A private investigator specializing in adoption searches considers the reasons some biological parents might prefer to remain unknown.
A version of this story first appeared on the New Hope Investigations blog.
by Rachele’ Davis
I’m a private investigator who specializes in reconnecting biological family members, usually those who have been separated by adoption. I identify and locate birth parents on behalf of the children they relinquished. I also find relinquished children for birth parents. My clients are siblings, extended family members, and even adoptive parents.
The most common search I undertake is on behalf of an adoptee who has hired me to find one or both biological parents.
Adoption searches can be messy territory.
Every adoption story is unique; many are sheathed in heartache, regret, loss, shame, and many unanswered questions. That’s why it is so important to handle adoption searches with the utmost respect, empathy, and privacy.
As any professional investigator knows, finding someone on a client’s behalf is only the first step; the next phase is careful diplomacy. We do not simply locate a person and pass on that information to a client—that would be unethical, possibly dangerous, and even illegal.
Before sharing data about our findings, we contact the “found” person and ask permission to connect them with our client.
This part of the process does not always go as planned.
When Staying Lost Is the Goal
What happens when an adoptee hires me to find a biological parent who doesn’t want to be found? When the parent refuses to communicate with or even acknowledge the biological child they relinquished to adoption?
Not long ago, I worked an adoption case that utterly broke my heart. I was investigating in the wake of another PI’s lazy, slapdash work—that investigator had misidentified the birth mother—so I was especially happy to learn the biological mom’s identity. Every single piece of evidence pointed to her, and there was a LOT of evidence. It was a slam dunk … or so I thought.
When I contacted the correct birth mother, she denied everything. I was devastated. But even as she insisted she had no genetic link to my client’s adopted child, she kept offering me clues—a series of “IF I were the birth mother” scenarios that seemed to thinly veil a truth she could not say out loud.
I think in her own way, she was trying to communicate that she just could not allow this new reality into her life. How could she explain this to her family? To her current husband?
When I delicately passed along the disappointing news to the adoptive father (who’d hired me), he asked me to write a very personal report directed to his adopted daughter. He wanted me to include reasons why a biological mother would deny her relationship to a child she relinquished to adoption.
So that’s what I did. And that’s how this article was born.
Shifting the POV
It’s natural to put ourselves in the shoes of the adopted child. We’ve all been children and can imagine the crushing disappointment of facing what must seem like another rejection from the biological parent.
It’s tougher to imagine the point of view of a biological parent who turns away from the adoptee’s overture. Our first instinct is to resent the biological parent, to consider them selfish or callous.
At least that’s how I used to feel before I started performing these searches. But hearing of the heartbreak on the biological parent’s side of the story has been eye opening for me, and has made me much less quick to judge.
Hearing the whys doesn’t fix everything; but it might ease my client’s pain, just a little, to know that there’s sorrow on both sides of the story.
I find it much easier now to put myself in the tattered shoes that a biological parent has been walking in for 20, 30, 40+ years. They may feel any or all of the following: resentment toward an authority figure who forced the adoption on them, grief for the child whose life they missed, a lifetime of emptiness and what ifs, trauma surrounding the conception and/or adoption, and guilt for choosing adoption.
So when I locate and contact a biological parent who tells me they don’t want to be found, or even one who denies any relationship to the adoptee, I take a step back. I try to understand their choices—for myself, but even more, for my client. Hearing the whys doesn’t fix everything; but it might ease my client’s pain, just a little, to know that there’s sorrow on both sides of the story.
Because the hardest part of my job is breaking the news to an adoptee that I found their biological parent, but he or she does not wish to be contacted.
The Diplomacy Part
If it’s hard for me to break that news, how much more difficult must it be to receive it?
It must reinforce the feeling of rejection. An aloneness that can’t quite be described to anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves.
Some might say my job is to identify biological parents and locate them, then move on to my next case. I would argue that my job as a private investigator is fulfilled when I find a person, but that my job as a human being is to show grace, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion to people who’ve asked for my help—and to unwitting folks whose lives are disrupted by my investigations.
So I do my best to show grace and forgiveness to a biological parent who is refusing contact with their biological child and kindness and compassion to an adoptee who especially needs it when facing such painful revelations.
If I were an adoptee who hired a private investigator to find my biological parent(s), only to discover they were choosing to keep me out of their lives, I would want to know why.
That line of thinking prompted me to look into some reasons that biological parents decide not to contact the children they relinquished to adoption (and why some deny their existence altogether). This is an equal combination of informal research, personal stories from past clients, and input from a couple of birth mother friends of mine. I also just used my imagination: I put myself in the shoes of a birth mother and questioned why I might not be so keen on reuniting with my biological child from 30 years ago.
Here are some potential whys I’ve considered in my research:
A birth parent who participated in a closed adoption assumed their identity would remain confidential forever. Imagine the shock some of these parents must feel when they are suddenly contacted by their relinquished child.
After the adoption, the birth parent chose to close the door on a painful experience, in order to move on with life. Perhaps they are afraid to open that door and step back across the threshold. The shame and remorse might still be too painful to face.
A biological parent’s shame might simply override their desire to reconnect with the child they relinquished.
A birth parent might not want their family to know a secret that’s been hidden for years: the adoptee’s existence. The current spouse (and children) of the birth parent might not realize that the adopted child even exists.
If the adoptee is the product of an undisclosed affair, the birth mother still might be unwilling to admit this fact to her family. In this case, contact with the child she placed for adoption could open a Pandora’s box of secrets and deceptions.
If trauma surrounds the conception, adoption, or both, it’s asking a lot to dredge up all of those emotions again. For example, if the conception occurred as a result of rape, a birth mother might fear her own reaction if her relinquished child looks like the birth father, the man who raped her.
It’s crucial to consider that the circumstances of the biological child’s conception or adoption might be the worst thing that has ever happened in the mother’s life. Anyone can understand that she might want to forget that day forever, no matter what.
Some birth parents might simply want to protect their child from the ugly truths surrounding their conception and adoption. Perhaps the mother or father was an addict, or was involved in criminal activity or sex work. In such cases, the parent might have been told at the time of the adoption that it would be best for the child to never have contact with them. Maybe they still believe this to be true, even after decades have passed.
Emotion and Fear
A biological mother might not know who the biological father is and may not wish to face this question if the adoptee asks. Conversely, if the biological father left her due to the pregnancy, the biological mother may have to endure a second round of heartache and betrayal if she sees him again.
Worse still, he may have been abusive or dangerous in some way, and the biological mother fears what he may do if she opens the door to their biological child.
Sometimes, the search simply comes at a bad time for a birth parent. They might be caring for an ailing elderly parent, recovering from a recent death of a family member, or grappling with their own failing health. They might be too distracted or emotionally spent to commit the necessary time or energy to the child they placed for adoption. And they may not want to run the risk of failing that child again.
A biological parent could be embarrassed about the circumstances of their lives. They may fear being a disappointment to the biological child or be unwilling to face questions about the decisions that led to the birth and adoption.
A birth mother or father might also be battling their own demons, such as mental illness, poverty, homelessness, addiction, a violent environment, legal trouble, or other life chaos. For them, the stress of this newfound situation may be one factor too many in an already complicated life.
Some biological parents are suspicious of why the biological child is now suddenly searching for them. This child is a stranger. What kind of a person are they? What do they want? What will they say? Fear of the unknown can be one of the greatest fears of all.
I think about adoption a lot. Until I became an adoptive mother myself, I didn’t really see the sacrifice and courage of birth mothers. So investigating adoption cases and reuniting biological families hits home for me. I love every bit of it. And I think birth mothers often get a bad rap.
Instead of condemning them, I feel like we should be thanking them. As someone who wouldn’t be a mother without a birth mom and birth dad, my heart has certainly softened toward biological parents who admit that they’re not up to caring for a child.
I don’t mean to make excuses for birth parents who decline to reunite with the children they relinquished to adoption. Quite the opposite: I have a hard time understanding these situations and naturally stand behind adoptees in their quests for answers.
My hope is that these reasons might help adoptees gain some understanding. Everyone wants a fairy-tale ending, a happy reunion with tears and apologies. That sometimes happens. But sometimes it doesn’t, and those adoptees are left with unresolved questions and aching hearts.
The reasons I outlined for why some birth parents may wish to remain in the shadows are simply factors to consider that might soften the blow a bit for those who face this reality.
Adoption reunions are complicated. Life is complicated. A little understanding goes a long way.
See more stories about adoption searches:
About the author:
Rachele’ Davis became a licensed private investigator in Missouri and Kansas in 2016, then launched her one-woman agency, New Hope Investigations. She specializes in locating and researching people through social media and open source investigations and has a personal interest in adoption searches.