|Ms. Dusky would have felt weird|
Adoptees as a group say they want different things from their original parents: some want a relationship, some only want information. I often wonder however, if saying one only wants information isn't protective cover: If one's first/birth mother doesn't want a relationship, the adoptee may feel that writing and asking only for information preserves some of his dignity because that clearly signifies there is no need to worry about him showing up on the woman's doorstep. But in doing that, one may put one's mother off and she may feel diminished, when that is not what the adoptee has in mind at all.
Dear Mother would have been bowled me over with relief and happiness. But I was a "searcher" and so to be found first by my daughter would have been a blessing, a relief, an occurrence with tidings of great joy. Remember, your mother may be waiting for you to contact her, or she may already be looking for you. She may have been waiting for this day most of her life. Or not.
Mrs. Dusky, Ms. Dusky, would have also been welcomed--(damn, anything my daughter wrote would have been wonderful!), but made me a tad cautious, and I might have put up a guard until I knew better what my child actually wanted. As I said, the Ms. or Mrs. greeting can seem cold and foreboding and distancing--but then, some first mothers who haven't been searching, having told their other children or even their husbands, haven't done anything except hide this secret child might actually welcome this.
Dear Lorraine would have seemed, well, a tad, odd and off putting because it is both overly familiar (I am old fashioned that way) from a seeming stranger, and yet makes it clear (after I would figure out who the writer of the letter was) that I cannot expect more than to be a "friend" on a first-name basis. A special kind of friend, but still a friend. Dear First Name sends an ambiguous message about the intent of the letter writer. What you, the adoptee, and mother may settle on what to call here need not be addressed now. I was mostly called Lorraine, but cherished the letters and cards addressed inside to "Mother," and signed, "Your daughter."
Do not write: Dear Birth Mother, or Dear First Mother. Period. For most of us, that salutation is going to sting. We know who we are. We have been living with this knowledge since the day we signed away our rights to our own children. However, if your mother wants to have your in her life, she will respond favorably to any salutation at all. She will just be thrilled to hear from you.
Since the child lost to adoption has no idea what to expect from his or her first mother, the quandary of how to address the letter is very real; also the adopted person may herself have conflicted feelings about what she does want. A person who says they only want medical and paternal information may change her mind, or use that as a cover until she ascertains how receptive the first mother is to contact. It also may be the only information that individual truly wants at that time. Certainly we know that among both the adopted and the first parents needs and desires vary greatly and may change over time. A mother who "can't deal" with the reality of a grown child returning today may feel quite differently in six months or six years, and the same is true of the adopted.
So, what's best? After considering the options, I'm going with nothing at all. How about a letter that begins: Hello-- My name is Anabel Lee and I was born in Chattanooga on April 17, 1975 and I have reason to believe that you may be my mother. Or: My name is...and I was born...where and when--does that date mean anything to you? Let's leave out the "birth" or "first"and go with "mother." She knows that you have or have had another mother, and immediately adding it right there may be painful for her to read. You are contacting the woman because she gave birth to you, as mothers will do. You can work out these other details--as to what you will call her--later, assuming you and she have a relationship. And everything said here goes for writing to a biological father--and in that case, an adoptee may be dealing with a father who doesn't even know he or she exists. ¡Ay, caramba!
What is important in this first letter to either parent is to not be coy about who you are. If you are unclear, your message that you are the long lost son or daughter can get lost in obfuscation, and make it easy to ignore the letter, and the letter writer. If you are to the point of writing to your original parents, you do want to be at least acknowledged, that the letter was received. Don't hide under some made-up cover that you might have known them in college or whatever; that only leads to suspicions, and you will never know if your query was understood. Be straight-forward, and clear about who you are. We have written about writing this first letter before and more information can be had here: Letter to Birth Mother or Sibling/Writing the First Letter to your birth mother (or a sibling).
And one last note: If you receive no response to such a letter, there is no way you can be sure that it was received. Though it is scary, there is nothing else to do besides pick up the phone if you have the number. The best way to begin is to say you have something serious to discuss (and most mothers will be guessing correctly what it is by that question and the sex of the individual calling), and ask if the present is a good time to talk. If not, make a plan to call back at a certain time, and if possible, leave your number with her/him.
Though I was the one reaching out to the parents of my 15-year-old daughter, and I had their address, I phoned their home one evening after dinner. I did not want to deal with the uncertainty of a letter. For various reasons, it took two phone calls, but on the second one, my daughter was on the line in 10 minutes. It doesn't happen that way for everyone, but it can happen. If you are a mother writing to a child, go with the individual's first name in your salutation. Since you don't know how you will be received, starting with Dear Daughter may be too much, no matter how much you want to write that.
Many considerations and worries go into sending off that first letter. For adoptees deciding what to call one's mother or father, removing all concern about the salutation--what to write, how it will be received--is the best solution of all. It is at least one less thing to fret over and god knows, there are enough of them.--lorraine
Letter to Birth Mother or Sibling/Writing the First Letter to your birth mother (or a sibling).
Without a Map: A Memoir This is a beautiful book about surrender and redemption. Highly recommended for anyone, book clubs included, and if you are a first mother or adoptee in a book club, why not suggest this one?
"Hall's memoir is a sobering portrayal of how punitive her close-knit New Hampshire community was in 1965 when, at the age of 16, she became pregnant in the course of a casual summer romance...Hall offers a testament to the importance of understanding and even forgiving the people who, however unconscious or unkind, made made us who we are."--Francine Prose, O Magazine.