Considering the impact of adoption information

Accessing a copy of your birth certificate can act as a gateway to more information from adoption records about you and your family background. However, accessing information that you may not have been aware of can also raise unexpected emotions. This section explains some of the things to consider as you consider the information you may access during your search.

The information’s effect on you

Positive and useful information

Difficult information

How to read the reports

How to re-read the reports

And breathe…

The information’s effect on you

Accessing the information held on your birth certificate and trying to gather information from adoption records can be an emotional journey for many adopted people. Many people are pleased to answer questions they may have about their family background and to find out the circumstances of their adoption. For others it can end in disappointment, particularly if they discover that there is very little information or that the adoption records have been destroyed.

You may have been aware of much of the information you receive from the adoption record or, on the other hand, you may learn a lot of new information about your background that you did not know about. In many cases this information can enrich your life but it can also raise more questions.

This information can include:

  • Learning about the existence of siblings or other relatives of whom you were previously unaware
  • Finding out that the reason why you were placed for adoption is different from what you believed
  • Learning more about the period between your birth and your adoption.   
  • Finding out your birth parent’s nationality or ethnicity.
  • Finding out more information about your birth father, including his name
  • Sometimes people can receive copies of letters written by birth parents.

Reading the adoption records can be an emotional rollercoaster – it can be a positive experience as you discover new information that may help you have a fuller sense of your identity, but it may also raise complex emotions if you have to grapple with information that’s new and difficult to hear. 

Remember that it’s completely normal for you to experience strong emotions when reading records, both positive and negative.  It is also not uncommon for people to experience feelings of loss they may have felt they had dealt with, or didn’t even know they had.

It is important to recognise that these feelings are completely natural and this is where the support network you identified in the “Things to Consider” section is useful to help you put these feelings in context. It can be valuable to talk through the information you find in the adoption record with your adoption advisor or someone close to you who can understand the impact of accessing information from adoption records may have.

Positive and useful information

Reading information from the adoption records can be a very powerful experience – particularly if you read something you were not aware of, regardless of whether it is good or difficult information.

Most adopted people find the experience of receiving information from the adoption file positive and helpful because it can give more information about why they were adopted and the particular circumstances of their birth mother (or birth parents) at the time the decision was made.  

Knowing, for instance, that your birth mother looked after you or provided a special outfit or gift for you can make you aware that she loved and cared for you, but encountered circumstances that prevented her from being able to care for you.

You may also:

  • Learn more about your birth mother
  • Gain a better understanding of why you were adopted
  • Fill gaps in the information you may already have
  • Learn more about your birth father
  • Be left with an improved sense of personal identity

Difficult information

It’s important to prepare yourself for the possibility that there may be language and comments that are upsetting, judgmental and derogatory in the adoption record, and use of language that would not be acceptable today.

This is mostly seen in records that were written in an era when being an unmarried mother was socially unacceptable, or when having a child of mixed race was viewed negatively.

We have already mentioned that you may receive new information that may be difficult to hear and digest.

Some of the things that you may encounter are that:

  • You were part of a larger sibling group where some children had been kept, but not others
  • Your birth parents had married after your adoption and had more children.
  • You were conceived as a result of rape.
  • You were removed rather than being placed for adoption, for example due to poor care, emotional and physical abuse or your birth parents’ substance or alcohol abuse
  • You had birth parents involved in crime
  • There were mental health issues in your family background. 

How to read the reports

Remember that much of the adoption record consists of reports or notes by social and adoption workers who, unlike today, were writing them without necessarily considering that there would be a point in time when you would read it.

It’s possible that you will find the following in the adoption records:

  • Outmoded social attitudes and values
  • Derogatory comments about the birth mother or father
  • Racism
  • Unfounded judgments
  • Subjective accounts that later turn out to be inaccurate.

In all cases these are just an interpretation of the facts. Your birth parents may not agree with the account of the circumstances of the adoption. The birth mother may have withheld information or obscured the truth (particularly regarding the identity of the birth father) or the accounts may have been drawn from parents of the birth mother taking the lead, who may not have had all the information.

Try to focus on the factual information as much as possible and take people’s interpretation of what happened as exactly that.

How to re-read the reports

Remember that you’re bringing your own interpretation to the reports too. Try to avoid making judgments, don’t jump to conclusions based on what you hear and take the time to talk the report through with your support network. 

And breathe…

Some people seeking information from the adoption records may feel this is sufficient for them and make a decision not to search for birth relatives, while others are keen to get started.

Remember you are in control and can make the decision to search further for birth relatives or not. You should do what’s right for you and not be pressurised by others into doing something you’re not ready for. 

You may wish to spend some time discussing it with family and friends, or your adoption advisor. Before you proceed onto the next step re-read our section on “things to consider” as this may help you to work out what you want to do next.  

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