Tucson Adoption Reunion Support
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Steps for Starting Your Search by Jude Gilford

1) Visit the web site of The American Adoption Congress http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org. They are an organization for all members of the adoption triad, as well as family members, professionals, and others who seek to reform the practice of adoption through public education and legislation. Once you enter the site, check out “Search Guidance,” “Book Sales,” and “Links,” by selecting from the menu on the left side of the page. This will provide an overview of the vast arena you are entering.

2) You need to know the statutory options in the state of relinquishment in order to know how to proceed. The rules can be different in each state and even within a state. There may be one rule in effect until a certain year and then another rule thereafter. You can find this information at the Child Welfare Information Gateway

On the left menu under “Resources,” select “National Adoption Directory.” From there you can select a state and any or all of the following:

Support Groups
State Post Adoption Services Contact
State Reunion Registry or State Search Information
State Confidential Intermediary Service
Once you have selected the information, “Submit your Search.”
Armed with this information, you can begin contacting each entity to see how they can be of assistance.

3) Join a local support group. While many people choose to search solely on the Internet, there is a huge benefit to having an empathetic ear of someone who has done what you are trying to do, and who can help guide you through the process. The Internet is a wonderful resource for many things, but it is a very cold and lonely place in the world of adoption search and reunion.

4) Join International Soundex Reunion Registry at
http://www.isrr.net. Founded in 1975, they are the oldest and best-known mutual consent reunion registry. There is no fee for this service and all contributions are tax deductible. They will gladly accept donations, as that is their only funding source.


“I was floundering with my emotions and my search before I joined an adoption support group,” Jerry said. “It was the first time I had met people who could understand exactly what I was feeling even though I wasn’t always able to express myself. There’s just something comforting about being in a room with a group of people and not having to say a single word to know that they genuinely understand what I am feeling.”
-Julie Jarrell Bailey & Lynn N. Giddens, M.A.
The Adoption Reunion Survival Guide

“We weren’t bonded by love or friendship or a shared past, but by a shared absence that had left a crater-sized dent in both our lives.”
-Nancy Newman
Disturbing the Peace

One thing I have learned in these years of living is to seek help when I am treading unfamiliar water. Once I went on-line trying to find search/reunion information, I also began looking for a support group. In my experience, Jerry’s comments above are pertinent whether the attendee is an adoptee or birth parent. Those are the people you usually meet in such meetings, though occasionally an adoptive parent will come with their adoptee (often a minor). The groups I have found are welcoming to all members of the triad.

Many people think they can do the entire process on their own – some of course do. It is a way to avoid sharing the experience with anyone. Maybe they don’t want to explain their situation to anyone until they have actually found. When I hear that people have given up searches, it is usually because they simply didn’t know how to proceed. Regardless, it is group sharing that puts the wind in the sails of the searcher.

How would it be as an adoptee, if you’ve wondered all your life about your birth mother and her decision, to be able to ask a birth mother those questions you’ve carried in your heart? “Do you think of me on my birthday?” is the one that immediately comes to mind. Adoptees often think of their birth mothers on their birthday and they want to know that their birth mothers were thinking of them too. Yes, of course we are!

Here is my personal experience with the very first person I met at a search group. Her name was Judy Crum. She was an adoptee looking for her mother. We became instant friends and have maintained that friendship over the years. Here is what Judy says about the encounter:

“Since I was a kid, I wondered what she looked like. I imagined she was tall, really pretty, smart, funny, sensitive, caring; the kind of woman that everyone wanted to know. I wondered if she ever wondered about me. I wondered if I looked like her. I always wondered if I would ever meet her. Whenever something did not seem like it was going right in my life, as a kid, I thought, if Mom were here, she would protect me. If she knew this was happening, she would get me out.

My adopted parents did the best they could. I know they loved me very much. They just had things in their lives that were very difficult for them. My Dad chose alcohol to help him with his problems, which didn’t really help; it just seemed to create more problems, especially with my Mom. She hated it when he came home drunk and I remember lots of fights. I know I have blocked out a lot of it. My younger sister reminded me recently when they fought, my Mom would tell me to go to the kitchen and get a knife cause she was going to kill my Dad. I guess there was a good reason to block some stuff out.
In an attempt to solve my Dad’s 500-pound weight problem, he had a stomach bypass operation. He did not survive because of a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot. By then, I was twelve, and he was forty-nine. My Mom had a really tough time when my Dad died. She was in no way prepared to raise two kids on her own. She could not read very well, she did not drive and did not have a career, except for summers working in the cannery. She completely lost it.
I do not know the diagnosis of her mental condition; I suspect she was bi-polar. For three years, she cried lots of tears over the loss, then anger, then rage. Rage to the point she would beat on herself and sing songs about wanting to be dead. When I was fifteen, she died. She had refused treatment for her diabetes for years and had wasted away to eighty-nine pounds. She was fifty-four years old. I remember wishing my natural Mom would come help me.

My sister and I moved around for the next few years, living with different relatives. I could not wait to be on my own. When I was eighteen, I shuffled together what I thought was a normal life. Doing what everyone else my age was doing, I went to college, got a job. My sister did the same and then she married. She had a very difficult labor with my nephew. Thirty-six hours of labor, almost an entire workweek, I told her. I remember thinking, how could anyone go through nine months of pregnancy, then labor, and then give up a child. I felt a very strong connection to my natural Mom that day. It was probably the most difficult decision she ever had to make. I thought she must be an incredibly strong and unselfish person to go through all that. I have a letter she sent to my adopted parents through their lawyer that said why she did what she did. She thought it was the best thing for me. At the time, it was the best decision.

I made many attempts to find her, but fear kept me from getting too close. What if she forgot about me, what if she does not want to see me and just wants to forget the whole thing? What if it is too upsetting for her? I really did not want anything from her. I just wanted to know who she was.
Just after the terrible events of September 11, 2001, I joined a search group. I met an incredible woman there who had given up a son, the same year I was born. She was tall (like me,) really pretty, smart, funny, sensitive, and caring. It was so incredible to meet someone who had given up a child to learn the thoughts she had about her son. We became really good friends.

I never met my natural Mom through the search group, but I found the person I thought my Mom was all these years. My best friend’s Dad told me once, ‘“You can pick your friends, and you can pick your family.’ I finally found the Mom I always wanted.”

Judy is my daughter, as far as we are concerned, and definitely a blessing to me. Members of your search group become a family of choice. You share intimate details and depend on each other.

It was very valuable for me, a birth mother, to have an adoptee as a sounding board during my search. We talked and e-mailed often. We would meet for dinner before the monthly meetings.

These are some of the benefits of participating in such a group. It is invaluable to hear where other people are in their searches and how they have handled various emotional issues that have surfaced. It is a place to share information, books, and tapes – resources of many kinds.

Even though I found Gary while I was a member of Search-Finders in California, I immediately began looking around for a support group to attend once I settled in Arizona. I wanted to continue learning and sharing of course, but I also wanted to be a mentor for others going through the search/reunion process. The closest group I could find was Search Triad in Phoenix, more than a hundred miles away. It is a great group, established over thirty years ago. I attended a few of their meetings and e-mailed often with a very long time volunteer for them, Karen Tinkham, and finally decided to start my own group in Tucson, called Tucson Adoption Reunion Support. We meet once a month in a local library.
I asked some members of Search Triad to share their stories and comment on the value of a support group to them. Here are some of their responses:

“Search Triad has been my guide to find my history, my support when I fell, and my strength to keep going. There’s nothing like sharing your experience with others who know what you’re feeling.”
-Elizabeth Hasson

“When I was eighteen I relinquished my newborn daughter. Two years later I married and soon had two sons followed by an adopted daughter. My pain, shame and guilt of relinquishing only intensified over the years. The void in my heart kept growing. I needed to know if my decision to relinquish was the right one. I needed to know if my baby was okay. I had made a terrific sacrifice and I needed peace of mind.

I had seen an ad in a free newspaper about Search Triad, a local search and support group, but my shame kept me from calling. Finally the depression and the pain overwhelmed me and I made the call. A very caring voice answered. I had never talked to another birth mother before. I began attending meetings and I began healing. I had never told anyone that I had given up a baby for adoption. I felt I had no right to even hope to ever see her again.

I had been alone in my pain, but now there were others that shared the same pain. By interacting with other birthparents, adoptive parents and adoptees, we can each help one another prepare for a reunion or post-reunion. Search Triad offers a wealth of resources including a library of search/reunion related books, tapes and videos. Guest speakers often include counselors and adoption professionals. We network with groups around the country. We participate in regional and national conferences. We push for legislation to promote honesty and open records in adoption.

An important lesson I learned along the way is the distinction between relinquishment and adoption. Relinquishment brought me much pain and shame, while adoption brought my daughter nurturing and security. I am grateful to the adoptive parents that raised my daughter and then allowed me back into her life.

I am very grateful to the caring individuals who volunteer with Search Triad. They helped me to be blessed with a wonderful reunion with my daughter. I have been involved with the group for twenty-five years. My daughter and I are very close. She recently became an adoptive mom herself and asked me if I would speak to the young birth mother of her baby boy to help calm her fears and assure her that he would always know that his birth mother truly loved him. Because of the joy and peace I have in knowing my daughter, I continue to volunteer with Search Triad to help others find the same.
-Krista Johnson

“I told myself I would never search for my father, but my deepest lifelong desire was to find my mother. That came true on October 20, 2000. It wasn’t the reunion that you see on television with the quick and intense embrace.
At her request, I could not touch her. She believed that she had a disease that I would get. Along with my desire to find her was a very intense desire to be held by her. I realized that as an adult that was not an option, but to be told not to touch her was more than I could understand at the time. After my reunion I was severely ill and required emergency surgery. I was isolated for a while.

Going to meetings for support was difficult because I didn’t know what I needed emotionally. I attended a few Search Triad meetings, but after a short time I didn’t feel the need to be a part of the group. I now feel that was in direct response to what I could get emotionally or learn from my mother or sister. They were and are not capable of building a reciprocal relationship because they were/are mentally ill. My mother died. My sister is still living, but very mentally diminished.
On the other hand, when I met my biological father by accident and he had the choice to communicate with me or not, he did choose this option. To my surprise, we agreed on a regular e-mail schedule and started to build a reciprocal relationship. This has grown very quickly into a very nice level of respect and love for each other and each other’s families. I have been to his home for an extended period of time and he has been to mine. We still e-mail and call with cards being sent for holidays and such.

I think the fact that we both agreed on a reciprocal relationship has made the difference in my need to attend support group meetings. I have something to share of a contributing factor now. That is very important to me. My connection with my mother and sister was not painful or regretful – it was what it was. I could not have expectations of them, and that taught me that I could not have expectations with my newly found father. It is what it is. I respect that. I have chosen to live in the moment, to live in the present. Thus my personal motto is: ‘Show up and breathe and the rest will be given to you.’”

-Cindy “Ranger Lady” Gillman

Several members wrote to sing the praises of Karen Tinkham, an adoptee, for her endless dedication and support since 1976. Those of us blessed to know her heartily concur. Here is Karen’s story:

“I’ve been told that I was always a very curious child asking many questions about my birth and adoption. My adoptive mom shared that when I turned eight, I asked if she thought my other mother remembered it was my birthday. I was encouraged when my mom answered that of course she remembered it was my birthday, how could she not think of me on my special day. The questions never stopped. My sophomore year of high school was overwhelming – algebra, biology, and dating my first love – how we ever survived I do not know. My parents had to be saints to put up with me! My father got the adoption papers from Cook County out of the safety deposit box. I can picture my parents and me standing in my bedroom while I read my name – Baby Girl… and my mother’s name – Grace… of…, Illinois. I was so excited! I must have said the name Grace a thousand times. I called information to see if there were any listings for her surname in that little town, but there weren’t, so my search stopped there.
Life went on. I took Child Psychology at Wheaton College one summer and we had an interesting discussion about adoption. My professor made some comments that I didn’t agree with – I had lived adoption, she had not – so I jumped right in. She was amazed at how open my parents had been with me and then I shared my life of longing to know who I looked like, why I was short-waisted, whose nose did I have, etc. It was important for this professor to know if I was happy with my adoptive parents. I shared how close I felt to them, often wishing they were my “real” parents. That is also the summer that I did some research at Northwestern University, the school affiliated with the hospital of my birth. I found a student with the right name, dark hair, but no resemblance to me. I got a married name and current address from the school and called this lady then living in Tustin, California. She wasn’t my mother, but was so supportive. She encouraged me to keep looking. I did.

In January of 1976, I had already been searching again for over a year. I practically lived at the Phoenix Public Library reading microfilm from the little town in Illinois that was listed on my papers. No luck. I saw a notice in the Phoenix Gazette about a meeting at the Tempe Woman’s Club with two authors of The Adoption Triangle speaking about how adoption should change. I got up the nerve to attend. When Annette Baran started speaking, she asked how many adoptees were in the audience of 125. I was the only one. There were a few adoptive parents and two birth mothers. What an exciting day! Little did I know the importance of meeting those birth mothers. A few months later Search Triad formed after Ginger Gibson put an ad in the paper wanting to meet with other adoptees. Those birth moms became my support system. Hearing their stories helped me prepare for contacting and understanding my own birth mother.
I found Grace in New Orleans three months after Search Triad first met. She was not nineteen, a college student and Swedish when I was born as the doctor had shared with my adoptive parents, but had been twenty-nine and a career woman when she found herself pregnant. She was Danish (first generation American) and had no other children. No one knew about the pregnancy including her husband.
I cannot begin to tell how important it was for me to have a search and support group to go to while I was wandering through my reunion with a “closet” birthmother. There were very few books to read back in 1976. Many people felt that if you were adopted and searched, you were ungrateful and unhappy. If I shared my reunion story with anyone, it was not unusual for someone to ask why I bothered searching for someone who hadn’t cared about me. How did they know she didn’t care or why would they even presume to know how she felt?

Ignorance was rampant, and education was needed. It meant Search Triad had to be brave and speak at adoptive parent groups, talk with reporters, get involved in legislation. We did all that and grew stronger as we took each step. We attended American Adoption Congress (AAC) conferences all over the country, and would come home excited about other groups and individuals that we could network with. We were not alone!

Why am I still involved? Because I can remember what it was like to be alone while trying to search as a teen, as a college student, and then as a married woman wanting to start a family, but feeling I had nothing to give a child about my background. There is nothing more exciting than getting a call from someone you have worked with who wants to share the details of their first contact or give you an update on their search.

Why am I still involved? Because I know who I look like, I have been to my great grandfather’s grave in Denmark, I have met my Danish cousins, I have looked into my mother’s face and hugged her, I know why my daughter is four inches taller than me and why we are both short-waisted! It is a joy to know all of this. I want everyone else who has the same deep desire to finally find those answers.
Why am I still involved? Because we need to be there for one another, if not giving search assistance, at least giving emotional support and providing a safe place to share our emotions.”

You start a student and become a teacher. One day you look around and see that Judy Crum’s quote was absolutely right: “You can pick your family.”






Steps for Starting a Search

Value of a Support Group

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