Author, Speaker, Addiction & Relinquishment Consultant, Relinquishee, Adoptee, MPE

Relinquishees, Adoptees, Donor-Conceived Persons, and Non-Paternity Event Individuals:
The Things We Have in Common

Being relinquished and adopted is a paradoxical journey, something I’ve often referred to as “a gift” (like in my previous post), a gift that opens and unfolds continuously, whether welcomed or not. I choose to label it as a gift because I choose to adopt a positive perspective, acknowledging how it has enriched my life – fostering deeper relationships and facilitating personal discoveries. However, I arrived at this perspective only after learning how to deal with the inherent trauma associated with relinquishment and adoption. Once I learned to navigate the emotional turmoil, it became easier to see my relinquishment and adoption as a complex situation that, yes, hurt me, but also broadened the scope of my existence. Over the years, I’ve transitioned from allowing it to consume me, as I once did, when I relied on alcohol to be able to cope with uncomfortable feelings.

Recently, however, the complexities of my adoption resurfaced in an unexpected manner. I encountered what is called a Misattributed Parentage Event (MPE) (or Non-Paternity Event, NPE as it’s referred to in this post). This was a revelation that put a “little” twist into my ongoing journey of self-discovery. It turned out that my paternal genetic grandfather was not biologically related to my father. This, of course, showed me that my quest for identity isn’t finished yet. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how such experiences in my adoptee community connect us even more than we know. I’m specifically thinking of reliquishees, donor-conceived persons, and those affected by non-paternity events[1] (like me and my half-brother as of recently). While their circumstances may appear distinct at first glance, a closer examination reveals some beautiful overlaps especially when it comes to their quests for self-discovery, understanding, and reconciliation. At the heart of all of our journeys lies a fundamental search for who we are, where we come from and what this means for our identity as we know it. Or should I say for our identity as we don’t know it?

When talking to people from those three groups, I’ve noticed that they all struggle with similar issues: things like trust and shame and loss. Each group has to confront not only the ambiguity of their genetic heritage, but also figure out how to navigate their familial relations. As you can imagine, some of those discoveries are news to some people, but even those who have been aware of their origins still grapple with their sense of self. I’ve listened to stories of longing and displacement, loss and grief, whether a person was separated from their biological families through adoption, conceived through assisted reproductive technologies, or confronted with unexpected revelations about their parentage. What was common were feelings of isolation, and yearning for connection and belonging.

In addition, reliquishees, donor-conceived individuals, and those affected by non-paternity events still encounter some stigma and misconceptions surrounding their experiences. I’m always surprised to learn that despite so much progress, adoption, assisted reproduction, and genetic revelations remain sensitive topics in some places and people still encounter cultural taboos and lingering prejudices. It doesn’t happen often, but it needs acknowledgement that some folks struggling with questions of identity and lineage will also face judgment, scrutiny, or marginalization from society which only adds to their sense of isolation and estrangement.

Another challenge lies in being able to rebuild their identities with the information they have—or rather, the lack of information. Not everyone has been able to fill in the gaps–for example, I will never know about my biological grandfather as those secrets have died with the biological family members who are no longer with us. Unless there’s a secret letter or a diary somewhere, I will not find out. All three groups struggle with similar challenges. Some are trying to piece together fragmented narratives from adoption records, others have to face the implications of donor anonymity, or reckon with the aftermath of secrets that were assumed to be undiscoverable. All of us navigate the complexities of self-definition with limited information about our biological heritage. This can be an arduous and frustrating journey, except that I want to put a positive reframe on it and try to appreciate it for what it is, which is more exploration, reflection, and reconciliation. We might not be able to get the closure we want, but we are learning something about ourselves. Maybe what we’re learning is that we’re resilient and courageous people who face their reality head-on.

What is perhaps the most common thing I’ve observed in our communities is that many of us harness the power of community and connection that helps us navigate all of those complexities. For a bunch of people who have struggled so much to belong, there is a profound sense of being in this together. I believe that by helping each other navigate those journeys, being able to talk about all of those issues, we truly affirm the enduring human capacity for adaptation, growth, and transformation in the face of adversity.

[1] Relinquished persons, or reliquishees, are people who have been separated from their biological families through adoption or other means. This means that their biological ties have been interrupted/ cut which often leaves them with a sense of loss, causes them to question their identity and sense of belonging. Many relinquisees embark on identity quests searching for the past that has shaped who they are.

Donor-Conceived Persons occupy a unique space when it comes to search for identity. Born to families with some or no genetic relation –via sperm or egg donation or both–-donor-conceived persons grapple with questions about the significance of biological ties, lineage, and the construction of one’s identity. Similarly to relinquisees, donor-conceived persons might embark on journeys of self-discovery, seeking to unravel the complexities of their genetic heritage and understand the implications of their conception.

Non-paternity events, NPE, occur when a person discovers that their presumed biological father—or grand parent—is not actually related to them genetically. Whether revealed through DNA testing or familial disclosures, these events can shatter long-held beliefs about one’s lineage and family history. For some this might inspire a new journey of self-redefinition, where they will often struggle with questions of identity, trust, and belonging. Their experiences not only shed light on biological relationships but result in often uncomfortable family discussions.

Graphic based on seminal work of Cassandra Adams with permission from Cassandra Adams and Right to Know.












Graphic based on seminal work of Cassandra Adams with permission from Cassandra Adams and Right to Know.

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