'I found the name...now I have to find the person.'
Most women were explicitly told when forfeiting their child to adoption that they could and would never see their child again. They carried this belief within the grief of their loss, and were frequently surprised to learn years later of others who had searched for and found their children. This discovery was often the first step towards locating their child and in special cases was followed by some tutoring provided by another mother on how to go about conducting their search.
It is true that tracing adopted children is still very difficult, though there are a number of services and individuals in place who can assist with the process. For adoptees, tracing birth relatives in England and Wales was impossible until the Child Act of 1975 which allowed adopted people to access their original birth certificate once they reached 18. The same has not been extended to birth families. It is the access to an original birth certificate which is generally the first step of any search, whether being conducted by the adoptee or birth family. Adoptees generally do not know the name they were given at birth, nor that of their mother. Likewise, birth parents do not know the adopted name given to their child nor the names of their adopted parents. Once either party is able to acquire this information, often at some expense and with a good deal of effort, they may begin to piece together the facts necessary to seek out their intended. Knowing the name of the adoption agency which arranged the placement, and perhaps the courts which finalized the adoption or an address for the other party at the time of the adoption, then they have a more sufficient foundation to seek out their birth parent or adopted child. For those who have undertaken this process it can last anywhere from a few weeks to many years, with or without success in the end. In recent years the Adoption Contact Register at the General Register Office has successfully helped families reunite, acting as a service where either adoptees or birth families may include their name registering their wish to be contacted (or to not be contacted in some cases). For those without success through the registry, they may conduct the research on their own or through individual researchers (for suggestions see the Resources page).
The women involved in this project who have reunited with their children have experienced the steps towards reunification in different ways. For some they hired a researcher who managed the process almost entirely, while others underwent the necessary stages on their own with some help at crucial stages. Some were found by their child, being the ones to receive the letter asking for contact, while others are still seeking their child.
While the search process can be difficult, and often painful, some of the women in the project described it as providing a certain therapeutic quality as well. One even remarked that once the search finished, and their child was found, there was a certain sadness around no longer searching. It provided some an opportunity to delve into the memories without yet having to confront the reality. A notable element of many of these searches was that somewhere along the way women who were successful in their search were helped ‘unofficially’ by someone who had access to the records. Without this help they confess they would have still eventually found their child, but the process may have taken a lot longer and incurred a greater amount of expense.
This brings into question the 1975 Child Act which allows adoptees access to their birth information, but does not reciprocate to offer birth parents the same access to their adoptees. The Post Adoption Centre has reported that ‘many birth mothers feel it is unfair that adopted adults should be able to know their identity and trace them, but that there is no reciprocal right’ a sentiment echoed by many of the participants in this project.
Did you have help in searching?
'She said, I understand your need to know. Join NORCAP. Join NPN. (Natural Parent Network) They will support you. And I did, and through this system...through talking to people you hear of researchers. And someone put me in touch with this researcher who knew how to search the adoption registers...'
How did you start searching?
'I met a woman and she was searching for her son, and I said 'I didn't know you could' and she showed me how to do it. After I'd got the name I had to find the person [How did you get the name?] Well...this is what adoption records look like...'
Are you still searching?
'I would just like to know that she's ok. That she's happy, and whether I've got any grandchildren. [Since you've got the birth certificate have you done anything more to get information?] No. Because it all costs money.'