Five Questions of the Adult Adoptee

Five Questions as a Youth

On September 30, 2019, Patience Bramlett, a freelance writer for the Adoption Choices of Colorado wrote the article, “The Top 5 Questions Adoptees Ask”. She listed the five following questions, verbatim:

  1. Why was I adopted?
  2. Why didn’t my birth parents want me?
  3. Why do I feel different from everyone else?
  4. Is it okay to wonder about my birth parents?
  5. Who am I?

Of course, we all recall these questions from when we were kids, and most of us have come up with answers that are suitable for us individually. For me, why was I adopted? My mother was poor. Why didn’t my birth mother want me? She wasn’t married and couldn’t afford me. Why do I feel different from everyone else? Because I really was too young to understand the meaning of parenting, and too many bad things were happening to me to think that was normal.

Is it okay to wonder about my birth parents? Why, it’s perfectly normal. Who am I? Well . . . honestly? I didn’t figure that out until I was 59 years old.

Five Questions as an Adult Adoptee

But now we are grown. We have children, grandchildren, friends, careers, and patterns of living. We’ve become sophisticated in our thoughts, and we have become experts at hiding our thoughts and pretending to be someone else when need be.

Statistically, we’re still adoptees; only, we are “adult adoptees.” Let’s ask ourselves, what are the top five questions adult adoptees ask? I started my list.

  1. I wonder if my birth mother suffered after she abandoned me. Is she sorry she gave me up? (Oops, a twofer, sorry.)
  2. Does she ever think of me?
  3. What is she doing right now? Is she still alive? (Oops, another twofer.)
  4. What traits do I get from her? I wonder about my medical history.
  5. Are my relationships strained or hindered by my emotional issues with having been adopted?

Before May 2011, when my birth mother passed away, hardly a day went by that I did not ask at least one of the first three questions. My questioning was never the result of braggadocio. It wasn’t like I was so proud of me—and “see what you missed, ma.” I just knew that I turned out okay, despite all my little hang-ups in life. Nonetheless, those questions were always hidden from anyone else.

The fourth question, what traits do I get from her, is particularly clear when I am obsessive-compulsive about cleaning. While my adoptive family was always neat and clean, none of them went out of his or her way to dust every other day or to wax floors once a month. Little did I know that my German birth mother was a cleaning lady and her household was immaculate.  

        Another trait I seemed to have gotten was my stubbornness. I learned about this similarity after meeting my birth mother and half-sister. My half-sister and I were discussing heatedly something, and she called me “dickkoepfig,” which means mule-headed. At the time, I thought it meant jackass, which I later learned was “Eselin” in German. At any rate, she told me my birth mother had the same trait.

Knowing our medical history can turn out to be a life-or-death question. Prior to that moment, I loved not knowing my medical history because I could go to the doctor’s office and fill out the insurance and medical paperwork in half the time that it took everyone else. When it asked for family medical history, I wrote in all capitals, ADOPTED: HISTORY UNKNOWN. I then snapped that cheesy BICS pen under the clip on the board and grinned, “I’m finished.”

When I was in my early 40s, I contracted cancer of the unknown primary site. The oncologist and radiologist felt it was imperative to find the origin of the cancer, otherwise, statistically, I had a 5 percent chance of surviving.

Fortunately, I was a part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at the time, and the bureau had FBI agents assigned to cities in Germany. I also had an old address where my birth mother had lived forty years before! These agents hunted down my birth mother, before I even knew her, to get my medical history. Unfortunately, my birth mother spoke no English and the agents evidently did not speak good German. However, they learned that my grandmother had died at about the same age as me from cancer, but my birth mother could not identify the kind of cancer. The doctors proceeded without any information. If you want to know if I lived or died, read My Mother My Daughter: A Memoir . Later, I learned that my birth mother and birth father had other medical issues that are now sneaking into my body.

The questions that we had asked as children are very deep questions. In fact, “who am I” could take a lifetime—or more—to answer. The questions as adult adoptees are not as deep unless we’re asking questions about emotions, feelings of belonging and detachment, or control and relationships.

Question 5 is a deep question; are my relationships strained or hindered by my emotional issues with having been adopted? This takes an analytical mind because we have to be able to separate the original issues.

In my case, my birth mother gave me away, and she was poor. She also lived in post-World War II, a very Catholic Germany. I knew this as a child, but I was not compassionate that she was faced with extremely difficult situations. Instead, I became aloof, detached, fearful of poverty, absolutely controlling of my life, and emotionless. Without a doubt, it affected my approachability and subsequent relationships.

It’s your turn now. Did I pick the right five questions for adult adoptees? (You’re allowed twofers.) Let me know your thoughts.



  1. Christine Briegleb on 05/29/2020 at 2:13 am

    As a fellow adoptee, I think your questions are spot on. I feel a strange sort of comfort knowing that someone that was also given up for adoption asked herself the same questions that I did. I can’t get past the resentment I feel being a mother & knowing that I could have never given up my child. I did not find out that I was adopted until I was already in my thirties & a mother.

  2. marita malone on 05/31/2020 at 3:53 pm

    Grand opening on this blog. Check it out, and give me your thoughts!

  3. Marita Malone on 06/26/2020 at 3:27 pm

    Holy Moley, I am curious what your initial feeling were at the age of 30, if you wish to share.

  4. Christine Wunderle Briegleb on 07/02/2020 at 9:24 pm

    At first I was devastated & felt damaged & unwanted. I could not imagine that my mother did not want me. I completely understand there are situations but I knew as a new mother that nothing could have made me give up my child.

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Marita Malone

Marita Malone, Ph.D., is a former assistant professor and a former special agent of the FBI. She was adopted from Germany after World War II. She is an author of several books, blogs, and articles: the memoir My Mother My Daughter, Managing Law Enforcement Change, and several articles and blogs on management, professional ethics, and adult adoptee issues. Dr. Malone authors the interactive website .