WITH 15 months to go before a new Maryland law takes effect that's designed to help adopted children find their birth parents, a lot of people may be getting anxious.
As a veteran of such a search, my key advice to adoptees is to proceed with caution. Four years ago, in my home state of New Jersey, which has a similar law, I successfully searched for my biological family, finding answers to questions that had bothered me for a long time.
The experience didn't end happily, but it helped fill in details of my life that were missing, allowing me to move on to other things. My future happiness truly depended on finding out what my roots were.
Adoptees who launch a search should expect to travel down some paths that may lead to tragedy and loss.
Also, remember that many adoptions are steeped in secrets and lies. An adoptee's sudden appearance in the birth family's life may not be welcomed.
My search, which began when I was a high school freshman, was difficult. Since I was adopted at age 7, I knew that my adoptive parents weren't my real parents. However, I knew nothing about my biological family.
Even with such sketchy information, a state social worker -- using formerly sealed records -- was able to locate my biological family within six months.
I discovered three siblings and that my biological mother had committed suicide 12 years before my search began. My older brother had watched her hang herself from the living room ceiling when he was 10. One of my aunts was a crack addict who had died of AIDS a month before I made contact with the family.
This wasn't the picture I had painted in my head of my biological family. Another surprise for me was that I wasn't welcomed with open arms. My biological family saw me as a disruption in their lives and a reminder of a painful past that they still refuse to confront.
As a result, I was forced to reluctantly walk away. Despite all this, I am still happy I searched for my family.
Some people say the new Maryland law violates the confidentiality of birth parents. What about the adoptees' right to know who they are? Do they realize how many adoptees suffer from depression and alcoholism? Do they realize how many adoptees have difficulty with intimate relationships? How many commit suicide?
Abandonment by our mothers is the human's most primal fear. Not knowing drives us mad and keeps us wondering. That's why we need to seek and find our kin.
Today, I know my original name -- Stacey Hope Jones, where I was born -- Glen Ridge, N.J., and my birth mother's name -- Robin. And I have a picture of her. Even though I don't have a relationship with two of my siblings, to know their names and what they look like is enough. Just to be able to name names and places feels so good to me.
My search taught me the difference between identity and the definition of self. Now I do not define myself in the past or through biology, but rather how the experience has shaped me. Psychologically, I feel as if I've been relieved of a burden. I have also noticed that my personal relationships have improved somewhat.
This new state law is a great leap forward for adoptees. It means we won't have to continue wondering about our history.
Stacey Patton is a reporting intern at The Sun.
Pub Date: 6/15/98