The attitude of those who don’t search is sometimes explained as a lack of curiousity. These nonsearchers often maintain that they simply don’t think about searching, and don’t need to. They are seldom critical of others who do search, and in general have a ‘live and let live’ philosophy surrounding the decision. These are sometimes adoptees who do in fact search later in life, but often remain noncommital or outright ambivalent about the prospect throughout their lifetimes.
Other nonsearchers are what BJ Lifton, in her work “Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience” refers to as ‘militant nonsearchers’. These nonsearchers are, unlike the first group, generally very critical of those who do search, and are belligerent about their own status. BJ Lifton quotes an anonymous letter writer in “Lost and Found”; “Spare me, then, the histrionics! I feel sorry for those who are beset by imaginary monsters;please, however don’t try to set them on those of us who are busy with the reality of living in the present.” (p.75)
Those sentiments are probably very familiar to many of alt.adoption’s citizens, as we’ve heard them many times. Other phrases that might ring bells are ‘why disrupt all those lives?’, ‘why open up a can of worms?’ ‘why rock the boat?’, or another quote from “Lost and Found”, “I don’t think there could be a more selfish quest than this.” (p.75)
Just as there are theories about the reasons for searching, there are those about NOT searching. Lifton writes: “Nonsearchers, for all their sense of righteousness and loyalty, have always seemed to me self-denigrating. There is the implication that they don’t have the right to rock their own boat, to open their own can of worms. They seem to accept that they don’t have a right to their own heritage.” (p. 75).
The Brodzinsky team is even more blunt. “A good many adoptees consider the stress of adoption to be something they cannot change and would be better off ignoring so they can get on with their lives. These people reveal little inner turmoil about being adopted; they have either suppressed or denied or minimized the significance of adoption in their own lives.” And further, “Denial or avoidance….can be a highly adaptive strategy when an individual is faced with a stressor she cannot change, such as being adopted. In this view, an adoptee who can suppress, avoid, minimize, or deny the significance of being adopted….is able to compartmentalize this aspect of her identity and get on with her life.” And finally, “This is simply a coping style, and for may people it works…at least until a phone call from a birth mother or the uncovering of a genetic illness makes denial no longer possible.” (p.151)
The Adoptive Parents Factor
One of the main factors in making the decision to search is often the perception one has about how one’s adoptive parents might react. Kimberly Stone writes further about her decision not to search: “I also feel it would hurt my adoptive parents, whom I adore and am very close to, and who adore me.”
Quoting ‘Trudy’ in “Lost and Found”; “I am willing to sacrifice finding my biological mother rather than risk hurting my parents.”(p.180) Underlying these sentiments is a fear of appearing ungrateful, and this is where the status of adoptee as a ‘chosen’ or ‘saved’ child can come back to haunt the entire family. Society at large has picked up on this gratitude theme and often uses it to beat unsuspecting adoptees over the head. I am sure that many of us have seen, or perhaps even written or said, some variation on this theme: “Who held you when you were sick, changed your diapers, kissed your boo-boos, fed you, clothed you….???” Of course, most of us bear some measure of gratitude towards our parents, but for the adoptee, the expectation hangs heaviest over the decision to search, as if that decision is in itself, a choosing, a taking of sides, a question of loyalty.
In “Being Adopted”, Brodzinsky et al write:
” . . .these instances of bitter feuding seem to be increasingly in the minority. Many searchers who were afraid to confront their adoptive parents with their search, find that often their parents react in very positive ways. Trudy, who Lifton earlier quoted as willing to sacrifice her search for the sake of her adoptive parents, continues: “I had always discussed problems with my mother, so why not this problem? And my mother was delighted with the idea of my search. She called the agency to get background information for me, and even petitioned the court.” (p. 181)
Leigh’s experience also concludes on an up note:
“So with tear filled eyes I asked my aparents to sit down and talk with me. So serious. I can only image what was going through my poor amom’s head. I said that I loved them and that I had something to tell them. I said that this is no way means that I do not love them or think that they are great parents…I still hadn’t said what it was…I spit it out…I want to find my bfamily.
My amom looked at me and smiled and said..”We always knew you would. How can we help? We love you baby. We could never deny you this..it is part of you.” We all cried. I get really choked up when I think about it today. My aparents are truly capable of unconditional love. My amom has never been threatened by my search. And she and my adad have been part of my reunion. They have welcomed my bmom and sisters like members of the family. And likewise my bmom has embraced them.