Letter to Birth Mother or Sibling

Writing the First Letter to your birth mother (or a sibling)

Lorraine
What to write in that first letter to your birth mother? if that is how you are making the initial contact. It's your introduction to a woman you hope will want to know you and have a continuing relationship with. It's an advertisement for yourself to the woman who gave birth to you--but hasn't seen you since, or nearly so.

Chances are, your mother has been hoping for this day all your life and will welcome you with an open heart. She may have already searched for you and been unsuccessful. She may have contacted your adoptive parents and been told to leave you alone. They may have even threatened her. Or she may have been afraid to search because social workers told her she could not, or should not. She may have been afraid that you did not know you were adopted, and that it would "destroy your world" if she showed up, something many mothers--even today--are told by friends and relatives who say she should to "leave well enough alone."


Jane
However, for some the letter will come as a shock, make no mistake. Some first mothers have been in the the closet so long they are unable to reciprocate and refuse contact; be patient, they may change their minds in the future. Even if they do not respond, they may keep the letter, and read it many times, and so you want it to make the best impression possible. If you are writing to a sibling, unless you know differently, you need to assume that they do not know about you.

If you have the name and address and phone number of your first mother, a call may be the safest and most discreet because you do not know who will see her mail before she does, and ask her who the letter is from. And your very existence may be something she has kept secret. However, if you are going through an intermediary, you may have to write a letter; or you may simply choose to write instead of phone.

WHAT TO PUT IN THE LETTER
You want to let your birth mother, or sibling, know that you are a thoughtful, sincere individual, and that you are interested in her well-being as much as your own. The letter may open feelings she thought she had buried. Be friendly and honest, and not overly emotional. Yes, we know this is tricky. You will probably write the letter a few times before you are happy with the result. Our suggestions:
  • Keep it short--aim for two pages, no more. You also don't want to overwhelm her with this first communication. 
  • Write it by hand, rather than on a computer. Just as a hand-written thank you note is preferred to a type-written one, a hand-written letter is a more powerful, intimate document than a typed one. Your handwriting, the paper you chose, even the type of pen you use--all give a sense of your personality, and may remind her of herself.
  •  Include general information about yourself: education, occupation, special interests and talents, marital or partner status, and whether you have children. You might want to say while you are searching at this time, as well as how long or short you have been searching. Put yourselves in your birth mother's head and think about what she might want to know, or what you would tell a new acquaintance you wanted to like you. 
  • You can say that your adoptive parents were good people and that your growing up was generally a healthy, happy time. But don't go overboard here and talk about the pony you had or how you can't imagine a better "Mom" in the whole world. Unless she is wealthy and accomplished herself, this is likely will make her feel diminished and fearful that she does not live up to your social/educational status because of your privileged adoptive background. 
  • Do include a photograph or yourself, or with your family, especially if you have children. Your mother or sibling may immediately recognize family resemblances, and increase the chances she will want to meet you. If you have some physical characteristic that you have always wondered about, include that. Writing something like, "I've always been tall and played center on my high school basketball team," conveys both your physical information and a special ability. Or you might include that you are not athletic, but are a passionate reader/chess player/music fan.
  • Omit any difficult circumstances of your growing up. Your mother may have deep feelings of remorse and guilt over having relinquished you, and the point of the first letter is to establish a relationship. There will be time to share this unhappy news later. So leave out information such as, your adoptive parents were abusive, the adoption was terminated, you bounced around from one place to another, et cetera.
  • You may ask for an updated medical history/family background. If there is a critical need for the information at this particular time, include that. However, do not make it seem as if that is the only reason you are contacting her; she may desire a relationship, and a request for only medical data may seem cold and put her off. You might add if she does not wish to have a relationship, you still want need updated medical information. You could remind her that you are always asked for it when you visit a doctor.
  • Do be specific about asking for a phone call and/or a meeting, but add that you will respect her need for time to process this contact, as well as her lead on how to proceed. If a birth mother has to tell her husband, or children, about your very existence, and she is fearful of doing so, you will be called upon to have the patience of Job. It is not just the guilt over the relinquishment that prevents such women from immediately telling the rest of their immediate family, it is knowing that the people she tells will not only see her somewhat differently--so that's why she was so strict with me when I started dating!--but they also may feel that they have been "tricked" or lied to because this information was withheld. We cannot over exaggerate the amount of guilt that the culture of the past has bred into the birth mother blood stream.
  • Include contact information and the best way to reach you, as well as the best times, if via phone. Include our email address, and you may add, if true, that you are on Facebook.
  • You can sign the letter, as Your daughter, or Your sister/brother.

A SAMPLE LETTER

Hello--
My name is Samantha Smith. I was born on January 15, 1972 at General Hospital in San Francisco, California, and I believe you may be the mother who relinquished me for adoption. I learned your name from an adoption searcher/information my adoptive parents had/combing through birth records at the public library/whatever. 

I was adopted by John and Mary Smith and raised in Portland, Oregon, and have two siblings. I graduated from Portland High School where I was involved in the high school yearbook/national honor society/band/basketball. My favorite subjects were math and science. Or, I'm kinda a nerd and didn't go out for school activities. (To someone who has been a loner, that is just as appealing as being president of student council or captain of the cheer leading squad.)

After high school, I attended the University of Oregon and studied biochemistry. Or went to work as a barista in a coffee shop, entered the military, whatever. 

I live in Eugene. I'm married and have two children, a boy, 9, and a girl, 6. We like to go camping and hiking on the weekends. I am a vegetarian and we have an organic garden in our backyard. I work in information technology at the University of Oregon. Or: We are bookish types and enjoy political discussion and reading 19th century classics. Or: I love country music and step dancing. I have included a photograph of us camping last year on the Oregon coast near Cannon Beach. 

If you are my birth mother (or, "the woman I am looking for"), I would like very much to be in touch--and meet you eventually. I won't contact you unless you're agreeable, but knowing you would mean so much to me, as well as answer questions I have had all my life. The best time to call would be from 7 to 10 pm.

My contact information:
address
email address,
telephone number

your daughter (or son), 
Samantha
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WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE 

  • Though you have have heard the words birth mother all your life, this first paragraph may be a place to simply refer to her as your mother without a qualifier attached. Or simply avoid the use of the word mother, if that makes you uncomfortable. However, that is why you are writing to this particular woman.
  • Do not thank your mother for her selfless decision, and for giving you a good life with wonderful parents. She may take this as an insult, as it may make her feel you think she was not good enough to raise you, and that you were better off growing up without her.  
  • Do not say that all you want is information--even if that is how you feel at this time. She may believe that you consider her just a resource, and you have no interest in her as a human being. A real turn off. See above.
  • Do not tell her that you had a horrible life because she abandoned you. It is likely that your mother had little or no choice about giving you up, so do not lay a guilt trip on her. 
  • Do not show off stuff, to wit: "After I made my first million, my wife and I took a trip around the world." Besides the fact that nobody likes a boaster, this may make her feel she is not good enough for you or that you believe your success was due to your adoption. See above. 
  • Do not include deeply negative stuff, i.e., "After I was released from prison, I started using drugs again." This may cause her to fear you.
  • Do not ask for information about your birth father. She may harbor ill feelings towards him--there is always the possibility she was raped--and bringing this up now will increase her fears, if she has any, about meeting you. The time for asking about your father is later.  
  • Do not use language that demands: to know about your father, possibly siblings, why you were given up. Of course you want to know these things, but wait until you have a relationship. Demanding anything puts anyone on the defensive, and she may already feel extremely vulnerable. She may need to become comfortable with you first before she can talk about what may have been a very painful relationship or incident. No matter how or why she gave you up, relinquishment is always agonizingly difficult for a first mother to think about.
  • Do not say that you're not looking for another mother. She is probably not thinking that you were, but saying it makes it sounds as if you're putting her in her place--that obviously she can't be your "mother." As she reads this letter, her first communication from a son or daughter she relinquished many years earlier, her feelings are going to be tender. Let the details about your personal feelings and needs come up in time as your relationship progresses, just as you would in any new relationship. 
AND FINALLY...
We advise you not to contact your mother's relatives or friends FIRST asking whether they think she would be receptive. They have no way of knowing what is truly in her heart. She may not have talked about you to them for years, or at all, and they may take this to mean that she does not want to hear from you, when the opposite may be true. They may truly believe that sending you away is in her best interests. A reunion is, in the initial stages, an extremely personal matter between the son or  daughter child and his or her mother.

When reaching out to a sibling, do not assume they are in contact with the birth parents. You may ask that your letter be kept private between the two of you--until you decide how to proceed contacting them. If a birth mother has denied contact with you, and you are writing a sibling, it is probable that the individual will tell the parent. But remember, everyone is different. Some siblings may be sympathetic and able to bring the reluctant birth parent along, and facilitate a reunion.

If the letter will go through in intermediary, and you are not allowed to include identifying and contact information, still aim to be as personal as possible. Probably how much you may include varies from confidential intermediary to confidential intermediary. We hate this kind of letter that must pass through a sieve that keeps people apart, but this is required until the laws in many states are changed.*  And good luck!--lorraine and Jane
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*If this is the situation in your state, we urge you to get involved in changing the law, and at the very least, to write your state legislator to express your plight at being denied your original birth certificate. Without more people making themselves heard, original birth certificates will stay sealed, and confidential intermediaries will be bound by law to redact contact information--including your name! 

You may also want to read: A Letter to (Birth) Mothers Who Reject Reunion
Reaching Those Women in the Closet
Telling my family about my first child--and then going public
 Coming out of the closet as a birthmother: To Tell the Truth...Or Not?
Adoptees Who Say They Only Want Information Hurt Everyone
"Thanking" your birthmother for letting you be adopted
Telling your Birthmother She Made the Right Decision

COMMENTS CLOSED. PLEASE see current posts if you wish to join the discussion.

7 comments:

JDV said...

Thank you for this, I'm in the process of writing and forever re-writing this letter myself. I've never been so scared in my life, but you make some excellent suggestions.

Tina said...

Great article. Thank you for your comments on the do's and don'ts. Do they ever make since. I would have broke every one of them if I did not read this.

Anonymous said...

I'm a birthmother who was recently contacted. It came out of the blue. I had long hoped to hear from my son, but even so it was quite overwhelming. You want to respond, but you also fear the child will be angry or that the placement was bad. Mostly, it brings back the grief of the original event, which cam be shocking in its intensity.

The recommended do's and don'ts range true. However, for me, an older birthmother, the sample first contact letter in this article would have been too much. My son kept it very simple and businesslike. Dear x. I am looking for my birthmother and think you might be her. My name is _______. I was born at x on date x. Please let me know one way or the other. Thanks

The fact that my son kept the tone light and businesslike helped me keep my emotional equilibrium in the intense period of initial contact. I'd recommend only one question per followup email, sticking to topics that are easier to talk about like ethnicity, sharing a childhood memory, siblings, or medical history. You can learn a lot about a person by how they say things, and it lets you build up the trust to tackle more difficult subjects. Remember, it probably took years to get to the point of making contact, and many birthmothers need adjustment time too. Don't rush things; the key to success is to treat it like any other new relationship.



Lorraine Dusky said...

Dear Anonymous: Everybody's different. You may have responded positively to your son's curt and business like letter--because you are his mother! and share a coolness in emotional affect. For many of us, though we would have leapt at the chance of reunion, the emotional remove of the letter you describe would have felt strange and off-putting, as in, this is what my son/daughter wrote? Happily for you, a child who shares your DNA and emotional proclivities found the right tone to reach out to you.

We have written a great deal about dealing with the incredible emotional fallout of reunion: start with overwhelming, because, as you say, it does stir up all the emotions of relinquishment. Take a look at this post, for starters:

'Love' hormone's dark side may explain secondary infertility

You can find other helpful posts by using key words such as "reunion" and "shame" and "guilt" in the search option in the upper left corner.

And do try to relish and enjoy your reunion!

Angela said...

I truly mean no harm, but I find these dos/don't to be offensive. I am 26 years old and I was adopted when I was 5. I have little memory of the events that lead up to it.

Forgive me if I am being insensitive, but I feel as though these given rules are all placed to protect the birth mothers. Regardless of what when on, the fact remains that if we were not raised by these women, they are not our mothers, they are our birth mothers.

If you choose to give your child up, you have to live with that. I don't think it's fair to refer to the people who chose to raise us as their own to be referred to as anything but a mother/father.

I think if you need/want answers, you have a right to ask, I don't care what hurts her feelings... She is not the victim. Forgive me and HELP me to understand if I am wrong.

My birth mother reach out to me and demanded to see me and said if I did not cooperate she would stop at nothing. She told me I was selfish not to hear her side of the story, but I feel like shes just making excuses. All I know is what I was told, my parents are now deceased and it;s their word vs. hers. I do not know this women, why should I trust what she says?

Lorraine Dusky said...

COMMENTS CLOSED

Lorraine Dusky said...

Angela: I do not know if you are going to get this response, but please look at the blog proper for one, as I am responding there. (Link Below)

Your letter deserved more than a comment directed only to you because I know that your thoughts are those of many. So I thank you for leaving the comment. I'm sorry if you received the "Comments Closed" one only, but we meant to not take comments at the permanent pages.

An adoptee doesn't want to meet her first/birth mother