While many in the adoption community hope that the Oprah reunion with her sister she never knew will bring about positive changes in establishing equal rights in adoption. I feel that there are other lessons in the adoption reunion for those still searching. Lessons we can learn now from the Oprah reunion, if we are open to learning them.
- Focus on the connections you have. I must say that I was very impressed with Patricia, Oprah's reunited sister. She didn't seem to focus on the rejection of her birth mother, even though she was obviously hurt. Through the hurt she kept her focus on connections she already had in her life, not those she was missing. Patricia mentioned that she was grateful for the people she had in her life and doesn't regret the path her life took. She felt that it was the way her life was meant to go.
- Keep faith, maintain hope. Patricia also spoke often of her faith. She mentioned that she always felt that God would reveal to her the identity of her birth mother, even though upon calling the adoption agency, her birth mother rejected any notion of making contact.
- Let go of the hurt. While hurt by the rejection of her birth mother, Patricia knew she had to let go of the hurt and again relied on her faith and family for support, she called upon her children.
- Know that birth parents never forget. Birth parents often hold shame and guilt over the decision to choose adoption and hold concerns over whether or not they did the right thing by choosing adoption.
- Be bold in your attempt at a reunion. While being bold is important, and Patricia was bold when she approached Oprah's niece, it's also important to remember to be respectful and understanding. The adoption may have been a secret, not all members may have been aware of the placement of a child for adoption. It's also important to realize that not all members of the triad are at the same place emotionally or spiritually. We don't know why adoption was chosen and what w what the adoption means to them. For Oprah's mother it meant years of shame and guilt.
- Reunion can be a blessing to birth family. Oprah called the reunion one of the greatest surprises of her life. Their family now has another little piece of family members that have since passed. This reunion brought another connection to their deceased sister, mother, aunt Pat.
- Reunion can bring a sense of closure. Adoptee's can stop seeking for family in strangers on the street and birth mothers can stop hiding a secret. Reunion can bring a release of shame for all involved. Oprah spoke of two different epiphanies she had when speaking to her mother about the adoption. That her mother was still carrying the shame in a 1960's mindset, and secrets being made secret releases shame.
- Adoptees and their children may find a sense of wholeness and completion in reunion. We all seek to be connected to others. Our identity is a huge part of this connection and our own self-worth. Adoptees crave this information as a part of their selves. It is nothing against the adoptive family, it's biological and innate. Most of us enjoy hearing our birth stories from our parents, or how we look like this family member or have the same laugh as that family member. During the Oprah reunion, Patricia heard for the first time that she was a pretty baby. It was the first time she had heard this and was brought to tears. An adoptee's own children are often the first people they know to be blood related to them. This connection has a profound impact on the childrne of adoptees too, as Patricia's children felt incomplete.
- Seek for DNA confirmation. It's important to not just go by looks and mannerisms to confirm an adoption reunion. DNA testing is very simple and an effective way to make a family match, even if birth parents are deceased.
- Take time to process and grow new relationships. The sharing of DNA doesn’t make instant family relationships. Oprah referred to it as the need to do a lot of sorting and called it a "process." I couldn't agree more. Take the time to get to know each other. Remember if you were in the same family growing up, that growing up takes years! So, don't feel rushed and take your time to talk, ask questions, sort your feelings, and process.
- Share news of reunion in a way that makes all members of the reunion comfortable. Oprah commented that they shared the reunion on their own terms and so decided to go forward on her show to keep the tabloids from their often creative reporting. Patricia called it "family business" and should be handled in the family. Speak to all sides of those involved in the reunion before deciding to go public.
I have to agree with Oprah's epiphanies, that there is hope and release in the letting go of secrets and shame. A final quote that I feel is appropriate for this piece.
"If we knew each other's secrets, what comforts we should find."
~ John Churton Collins