An open letter to Long Lost Family from an adoptee
Dear Long Lost Family,
While I was still in the adoption fog, I watched you avidly. I delighted in the resemblances between the reunited relatives and looked forward to a good cry at the emotional climax of the programme. (It’s well-edited, I’ll give you that.)
Now, with two adoption reunions under my belt, and being firmly out of the fog, I can no longer watch you. I’m sorry.
While non-adopted people delight the drama, you are a source of frustration and bewilderment for me and many adoptees I know. How can something so popular, fronted by adoptee himself Nicky Campbell, get it so spectacularly wrong?
Here are a few reasons you leave a bad taste in the mouths of adoptees, as well as many adoptive families and birth/first families:
You shortcut the search process
Searching for birth relatives can take a lot of time, a certain level of skill and some money. I know people who have searched for decades and found limited information. I know people who have relied on the kindness of strangers online to provide a breakthrough. I know people who have gone against all their instincts and spat into a DNA test tube in desperation. I know people who have spent hundreds of pounds on private detectives - the very top researchers cost upwards of £2k.
It is unrealistic to set expectations that the average person could have the success rates of the professional researchers on Long Lost Family. Many of us find incomplete information and/or end up following red herrings for months or years. Not to mention the many contacts made by adoptees via post, email, social media and sites such as Ancestry that go unanswered.
2. The adoptee is usually shown alone
No adoptee is an island, we have families and friends so why are these generally not shown on the programme? I’ve blogged about how lonely it feels to go through reunion alone. It’s the only major life event I haven’t felt able to speak openly to my parents about, despite their verbal support for me searching.
I appreciate many people do not involve their adoptive families when they search, for a number of reasons, but I don’t think it’s helpful to always show the adopted person embarking on reunion alone. I feel Long Lost Family covertly reinforces the idea that adoptees should feel guilty for searching and/or the adoptive parents would be upset or angry if they knew. Even if the adoptee doesn’t want to involve her parents, there must be a sibling or friend they can bring along for support?
3. The adoptee always says “Hi mum!” or “Hi dad!”
This happens too often for it to be a coincidence so I’ve come to the conclusion it must be written into the Long Lost Family contract that if you benefit from the programme’s help you have to stick to this formula. It’s far more common for adoptees to use a biological parent’s first name at this stage, even if they are not on good terms with their adoptive family.
4. There’s little in the way of follow-up after adoption reunion
I know you have spin-offs where you revisit the families, but overall there is little in the way of medium and long-term follow-up. So many reunions flounder after the first meeting and/or the initial honeymoon stage, and this isn’t made clear, which can leave some adoptees feeling like failures if they struggle. More support is needed to help reunions thrive.
5. The wider relationships can be hugely impacted, which you don’t show
I feel we have a responsibility to show that it can be difficult for birth parents’ other children to assimilate, particularly if they didn’t know they had a sibling who was adopted. Partners of birth mothers and fathers can also struggle, as shown in this outstanding episode of AdopteesOn where Haley talks frankly with her biological dad’s wife.
I have been contacted by partners of adoptees who are struggling post-reunion, asking what they can do to support. My own partner has had to take on a huge role to support me on the adoption reunion rollercoaster.
6. There’s not enough signposting to support for adoptees and birth/first parents
It’s important to give as much information about the (limited) services for adopted people pre- and post-reunion available in the UK. For support with adoption reunion in the UK, including free/affordable counselling and intermediary services, contact PAC-UK (phone line 020 7284 5879).
7. Adoptees are spoken for
Let adoptees speak for themselves in their own formats. You can read/hear real accounts of adoption reunion from the following:
An affair with my mother by Caitriona Palmer
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
So, Long Lost Family, I won’t be watching tonight I’m afraid, but I hope this blog post has given a tiny snippet of the reality for many of us.
An adoptee x