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What’s Behind Resistance to Reunion?–Adoption Fog Series

by Laura on May 7th, 2013

On adoption fog:

What does or doesn’t bring a person out of the fog and into a “need to know” that activates a search and reunion will be unique to them. It’s important to remember that the fog is protective. The who, how and why someone needs to be protected from reunion and all the feelings about it is going to be completely idiosyncratic, even within the same family.

ORFAN author and therapist Corie Skolnick in Emerging from the Adoption Fog

Is resistance-to-reunion a futile endeavor?

Laura – We’ve talked already about adoption fog in adoptive parents, and why they sometimes freak the eff out are not as supportive as they could be.

For adoptees and first parents, you’ve mentioned “resistance being worn down,” that “putting a desire for reunion into action sometimes takes years, even decades.” Can you talk more about that?

Corie – People change over time.

Resistance is Futile. (This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but yeah, I admit it; I’m a Star Trek geek.)

I know of more than a few cases wherein an adoptee was once upon a time VERY opposed to the notion of finding their birth parents. As circumstances change, sometimes just with maturity, people come out of the fog. For more than a few people I’ve worked with, the fog evaporated when they became a parent. It’s not uncommon for an adoptee to have a “sudden” urge to find their birth parents on behalf of their own children when they will tell you that they truly experienced zero curiosity prior to becoming a parent.

First families’ adoption fog

Corie — When a birth parent is resistant to reunion I’m suspicious that there’s still some shame operating on them that makes them want to maintain secrecy and resist reunion. And, of course, not everyone is capable of rejecting the attitudes of people around them who might still think of them as “bad” or “sinful.” They deserve punishment in some quarters and that punishment sometimes means the deprivation of knowing their child. That’s harsh and sad, but not unheard of.

When extended family members (like your first half-brother) have resistance to reunion, it makes me wonder. Why is their life so puny that they can’t make room for another person to know and maybe even love? I have to say, even though I know it hurts you, I think that’s his problem. Try not to take that on. It says nothing about you and everything (too much) about him.

Laura – I know, thanks. I know I’m a cool girl and am actually a great big sister. But, he’s just not that into me;  I get it. … a long-lost half-sister who reminds his our father of a past he’d rather forget? No thank you.

But I keep thinking about something Deanna Shrodes said to me:

It’s an emotional sickness, Laura. It’s like, Fill in the blank: I don’t want to meet Laura Dennis because ______.

I would like to ask your brother, What are you afraid of?

Put that way, secondary rejection of this sort simply sounds absurd. I mean, it’s not like I’m the boogeymen.

Corie – I think I told you that it took my father’s half brother almost ten years to finally (FINALLY!) tell the third brother about my dad’s very existence, and then to actually facilitate a meeting.

And, remember, ALL families are not big happy gangs of mutually accepting members. In fact, that’s kind of the exception, not the norm. Plenty of people who were raised with their biological sibs, just plain don’t have the capacity to connect. Lots of people are estranged from their families.

It’s not always about adoption.

Then again, sometimes people have a change of heart for any number of reasons. If you don’t close the door, you might get surprised. It’s the never say never rule.

So, to close, let me say that we barely touched the surface of this topic. A whole book could be written on the subject of “resistance to reunion.”

But, if I had to sum it up in one word, I would say… fear.

I’ll leave it for the triad members to identify for themselves what might be fearsome about searching for, finding and adding a new member to their family.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Corie!

Adoption Fog Series Executive Summary: Humans in general are resistant to change. Adoption reunion throws the dreaded “change” directly in the face of those whose entire identity may be built around falsehoods. What keeps those in the adoption constellation unable to move out of the fog, is FEAR. …

Catch up on the entire Adoption Fog Series so far:

Don’t forget to buy Corie’s amazing book, ORFAN, available on Amazon.

About Corie Skolnick – Born in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised on Chicago’s south side, Corie has lived her entire adult life in Southern California. She is a California licensed marriage and family therapist and a university psychology instructor.

Coffee image by bplanet from Family blocks image from Stuart Miles at Borg cube image from Locutus.



From → Adoption, Expat Mommy

  1. "And, remember, ALL families are not big happy gangs of mutually accepting members. In fact, that’s kind of the exception, not the norm."

    It's kind of funny, but I have an example of each kind of family.

    On my side, I have my mom and dad's families. They are both from the same small town so everyone kind of knows everyone else. All but one of my mom's siblings have a divorce in their past. All but one of my dad's siblings has been divorced. My grandparents (both sides) were still always accepting of each child's ex-spouse and their extended families. If we had a family get together, ex-spouses were invited along with current significant others and their extended families. No one is/was left out.

    My husbands family is completely different. My husband's family, both sides, are also from a small town. Probably smaller than my family's. They do not include anyone other than their own children and their child's spouse and kids. Only one of his siblings has been divorced, but still there are no extended family members invited to these gatherings. My parents would NEVER have been invited to anything with my husbands family. My husband saw this as being normal. I do not.

    I often wonder if my husbands parents closed view of family has to do with his mother being an adoptee. I don't want to blame everything on that, but after reading so much about the "adoptee fog" I do wonder.

    And Laura, you would be the BEST BIG SISTER!! It's not you, it's them.

    • Kellie -

      These are perfect examples of how different families can be. It's a different operating system. Somebody had to do a LOT of work to get the Microsoft software to be compatible with and operate well on the Apple computers. And just like with technology, people get loyal to the system they came from. Adoptees have to constantly remind themselves that the rejection isn't about them. -cs

    • Laura permalink

      You may be onto something there, there's something about closed adoption — secrecy, shame and cover-ups — that I think simply instills a sense of exclusion. Like, you're not the "official" or "legitimate" family, so poo-poo on you, you're not included.

  2. anonymous permalink

    Sometimes I feel like I've won the "reunion resistance" grand prize. After over 20-years in reunion with my bfather (all along asking periodically for him to allow/facilitate a connection to his other children (all adults) for me, I could no longer tolerate his "no" as an answer. I searched on my own and in a 12-month period, found all four of my half-siblings and contacted them.

    Two are older sisters. One sister agreed to meet me for lunch (I treated :) but she hasn't keep in touch much at all. Her full-sister wouldn't agree to meet me at all and still hasn't (it's been about 1.5 years since I first made contact). My other two half-siblings are boys, have a different mother than the girls and are both are younger than me. It's only been about six months since I first contacted them. One seemed really interested in connecting via email at first…but the interest has fizzled. The other brother has emailed me only once but his wife….she has truly been a blessing. She sent me paternal family pictures and still emails periodically to keep in touch.

    Isn't it interesting that my sister-in-law seems to want to know me more than my own siblings? What's up with that??

    Since going against my bfather's wishes and finding my siblings…my bfather has completely walked out of my life (again) for disobeying him. I am only sorry I didn't do it sooner. Sure the abandonment from him a second time caused deep pain down to my core but I feel like we really didn't have much together in his heart to cause something so basic to cause a severing of our relationship.

    The "reunion resistance" doesn't stop there. Nope, not yet. I found and contacted one of my bfather's brothers (my uncle). Actually I spoke with his wife. Told her who I was and asked her to pass along a message that I would love to just talk to her husband. I assured her I didn't want/need anything from him. It's been well over a year and I haven't heard back. Granted…I am assuming she gave him the message. Maybe someday I will be brave enough to try again. There is one other brother of my bfather's that I haven't been able to find any contact information for.

    It's hard to remember it's them not me since there's sooooo many that have essentially ignored me. I just can't fathom having the same reaction if I were to find out about a sibling (half or full, doesn't matter) that had been taken from my family as a baby/child. I can only imagine myself being eager to meet my family member and be embracing.

    I have grown weary of trying to figure it out. My goal now is to not let those experiences taint my view of others in my life that do love me and embrace me unconditionally. Sometimes I think maybe they worry that I am out to get some part of an inheritance or something but honestly…I couldn't care less about the material aspects of relationships. I just want the familial connection.

    I will leave the door open….just in case one day they change their minds.

    • Dorothy Fletcher permalink

      Oh my goodness, "Anonymous", you could have been telling *my* story. It is so hard to keep going sometimes, when the people who are most closely related to you won't allow you into their lives and make you feel like you aren't worth the trouble. I have 4 older half brothers on my birthmother's side. She refused reunion. I reached the wife of one, who, like your sister in law, was open and shared more info than anyone before or since, but her husband, also a half brother, only asked, what does she want from me? I reached another one of the 4 by phone, and was met with indifference. The 4th one I'm not even sure to this day if he knows about me or not, but I just learned from a cousin that he has a daughter who is in high school. I was asked not to contact her, however, because she is close to my birthmother….don't want to ruin that image she has going…:p My probable birthfather has kids out there all over the place, apparently…but the only one I've found and spoken to, again, was condescending and indifferent, and has never called or emailed me even after saying he would. It's not me, it's them….how many times can you tell yourself that and not feel like it's the other way around…? Great post/blog…keep it coming.

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks so much for writing and sharing your story; I truly do appreciate it. You know, I'm not so surprised about your sister-in-law. Guys are funny, they process differently, they're often not "communicators." So, your sister-in-law is someone you can connect with; that's something. At least she gets it in her own small way.
      I'm glad you're not taking it too hard, and are willing to keep the door open. Please keep reading and keep commenting–I want to know if there are any changes!

  3. Dear Anon-

    YES! I've been thinking about this issue – "inheritance" – a lot since Laura and I did this interview. We never even mentioned the word or the "M" word for that matter. Thanks for daring to speak the unmentionable. This is a discussion worth having. And, I believe that your suspicions have some basis in reality. People get attached to their material and relational "stuff" and when a long lost relative shows up, most people (in western culture anyway) think about how the resources of the family are going to be shared and therefore diluted. Most people don't think of a "new" family member as value added to the group. I know of great exceptions to this, but, truly you raise a great point. How crummy does it make a person feel to sense that they are being rejected by their family because someone is worried they might "get" less…(and by "less", I mean, less tangible stuff including money, but also, less attention, less love, less care, less concern, the intangible stuff, too)? Kellie's in-laws are a fine, rare bunch who practice inclusion rather than exclusion. Look for people like that and hang out with them. Don't close the door, but don't bang your head against it either! -cs

  4. Lee H. permalink

    " I know, thanks. I know I’m a cool girl and am actually a great big sister. But, he’s just not that into me; I get it. … a long-lost half-sister who reminds his our father of a past he’d rather forget? No thank you."

    I can so related to this…I talked with my half brother for the first time on April 1st. We had a great conversation, and I think one day he might want to know me, but he just can't right now…it is not about me but about what happened to him, so I just have to give him grace. But the odd thing is that he FELT like my brother (or maybe that is not so odd).

    I knew my mother's name in 1986 and waited til 1993 to seek her out. I have known my dad's name for TWENTY years and he has known about me for the same amount of time, and neither one of us was ready…it is sad but true.

    I was in reunion with my mother for almost 10 years and then it got to be too much pressure from every angle, too painful, too many variables, and I could not do it anymore. Nine years later and almost two years in therapy I am figuring out and am reaching out to her to apologize to her for what happened. I don't know what will happen from it, but I needed to say I was sorry for what happened and explain why it was I did what I did then. Til now I was not exactly sure…

    This stuff is not for the faint of heart and is just plain hard even when it is easy. And every story is completely different…this is just how mine has played out!

    • Dorothy Fletcher permalink

      "Inheritance", huh? I know that when the one half-brother learned of my existence and asked, "What does she want from us?" I had to laugh. I mean, seriously? You live in *Bakersfield* CA for goodness sakes…and as far as I know, you don't own any of the oil wells in the area. Yeah, I'm here for my share, lol

    • Laura permalink

      My heart goes out to you with your mother-situation. I know you mentioned before that you cut off the reunion because it was too hard dealing with your a-family AND your first family. I truly hope that you'll find a way to remedy and heal this relationship–it seemed that your mother really did/does want to know you, and I know it takes strength and courage, but I hope you can take action to determine how yours DOES play out, instead of remaining at the mercy of other (crappy) people who don't have the open-mindedness to want to know you.
      Just my thoughts :)

  5. I learned my mother's name when I was 32.It took until I was 50 to meet.Another few years to find and meet my paternal half-sibs. Part of our resistance is I think the fear of the can of worms which reunion invariaby seems to be in one way or another. I no longer have contact with those who are still alive.It sometimes seems they find it hard to make a place for you in their lives and once they have satisfied their curiosity along comes the hot potato.I certainly found it hard to make a place for them in my life – how does that saying go? – you chose your friends but not your relatives.

    The fog to me is many things – the unawareness of what adoption really means, the haziness about feelings because some of our experiences are pre-verbal, the daze of not knowing and perhaps not really wanting to know or to experience what seem to be the invariable outcomes of reunion, it's about PTSD for some and about the pain of mother-loss which never leaves us. As you say there's a book in it!

    • Von,

      Your comments are giving me a lot to think about. Yes, I agree that the fog is many things "unawareness of what adoption really means, the haziness about feelings because some of our experiences are pre-verbal, the daze of not knowing and perhaps not really wanting to know or to experience what seem to be the invariable outcomes of reunion."

      And yes, the fog and the pain varies by adoptee–depending upon how open our adoptive parents and our first families were and are now. Sometimes, we'd love to emerge from the fog, but are unable to obtain the information we desire.

      I agree, once they "satify their curiosity," then it's the hot potato. They don't think about how to create a real relationship, a true connection. That can be devastating, as well.


  6. anonymous permalink

    If my siblings would actually take a few moments and think about it (the inheritance/money issue)….they'd realize that I basically gave up any chance of receiving anything from my bfather by reaching out to know THEM (which is far more important to me).

    I was in my bfather's "good graces" for 20-some years before I went against his wishes to find my siblings. So if they truly are concerned that I might be left something after our father dies….they should actually be thanking me for wanting to know them because it caused my bfather to disown me which leaves more for them to divide.

    Ugh….oh well. I can only be who I am and people/relationships are far more important to me on this Earth.

    Thanks for everyone's thoughts/comments. It helps to know I am not alone :)

    • Anonymous,

      Thanks so much for commenting here. Yes! You aren't alone! Definitely!!

      And people are funny. Regarding your b-paternal siblings … They may just come up with excuses so they don't have to face the reality that their father may not have been the man they thought he was. Or, they're scare of something besides "just" the money. You may never know the "true" reasons, but I'm glad you've found some personal sense of acceptance with this whole situation.


  7. I am so enjoying this series with you two wise and witty women.

    There are parts of this post that I want to share with someone very special to me. I won't say more, but I will direct that person here.

    Thank you. Just thank you.

    • Laura permalink

      Wow, great. Yes, I hope you'll keep me updated as to how it goes with this special person. :)
      Love you!

  8. Corie has hit the nail on the head for my own experiences and other adoptees I have talked to over the years. It is very validating to hear it isn't me, even though deep down, I too am a cool girl like Laura (by the way, Laura, I am into you:). I have learned to take their reactions to me (my brother pretends I don't exist) as only about them and not me. For whatever reason, they cannot deal with the issue at hand. I agree money can be a factor. One of my adopted cousins was afraid to approach his birth family for a long time for fear they would think he wanted money from them. I never thought about it before he said that to me (maybe it's more of a guy-thinking?). I really like what Corie said that many times it is not about adoption and so many families are estranged so they look at the adoptee like "oh, geez . . .here comes another one!"

    • Yes, good call–families have their own issues, and then with an adoptee it feels like it can open a whole ADDITIONAL can of worms. It's so true; and yet as an adoptee when you're in the middle of it, facing secondary or tertiary, etc. rejection … it can be hard to take it as such.

      Thanks for being "into me," the feeling is mutual!


  9. zygotepariah permalink

    I was lucky in the sense that everyone in my reunion wanted to meet me. But I quickly learned there can be several layers of fog, and my mother, while perhaps coming out of the fog, remained in the mist.

    I was a late BSE (1971), maternity home baby. At first, my reunion with my mother went well but it eventually became obvious that she blamed me for the adoption. She refused to sign the papers for months hoping her parents would change their minds. At one point, when I was four months old, she requested a visit with me, so they brought me in from the foster home (she hadn't seen me since my birth). She told me she saw me in my baby carrier and pretty clothes and was angry with me for "doing so well" without her. (She showed me a picture she has of that visit that I'd never seen before, and I found it very telling that I was turned away from the camera staring at the wall with a completely blank look on my face. Yup. I'm doing swell.)

    Shortly after, she would append every sentence with "after you left me". "I went back to school after you left me", etc. In her mind, I had left her, not the other way around. It was all my fault. She did nothing wrong. Of course, after spending 26 years without her and eight years on a government search list (yay closed records), I'd say nothing, even though I was furious. I didn't want her disappearing again.

    One of the most hurtful things she said to me was when she showed me a picture of a family reunion they'd had a few years earlier. "We were ALL there!" she squealed. I of course said nothing while I could physically feel the blood draining from my face and I wondered if she had any idea at all of what she had just said to me. Well, not *her* fault I wasn't there, after all.

    I think, to her . . . her way of dealing throughout the years was to turn me into the betrayer. It was too hard for her to admit the truth. She couldn't have possibly signed away her own baby. It must have been her baby who left.

    So I think it's not just about shame and secrecy, but also about family members finally having to confront some hard truths about themselves (and especially for those who did not know, it can challenge the "Wait. We're a good family. We're there for each other in tough times. Aren't we?" mentality). For the grandparents, that they failed their daughter and could have been supportive. For siblings, perhaps having to view their parents in a different light, knowing they gave away a child, their sibling. For my uncle, who was eight when I was born and didn't understand what was going on when my mother "went away", learning he had a niece (my mother had no other children), and realizing just what his parents did when his sister could now talk about her pain. For my mother, that I was not and am not the enemy.

    For some, I suppose upsetting the adoption apple cart is just too difficult. All those things tumbling out, just too messy. Besides, doesn't the apple cart look like a perfect postcard picture against the shimmering fog background?

    • Laura permalink


      Oh man, yes, your story is heart-breaking, but one I have sadly heard before: first mom blaming the baby for leaving, for doing so well without her. And you're right. The coping mechanism went beyond the shame and secrecy, blaming you was

      "her way of dealing throughout the years was to turn me into the betrayer. It was too hard for her to admit the truth. She couldn’t have possibly signed away her own baby. It must have been her baby who left."

      I like that you brought up the loss for your uncle, as well. I mean, they had an 8-year-old child, your grandparents could have helped raise you–some siblings are 8 years apart. And of course there were other issues in play, but for the family to have to admit to themselves that they weren't truly there for each other … that's super hard. It's easier to rely on denial and blame others.

      Upsetting the adoption apple cart — sounds like another phrase for my adoption glossary! Love this …


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