What is This Article Saying?

Here’s a 2011 Psychology Today blog article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/em/58035

Why Adoptees Need To Find Their Biological Parents

Being adopted isn’t so bad…is it?
Published on April 3, 2011 by Stephen J. Betchen, Ph.D. in Magnetic Partners

I can’t speak for all adult adoptees but I can say—after interviewing several of them over the years—that many of us have trouble feeling completely comfortable wherever we are—no matter how welcomed we may be. At times our discomfort can manifest in distancing, indifference, or even rudeness, but we usually don’t intend to insult anybody. We just seem to have an internalized nomadic notion that we don’t belong anywhere in particular. Even when we do settle somewhere we often work our asses off to prove our worthiness—just in case anyone gets any ideas about putting us back up for adoption. While watching my oldest daughter play at a neighborhood park, I thought to myself: “Wow, she looks just like me. What a miracle!” Well, to me it was a miracle. It was thrilling and heart-warming, but it was also a little strange—I almost cried. For the next several months I had to work on emotionally claiming her as my own.
Some of us who were adopted in “closed states” (or states that don’t allow for the free exchange of even the most vital information such as a health history) have a lingering fear that we might drop dead at any moment. I just love filling out the medical history questionnaire at a new doctor’s office; the one that asks what diseases your parents suffered from. How about the question: What age was your father when he died? How should I know? The great state of so and so…won’t tell me. Not knowing one’s medical history is especially annoying to those of us adoptees who have biological children. What am I passing on? Will I be around for the weddings?

By the time I hit my forties I was tired of the intrigue. My adopted parents were deceased and I felt it was time to explore what I came to see as a hole in my life. The research indicates that many adopted children feel this way, and may embark on a biological search even if they’ve had a positive experience with their adopted parents. I also wanted to explore the fantasy that my biological father was Al Pacino and my mother was Candace Bergen (Don’t laugh…she and I both went to Penn).

The search process, as it is affectionately known, was not for the faint of heart—but it was fascinating. By calling in a few favors and hiring a private investigator, I was able to have bio mom tracked down within a few days. Apparently, PIs don’t just sit in cars with a zoom lens; they now use powerful computers to find people. Initially, bio mom was reluctant to speak with me. The PI said she was afraid that I was looking for money. But after convincing her that I was more interested in my medical chart than her portfolio, bio mom allowed me to charm her. No, bio mom wasn’t Candace Bergen—and she assured me Pacino wasn’t pop—but she jokingly told me that as long as I continued to exercise and consume my share of bran muffins I would have a better than even chance of dancing at my daughters’ weddings.

I also discovered that bio mom had some significant attachment issues—go figure. She told me that she was ashamed of putting me up for adoption. Apparently bio dad (deceased by this time) was less than thrilled about being a father at 50. But I got a stronger sense that these two antiseptic, orderly people were thrown off course by the emergent threat of yours truly…and headed for the hills. By the way, bio parents actually had me, put me up for adoption, and then married. More often than not a pregnant teenager is the bio mom and the father is some long-lost guy she barely remembers.

Bio mom and I continued our telephone relationship for the next several years, but sadly enough, it just plain wore out. I got tired of playing in a fixed pursuer-distancer dance and so I did what a lot of adopted kids might do in a situation like this—I disappeared. I took my medical history and a few more tidbits and I faded with a new appreciation for my adopted parents. They weren’t perfect, but neither was I. As for bio mom, I hope she lives forever. She wasn’t a bad sort, and my kids could sure use the good genes.

Stephen J. Betchen

Stephen J. Betchen, Ph.D., earned his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice with a specialization in marriage and family therapy. He subsequently completed fellowships in sex therapy at The New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Medical College of Cornell University and psychoanalysis at The Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. A licensed marriage and family therapist as well as an AAMFT and AASECT supervisor, he supervises in the graduate program for Marriage and Family Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University where he is a Clinical Assistant Professor, and in the post-graduate program for the Council for Relationships. He is the author of numerous professional articles, chapters, and magazine/newspaper columns on relationships as well as the critically acclaimed book, Intrusive Partners-Elusive Mates (Routledge, 2005). His latest book is Magnetic Partners: Discover How the Hidden Conflict That Once Attracted You to Each Other Is Now Driving You Apart.(Free Press, 2010)


What do you think this article is saying about adoptees

finding their birth parents?

And what does it mean for those who cannot meet their birth parents?


  1. I was one of those adoptees with a complicated past as I was adopted from my birth mom at the age of 12 to my step-grandparents; best thing she ever did for me! I have always struggled with the finding my place in life/family, however I do know that my mom and dad (yep adoptive) love me very much and would do anything for me, but I still struggle not knowing my biological family or my medical information (isn’t that said knowing the fact that I was adopted at 12; but my bio-mom had many problems that prevented her from remembering most information due to the choices she had made in life). I too have disappeared from her after getting tired of the years without communicating and then all of a sudden the calls and complaints and then again she disappears; I definitely feel sad about it at times but overall I’m much happier without the worries of how she will react or if she’ll disappear again. As to bio-dad he was never married to bio-mom and had a different alias when I was born then disappeared and tried to reappear when I was an adult, and it’s the same situation of not being able to get information and if I do I can’t be sure that it is even true then he disappears for about a decade and now wants to talk again. I just leave them alone, tell drs I’m sorry I can’t provide information as I’m adopted and I love on my husbands family and my mom (dad passed away a few years back). Husband and I are looking into adopting our first child (can’t have children biologically) and I pray that my experiences will help our child overcome the difficulties that can occur with adoptees. Great article!

  2. I find his style of writing very difficult to pinpoint his actual point. I also heard him speak in an interview and it was the same. To me he comes off as apologizing for having normal feelings, such as justifying “why” and “when” he searched – different than simply stating facts. “I started worrying I would drop dead, I waited until my parents had passed, I only wanted medical history, I was surprised my mother felt shame.” Really? As a professional you did not research the era and the feelings of mothers? As a professional you don’t recommend honest discussion about your feelings with your parents? As a professional you don’t recommend parents understand the potential feelings of needing to reconnect and have the resources to work through the insecurities?

    Sorry, he just muddies the water as far as I am concerned. As a professional he could be voicing how reform is needed in sealed records laws for domestic adoptions. How the industry has failed to even attempt to set up a workable family health history system that is accessable as desired, and includes education of why it is important pre-adoption – both domestically and internationally.

    • Tao, that was a problem I had with this article. I couldn’t figure out his point. He seemed to undercut his own points. You raise some well thought out points, too–especially that he seems unknowledge. The shame thing in particular. Thanks for your ideas.

  3. Ouch! I’m a bit surprised with all his “credentials” that he comes across so jaded/defeated. Hard to imagine him helping others with their relationships when he appears to have easily given up on his. Hard to say, I suppose, until we’ve walked in his shoes…

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