Lizz Hutchison, an adoptee who was located by her birth mother when she was 28, called one of her closest childhood friends to share her reunion story: "I have REALLY exciting news," Lizz announced to her friend. "Are you engaged?!" the friend asked. "Oh, no," said Lizz, "This is MUCH more exciting than getting engaged."
While not all adoptees would agree that an adoption reunion is "much more exciting" than getting engaged, many will tell you that an adoption reunion can sometimes involve almost as much advance planning as a wedding.
Although every reunion is different...and there are no iron-clad rules for this or any other phase of the search process...those preparing to meet a birth relative for the first time may find some of the following thoughts and suggestions helpful when planning their initial encounter.
The first face-to-face meeting of two birth relatives may take place within days, weeks or years of completing the search. Ideally, the adoptee and the birth parent or sibling will spend some time getting acquainted (by phone or e-mail or a combination of both) with one another before the Big Day...
If the adoptee and the birth relative(s) do not live in the same geographical area, it is likely that the reunion will begin at an airport.
Here are a few airport reunion "basics":
It's a good idea to keep the "gate welcoming committee" to a minimum. No more than three or four persons (and be sure and let whoever's doing the flying know how many people to expect at the gate or airport exit).
Try to exchange recent pictures or to both wear easily recognizable clothes ("I'll be the one in the blue polka-dotted dress") to avoid the need for one of those embarrassing hand-made name signs...
Unless you enjoy having crowds of people staring at you or are determined to make the person arriving by plane feel really awkward, it is not a good idea to arrive at the airport with a marching band, floating balloons, banners announcing the reunion or anything else that might draw attention to you. This is a very, very private moment and it's a good idea to keep it that way until everyone has at least spent a little time together....
Bouquets of flowers are OK--and a box of Kleenex is probably a good idea--but, other than that, keep it simple...and low-key.
Once you've made it out of the airport, your next stop should be a restaurant...(If everyone lives in close proximity, meeting at the restaurant usually works out well, too...)
The restaurant you choose should:
Take advance reservations
Have a secluded area where everyone will feel comfortable--even if things get a little emotional
Meet the religious, dietary and health requirements of everyone attending. Vegetarians aren't going to like steakhouses...and "meat and potatotes" people aren't usually wild about sushi restaurants...
While many adoptees and birth relatives contemplating a reunion worry that they'll "have nothing to say" when they first meet their birth parent or child, that rarely happens. In any event, it's a good idea to keep the conversation light initially...Start out with small talk ("How was your trip?" "Isn't the weather great (or lousy)?") and work your way up.
Everyone will have a zillion questions...and everyone should be prepared to answer any that might come up honestly... There are a few standard queries that usually arise during the reconnection process, and adoptees and birth parents should be ready to answer them as truthfully as possible...
Adoptees will be interested in knowing "why" they were adopted...and most will eventually ask their birth mothers for information about their birth fathers. Many adoptees also wonder if their birth parents/siblings "thought about them" while they were growing up...
Birth parents, on the other hand, will be eager to know if their son or daughter "had a happy life"...and will wonder aloud if the adoptee "thought about them while they were growing up" or was "angry with them" for having agreed to the adoption.
None of these are easily answered questions. While many birth parents feel tremendous guilt about the relinquishment (and may express that guilt during the reunion), the reality is that few women and men who voluntarily terminated their parental rights did so because "adoption was their first choice." For most, adoption was the only choice they had. Birth parents have often been surprised to learn that adoptees born in the 60s and 70s are unaware of the obstacles faced by unmarried women who unexpectedly became pregnant before birth control and abortion were legalized...
Unless you have a better explanation, the best answer to "why" is that "there were no other options." Or, quite simply, "I chose life." Adoptees who understand the reproductive realities of the 40s, 50s and 60s realize that any anger they feel regarding their adoption should be directed at the laws and social policies of those eras, not at either of their two sets of parents...
For a whole host of reasons, many birth mothers are not comfortable talking about the birth father. Just as many adoptees are reluctant to ask their birth mothers about their birth fathers. However the birth mother feels, though, she should volunteer whatever information she recalls about her child's birth father...or, at the very least, let the adoptee know she'll share paternal details whenever the adoptee is ready for them. It is just as unfair/wrong for birth mothers to deprive their children of their birth father's name as it is for the state to deprive adoptees of their birth mother's identity.
Some birth mothers will claim they "remember nothing" about the birth father...but, in our experience, most birth mothers remember enough about the fathers of their children to successfully locate them fairly easily.
Sometimes, too, the "Did you have a happy life?" question is difficult for adoptees to answer. While the majority of adoptees feel that adoption has had a very positive impact on their lives, some do not. Adoptees who fall in the latter category may want to keep their initial response to this question honest, but not brutally so...
As in any social situation where all parties are not long-time acquaintances, it's best to avoid politics, religion and other potentially inflammatory topics during the first days and weeks of your reunion. Using tact, being considerate of the other's feelings and thinking before you speak are key to the success of any new relationship--and can be particularly helpful during this exciting time.
This is a unique moment in the lives of all involved. It's normal to worry about how things will go, but, if you have made it this far, chances are your concerns are unwarranted...and your reunion will be the start of many close, life-long friendships... Whatever you do, be sure to relax and enjoy every moment of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.