The journey through reunion is not unlike traveling to a foreign country where one doesn't speak the language or know the customs. Immersion into a new culture presents adjustments to climate, food, clothes, mannerisms and social rules. The experience carries imagined "should haves" that are markedly different from the often awkward reality.

Reunions hold the possibility of joy, hope and healing. These expectations and their resulting grief, however, can lead to misunderstanding, hurt and confusion. Each person must learn to adapt to the others as well as their own, perplexing, vacillating emotional changes. Each person must rise to the challenge of bridging the lost years as well as possible. We are severed from, but profoundly bonded to--each other. We come together as "Familiar Strangers." Familiar in many ways because of the inherent genetic traits that are expressed in physical and emotional mannerisms, and in thoughts and actions. Unfamiliar, because each person has survived the sudden, abrupt truncation of a primary relationship. Each has developed different coping styles within the context of their own unique life path.

What happens? Why and how can we overcome the challenges?

Traveling between the familiar and the unfamiliar requires resilience because the traveler will experience the roller coaster effects of elation/deflation as pent up emotions and years of buried grief and anger begin to spew forth. It is important to recognize that reunion is an intensely emotional, highly complex and unique phenomenon. Emotions are energy in motion, they are the tools of growth and serve to warn, protect and teach us about ourselves and the presenting situation/relationship.

What happens when these worlds converge?

One must learn to read between the lines. Be an observer of subtle cues, allow the other person to move at her/his own pace, put aside needs and expectations and "musts" for the reality of what it is. We need to develop an understanding and appreciation of one another's cultural and lifestyle differences.

Reunion emotions are high and conflicting feelings such as: joy, sorrow, anxiety, impatience, fear, anger and bewilderment. The person entering into a reunion is shifting gears from being a searcher with some measure of control, to a totally unknown situation, craving acceptance but anticipating rejection. The seat of the power now shifts to the contacted party. The searcher now must transition from the fantasies that filled the years of void and longing to stark reality. Not everyone finds a cottage with a picket fence at the end of their journey.

Search is usually initiated by a strong internal drive to resolve the original issue of separation and loss (adoption). One thirsts to resolve unanswered questions. The emotional pressure to come full circle sustains what is often an arduous journey. The searcher's momentum increases as information is gathered. The emotional pressure to connect continues to escalate, while other life routine issues and obligations may be neglected because the searcher's focused journey is toward the truth, and he or she is expending a lot of emotional energy defending the need to search.

The searcher is not unlike a truck traveling 90 m.p.h. The person who is found and who has not yet moved toward undertaking the search is taken by surprise and does not have this momentum. When these two different energies meet an emotional collision occurs. The searcher can't slow down, while the person found can barely gasp for air, for the wind has been knocked out of them. They need time to adjust and may have concerns about the meaning behind the contact. There may be stress regarding the implications of meeting and forming this new relationship.

Each party is bewildered by the other's actions. Each has different needs. One may be well versed in adoption issues with adoption, having support group exposure, while the other may not have even begun to contemplate adoption and reunion issues. Both parties have set their roles, rules and emotional commitments to others in their lives.

So many feelings flood forward, there may be bouts of crying or free-floating anger as these feelings flood forth. There is chaos and confusion. How can one be filled with such joy, anger, sadness, frustration, indifference, disappointment, fear and elation simultaneously?

Our identities are challenged. We will never be the same as we were before contact. Issues of loyalty to respective primary relationships may impede the ability to enfold the other party. One's previous history of loss, coping skills, ability to identify and verbalize feelings, and capacity to mourn affect the person's ability to empathize and relate to one another. Perception about the adoption experience--shame/openness, conditions during the pregnancy, success of integrating the adoption experience, issues of inadequacy -- all impact the manner in which the reunion may unfold. It is a process that often leaves those involved bewildered and exhausted.

Unanswered Questions...Possible Challenges

Who knows the story? Does the reality match one's previously held beliefs? Who sets the pace? What are the expectations? What are the family rules, social rules-- i.e., holidays, gifts, telephone calls, letters, e-mails? How does one sign off correspondence? Will previous relationships dissolve? How does each person identify the other? How does one handle social instructions? What type of relationship is desired: casual, nurturing, answers only, close? How much emotional support does each person have? Are we open and respectful and nonjudgmental of each other's needs? Will either birth parent be hurt if there is communication with the other birth parent? Will the adopted person want to merge their dual family connections or keep them separate? Will the birth parent desire acceptance by the adoptive parents? Will the adoptive parents want to embrace the birth parent or request that the adopted person not discuss the reunion? Will the birth parent's family welcome the adopted person or will rivalries surface? Can we let go of the fantasy of the reunion for the reality of a real relationship with a real person, flaws and all?

Does one try to bridge the two different worlds? Does one become emotionally exhausted trying to travel through these worlds separately? What happens if well-intended or misguided family, significant others, or friends attempt to steer the relationship? What about "genetic attraction"? Has the birth mother/father shared the existence of their child with family? Has the adopted person shared the search and contact with her/his adoptive parents? Does anyone have to "lead a double life" by keeping this reunion separate from other primary relationship! How does one deal with still being "a secret"? How do life changing events (i.e., marriage, divorce, childbirth, death) impact one's ability to incorporate this new relationship? How do physical or emotional health problems influence reunion?

Possible Phases of Post Reunion Relationships

"Falling In Love" (AKA the Honeymoon Phase)

This is similar to a dating experience, when everything is running smoothly, energy is high, and similarities are highlighted. Each party puts out a lot of effort; there can be a lot of sharing pictures, stories, exchanging gifts. Each party is open to accommodating the other's needs.

"Pull Back Phase"

The momentum of the relationship changes as one or both individuals may step back; one or both individuals may become confused, angry, frustrated, nervous, depressed. Problems may develop because of mixed messages or misread signals. "Establishing Boundaries" The relationship may be reassessed; there may be need for ground rules. Both parties fear rejection by the other. One or both parties may be involved in a push-pull relationship driven by the need to connect, but governed by the fear of becoming too close (only to lose the person again).

"The Relationship Dwindles"

One or both parties shut off communication. This may bring excruciating pain to one or both individuals. This may occur because one--or neither --party is flexible, or because pressure from the other primary relationships has created too much anxiety.

"Acceptance of the Relationship"

Both parties are willing to commit to the relationship, issues still need to be resolved, reality overrides fantasy and unmet expectations, each party is willing to grow.

Reunion survival recommendations

*The other person cannot heal you! Reunion is a healing process that takes time, patience and a lot of effort.

*The reactions you see, hear, and experience can say a great deal about the other person's level of development, emotional makeup and coping skills. These reactions ARE NOT about you. Try not to take them personally.

*Develop and seek emotional support outside of any primary relationship. It is very difficult to receive objective advice from persons who have specific role expectations of you.

*Each person has her/his own pace.... Respect the differences.

*There is no right or wrong way you must recognize and follow the cues.
*Seek out other adoptees or birth parents impressions when you get stuck.
*All relationships evolve over time.... Your Reunion Mantra should be "We have the rest of our lives to resolve this."

*Remember "E=3Dmc2": for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you push too hard the other party will resist with equal strength.

*Flexibility is the key.

*Honor your psyche's need to grieve, seek appropriate therapy with someone who is familiar with post adoption/reunion issues, or educate your therapist if you are comfortable with her/him.

*Don't panic ... just take deep breaths.

*Don't act impulsively or out of fear or anger.... Most of us unintentionally hurt each other when coming from this place. Remember your reunion mantra.

*Get reality checks from a trusted confidant.

*Don't stifle your feelings! That's what you've done for years and that's when we snap and say or do things we usually later regret.

*Perhaps try your feelings out with several people who are experienced with these issues first* Let go; let the flow take its natural course...

*It's natural to grieve losses; honor your passage.

*Please remember... Reunion can be both difficult and ecstatic at the same time.

Brace yourself for a flood of emotions. Try to enjoy the journey of self discovery and healing. “We have the rest of our lives to resolve this.”

The original internet author or authors were not listed, but their advice is appropriate and timeless, so the staff here at SQA decided to share their advice with you.

Susan E. Friel-Williams
Staff at Search Quest