I Thought Hearing From My Birth Mother Would Be Magical -- And Then It Wasn't

You can Google "what to say, birth parent, first time, email" but let me save you the trouble -- you're not going to find any useful advice.

In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, MTV News asked readers: What does adoption look like in 2015? 

Were you adopted as an infant or as a teen? Are you an interracial adoptee? Do you have a relationship with your birth parents? What are the biggest misconceptions people have about adoption? What do you wish they knew? Share your story by emailing

By Anonymous, 25

I've never not known I was adopted. I went home from the hospital with my adoptive parents like any other newborn would, and that was that. Every night my parents would read to me, and somewhere between Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish was a series of children’s books with the overarching theme: “We didn't technically biologically produce you, but we love you just the same.”

Being adopted has always been a part of my identity -- not necessarily something I'm proud or ashamed of, just something that was there. I would think about it on genetics day in science class, or when someone pointed out that unlike the rest of my olive-skinned family, I can't spend more than a few minutes outside without a sunburn. Or when I would draw a big X through the family medical history form at the doctor's office. I never felt an emotional attachment to the subject. It was just another fact about me.

When I turned 18 (the legal age to reach out to the biological parents in a closed adoption) my mom asked me if I planned to get in touch with my birth parents. I could tell the topic was terrifying for her. What if I met my "real" parents and liked them better? What if her 18 years of love and care weren't enough to beat blood? Sure, I was curious about my background... but I felt like I already had a family, I didn’t need another one. Learning more now wasn't worth hurting my mom.

By the time I turned 22, my curiosity had won me over. I desperately wanted more of the facts. Did I have siblings out in the world? Did they look like me? Would I meet the love of my life only to find out that they were a cousin? Tinder gets a lot more complicated when you're worried about accidentally right swiping a relative.


After a long talk with my mom, I reached out to the counselor who handled my adoption (we’ll call her Susan). Despite handling hundreds of cases in her career, Susan said she remembered mine clearly. She recalled stories of my birth mother with vivid detail: her plans for college and a big career, her relationship with my birth father, her careful choosing of a gift that I would receive on my sixteenth birthday. We talked at extraordinary length about how meeting my birth mother for the first time would feel -- "like a piece of you that you never knew was missing had been found."

Susan dropped a big bucket of emotion and a lot of expectations over my quest for facts. I began to wonder if there was some sort of deep longing or attachment I'd been suppressing. I never felt like I was missing something, but what did I know? Maybe I've secretly always been broken... maybe my high school emo phase was totally justified after all. Still, I wasn't sure I wanted to build a relationship with this a stranger. I just wanted more facts. What had always seemed so straightforward was becoming really confusing and a little scary.

Around my 24th birthday, I found a lump in my breast. I realized that whether I wanted to find this "missing piece" or not, I needed to find out if I had a family history of breast cancer. I wrote my birth mother an email.

And then I rewrote it. And then I rewrote it again. And again. Figuring out what to say was a lot harder than I would have anticipated. I had already decided that is was something I should do alone, so I couldn't lean on friends to help me find the right words. You can Google "what to say, birth parent, first time, email" but let me save you the trouble -- you're not going to find any useful advice. I eventually chose something simple, telling her my name and birthday with an invitation to talk more, and clicked send.


For the two days it took her to reply, I probably checked my email every 30 seconds. The weight of expectation was crushing my little inbox. My life was about to change at any moment, right? I'll suddenly feel so different that literal fireworks are going to shoot from my screen. An epic reunion for the ages. It's going to be magical!

Well, it wasn't. In fact, it was just a normal email like any other I received that day. She shared her family medical history and a bit of what she's been up to over the last 25 years. I told her a little about my job and the parents who raised me. No cosmic connection. No sudden life completion. No fireworks. Just another email in my inbox.

I thought this would be disappointing, but it really wasn’t. When you spend your entire life with a loving family, the people you’re supposed to be missing don't really feel relevant. Nothing she could say would replace Christmas at Grandma's, family trips to the beach or calling my mom to tell her about my day. Real families are made out of something a whole lot thicker than blood.


The way my adoption counselor handled the situation was irresponsible. She’s probably not the first, though -- there are countless misconceptions about adopted kids, even among professionals. (They think we just narrowly escaped from devastated homes, doomed to poverty and neglect. We all came from orphanages in foreign countries. Or that we're all mourning over our mysterious "real" parents. We're never going to really feel at home in our adoptive families.) I think the most damaging one is this: We're incomplete.

I know my story is uniquely mine, and I can’t speak for every adoptee. It’s also a story still in progress. Maybe the emails with my birth mother will build into something more meaningful. Maybe the conversation will fizzle. Either way, this experience cemented in me something I think I always knew: I'm already complete. I’ll bet you are, too.

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