|Diving in the unknown.... photo by Ken Robbins|
The question comes up often because it happens all too often. Recently I met a woman in her sixties who believes she found her natural mother, but the woman, now quite elderly, wrote back that she was not the person being sought. However, if the woman is the birth mother--as the records obtained by the adoptee indicate--the adoptee may have full siblings. And she would love to know them.
The other day Ask Amy, a syndicated columnist, responded to a writer who asked about contacting her siblings after finding her birth father, who told her who her mother was. The woman denied she ever had a baby she gave up--or that she even knew the father!
ADOPTEES HAVE A RIGHT...
As long as the woman or man is denying that she or he is your parent, it's almost a hundred percent likely that the other children have never been told of your existence. The first parent's spouse may not know. So your appearance and claim is dropping a mental bombshell on anyone who doesn't know about your existence--and that may include everyone! Except your first mother. And possibly father.
TO CONTACT SIBLINGS
You might want to use a counselor to help you through the emotional terrain, and help you write the script for how you will begin the conversation with unsuspecting relatives, but do find one that has a sympathetic understanding of your point of view, that of the adoptee and/or natural family. Too often therapists say, yes, they are familiar with adoption, but it turns out that their familiarity is totally with the adoptive family side--not questioning adoptees, or families of origin. You might also find great support and a sounding board if you can connect with an adoptee/birth mother group in your area, or find a list serve that will allow you to pour out your heart.
Our script would go like this (after you have made clear who you are in relation to them): I don't want to interfere or cause any problems, but I'm here if you want to know me. I have life with partner, husband, family members or friends. I work as a doctor, lawyer, candlestick maker. If you know anything about them, and share an interest or career, do mention that. For instance, my brothers and I all share an interest in physical fitness; he cycles long distances, I used to run competitively, a nephew was an aerobics instructor, a niece is a yoga teacher, et cetera. Or maybe you are a lawyer and you are calling a lawyer or a para-legal. Or your hobby is painting and you're calling an art teacher. A telling detail like that subtly pointing out a shared interest or characteristic could make all the difference.
If you begin this conversation via a letter, include a photograph. Others may find the relative on Facebook, and that of course means that most likely pictures are already available for both sides to see. Everyone will be looking for a resemblance.
And of course, say: I'd love to meet you and learn more about you, would that be possible? If the person hesitates, don't push, simply add that you understand their reluctance--especially if they didn't know about you--but say that you're there whenever they might want to meet, and give them your contact information. You might suggest that you too would like to make sure you have the right person, and ask if they would like to take a DNA test, that you offer to pay for. To simply determine biological connection, the cost ranges between $80 to $100.
BUT TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS
Whatever you do, don't be aggressive and pushy. That is likely to turn the person off. You may have desired knowing them for a long time, but you are upsetting their world by coming along now. No matter how gently you approach any siblings without your first mother's or father's agreement, you must be prepared for them to circle the wagons around the family they know, not invite in the family they don't. If there are sisters, contact them first because in general women are more receptive than men, and more understanding about issues of kin and connection.
Whether to write or phone is your decision. I'd probably go with writing and then say, I hope you don't mind if I call you in a week or so. An adoptee who did find and contact siblings and cousins was Richard Hill, who wrote an engaging and informative book about how he went about it--with a few clues and some wrong turns, he ended up finding and being welcomed, into his father's family especially.
Yes, contacting siblings without a birth parent's agreement--or their actual disapproval--is fraught, but it is your right. They are your relatives Never forget that, but try a little tenderness when you exert that right.--lorraine
Using DNA to Find Family: You Can't Have Too Much Family (Jane's review of Hill's book)
Should adoptees contact their siblings when first parents are reluctant?
Finding Your Roots: Bastards show up in all family trees
Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA by Richard Hill
From Jane's review: Hill's memoir is well-written, easy to read, a can't-put-down tale. It's more than that, though, as Hill reveals himself in the process of discovering his roots. When he obtains a picture of his birth mother, he writes of the "delayed grief over my birth mother's death and our lost relationship."
It's a warm story of a man who finds family as well as roots. "Looking back, I do not regret a minute of it. While frustrating at times, my search proved to be a rich and rewarding experience. I uncovered the truth about my birth parents, acquired wonderful new siblings and cousins, and built a family tree for my descendants."
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