Finding out you’re adopted

Finding out that you’re adopted can come as a big shock. It could really shake up your sense of self. But don’t worry, you’ll get through this. Although they may not be your biological parents you should try to remember that they love you deeply. The Mix looks at ways to cope if it’s happened to you.

A group of young people are standing by a bus stop. The young woman has just finished finding out that she's adopted. This is a wide-angle image.

What is adoption?

About 3,000 children are adopted in the UK each year. The decision to give a child up for adoption is not something that’s taken lightly. There are multiple reasons why someone might choose to take this step. For example, many parents feel they are unable to offer their child the best possible care. This may be due to financial difficulties, health problems or feeling too young to cope.

Whatever the situation was when you were born it’s important to know that this decision had nothing to do with who you are. You’re an amazing person. Unfortunately the circumstances just weren’t right.

Am I adopted? What to do if you’ve just found out

Finding out late in life that you’re adopted, or being contacted by one of your biological parents or relatives, can really mess with your head. It’s normal for adopted people to feel a range of emotions. Everything from anger and hurt to abandonment and despair is a natural part of the process. You’re going through a lot right now. You might even be suffering from adoption trauma. Not to mention all the questions you’ll want answering. So, how do you begin to get a handle on things?

Firstly, take a deep breath. Rushing into these things hot-headed may result in you both saying things you don’t mean, especially if you’re in a state of shock. It’s totally understandable for late discovery adoptees to feel confused and slightly lost. There may be many things you have to think about and try to comprehend. These can be questions about your birth parents or musings about how much has influenced / will influence who you are. Then again, you may decide you’re happy as you are and harbour no burning desire to get to know the people who lent you their DNA.

Alternatively, you may want to talk to someone to help you figure out how you’re feeling and what you want to do next. Many people find therapy helps and the Post Adoption Centre is a good place to check out. But if this doesn’t feel right to you, then there’s no pressure at all to go forward with it.

Struggling with your identity after discovering you’re adopted

As the dust settles after the “am I adopted?” question is answered, it’s common to want to know more about your origins, what your birth parents did, and so on. Even if you have a close and loving relationship with your adoptive family, that doesn’t mean you won’t be curious about what lives inside you

It may not be the nicest subject to broach, so try to be sensitive. This isn’t going to be easy for them. Regardless, they’ve brought you up and loved you as their own which means they’ll probably be willing to help. Since adoptive families have to go through a lot to get a child, your parents will most likely have a bunch of documents relating to where you came from. These may include the circumstances of your adoption, your original birth certificate, birth records or the name of the adoption agency. They may even have a life story book for you, or be able to help you make one.

Connecting with your biological parents

You can’t expect to have an instant parent-child bond just because they’re biologically your family member. They may only want to answer some of your questions and see how you’ve turned out. In some cases they might not want to go into detail about the adoption or life after you were born. Sadly, they may have started a family with a new partner and kept you a secret. They might not even want to meet with you, or they may stop returning emails or calls after any initial meetings. Don’t go into this relationship with any expectations. We know, easier said than done – but trust us, it’s for the best.

It’s easy to make your birth parents out to be Gods (or demons). Most likely, they fall somewhere in between (i.e. human). Nobody is perfect, so if you plan to start finding out where you came from and who your birth parents are, you need to stay as grounded in reality as possible. Put them on a pedestal and they’ll probably fall off. If you use them as your emotional punch bag, unwilling to believe anything they have to say, you’ll just end up doing more harm to yourself than anyone else. Try involving someone more detached from the situation so that they can help keep you on the right track.

For more information about tracing your birth parents, see this article.

Be considerate towards your adoptive family

You’ve either met with your birth parents or you’ve arranged to do so. While your adoptive parents have probably expected this moment to come, they’re still gonna be thrown when it does. It’s okay to feel whatever emotions you want right now. The decisions you’re making are huge and can be life-changing for you. But at the same time, try and remember to be gentle with your adoptive parents’ feelings. They’ve brought you up as their own flesh and blood and have stuck around through all your tantrums and turbulence

They’re going to be worried about you – it’s part of the parent job description. Maybe, they’re even a little jealous of your birth mother and father. Tell them what you’re up to, but also remind them that you care for them as well. It’s worth keeping in mind that your siblings may also find it hard to cope with the news, whether they’re adopted children or not. Be there for them as much as you can. As hard as it is at the moment, try to take into account your entire family. They’ve all been affected by this news and will need some reassurance.

For more information about adoption, have a read of this article.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
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By Susie Wild

Updated on 07-Jan-2022