My Children don’t know that I had a child adopted when I was younger (leaflet 23)

Finding adopted siblings with Joanna North Associates

It is a common scenario in our work that we contact a birth parent of an adopted adult. This guide is to help birth parents, especially where the existence of an adopted child has been kept a closely guarded secret. We are looking at a typical example where a young woman in her teen years or early 20s, probably back in the years between 1927-2000 might have put a baby up for adoption, had a baby removed or was forced to have her baby adopted. There were many reasons for adoption historically – some young women felt forced to give up their babies for social reasons and because being an unmarried mother was not a social norm. Some mothers gave up their babies as they were frightened and felt they would not cope or given their child a good life. Either way we are aware that losing a baby through adoption is a sad and traumatic experience.

We speak with many women who have given a child up for adoption. For many it will have been a difficult experience often with little sympathy or support from their families or indeed institutions that arranged the adoptions.  The older women who we now speak to and who have had these experiences tell us they have never recovered from missing their baby, never resolved the sadness and even lived with years of shame feeling that they did something terribly wrong. Logically in this day and age, there is no reason for any man or woman to feel ashamed about having a baby adopted but it is without question a complex event causing deep emotions that leave scars across the mind of a mother for the rest of her life. It is shocking to lose a child to whom you have given birth whether you are the mother or father. 

As a result of how adoptions were handled historically, many women would keep the exitance of an adopted child a secret. Often because they were asked or encourage to do so and often for fear of the judgement that may follow when such information was shared.  Whilst today as a society we have a much-changed opinion on single parent families and children born outside of marriage, the dilemmas of the past remain with birth parents of the bygone era. By this we mean women who experienced adoption in say the 1960s, may still today feel how they did at that time.   

We are frequently approached by adopted adults who ask us to find their birth mother or father or first family. This of course is their right to do since 1975. Prior to this time adoption was seen as a very closed and permanent event with no flexibility. No birth family would know of an adoptee and no adoptee would be able to access their adoption files and trace their birth families. This has changed drastically. 

The law changed in 1975 to allow adopted adults the right to access their adoption files and ultimately find and contact their birth relatives, either via an adoption agency or of their own accord. Conversely birth relatives such as birth mothers did not get any further rights until 2005, when they could approach the original adoption agency or a registered intermediary provider to find and contact an adopted adult. Unlike the rights of an adopted adult birth relatives are not permitted to obtain any identifying information about the adopted adult, until such time as the adopted adult gives consent for this.

If we have written to you as a birth relative of an adopted adult, hold in mind that we follow a lengthy process before doing so. We want to ensure the reasons for any approach are sincere and with good intentions. Though we work with clients in difficult circumstances on occasion, all using our service, have good intensions towards their birth families. Most actually only use an intermediary, because of the care and consideration they are giving to their birth family and the difficulty an approach from them may bring. 

Mothers who do speak to us tell us that our contact with them has put them in a quandary, even if they are pleased to be in touch with birth child. The problem for them will be that they may have never told anyone about the existence of another child of theirs from when they were young. This is often very worrying for both birth mothers and fathers, and they feel convinced that their birth children will be angry or disgusted with them. Of course, we can imagine why they would think this. A birth mother may have been pushed into feeling ashamed in her teen years and has carried this all her life. Why would she not assume that everyone else will judge her now.    

What we must tell you is that it is often the case that once older birth children of that mother have been told about another child, they are not cross or ashamed of their parent. What we remind birth parents of is that their children are raised in a different era where young people have no fear of having babies at a young age and there is certainly not a social stigma attached to this. We have never heard of older birth children judging their parents for this once they have been told and most often we find them to be deeply compassionate and sympathetic and eager to engage with another half sibling, often encouraging their parent to be in touch. Whist we cannot guarantee this enthusiasm, and we cannot say that this will not be a surprise for your older children, we can say that we have not heard of a case where older children have not been deeply sympathetic. The only case we can think of is where the children thought it may be detrimental for their mother/father to be in touch due to their vulnerability.   

Birth mothers may also not have told their partners that they had a baby when they were younger who was adopted. Again, we are deeply supportive of this scenario, and nobody is ever going to hear this information from us.  You may also be afraid that friends and family will be cross or rejecting of you. 

Whilst we cannot guarantee a perfect outcome and we cannot predict what people will say and whilst we know this might be a stressful decision for you, what we can guarantee four steps from us. 

  1. First that we will give you plenty of time to think about this without pushing you into any decision that you do not wish to make. This may take days, weeks or months.     
  2. Secondly that we have a counselling expert on hand who will talk with you about the various dimensions of your dilemma so that you can think about the actions you wish to take from every angle. We call this solution focused counselling. This means that we help and support you to make a good strong decision that is right for you.
  3. Nobody will hear about this event from us, and your data will be private whilst you are going through this process.
  4. We are an intermediary service who are here to professionally support you to make your own decision. 

With this information in mind, we hope that you will feel safe and secure whilst you work with us to make your decision. If in the end, if you chose not to have contact with your birth child, we will work with you and manage this conclusion kindly, effectively and professionally. If you chose to move ahead you will receive the same mindful support from us. We are always on hand for advice or support or counselling and so we hope that you will not isolate yourself and worry. Please come and tell us your concern so that we can help you move forward into a strong position on your decision. 

If you don’t want to be in touch, we would encourage you to read our guide: