10 Adoptee Memoirs about Complex Reunions with Birth Family

Many adoptees who have reunited with their birth family members know that adoption reunion is not always the easy, happy event portrayed in popular media. Here are 10 memoirs written by adoptees that detail complex reunion experiences.

 

A Single Square Picture: A Korean Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots
by Katy Robinson

At seven years old, Katy Robinson is adopted by a Salt Lake City, Utah, couple. Twenty years later, she returns to Seoul, Korea, to reconnect with her birth family and finds herself an outsider in her native country.

 

 

Becoming Patrick: A Memoir
by Patrick McMahon

When Pat McMahon risks the love of the mother who raised him by seeking out the mother who gave him away, he transforms from a mild-mannered engineer into a frenetic detective. After he overcomes the challenges of existential angst, bureaucratic roadblocks, and unemployment, the phone call to his first mother releases a torrent of long-buried feelings. During a sometimes turbulent long-distance unfolding, he absorbs her shocking revelations and comes out as gay once again. Their eventual reunion creates a profound bond, even as he navigates waves of conflicting emotions, merges past with present, and embarks on a new future rooted in truth and insights into the universal quest for identity and human connection. He is Becoming Patrick.

 

Worthy To Be Found
by Deanna Doss Shrodes

Worthy To Be Found chronicles the joys and obstacles of a Christian adoptee relinquished at birth in the 1960s American South. Deanna was called by God from a young age. Driven to serve, and gifted in music and preaching, she excelled in her calling. Coming from an adoptive family of divorce, she was determined to create the stable marriage and family she constantly longed for. She had always wondered about her origins, and as she embarked on motherhood, Deanna was compelled to search. But even getting the chance to look her natural mother in the eye as an adult would prove to be an epic emotional and logistical task. Reunion was only the beginning. Readers will be moved to laughter and tears as they journey through the rollercoaster ride of reunion with Deanna’s natural maternal family and later grief at facing further devastation from the woman who gave her life.

 

Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity
by Catana Tully

In this memoir, the author explores questions of race, adoption, and identity, not as the professor of cultural studies she became, but as the Black child of German settlers in Guatemala. Her journey into the mystery that shrouded her early years begins in the US when she realized it was not just her foreign accent that alienated her from Blacks. Under layers of privilege (private schools, international travel, the life of a fashion model and actress in Europe) she discovered that her most important story is one of disinheritance. The author’s determination to find out who her parents really were and why she was taken from them, tests the love of her White husband and their son, and returns her to Guatemala to find a family that kept her memory alive as legend. In the end, she learns truths about the women who were her mothers, and the disrespect committed long ago against a birthmother and her child in the name of love.

 

Searching for the Castle: Backtrail of an Adoption
by Barbara Leigh Ohrstrom

Like cowboys turning in the saddle to look at where they came from, Searching for the Castle documents the backtrail of author Barbara Leigh Ohrstrom’s adoption. It begins with her urgency as an eighteen-year-old woman initiating her search for her birth parents. Her recollection includes court petitions, letters, Division of Social Service documents, and other original documents usually buried behind the lock and key of the law. In this memoir, she narrates the unearthing of her history and that of her family. Some of her discoveries are filled with pain, while others are joyful, including locating sisters, another brother, and eventually nieces and a nephew. A story of how one woman comes to terms with her identity, Searching for the Castle tells of real people doing the best they can to live and love in the often heartbreaking circumstances of life. As Ohrstrom shares her journey to find her birth parents, she reveals her emotions throughout the process, discovering that her identity is self-created, but also that her being is governed, in part, by her ancestors and family lines. Searching for the Castle communicates the message that love creates families and that the family to which Ohrstrom belonged in foster care gave her a mother, father, and family filled with love and decency.

 

My Fathers’ Daughter: A Story of Family and Belonging
by Hannah Pool

What do you wear to meet your father for the first time? In 2004, Hannah Pool knew more about next season’s lipstick colors than she did about Africa: a beauty editor for The Guardian newspaper, she juggled lattes and cocktails, handbags and hangouts through her twenties just like any other beautiful, independent Londoner. Her white, English adoptive relatives were beloved to her and were all the family she needed. Okay, if I treat it as a first date, then I’m on home turf. What image do I want to put across? . . . Classic, rather than trendy, and if my G-string doesn’t pop out, I should be able to carry the whole thing off. Contacted by relatives she didn’t know she had, she decided to visit Eritrea, the war-torn African country of her birth, and answer for herself the daunting questions every adopted child asks. Imagine what it’s like to never have seen another woman or man from your own family. To spend your life looking for clues in the faces of strangers . . . We all need to know why we were given up. What Hannah Pool learned on her journey forms a narrative of insight, wisdom, wit, and warmth beyond all expectations. When I stepped off the plane in Asmara, I had no idea what lay ahead, or how those events would change me, and if I’d thought about it too hard I probably wouldn’t have gotten farther than the baggage claim. My Fathers’ Daughter follows Hannah Pool’s brave and heartbreaking return to Africa to meet the family she lost – and the father she thought was dead.

 

Lucky Girl
by Mei-Ling Hopgood

In a true story of family ties, journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood, one of the first wave of Asian adoptees to arrive in America, comes face to face with her past when her Chinese birth family suddenly requests a reunion after more than two decades. In 1974, a baby girl from Taiwan arrived in America, the newly adopted child of a loving couple in Michigan. Mei-Ling Hopgood had an all-American upbringing, never really identifying with her Asian roots or harboring a desire to uncover her ancestry. She believed that she was lucky to have escaped a life that was surely one of poverty and misery, to grow up comfortable with her doting parents and brothers. Then, when she’s in her twenties, her birth family comes calling. Not the rural peasants she expected, they are a boisterous, loving, bossy, complicated middle-class family who hound her daily―by phone, fax, and letter, in a language she doesn’t understand―until she returns to Taiwan to meet them. As her sisters and parents pull her into their lives, claiming her as one of their own, the devastating secrets that still haunt this family begin to emerge. Spanning cultures and continents, Lucky Girl brings home a tale of joy and regret, hilarity, deep sadness, and great discovery as the author untangles the unlikely strands that formed her destiny.

 

The Mistress’s Daughter
by A. M. Homes

The acclaimed writer A. M. Homes was given up for adoption before she was born. Her biological mother was a twenty-two-year-old single woman who was having an affair with a much older married man with a family of his own. The Mistress’s Daughter is the ruthlessly honest account of what happened when, thirty years later, her birth parents came looking for her. Homes relates how they initially made contact and what happened afterwards, and digs through the family history of both sets of her parents in a twenty-first-century electronic search for self. Daring, heartbreaking, and startlingly funny, Homes’s memoir is a brave and profoundly moving consideration of identity and family.

 

An Affair with My Mother: A Story of Adoption, Secrecy and Love
by Caitríona Palmer

Caitríona Palmer had a happy childhood in Dublin, raised by loving adoptive parents. But when she was in her late twenties, she realized that she had a strong need to know the woman who had given birth to her. She was able to locate her birth mother, Sarah, and they developed a strong attachment. But Sarah set one painful condition to this joyous new relationship: she wished to keep it–to keep Caitríona–secret from her family, from her friends, from everyone. Who was Sarah, and why did she want to preserve a decades-old secret? An Affair with My Mother tells the story of Caitríona’s quest to answer these questions, and of the intense, furtive “affair” she and her mother conducted in carefully chosen locations around Dublin. By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, An Affair with My Mother is a searing portrait of the social and familial forces that left Sarah–and so many other unwed Irish mothers of her generation–frightened, traumatized, and bereft. It is also a beautifully written account of a remarkable relationship that survived seemingly intolerable pressures.

 

An Australian Son
by Gordon Matthews

Autobiography of Gordon Matthews. Adopted at birth, he grew up in the 1950s in middle class Kew. Through a series of circumstances Matthews came to believe he was of Aboriginal descent. Passionately, he formally embraced this identity and acquired a profile in the diplomatic service. He became a spokesman for his race and made many friends in the Aboriginal community. When a search for his birth parents revealed that his natural father was Sri Lankan, Matthews faced an identity crisis all over again. Gordon Matthews is a career diplomat who has served in Nigeria and Argentina. He works as a policy officer on Pacific island issues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.