Dear Jim: Many years ago, I got a girl pregnant. We were both 18. We gave up the child---a boy---to an adoption agency right after he was born. My girlfriend and I went our separate ways, and I got married five years later. I’m now 62 and my wife and I are still married, with four grown kids of our own. I’ve never told my wife anything about my son or my old girlfriend, but every time I hear about an adopted child reuniting with his birth parents, I get a feeling of panic. I picture some stranger showing up at the door and telling me he’s my son, and I picture my wife totally freaking out over it. Would it be best to break the news to her now rather than later, and, if so, how do I do it? (“Anonymous”)
Dear Anonymous: I think it would be a mistake to tell your wife about your son. Since you fear that she would “freak out” if your son were to show up someday, I doubt that her initial reaction would be a positive one even if you try to soften the blow. You’ve been married nearly forty years. If you truly felt your wife would have wanted to know about this, you would have told her long before now.
I’m all for honesty in relationships, but honesty doesn’t have to mean full disclosure about everything. Before you reveal something that’s potentially disturbing or hurtful, you should ask yourself why you’re revealing it and what effect it will have on the other person. You should also ask yourself how likely is it that she would ever learn this information unless you tell her.
Although it’s true that some adopted children do manage to track down their birth parents, those situations are relatively rare. The vast majority of adopted children abandon their search once they encounter the many obstacles in their path. Most states have statutes that seal court records and original birth certificates in “closed” adoption cases (i.e., cases like yours that were handled by an agency, in which the birth parents never knew the adoptive parents). Those statutes typically prohibit adoption agencies from disclosing the actual names of birth parents to the adoptees or to anyone else.
And keep in mind: your son is now 44 years old. Even if he lives in a state that doesn’t automatically seal adoption records, my guess is he would have done something by now if he was determined to find you.
With all that in mind, it would seem pointless to bring up the subject with your wife. She might, with reason, feel hurt that you’ve kept this from her all these years, and she may start wondering what else you’ve been hiding from her. She may torture herself over whether she should tell your other kids about your son. And she may develop the same fear you have that your son may enter---and forever disrupt---your life. Why subject her to all that?
I do think, though, that you should get some help for yourself. Keeping secrets takes a toll. You may have mixed emotions about your girlfriend’s pregnancy and about your decision to give up your son for adoption. (And who wouldn’t?) A psychologist or therapist could help you work through these issues and help you come to closure with them. Just talking about the situation may be a big relief, but do your talking with someone who’s impartial and professionally-trained, rather than someone who’s likely to react badly to what you’re saying.
Good luck, “Anonymous,” and please let me know how this turns out.
Tags: illegitimate child dilemma adoption agency
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