This week one of the trending topics on Facebook (and everywhere else) was the reunion of the “Burger King Baby” with her birthmother. Awhile back Katheryn Deprill took this photo of herself detailing what she knew about her abandonment as a baby in the bathroom of a Burger King:
I remember seeing this picture when it was circulating on Facebook. Dueling thoughts came my way – wow, she’s brave and will this work? Now we know that the image was shared over 30,000 times and one of the viewers of the photo was her birthmother.
News anchors and commentors are calling this story heartwarming, a fairytale ending, wonderful, even fated. Deprill’s birthmother was reportedly raped while abroad, hid the pregnancy from her parents, and after giving birth at home, abandoned her at the fast food restaurant. The reunification was a joyful one as far as I read, and I am happy to hear that they will be proceeding in getting to know one another and pursuing a meaningful relationship.
As the parent of an adoptee and even as a parent to non-adopted children who will inevitably hear about this story I start to brace myself for impact.
Not every story has a happy ending.
Certainly it seems that this story, as do inevitably all adoptions, began in tragedy. Luckily, to the gumption and resourcefulness of Ms. Deprill, it has the good fortune of heading in the right direction. But let us be careful in our assumptions regarding reunions.
Some are happy and some are not. Some adoptees are received well and welcomed with open arms and ‘the hug they have waited 27 years to receive’ and some are left rejected a second time, incurring the loss all over again.
Parents in the pick up line at school talk to me about this story as a celebration of how adoption works. But is this how adoption works? Each of our children will have to choose whether to pursue reunion with birthparents or not and it is our role as parents to prepare them for that choice. Our children’s choices as adoptees are their choices, not ours. We must parent in a way that creates openness about choice but pare it with the reality that we don’t know what will happen if they choose to attempt reunion. This story is one story, lest we romanticize reunions in a way that ill prepares our children to receive whatever their birthparents have to offer or not in reunion someday.
I have seen it go both ways. I know adoptees who chose not to search. I know adoptees who have searched and been left holding the same questions they began with. Great reunions, difficult reunions. But to see this story and its reception in the media is to think that all reunions have happy endings. We must allow our children to hear from other adoptees about their own stories. Together we need to watch reunification movies and documentaries and talk about the very real feelings adoptees and birthparents have regarding adoption and reunion. Talk. Ask good questions. Be open to how your child feels. Again, it is their choice not ours.
Ultimately, I’m soberly encouraged at the end of Ms. Deprill’s story. But it is her story. And my child, your child, will have their own.
Who better to speak on reunions than adoptees themselves. Listen to the voices of Miles Maker, Angela Tucker, Lisa Lutz, Michael Tott (sp?) and Liz Fields on their diverse experiences with reunion and the decision to search for birthparents or not.
Follow this link to hear the discussion on the BBC World Services program World Have Your Say.
Discussion begins at about 19:40.