All-around support: Group encourages people touched by adoption

Her adoptive parents, with whom she shared a close, loving relationship, were retiring to Florida. To her surprise, she fell into a deep depression as she faced what she felt was a profound loss.

Her extreme reaction was the result of unresolved issues relating to her adoption. It wasn't until she gave herself permission to grieve her parents' move and come to terms with her adoption that she began to turn her life around.

Now she is trying to help others in similar circumstances do the same. Ten years ago, Moreen, 54, started Adoptees, Birth Parent & Adoptive Parents Together, a support and encouragement group for adults whose lives have been touched by adoption.

Monthly meetings, held at Calvary Church in Naperville, offer emotional support, adoption education and fellowship in an effort to help people deal with the complex feelings that come with adoption. Some 350 adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents, ranging in age from late teens to 70s, have attended meetings throughout the decade. During that time, they have gotten a better understanding of themselves and one another.

Moreen said she knows the value of talking about feelings. She attended her first adoptee support group meeting in Ohio almost 15 years ago and joined another after she and her husband and children moved to Indianapolis. Unable to find a similar group after moving to Naperville 11 years ago, she started one of her own at Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton before moving it to Calvary Church in 2007. She found it liberating to find others who understood what she was feeling.

"We talk about unresolved grief and loss," said Moreen, who was adopted at 9 months. "A lot of times, new loss will trigger unresolved issues, and your reaction to the current loss is exaggerated because you have underlying unresolved feelings about the first loss."

Those feelings can crop up at any time. Amy (who prefers her last name not be published) felt those feelings rush in after she gave birth to her son. Her love for him made her wonder how her birth mother could have parted with her.

"It was like a switch turned on that I had to process feelings that I didn't realize I hadn't dealt with," said Amy, 39, of Downers Grove.

Because hers was a closed adoption, Moreen and her adoptive parents had been given little information about her birth family, a common practice years ago. At the time, unwed mothers often were quietly sent away to have their child, then encouraged to place the baby for adoption. Adopted children were kept in the dark about the circumstances of their birth.

As a result, adoptees are left wondering who their birth parents are and why they didn't keep them. They don't know their ethnicity, medical history and how many other relatives they have. Those adopted from foreign countries also grieve the loss of their ethnic culture.

In an effort to fill in the blanks, many adoptees search for their birth family. Several members of the adoption group have done so, with varied results,

"I would say, a lot of it was questions and the huge, bigger-than-life mystery of who were these people, this ghost family," Moreen said. "It was always in the back of your mind. ... This is a courageous journey, and there's no guarantee what you might find on the other side. There may be a closed door."

Sometimes the door opens from the other side.

Amy's birth mother contacted her about six years ago. At the time, she wasn't ready to establish a relationship with her. But a few years later, her half-brother, who also had been adopted, found her. That led to her first meeting with her birth mother two years ago. She also met another brother.

During that time she turned to the group for support.

"Truly, what helped me soften my heart toward her was being in Jody's group," she said. "It's not just adoptees, because it's open to all. You really get the full perspective of everybody involved and you quickly realize that, for most birth parents, this was a rip-your-heart-out-of-your-chest decision and, more often than not, wholeheartedly in the best interest of their children."

Catherine Baez of Romeoville knows that feeling. She was 17 when she gave birth to a daughter in 1970. She reluctantly took the advice of others and placed the child for adoption.

She ended up marrying the baby's father three years later and had two more children. But the couple never forgot their first child. Baez often fell into a depression near her daughter's birthday. She wondered where she was, who she was with, if she was happy or even if she was still alive. It felt like her daughter was a soldier missing in action, she said.

"We both went through emotional trauma afterward," said Baez, 55. "He didn't know how to console me, and I didn't know how to console myself."

Seven years ago, the couple located their daughter, who was living in another state. Thirty-two years old at the time, she was married and the mother of two children. They were overjoyed and continue to stay in periodic contact. However, her daughter has not told her adoptive parents for fear of hurting them.

Despite the reunion, the sadness never completely goes away, Baez said. To help them cope, she and her husband have regularly attended the adoption support group meetings for the past three years.

Moreen said group members can be an important resource for those seeking a reunion. She located members of her own birth family several years ago. By that time, both biological parents were deceased, but she met three older sisters with whom she stays in periodic contact (one has since died) and has attended family events. The reunion, she said, has brought her a sense of peace and a chance to know herself better.

"For an adoptee, I can't tell you what that's like to see your physical traits mirrored in other people," she said.

"It was a healing process for me. I saw where I inherited those traits and where they came from. That's part of our identity."


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