The relative hesitates. Wonders what to do. The adoptee waits, thinking this is the best thing to do--put it in the hands of a relative. Besides, she's fearful anyway, fearful of rejection, fearful of how a single phone call might change her life, fearful. What happens next is totally in the hands of the relative, and for the time being that feels safe. Let someone else contact the birth mother first.
DON'T LET ANYONE PLAY GOD
STOP right there! Why let someone else play god in this most sacred part of your life? I'm writing today because a friend of mine finds herself in just such a situation, having contacted the half-sister her mother lived with during the pregnancy. This never came up with me because I found my daughter. Because she was 15, I did call the house and speak to her adoptive mother first, and then her adoptive father, but in 20 minutes, my daughter was on the phone. Yet if the tables had been reversed and she was the one who had searched for me instinctively I know that I would not wanted outside interference. First of all, my mother didn't even know I had a child and given her up for adoption; if my mother would have been contacted first, this is the first she would have heard of my daughter!
Faith tried to call me when Rebecca contacted her but I was not at home and my husband, Jay, answered the phone. Faith told Jay that a girl at Brigham Young University was looking for me, but Faith did not want to disclose my address without my permission. Jay took down BYU girl's address and gave me the message when I came home. While Jay knew about Rebecca, we had not talked about her or the relinquishment since the day I told him, right before we married. I was furious that my aunt--with whom I had scant contact then, she lived in a distant state--was involved in something that I felt guilty about, as if I had committed a crime long ago. And now she had involved Jay! While I had fantasized about reunion, to have others talking about the most personal, painful thing in my life before I could grasp what was happening was devastating. I was consumed with guilt, and anger over these outsiders being involved, and did not think how Rebecca must have felt when I did not respond. From that time on, she became some kind of haunting spirit, not a flesh-and-blood child who needed to know me.
When I called Faith, she asked if she had done the correct thing by not passing along my address to BYU girl. I told her she had. She then said something to the effect "you don't need this," meaning, I learned later, a letter Rebecca her. At the time, I didn't even know there was a letter. I just wanted to end this uncomfortable, upsetting conversation. I wanted it to all go away. I also knew how Faith felt about adoptees searching for birth families--a young man whose adoption Faith's husband, my uncle, a physician, had arranged had written Faith and my uncle years earlier asking for information about his birth family. Faith wrote to him, denying his request.
At the time Faith had an important government position and I'm sure did not want ghosts of the past--the (adopted out) daughter of her late husband's niece--showing up. Several years later, when Rebecca contacted Faith again trying to learn my address, Faith told her I didn't want any contact. Rebecca tried to contact me for a third time more than ten years after the first contact, again through Faith, and this time I did respond, and called Rebecca. My life was in a different place; my raised children were gone. There was an urgency in Faith's voice, she wanted to be done with this girl and she believed this girl was about to contact other relatives, which I did not want to happen. This was the first time Faith actually told me "your daughter" is trying to reach you. The first time it was "girl at BYU"; the second time it was "someone who knew you." Rebecca told me that she did not clearly identify herself, thinking I would be more likely to contact her if she didn't. I was curious about my lost daughter and had thought about searching for her over the years. Finally I felt a certain moral obligation to answer her questions.
Even today, there is no question in my mind that if Rebecca had contacted me directly at the beginning of her search, I would have responded positively. I am not blaming her for taking the only route she knew, but going through my aunt--which is where her birth father sent her--surely set back our meeting by a decade.
WHEN POSSIBLE MAKE THE FIRST CONTACT YOURSELF
Before letting anyone take over--be an intermediary unless you have no choice--consider all that can go wrong: the individual you are trusting to make contact may not have a good relationship with your first mother, but may not tell you this; the individual may lie to you, saying that the mother does not want contract, when in reality, he or she has no idea what the mother wants. If you reach a grandparent, that person may have been the one who dictated that the adoption occur, and she will be feeling guilty and not want you to interfere in their lives, yet the mother may be praying and hoping that you find her. Siblings may not tell the truth, or pass the information on, based on their own experiences or relationship with the mother; she may feel that a child showing up from the mother's past is scandalous and unwanted. The relative may not have known about you at all, and since she or his is in the dark, will assume that the mother does not want to be reminded of your existence, when in fact, the person may know nothing about how the mother feels, or what she wants.
Adoptees often contact a brother of a first mother, because the trail leads to a certain family, and the birth mother, if married, is likely to have changed her name, and be difficult to trace. Brothers may not have any idea whether their sister wants to be contacted--because the mother has never talked about the missing child, or how she feels--and make the decision for the sister, often turning down the anxious adoptee. So cruel, and so much in the playing-god role. When lobbying for unsealing original birth records, we have heard legislators reveal that their sister is a first mother, and she's never talked about this "unfortunate" part of their lives, therefore...they are not going to support our legislation! So ladies, if you are a mother who relinquished and harbor hope that you will be found by your lost child, speak up to your family! Silence from all of us keeps adoption reform from going forward.
OUR SILENCE KEEPS BIRTH CERTIFICATES SEALED
No matter through whom one finds her or his mother, or birth father, whenever possible we urge adoptees to make that first contact yourself. Do not leave one of the most important calls you will ever make to someone else. We have no statistics to back this up, but a gut feeling that mothers in the closet will have a harder time refusing to talk to or meet an adoptee who makes the call, or writes the letter with a return address and phone number, herself. It's one thing for a reluctant first mother to say to someone else, leave it be, but it is another thing altogether to hear the voice of your own flesh-and-blood and deny contact. As Jane noted, her initial feeling was a sense that she had committed a crime, and all these other people were taking over the most intensely personal and traumatic thing that had ever happened to her.
For this reason, Jane and I strongly oppose the Confidential Intermediary system that a number of states have put in play. It dictates than an outsider, unknown to the mother, makes the contact, and possibly dredge up the same feelings of guilt and shame that Jane felt. Despite their personal leanings, CIs are bound by law not to reveal names or contact information. Private searchers and companies like OmniTrace People Search do not have such strictures. We do not wonder that so many CIs report the high rate of refusal that they did when we queried them through First Mother Forum a few years ago; some who are more understanding--and possibly first mothers themselves--reported a higher success rate. One long-time activist and searcher stated that she had no refusals, even though some mothers needed some counseling and time to get to yes. First mothers as searchers can put a newly found first mother at ease because she knows the voice on the other end of the phone understands the deep feelings that have been unleashed.
We repeat, whenever possible, adopted individuals in search, and mothers in search, should make the contact directly, without involving others in that initial call that begins...I was born at such-and-such as hospital on such-and-such a day....or, I had a daughter who was born on....Let no one else in this most private, first, intense conversation.--lorraine and Jane
Terri was born in 1966, the same year as my daughter, whom most of you know committed suicide. The fact that Terri was the same age as my daughter would have been added a special poignancy to our friendship. In 2011, we ran a guest post by Terri: Guest Post: Adoptee learns to live out loud by finding herself and kept it up as a permanent page for over a year, hoping that her mother might find it. Terri started her own blog, Pushing on Rope and the other day on Facebook we saw that she had indeed found her mother through her mother's half sister. That is what prompted this post, but today you can read Terri's comment about the happy outcome:
Hey Lorraine: It is me, the aforementioned friend, guilty as charged, but only because direct contact was proving impossible. The phone number and address unearthed were not current.* * *
So I did the next best thing I could -- found a side door. I'm happy to tell you that last night, I spoke to my mother for the first time. It's a cautious first step -- a 3 1/2-hour-long conversation that we both hope will be the start of many more.
Having searched for so many years, and several times considered throwing in the towel, this is the best possible outcome I could imagine. Do I wish the "reveal" happened directly from me to her? Why, yes, of course. But one thing this search has taught me is that almost nothing in life goes according to plan.
You've got to do the best with the cards you are dealt.
More on making the first contact from FMF:
Writing the First Letter (first mother to adoptee)
Suggested reading: Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents,and Adoptive...Though adoptee Jean Strauss did contact a parish priest where her natural mother was registered, and he made the first phone call, it was welcome. Jean called her immediately. The woman was waiting. This guide will be helpful during a search and reunion, from an adoptees point of view, but first mothers can learn much here too.Finding Dolores: An Adoptee's Mid-Life Search for the Beginning For two years, psychologist and author Thomas Muldary searched tenaciously for his family of origin, unaware of forces working against him to prevent the revelation of a secret that had been concealed for nearly half a century.
Finding Dolores is a compelling true story of perseverance and triumph over failure and adversity. It details an extraordinary journey against all odds to learn the truth, connect with genetic history, and claim a birth right. For some, Finding Dolores is a virtual guide for adoption searches, with informative resources and facts about the experiences and challenges of adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, and anyone touched by adoption. Above all, it is a source of inspiration and hope, which are essential for adoptees if they are ever to learn the most fundamental truths of their existence: their origins.--Amazon Neither Jane nor I have read this book, but the Amazon reviews are positive. Click on image or title to purchase.