Lara Wierzoch, Louise Wilson and Sally Lynch: Reality for those affected by adoption is emotional upheaval and uncertain results

The public can’t get enough of ‘reality TV’ and who doesn’t like a happy ever after? but tracing relatives separated by adoption can be a challenge.

The public can’t get enough of ‘reality TV’ and who doesn’t like a happy ever after? but tracing relatives separated by adoption can be a challenge.

Here, at our charity Birthlink, we work with adults affected by adoption – birth parents, adopted adults, birth relatives – many of whom are prompted to contact us after seeing TV programmes where birth families are reunited. What is often not seen on such shows is the work that goes on behind the scenes which can be a complex, complicated and lengthy process.

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The searching of public records for births, marriages, and deaths and producing a family tree can be tricky and time-consuming, often met with dead ends or the realisation that we need to look elsewhere. Our team of dedicated, experienced searchers, who are all volunteers, are often faced with this difficult task.

On television, searching for family appears to be a relatively swift process, but can take months or even years to complete. The harsh reality for some is that family cannot be traced or do not wish to be found.

If we have found who we are looking for, the role of mediation does not tend to see us jetting off to foreign climes to break the good news, nor does it mean that face-to-face reunions will occur within weeks of finding each other. Mediation is an enormously sensitive and emotional time for all those involved. What you see on television is one exchange of letters then leading on to an emotional meeting. However in our work, we often support people to take time to build the foundation of a relationship long before any meeting face-to-face is even considered.

Birthlink can facilitate an exchange of letters and photographs until the people involved feel ready to proceed. However, in today’s world, communication takes many forms and there can be the benefit of email exchange and other technology, particularly for family members living abroad. We would however, always be on hand to offer further advice and support on the practicalities of moving things forward and, importantly to provide emotional support every step of the way.

The ripple effects of mediation can impact on the lives of extended family members and friends too. The realisation that your birth parents went on to forge new relationships, got married and had children is not necessarily something that may have been considered when searching began. Our service is to offer support wherever it is needed. This can be supporting people to manage expectations and consider the different ways in which people want to proceed. Often people do want to rush in and have it be the way it is shown on TV but this may not be what everyone else wants or needs. There are many people to consider during these reunions and sometimes taking some time to reflect can be really helpful for everyone.

Reality TV gives us a snapshot of how people get to the stage of finding each other. Our role on a day-to-day basis often sees us advising people on how to begin the process. Whether you are an adopted adult or a birth relative, original birth information is the key to getting started. This information is recorded on the original birth certificate of the adopted person. With these details there is the option to register on to the Adoption Contact Register for Scotland which is held by Birthlink. This is a database where adopted people and birth relatives can register their wish to have contact. Registering here may also lead to us being able to share where further adoption records are held which can give more information from the time of the adoption.

Our reality is dealing with people at different stages of the process, sometimes our role is simply to offer a listening ear, advise on possible options and to go at a pace that works for them. We understand that adoption isn’t always the easiest thing to talk about no matter what your relationship to it is but we are here to help and to listen.

Birthlink aims to enhance the wellbeing and promote the welfare of all people affected by adoption with a Scottish connection. Our website provides more information about our services. You can read about real life experiences @

Lara Wierzoch, Louise Wilson and Sally Lynch, After Adoption Workers at Birthlink

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