Sixteen states, including Maryland, have now opened or partially opened their sealed adoption records. This means that adults who were adopted in these states can see either their original birth certificates or their adoption records (depending upon the state) and search for their birth families if they want to.
Not all birth parents want to stay in touch with their child and their child’s adoptive family, and the unsealing of records does not mean that they have any obligation to communicate. It is possible, however, that a birth parent who has not been in contact with their child for many years could receive notice from an adoption agency that their child is searching for them.
The age at which a child is legally permitted to search for their birth family depends upon where they were adopted. In Maryland, the age is 21. A young adoptee might dream of going to their adoption agency on their 21st birthday, getting their birth parents’ names and phone numbers, and calling them up to arrange a joyful reunion with hugs and tears all around – but it’s not quite that simple. Adoption agencies themselves cannot release information about birth parents; the unsealing of the records has to happen through the state, which involves an application process and at least one counseling session. Once that’s been accomplished, the agency must reach out to the birth parent – which can be very difficult or even impossible – and send a social worker to meet with them to find out how they feel about the possibility of a reunion.
It is then up to the birth parent to decide if they are comfortable with opening up the lines of communication. If they are interested in doing so, the agency social worker will assist both parties in beginning to communicate with one another via letters and photos. Eventually the birth parent and adoptee may get to the point where it makes sense to meet in person, but it can take years to get there. Think about it: Getting in touch with a long-lost relative means inviting a new person into your life who you know nothing about. It is certainly very exciting, but there is also a good chance that each of you will have different expectations, which will need to be worked through so that no one gets hurt.
What would you do if you find out that your child wanted to communicate with you? Would you jump at the chance, or would it be too difficult? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!