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Adopting a New Look at Life

Dr. Emily Hipchen always knew she was adopted. But it wasn’t until she got sick and doctors wanted to know if there was anything going on genetically that she set out to find her birth parents.

Dr. Emily Hipchen always knew she was adopted.That was in 1999. Shortly after sending her paperwork to the New York State Adoption Registry, she got a phone call from her birth mother.

“In 15 minutes I counted 38 relatives,” Hipchen said. In her adoptive family, she is the second child of three.

“I like my biological family a great deal,” she said.

Still, the experience was “axis-shifting… it was all so much all at once. It was very difficult. It wasn’t bad difficult. It was like trying to pull up 400 pictures from your picture viewer all at once.”

Her physical issues her doctors were worried about, chronic stomachaches, turned out to be how her body handled stress — a trait she shares with several others in her birth family.

Hipchen teaches British literature, autobiography and creative nonfiction. Finding her birth family led her to write a book about the experience, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption. She also developed another field of specialty: adoption studies, the stories of adoptees and birth parents.

“I’m looking at real people telling their own stories,” Hipchen said.

Most of the stories are about adoptions that took place between 1930 and 1985.

“Now is the time when adoptees are getting old enough to write their own stories and society is getting open enough to listen to birth mother stories.”

Hipchen is about halfway through her book about her research.

“It’s fascinating material,” she said. “They report in ways that you would recognize that they were traumatized by the experience.”

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