descent, but their son was not. This meant Thomas was not the birth father after all, and someone needed to tell him. The birth mother, Judy, agreed she would tell Thomas of the news, but she knew it would be heartbreaking for him to hear. He cared so much for the child and considered parenting, only to find it was not his biological son after all.
Flash forward: Judy’s aunt also does a test on ancestry.com, and matches with one of the adoptive family members. The aunt does not know that Judy placed a son for adoption, as Judy chose to keep this news private from some of her extended family members. Judy does not know what to do. She reaches out to the adoptive mom, Carol, and asks her to not connect with her unknowing aunt. She is scared that her whole family will find out, and will bombard her and her son’s adoptive family for making this choice.
Is the Curiosity Worth the Heartbreak?
Despite the genealogy trend, there is a better way to go about an adoption search and reunion. Professional adoption social workers are skilled experts in adoption, connection, and birth family reunions. All records of birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive families are kept secure and protected. Should a birth mother wish to remain anonymous and maintain a closed adoption, her rights are respected. Of course, her child’s file is still updated regularly, should she ever change her mind. This ensures the privacy that the birth mother requested. It also ensures the chance for a reconciliation years later, should anyone feel a change of heart.
While the fascination with DNA testing is all the rage, it is certainly not the best path for many adoptees to take. Instead of hunting down one’s biological family, why not leave this important task to the professionals who secure the adoption in the first place? This helps ensure a positive adoption experience and a happy reunion later in life.
If you are interested in learning more about open or closed adoption, please reach out to Adoptions With Love. We are available 24 hours/day, seven days/week. We have been helping connect adoptive families and children for more than 33 years, and we continue to work with birth parents, adoptive families, and adoptees for many years. We also have an active search and reunion process for those looking to find their biological family members.