Searching for adoptees & birth mothers from southern NJ (born 1975-1977)

Courier_Post_Mon__May_20__1985_I am searching for at least two adoptees, born in southern New Jersey from approximately 1975-1977, who were adopted through the firm Kent, Grayer & Rosenberg in Willingboro, NJ (Burlington County.)

I am also searching for women who placed a newborn for adoption during this same time period through this firm. The birth mothers were likely from Camden County, Burlington County, or neighboring counties. At least one of the birth mothers was living in Burlington Township, NJ. All of the adoptions were privately arranged.

As of today, I know of three newborn adoptions, including my own, that were arranged by attorney Edward Kent. I was placed in a home in Berlin and the other two adoptees were placed in homes in Cherry Hill. All three adoptions were part of a 1978 indictment against Edward Kent for illegally arranging adoptions. (State v. Kent)

Currently, I do not know the gender or race of any of the adoptees involved. At least one of the adoptees was born in May 1977, possibly May 1st. I do not know when the other adoptee was born, but I believe he/she was also born in 1977. I was born on November 30, 1976 in Burlington County.

Purpose: I am hoping to connect with others who were adopted (or placed a child for adoption) through the same firm that arranged my own adoption. My adoption was very flawed and I’m hoping to communicate with others who were also adopted through Edward Kent so I can learn more about his adoption procedures, background screenings of potential adoptive parents, and overall outcomes for the adoptions he arranged.

ADOPTEES: If you were born from approx. 1975-1977 in New Jersey, and think you could have been adopted through this firm or through this attorney, please contact me. I would love to hear about your adoption and your adoptive parents’ experience. Your responses will be kept completely private and will not be shared publicly.

BIRTH MOTHERS: If you think you placed a newborn for adoption through this firm or this attorney from approximately 1974-1977, please contact me. I would love to hear about your experiences with Edward Kent. Your responses will be kept completely private and will not be shared publicly.

Please share this post with anyone it could apply to. Thank you!

-Michelle L. Riess
Adopted in 1976 through one of Kent’s illegal adoptions

‘Adoption lawyer’s’ term suspended (1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: October 17, 1981

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts the experiences of my biological mother and even some of the details that were provided to me by my adoptive father. I will be writing about these “inconsistencies” at a later date.

Of the Courier-Post

CAMDEN – A Willingboro attorney, convicted in July of illegally acting as an intermediary in three adoptions, yesterday was given a suspended jail term and placed on probation for one year.

Read More »

State v. Kent | NJ Super. App. Div. (1980)

173 N.J. Super. 215 (1980)


Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

Argued March 10, 1980.

Decided July 1, 1980. [1]

*218 Before Judges SEIDMAN, MICHELS and DEVINE.

William C. Levine, Assistant Prosecutor, argued the cause for appellant (John B. Mariano, Camden County Prosecutor, attorney).Read More »

Appeal of lawyer is rejected (Nov. 1978)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: November 18, 1978

N O T E: Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts the experiences of my biological mother and even some of the details that were provided to me by my adoptive father. I will be writing about these “inconsistencies” at a later date.

Courier-Post Staff

A Superior Court judge in Camden has denied an appeal by a Burlington County attorney who had been turned down for Camden County’s pre-trial intervention program.Read More »

Divorce lawyer convicted for adoption assistance (June 1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: June 25, 1981

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts the experiences of my biological mother and even some of the details that were provided to me by my adoptive father. I will be writing about these “inconsistencies” at a later date.

CAMDEN – Edward Kent, a Willingboro attorney who specializes in divorce cases, was convicted yesterday of illegally acting as an intermediary in the adoption of three newborn children.Read More »

Lawyer indicted on adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: The New York Times
Original Publication Date: April 15, 1978

CAMDEN, N.J., April 14 (UPI) – A lawyer with offices in Marlton, N.J., and Willingboro, N.J., has been indicted for allegedly arranging the illegal adoption of babies. The indictment of the lawyer, Edward Kent, 52 years old, was announced today by Prosecutor Thomas Shusted of Camden County. The eight count indictment accuses Mr. Kent of acting as a middleman between the natural mothers and the adoptive parents, which is against state law.

Read More »

Could you be [secretly] adopted? Red flags that could point to adoption

by Michelle Lyn Riess

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

In September 2017, at age 40, I accidentally discovered that I am adopted after getting a DNA match on to one of my three full biological sisters (you can read that story here.)

Meeting my parents & three sisters for the first time in 2017

I know it’s difficult to understand how someone could be 40 years old and not know they are adopted, but I am living proof that it absolutely can happen to anyone (thankfully, it is quite rare!)

With so many people taking DNA tests to trace their family’s history (ex., more people might unexpectedly find themselves in similar situations. Could you be the next late discovery adoptee?

I am what is often referred to as a Late Discovery Adoptee (LDA). Late discovery adoptees are adults who are adopted, but were never told they are adopted by their adoptive parents at an appropriate age (i.e. early childhood.) As a result, LDAs do not learn they are adopted until adulthood–often making the shocking discovery by accident. Some LDAs make this discovery in their 20’s (which is still much too late) and some, like me, don’t learn until much later in life–sometimes after there is any hope of finding their biological parents alive. It’s a complicated, unfair and extremely painful situation to suddenly find yourself in. No adoptee should ever accidentally discover something like this about themselves due to the poor choices of their adoptive parents. All adoptive parents have a moral obligation to be upfront and honest with the child they adopt about their own genetic origins. To intentionally withhold this information from an adoptee of any age is selfish and unethical.

Prior to my adoption discovery in 2017, I had never been told that I was adopted and did not suspect that I was adopted. There were other reasons why I never questioned my genetic origins, but looking back there was an abundance of red flags.

If you’re an adult questioning your own adoption status, I hope that my experiences can help you find answers because everyone has the right to know the truth about their own genetic origins. (ex. Who are my genetic parents? What is my race? What is my ethnic background? Do I have genetic siblings? What is my family’s medical history? Am I becoming romantically involved with someone I could be related to? etc.)

Here are a few of the red flags that were present before my adoption discovery:

There were no photographs of my [adoptive] mother pregnant. I always thought this was very strange, even as a child. Whenever the subject came up, my [adoptive] parents always offered some variation of the same excuse: she didn’t want to be photographed appearing fat… My [adoptive] mother was quite vain regarding her appearance, so this explanation was totally believable. Still, even as a child, something about it didn’t feel right to me since I think most women (especially pregnant with their first child) have at least one photograph from the pregnancy. Depending on when  you were born, if you have never seen a photograph of your mother obviously pregnant, and nobody is able to produce one, this could be a red flag. Similarly, if there are no photos of your mother or of you in the hospital, this could be another red flag depending on when you born.

Not everyone has a baby shower, especially if they have more than one child (showers are common for first babies, but not as common for second or subsequent births.) In the case of my [adoptive] mother, she would have had a baby shower if she had actually been pregnant. She had a bridal shower, a large wedding, and even an elaborate Christening party for me when I was a few months old. All of these events were heavily photographed, so if a baby shower had taken place there should have been some photographs. My [adoptive] parents enjoyed entertaining, hosting lavish holiday dinners, having their friends over for big parties, and other events (most of which were heavily photographed) so it is very strange that there was no baby shower. If your mother did not have a baby shower (or there are no photographs of a baby shower) and that seems inconsistent with other celebrations in her life, this could be a red flag.

I think many people born in the United States from the late 1960’s on probably have at least one or two photographs of themselves from the hospital, coming home from the hospital, and/or from the first few days of their life. If you were born earlier, this may not apply to you. In my case, I was born in 1976 and my [adoptive] parents took lots of photographs, yet there are no photos or other keepsakes from my birth. The first photograph I have of myself is at five days old at my [adoptive] parent’s home. There are no hospital keepsakes, no hospital baby portraits, no footprint certificate, no hospital wristbands, no papers–nothing. If there are no photographs of you and/or your mother in the hospital, no hospital mementos, or no photographs of you at all in the days or weeks following your birth (and no reasonable explanation can be provided) this could be a red flag.

I know what my [adoptive] mother looked like for most of the 1970’s from photographs. As I mentioned in #1 above , there are no photos of her pregnant because she supposedly didn’t want to be photographed “looking fat.” Yet in photographs taken in the days following my placement with them (at approx. 5 days old) her body appears suspiciously normal–I can’t believe I never noticed this prior to my discovery! She was obviously wearing regular clothing (not maternity clothing), neatly styled hair, makeup, and her regular rings & jewelry. If you’ve ever given birth, you probably understand why this could be a red flag. When you’re a first-time mom with a newborn and recovering from delivery, you have other priorities (plus you’re exhausted.) Most notably, women’s bodies do not shrink back to their pre-pregnancy size five days following delivery (sometimes they never do!) Due to the process of breast engorgement following birth (body preparing for breastfeeding) there is just no possible way most women can wear a slim, fitted, button-down shirt like my [adoptive] mother is wearing in photographs from when I was five days old. Take a look at your newborn photos, if you have any, and look for these types of details. While these clues alone do not mean you were adopted, they certainly add to the big picture if other red flags are present.

Before my adoption discovery in 2017, I never thought about the location of the hospital I was born in. In hindsight, I realize how suspicious it is that I was born 40 minutes away from my [adoptive] parents’ home at the time. This never seemed odd to me before; I think it was because we moved to a town very close to this hospital when I was three so it never felt “far away” to me. In reality, unless there are special circumstances, I don’t believe most pregnant women (especially in the era before cell phones) would have willingly driven to a hospital that was 40 minutes away while they were in labor. It doesn’t seem logical considering there were other hospitals much closer to them with arguably better medical reputations. If you’re questioning your own origins, check the location of the hospital where you were born, and then think about your parents’ residence at the time of your birth. If you have any siblings, find out where they were born as well. If the locations don’t make sense, find out what circumstances lead to you being born there. (ex. you were born on a military base but your parents have never been in the military, or you were born in a different state far from your parent’s residence, etc.)

I never thought like I looked like my [adoptive] parents or anyone in my [adoptive] family, really. This was something my friends and especially boyfriends would tell me. More recently, I couldn’t figure out where some of my children’s facial features came from. Obviously, there was a very good reason for this! Throughout my childhood, I was always told by my [adoptive] parents that I looked like my [adoptive] maternal grandmother and her family (the ones we conveniently didn’t know much about and had very little contact with.) In reality, I didn’t look like her, but I absolutely grew to believe it. It was one of those situations that if you’re told something enough times from a young age you will believe it without question. As I got older, I recall people sometimes asking if I am “part Asian” which probably made my [adoptive] parents nervous because it brought my origins directly into question. (as it turns out, my family does have some roots in South Asia!) As a result, when I was around eleven, my [adoptive] mother began to help me dye my naturally very dark hair a shade of reddish brown very similar to hers. She told me I didn’t look right with dark hair, which, unfortunately, I began to believe. She even took me to her own stylist to have my hair cut similar to hers (she was strangely in control of my hair choices until I was around 20.) It’s obvious now that these were attempts to make me look more like her so that nobody (including me) would bring my origins into question. In reality, sometimes genetic children don’t look exactly like their siblings or parents, but they usually have some resemblance to each other, or to other close relatives (ex. grandparent, aunt, uncle, first cousin.) However, if you’re the only person with black hair in a family of blondes, or everyone else is very tall and you’re extremely short–perhaps there is more to the story. If you genuinely don’t look like anyone in your family, this could be a red flag, especially if other red flags are present.

My [adoptive] parents’ ethnic backgrounds didn’t correspond with my appearance. My [adoptive] mother was Greek and Ukrainian. My [adoptive] father is Italian. Despite having naturally dark hair, I never felt like I looked Greek or Italian. Also, my skin is naturally quite pale–not exactly a Mediterranean trait. I began to recognize these inconsistencies during my youth when I was unable to see myself in my “cousins” and other family members. As a result, I was always very curious to know what my friends thought my heritage might be (I was usually told French, German or Irish.) As it turns out, I am predominantly English and Scandinavian/Northern European, which makes much more sense (plus it explains my mild obsession with British comedy!) I think this lack of family resemblance, not quite feeling like I ‘fit in’ with my adoptive family, and not feeling totally connected to my heritage is what really drove me to search for my family history about 15 years ago. I was genuinely seeking “my people.” I wanted to find someone who looked like me, acted like me and felt like me–I think this is a natural biological need. So look at your family and think about the people you physically resemble–if any. Think about your ethnic background(s) and if they make sense. If some of these areas don’t add up, you may want to do some further research.

If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition that usually runs in families or is inherited, but nobody else in your family has it, and there are no carriers, this could be a red flag. This wasn’t something I personally experienced with my adoption discovery, however, I felt it could be a helpful clue to some people. I actually experienced the opposite of this. My adoptive father had a genetic condition which can potentially be fatal, so I was thoroughly tested (obviously, this was prior to my adoption discovery!) Rather than using that as an opportunity to be truthful with me, he allowed me to go through expensive and completely unnecessary medical tests with full knowledge that there was no reason for it. Even my children’s pediatrician was notified and was keeping an eye on things. There is just no reasonable excuse for this behavior.

While you were growing up, do you recall whispers and hushed conversations happening around you? Did you ever get the feeling that some of those conversations were about you? I definitely did. Over the years, there were a number of conversations, some quite heated, between my [adoptive] mother and her mother (she lived with us.) Those discussions always went silent as soon as I appeared. I don’t know what those conversations were about, but I suspect that at least some of them could have been about the adoption, and/or their dishonesty to me. I find it difficult to believe that my [adoptive] grandmother, who I felt close to, would have been okay with them keeping that information from me. I also remember one incident from my youth that I now know was directly related to the adoption. We were at my [adoptive] father’s brother’s house. Some of my [adoptive] father’s cousins were there with their families as well. One of his cousins communicated something to me about my [adoptive] parents and somehow indicated they weren’t my real parents. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I absolutely remember everyone’s reaction to it. My [adoptive] mother was immediately on top of me telling me not to listen to him and scolding him for lying (of course, he wasn’t!) His parents began signing to him (he is deaf) and they looked very upset, too. I remember my [adoptive] mother telling me later how this particular cousin was “special” and that he didn’t know what he was talking about because he was “not all there.” Rather than be truthful with me, she went on to grossly exaggerate his intellectual abilities as an excuse for why he would say something like that. The worst part is I was trained to believe her lies but not his honesty… That is messed up. If you think others in your family have been whispering about you behind your back since your childhood, or remember someone saying something strange about your origins, it might be a clue that you need to investigate.

In 1999, after my [adoptive] grandmother died (she lived with us) I was looking through one of her old books. Inside, I found a note in her handwriting that talked about the adoption of a baby girl. It also mentioned a date of birth of approximately 1960. At the time, I thought the note was very strange and wondered if my [adoptive] grandmother secretly had another child that she placed for adoption. I gave the note to my [adoptive] mother, expecting her to be shocked, but instead she just brushed it off as though it was no big deal. I never saw the note again; I have no doubt it was thrown in the trash. I never spoke to her about it again, but I also never forgot about it. After my [adoptive] mother’s death in 2010, the subject re-emerged. I began to wonder if maybe it was my [adoptive] mother who had a child in approximately 1960 (she would have been 15 years old) and that child, a girl, was placed for adoption. It made sense. Over the years, I spoke about the letter with my [adoptive] father and the possibility of her placing a child for adoption when she was around 15. Again, more missed opportunities for the truth to come out. Anyway–I am now positive the letter had something to do with my own adoption. My biological mother, Hollie, was born in 1960. I believe the date was simply my [adoptive] grandmother’s note about my biological mother’s age. It’s positively maddening to know that as far back as 1999 I literally held a vital clue in my hands, but wasn’t able to see it. I can’t help but wonder if my [adoptive] grandmother purposely left that note in that book because she wanted me to find it someday… If you’ve found strange documents, notes or other items that suggest someone was adopted, or there are papers from an attorney, etc. this calls for further investigation. You are absolutely entitled to an explanation.

For most of my life, I didn’t feel especially close or connected to either of my [adoptive] parents, particularly my [adoptive] mother, who was an alcoholic and had some mental health issues. I always felt out of place and in the way, not completely comfortable within my own family. I often wondered to myself why they even had children in the first place (my [adoptive] mother mostly.) I can’t really explain it, but it was this sense that I didn’t feel the same way about my [adoptive] parents as my friends felt about their own parents (and vice versa.) From the time I was around 11 years old, I recognized a number of major differences between my family’s interactions with each other, and the interactions between the families of my friends. This became especially evident by my early teens when my [adoptive] mother’s drinking escalated and her behaviors became more problematic. If you have these types of feelings or have even had some suspicions that you could be adopted, it may be something that calls for further investigation–especially if there are other red flags present.

A number of times in my life, I can recall strangers asking if I have a sister or an aunt because I looked a lot like a person they know. Usually, these people were very enthusiastic about how much I looked like the person they know. One time when I was in my mid-20’s, a woman approached me in a store asking if I have a sister or a cousin named Jamie. I remembered the name she said because I had a friend named Jamie so it stood out to be somehow. Of course now I know I do have a sister named Jamie! One time, a friend of my sister’s sent her a text with a photo of a woman she saw on the train that looked a lot like her. Around that same time, I was living in a town that had a train station into the city which I would use to attend dance classes and other events. My sister no longer has the text message or the photograph, but there is definitely a chance it could have been me. It’s kind of mind blowing how our paths kept intersecting over the years, but we couldn’t see it. I think this type of thing probably happens to everyone from time to time, but if you notice patterns or someone is adamant that you look ‘exactly’ like someone they know, perhaps it is something worth investigating.

(13) AMENDED BIRTH CERTIFICATE   * major red flag * 
In 2004, I had to renew my passport and needed my birth certificate to do so. I asked my [adoptive] parents for my birth certificate, but they told me they lost it. I found it very strange that they would misplace my birth certificate. After my discovery in September 2017, I found out that my [adoptive] mom destroyed all records pertaining to my adoption when I was very young–I’m assuming one of them did the same with my birth certificate. I do remember seeing it over the years, even into my teens.  When I received the new copy of my birth certificate in 2004, it was a computer-generated form and looked nothing like the older one. One of the lines said “Date Amended (if applicable)” with the date of January 13, 1977 (44 days after my birth.)


At the time, this didn’t seem strange to me, though I do vaguely recall the Vital Records clerk asking me something about my adoption status (which of course, I would have denied!) I rationalized that in the 1970’s things probably took longer to process (no computers) and this was just the date my birth certificate was officially filed. I honestly didn’t question it further until after I had already confirmed my adoption with my [adoptive] father and learned the true significance of an amended birth certificate. * * If your birth certificate is amended, this should be an automatic red flag!  * *


Evaluating the Puzzle Pieces If you’ve read my list and you have similar experiences, you may want to consider looking deeper into your own origins. While none of these red flags, individually, can determine if you are adopted, they are all pieces of the puzzle to be considered. I suggest that you really take time to reflect on the areas that seem questionable to you, and look for evidence to either prove or disprove them. More than anything, keep an open mind. I also suggest that you only begin this type of investigation if you are fully prepared for the emotional fallout that will likely follow this type of discovery. I definitely recommend seeking the support of a licensed therapist and the support of other late discovery adoptees.

Ask Questions It is important to ask direct questions because everyone deserves to have the truth about their own origins. As someone who is adopted and was never told the truth, I can tell you firsthand that some people will feel entitled to hold onto vital information about your origins to keep themselves comfortable for as long as possible. I will never understand this way of thinking, but it’s important not to allow anyone to withhold information from you if they have it. If you think someone knows something–ask them. I would also caution you to be aware that not everyone may provide you with honest answers or complete information in order to maintain their own comfort. Do not let anyone else’s discomfort about the truth prevent you from exploring it. Everyone is entitled to the truth about their own history and origins.

DNA Testing Beyond asking your family members direct questions about your parentage, probably the easiest way to get definitive answers about your genetic origins is by taking a consumer DNA test, such as or There are many services available, but I recommend Ancestry for adoptees (or those who believe they could be adopted) because their member database is enormous which increases your chances of being matched with someone who 1) you are genetically related to, and 2) knows some information about your origins. Not everyone is comfortable with DNA testing, mostly due to privacy concerns, but it is a very simple way to get definitive answers–even if your parents or other family members (who might have had information about your origins) are now deceased.

Adoption Confirmation If you have confirmed that you are adopted, it is a good idea to seek the support of other late discovery adoptees, and even a licensed therapist well versed in adoption-related issues. While family and friends mean well and can offer you some support, there are complex issues related to this late discovery that others will not understand unless they’ve been through it themselves. If you are interested in searching for your biological family, I recommend visiting SearchAngels for assistance. You can also register with online adoption reunion boards. Click here to view some helpful resources.

I hope this helps you find answers and peace!


© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2017-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.

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Lawyer accused in 3 adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Original Publication Date: April 15, 1978

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts the experiences of my biological mother and even some of the details that were provided to me by my adoptive father. I will be writing about these “inconsistencies” at a later date.

By Francis M. Lordan
Inquirer Staff Writer

A Burlington County lawyer has been indicted on charges that in 1977 he illegally assisted in the adoption of three children in Camden County, Thomas J. Shusted, Camden County prosecutor, said yesterday.

Read More »

Memory fails witness in adoption case (June 1981)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: June 5, 1981

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts the experiences of my biological mother and even some of the details that were provided to me by my adoptive father. I will be writing about these “inconsistencies” at a later date.

CAMDEN — A woman who was to have been the state’s chief witness against a Willingboro lawyer charged with acting as an illegal intermediary in a series of adoptions was able to recall only sketchy information about the case yesterday.

When first called by Deputy Attorney General Nancy Singer, the woman said she couldn’t remember anything about her pregnancy in 1977, her meeting with attorney Edward Kent or the couple who adopted her baby.

Read More »

Lawyer indicted as a middleman for adoptions (April 1978)

Original Publication: Courier-Post
Original Publication Date: April 14, 1978

N O T E : Much of the information taken from Kent’s testimony completely contradicts the experiences of my biological mother and even some of the details that were provided to me by my adoptive father. I will be writing about these “inconsistencies” at a later date.

Courier-Post Staff

A Burlington County lawyer who specializes in matrimonial matters was indicted Thursday by a Camden County grand jury for illegally acting as an intermediary in the adoption of three children.

Read More »

Identity trauma of late discovery adoptees

By Michelle Lyn Riess

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. –Aldous Huxley

It has already been nine months since I confirmed my adoption after being actively lied to for the first forty years of my life. As you might imagine, I have been dealing with complicated issues and have made some shocking discoveries surrounding my illegal 1976 adoption. (you can read my adoption story here.)

While the reunion with my biological family has been great, the realization that you’ve been lied to and manipulated for your entire life by the people who were supposed to be protecting you is something I hope nobody reading this will ever experience. If you are not a late discovery adoptee, I promise you have no idea how difficult it is to be in this situation. (click here to read one adoptee’s account of what it’s like to be a late discovery adoptee)

The impact of this late discovery has been devastating on so many levels. My personal identity and ethnic identities have been shattered. I walked away from the family who raised me (a necessary decision I made at the end of 2017.) My trust in others has been heavily damaged. Everything has changed, but I’m trying to find peace with my new normal and enjoying getting to know my biological family (though I’ve felt as though I’ve known them forever from the first time we met!) I’m setting new goals for myself and challenging myself in different ways, but it’s been a difficult process. 

Personality and self-identity can be the result of genetics and also shaped by our environments (for example, nature vs. nurture.) However, there are a few pieces of our genetic core that cannot be changed under any circumstances. For example, we cannot change our genetic race even if we identify as a different race. We cannot change who our genetic parents are even if we acknowledge others (non-genetic parents) as our own. Similarly, we cannot change our heritage or our ancestries (ex. German, Chinese, Irish, Nigerian, French, etc.) even if we do not identify with them. These are all pieces that make up what I loosely refer to as our genetic core (not the technical name, just a term I’ve been using in conversation.)

With all of the events, changes, happiness, disappointments, arrivals, and departures that occur in life, these core pieces are permanent. Unless I am mistaken, it is not possible to engineer the DNA of a living person to delete or change specific genes related to parentage, heritage, and race. For this reason, I say it is impossible for any of these factors to be changed (again, this has nothing to do with how an individual identifies–that is something very different.) For most, I believe, there is a primal security in the permanency of these factors because they provide us with valuable information about ourselves at the most basic level—things we learn (or should learn) in early childhood such as who we are genetically, who we come from genetically, and where we come from genetically. It is absolutely essential for people to have this accurate information about themselves from early childhood—even adoptees. Nothing that happens in life can change these core factors or take them away: unless, the truth about who you really are has been withheld from you.

Thankfully, there are very few groups of people who will ever face this type of identity trauma. After a lot of thought and research, the only two groups of people I’ve been able to identify who experience this (to varying degrees) are late discovery adoptees, and people abducted at a young age and raised to believe they are someone else (only later to find out they were abducted & lied to.) Obviously, these are two very different scenarios, but I think the loss of the core self and identity are similar on some levels. If you can think of other groups who might be subject to this type of core identity trauma, please let me know. Also, if this is a subject that you have researched (or would like to research) I would also love to hear from you.

The impact of learning as an adult that you are not the person you believed you were for your entire life (at your core) can be devastating. I don’t think there is a single word that can accurately describe what it’s like, but a few that immediately come to mind are traumatic, agonizing, and surreal. I’ve personally spoken to and read the stories of many late discovery adoptees over the past months. While our experiences are all unique, most of us share a very common thread–a shattered sense of identity.

I’ve been working with a therapist who is familiar with adoption-related issues, and it has been helpful. I’ve been able to start processing the magnitude of the situation and to really examine what has happened over the past forty years. I’ve also been able to get useful feedback which has been a great tool to help me move forward. Most of all, I understand now that what I experienced [with my former adoptive parents] was not normal and I am completely justified in all of the decisions I’ve had to make. I live my life without the burden of regrets, shame or guilt. My friends and loved ones have been a constant source of strength and security for me from day one. It’s also been particularly helpful connecting with other late discovery adoptees online. Though we are complete strangers with many different backgrounds, we are connected to each other by deep wounds that can never be fully healed, and nobody can truly understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

At the end of 2017, I made the decision to have no further contact with my former adoptive father (my former adoptive mother died in 2010.) This decision was made after I had time to begin processing the enormity of what occurred, to start processing the impact that four decades of lies have had, long-term issues that existed in my adoptive family, and figuring out what steps I needed to take to move forward. It was also after I  discovered more of the facts surrounding my adoption and how it was conducted. Because of all of these factors, I feel entirely justified in my decision. For me, this wasn’t just the right choice–it was the only choice I could make. I carry no regrets, guilt or shame as a result of the choices I’ve made regarding my former adoptive parents.

In life, we don’t have the privilege of lying to someone, especially on such a massive scale, for four decades and then expect the relationship to continue. It’s not even a matter of forgiveness because I don’t need to forgive my former adoptive parents to have peace and happiness in my life. It’s simply a matter of knowing that anyone who lies to you on such a massive scale for four decades is not worthy of a place in your life.

On the one hand, these are the people who raised me and provided for me, and I’m appreciative of those efforts. But on the other hand, they are the same people who manipulated me and withheld vital information from me so they could continue to live their own narrative instead of doing the right thing for the child they adopted. They are the same people who chose to ignore obvious red flags in the attorney’s adoption procedures because of their own desire to bypass the legal adoption process. They are the same people who lied to caseworkers during interviews to ensure the adoption would be legally finalized. They are the same people who used fake names to purposely conceal their identities from my biological family so they would never be able to find me in the future. I can go on… There is simply no justification for it. No amount of money spent or opportunities provided during those years can make up for what they did. They completely disregarded their moral obligation as adoptive parents and my own human need to feel connected to people I am genetically related to by choosing to lie to me every day of my life. Every single day of my life.

14,897 days, to be exact.

From the day my mother handed me to my adoptive parents until the day I confronted my adoptive father about my true origins, there were 14,897 opportunities for them to be truthful with me. 14,897 days that they could have chosen to do the right thing, but did not. Instead, they chose to be dishonest 14,897 times. Forty years! It’s simply inexcusable.

They allowed me to live my life believing a collection of lies were the truth because they weren’t comfortable with the truth. It’s not something you can brush off and then carry on with your life as usual. I am trying to find comfort with my new normal, but it’s complicated. I do feel extremely fortunate to have such an amazing and supportive biological family–that makes this difficult discovery so much more worthwhile.

If you are an adoptive parent or are considering adoption, I urge you to be honest and upfront with your child about their own origins. This should be an ongoing discussion, not a one time “you’re adopted” conversation. Children should know they are adopted from the beginning–it’s never too early to begin talking to your child about their own origins. There are obviously some adoptees who come from very bad situations, in which case those details may be best to share when they are age appropriate (and with the assistance of an adoption therapist.) But the fact that a person is adopted should never be withheld. Ever. Under any circumstances. If you are not capable of being honest with a child about their adoption status then you should not adopt. Period.

The bottom line in all of this is truth and transparency. All adoptees have an absolute human right to know the truth about their own genetic origins. I refuse to be complicit in my adoptive parent’s lies. I refuse to be their secret, or to perpetuate their facade any longer. I am not their child. I am very proud of who I am today, and the strength this unbelievable journey has given me.


Related Content: Could you be adopted? Red flags that could point to adoption


© Christina George / Michelle Lyn Riess / Riess Family Adoption Reunion, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author  is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to this site with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. By visiting this site, you agree to the terms of use for this site.


Reunited after 40 years: the Riess family’s amazing adoption reunion story

Deception may give us what we want for the present, but it will always take it away in the end. –Rachel Hawthorne

On November 30, 1976 a baby girl was born. Her parents, Hollie and Rick, named her Michelle Lyn Riess. Four days later, she was handed to another couple who hoped to adopt her. For the next forty years, the young couple had no idea where their daughter was, if she was safe, healthy or even alive. Despite attempts to find her, they were unsuccessful. For the same forty years, Michelle was raised to believe she was the biological child of the couple who adopted her until an unexpected result on an Ancestry DNA test shattered their web of lies.
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