I had a situation that started in 2004 that I wanted to write about. A sister named Susan asked to meet with me saying that she had researched and now was very close to identifying her biological mother. She wanted to meet with her but wasn’t sure if she should. She didn’t want to meet for medical reasons but simply out of curiosity, a longing get to know her birth mother and to understand the reasons behind why she was given up for adoption.
I wasn’t sure how to counsel her so in preparation for our meeting I looked in the manual of instructions (the 1999 version) where I had remembered seeing something on the topic. I love the manuals provided by the church and refer to them often. The instruction given is that local leaders should discourage adopted children from seeking to identify their natural parents (the full text is added to the bottom of this blog post for your convenience).
The manual didn’t tell me how I was to go about discouraging Susan from identifying her Mother. This is the part of church leadership that can become difficult and where personal opinions come in to play. One leader may say one thing and another may take a completely different approach. The end result should be the same throughout the worldwide church though in that we discourage the adopted from seeking to identify their natural parents.
When we met I told Susan that since she was sealed to her adopted family who have always loved her and who raised her in the gospel she should be very considerate of their feelings. I explained that if I had adopted a child I might feel that I had been an inadequate parent if my son or daughter told me they wanted to find their “real” parents. Had I not been real? Had I not loved and raised them? Susan thanked me and said she had kept that in the forefront of her mind throughout the process. She had actually discussed the issue with her parents and assured them that they are and will always be her ‘real’ parents. She let me know that her parents were completely comfortable with her finding and getting to know her biological mother.
I then asked her to consider how upset her birth mother might be. I explained that she has likely moved on and raised her own family by now. Contacting them might only cause embarrassment and stress to all involved. Susan agreed that this scenario does happen sometimes in cases such as this. She also let me know however that her mother had registered with an adoption agency indicating that she would like to have contact with her daughter if ever the opportunity arose.
As a last resort I showed her the counsel in the manual and then asked her to fast and pray about the decision. I did make it clear that the decision was hers and hers alone to make. I felt like I had done my best with regards to my duty of following the instruction given by my inspired leaders to discourage her from identifying her Mother. The rest I would leave in the Lords hands.
Being a woman of great faith and strict obedience Susan came back a few days later and said that she just couldn’t go against the counsel of church leaders and feel right in her heart at the same time. She decided to not contact her birth mother.
I thought this was the end of the matter and was surprised some two years later when Susan asked again about it. She was aware that a new manual of instructions had been created (in 2006) and wanted to know if the counsel was still the same. I confirmed that the exact same words were present.
I thought long and hard about this guideline after she came to me that second time but felt in the end that ‘The Brethren’ in Salt Lake City are inspired and know what is best for people. I understand (as did Susan) that there is no doctrine or scriptural counsel against seeking out ones biological family but many church members simply feel safer living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of the Lords servants whether it be a guideline, a policy or simply a teaching. Susan actually said to me that “if church leaders are inspired enough to know that people will ask such questions and think it important enough to give guidance in the matter (in an official leaders manual) then it must be there for a good reason”. I couldn’t argue with that.
However whilst going through the new 2010 manual in November I was immediately drawn to the same section and noticed a significant change. Allow me to quote:
“Questions regarding the exchange of information and contact between adopted children and their biological parents should be handled with sensitivity. The legal rights and emotional needs of all relevant parties should be considered.”
I immediately picked up the phone and rang Susan to let her know of the change – that the manual no longer instructed me and other leaders to discourage people from identifying their birth parents. She was in tears and thanked me for letting her know of the change.
I am happy to report that with the assistance of the adoption agency Susan and her mother were reunited on December 20th 2010. The mother was cancer stricken and in hospital but was able to let Susan know that she had always wondered about her first beloved daughter and had thought about and prayed for her daily. Seeing her was an answer to many a prayer. They were able to speak twice before the mother passed away (which occurred peacefully in her sleep).
Susan’s ‘new’ half sister Lisa asked about the process by which she was able to locate her natural mother. Susan explained that she had thought about making contact way back in 2004 but was advised by leaders of her church not to do this. Lisa asked why this was so and which church had felt it their right to advise her on such a personal issue. This gave Susan a chance to talk about prophets and apostles being on the earth again today and the blessings she has received from following their guidance in all things.
Lisa couldn’t hold back the tears as she thought about the moments that could have been had Susan made contact 6 years earlier when their mother was in full health. Lisa felt it was an absolute tragedy that those years had been needlessly without contact.
Of course Susan and I know that the Lord has his own timetable and purpose for things. In fact we see it as nothing short of a miracle that this guideline change was made and then noticed by me just in time so that she could meet her mother.
I know that the Lord blesses us as we seek to follow our leaders from the local level right up to our loving church president even Thomas S. Monson, and I leave these thoughts with you in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.
*This is from the 1999 and 2006 manual (in the church policies section). This instruction remained in force until November 2010 when a new manual was provided (I can provide screen shots of these pages if requested):
Adopted Children and Their Natural Parents
Local leaders should discourage adopted children and their adopted parents from seeking to identify the children’s natural parents.
When adopted children have genetic or medical problems, the family may seek medical information about the natural parents but should be discouraged from seeking their identities.
Here is the same section in the new 2010 manual:
Adopted Children and Their Biological Parents
Questions regarding the exchange of information and contact between adopted children and their biological parents should be handled with sensitivity. The legal rights and emotional needs of all relevant parties should be considered.