Internet Spells End of Secrecy in Adoption
Mother’s Day has taken on new meaning for Melissa Jones since she found her birth mother on Facebook just over a year ago.
In a symbolic coincidence, Jones connected with her birth mother for the first time on her 32nd birthday last March. The pair spent their first Mother’s Day together a few months later and have since developed a positive relationship.
“[Mother’s Day is] 2x the moms now,” she says, adding that finding her birth mother has been emotional but deeply fulfilling.
“A lot of questions that needed to be answered have been answered by meeting and reconnecting with my birth mother,” she says. “Now, a year into the reunion, I have a much deeper sense of what it’s like to be born into a family.”
Jones’ mother was just 17 when she gave birth to her daughter, who she immediately put up for adoption through the Children’s Aid Society. Jones was adopted by a loving and supportive family, but she felt a deep longing to know her birth family and understand more about where she came from.
Like many others in a similar situation, this yearning led her to Facebook, where she found her birth mom after searching on and off for a few years.
In the not too distant past, adoption was shrouded in so much secrecy that birth families and adoptive families seldom knew anything about each other. That has changed somewhat and today many infant adoptions are open, meaning the two families have some level of ongoing relationship.
The advent of the Internet has had a lot to do with that. It has also made it much easier for many who were adopted in closed adoptions to find their birth parents, and vice versa, says Doug Chalke, executive director of Sunrise Family Services Society, a North Vancouver-based adoption agency.
“We’re only at the start of what the Internet is going to provide to the parties to an adoption to find each other in the future,” says Chalke, adding that people were forced to hire private investigators or piece their histories together alone before Internet tools came along.
In addition to social media and online government registries, there is also an increase in the use of “DNA matching” on the web, Chalke explains. This is done through websites that allow people to register their DNA, and if a search of the site finds a match, the user is alerted.
However, not all online reunion experiences are positive, Chalke warns.
The open nature of the Internet can expose adoptees to exploitation if they put a lot of personal information online in efforts to find a parent. If an adoptee does manage to locate their parent, it can lead to emotional trauma if the parent does not measure up to the adoptee’s idealized expectations—or if the birth parent does not want to be found.
It can also bring up conflicting feelings for the birth mother, as she grapples with the joy of re-connecting with her child and the difficultly of reliving one of her most painful memories.
“People just find each other on the Internet and they’re jumping into situations which are very emotionally loaded, and I think some people have the capacity to handle it and some don’t,” says Chalke.
“They’re tricky relationships.”
The first-ever examination of the Internet’s impact on adoption, compiled by the U.S.-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute and released late last year, concluded that social media and other elements of modern technology are having “transformative” effects—both positive and negative—on adoption policy.
The study found that locating birth relatives through the web is becoming increasingly easy and commonplace. It also noted that a growing number of young adoptees are forming relationships with birth relatives, sometimes without their adoptive parents’ knowledge and usually without guidance or preparation.
Chalke says following a more formal process guided by professionals—such as through reunion counselling or family counselling services—can help adoptees and their birth parents navigate successfully through such emotionally charged and highly sensitive situations.
Jones echoes this, saying the importance of support for all parties involved in an adoption cannot be underestimated. She joined a Toronto–based support group, Adoption Support Kinship, shortly after reuniting with her birth mother and found it was fundamental in helping her sort through the emotional challenges that came up.
She says she is surprised at how few adoptees and parents seek support.
“Anybody touched by adoption [needs] to realize it’s not a secret, there are other people who feel the same way and who have gone through the same things, and it’s OK to talk about it now.”
If it weren’t for the stigma that still lingers around adoption and the guilt that often comes with giving up a child, Jones believes there would be less secrecy involved in the process and adopted children wouldn’t have to resort to risky places like Facebook to find their birth parents.
“I would hope that the adoption industry can exist in a more open way where there is not that shame or secrecy or guilt that anybody has to deal with,” she says.
“The times are such that it’s much easier to be open about things now.”
Birth Mother’s Day
In 1990 a group of Seattle-area birth mothers started Birth Mother’s Day— a day to honour their children and the decision to choose adoption, while raising awareness about adoption issues.
Celebrated the day before Mother’s Day, Birth Mother’s Day has now spread to several jurisdictions in North America.
Chalke says for the past decade the Sunrise Adoption Agency has held a Birth Mother’s Day picnic—bringing together families from all parts of the adoption sphere—children, adoptive parents, birth parents, and extended families—to bond, have fun, and share their experiences.
Seeing the families reunited is one of the most fulfilling parts of his job, he says.
“It’s become such a special event. For us who work in the agency it’s a huge hit. Everybody takes [time] and enjoys the moment.”