' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Should adoptees contact their siblings when first parents are reluctant?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Should adoptees contact their siblings when first parents are reluctant?

Amy Dickinson
"Should I contact my siblings (or half siblings) even though my first mother wants to keep me a secret and hasn't told them about me?' "It's my right, to know them and their right to know isn't it?" Advice columnist Amy Dickinson (ASK AMY)  handled these questions deftly in two recent columns, showing understanding and sensitivity. Her response was a welcome change we must say from those self-designated experts--Joyce Brothers, Ann Landers, Drs. Drew, Phil, and Laura, and Marguerite Kelly with their cookie-cutter, birth-family-be-damned answers to all questions adoption.

An adoptee, identified as DQ, asked about contacting her full birth siblings. Her adoptive parents had told her that her first parents were married but gave her up because they didn't want children. After her adoptive parents' deaths, she found her first parents and learned they had had three more children after she was given up.
She believed these siblings do not know of her existence "because of the undertone of fear in my birth mother's letter."

Dickinson responds: "I do believe that these siblings have a 'right' to know they have another sibling out in the world, and I also believe that you have a right to know, or not know, these people if you choose." Dickinson goes on to suggest that DQ contact her birth parents and pose her question to them. She concludes "Obviously, there are some personal risks associated with this contact, but the rewards are potentially wonderful and affirmative for everyone."

Dickinson doesn't offer advice on what DQ should do if her first parents oppose her contacting her siblings. We at FMF might have encouraged DQ to make contact anyway but since we don't know all the fact, we can't say she should.

Dickinson does not speculate on why the adoptive parents told DQ that her first parents did not want children. It's extremely likely that the adoption agency fabricated this in order to explain why a married couple would give up a baby. More likely, though, is that the first parents were young; when the mother found herself pregnant, older adults counseled against a shotgun marriage; and urged them to give up their baby up for adoption, finish school, get jobs, marry later--if at all. It's very likely also that the parents tried to break the couple up, but in the end did not succeed. Young parents who give up their baby and marry later are sad stories we've heard many times; from our experience, about twenty percent of first mothers marry the father and have more children with him. The parents of authors, Sarah Saffian and Emily Hipchen, the former president of the American Adoption Congress Eileen McQuade and her husband, and former New York Giants football coach Jim Fassel and his wife all married after giving up a child.

Another reader, "Long-Lost Sister," born from an extra-marital affair when her father was separated from his wife, asks about contacting her half siblings, the children of her father and his wife. She had tried to have a relationship with her father, "but it ended quite badly...mainly because he wanted to keep his contact with me hidden from his wife and children." Lost found her siblings on Facebook and thought "they should know about me, and I would like the opportunity to have them (but not their parents) in my life."

Dickinson points out that the siblings might not take kindly to the contact. "Until you make peace with your biological father's ample failings, you will not be able to complete this important family circle and forge new relationships.... Let your father know that you intend to contact your siblings. And then ask for his help. If he refuses, then you'll have another decision to make."

We agree with both answers, though we do not think that the question of contact should be categorized as a matter of right or obligation which suggest some kind of legal control. No one has a legal right or obligation to know anybody. A better better way to think of it is opportunity. DQ and Lost should manage the situation in a way that gives their siblings the opportunity to know them. Yes, this may mean contacting the siblings despite the secrecy of the first parents and their unwillingness to share the siblings because of their own embarrassment.

I didn't tell my raised daughters about their lost sister, Rebecca, until six weeks after Rebecca and I connected. A big wedding for one of my raised daughters was in the works, and learning about Rebecca in the middle of that would have been a huge upheaval, to say the least. I also needed time to feel comfortable that Rebecca and I would have an on-going relationship before I risked upsetting my raised daughters. I believe it would have set our relationship back months--even years--if Rebecca had jumped the gun and contacted my daughters before I told them.

Lorraine had a different situation in that her daughter's only siblings were the children of her father, who refused to meet her before he died. Three of the children were from her father's first marriage, when Lorraine's daughter was conceived, and whether they positively knew of their half-sibling was unknown. Even many years later, long after her father's death, Lorraine's daughter did not want to contact them, though she would have welcomed hearing from them. "I've had all the rejection I need," she said. Another sibling, a younger girl from a later marriage, was also never contacted, nor made any effort to contact Lorraine 's daughter. Her mother had once told Lorraine that she hoped the siblings would know each other, but that never occurred, and again, Lorraine's daughter chose not to reach out to her sibling. Physical distance undoubtedly played a part, as they lived several states apart. The woman's photograph is on line; she looks uncannily like Lorraine's daughter.

Who's to say what the right solution is? Though she might have relished meeting people similar to herself in appearance, personality, interests, and talents, Lorraine's daughter made her own decision, fearing rejection and not a desire to push past that. Everyone is different. If DQ in the letter above connects with siblings, it may prove to be a valuable and life-affirming experience, which is what some, such as author Richard Hill, found after he connected with siblings and cousins.

Siblings growing up without their missing kin may have a sense that something is amiss--perhaps their parents gave each other sad looks from time to time that seemed to have no explanation. All the siblings--those raised by the adoptive parents, and the one given up--would gain because they would have the opportunity to expand their circle of loved ones and relatives--which is the reception that Hill found when he located several siblings and cousins, as he searched for his biological parents. We've also heard from acquaintances whom we know outside of adoption circles that finding a long-lost sibling was a good thing. Shock of learning of his or her existence gave rise to acceptance and finally, a warm relationship.

As for contacting her siblings without her father's knowledge and tacit approval could result in their refusing contact. Both of Hill's parents were deceased when he found his siblings. The key to these situations is to do everything possible to maximize the chances that the lost sibling has the opportunity to know, and have a positive relationship, with his or her newly found siblings. No one ever said it would be easy.
Adoption disclosure reveals surprise siblings
Secret daughter wants to know siblings
Giants coach, wife appear with son given up for adoption

Oprah reveals she has half-sister; her mother was afraid to admit the secret
Telling my family about my first child--and then going public
Using DNA to Find Family: You Can't Have Too Much Family (FMF's review of Hill's book)

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA
"A man embarks on a nearly three-decade quest to find his biological family...Seamlessly and descriptively, he folds a decades-long process into a comprehensible narrative. His years of meticulous note taking translate into an inspiring story about his dedicated search for the truth. An engaging, page-turning memoir that thoughtfully puts together the pieces of a family puzzle."--Kirkus Reviews 

Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found ...an adoptee who was found by her birth family--both parents and three full siblings--was widely and favorably reviewed, and in 2006, published in a new edition with a current Afterword.

Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption 
   "....an imaginative exploration of what it may feel like to adopt a child, to be an adopted child, to give up a child for adoption, what it might be like to be another mother, to find other relatives, to have a strange adult show up on the doorstep one day, claiming kin. Though the plot creates interest, the real beauty of the text is its language and its capacity for conveying the difficult emotional paths of the birth parents, of their parents and grandparents, of the adoptive mother and father, and the adopted daughter at parting, in living apart, and in reunion." --Amazon


  1. Seriously? So an adoptee has to get prior parental approval to contact an adult sibling. Unbelievable.

    Really, this has got to stop. Treating adoptees (and step-siblings from prior relationships) like some sort of shady, criminal-type characters and giving them another set of rules to play by than the rest of society. In what other situation would ANYONE dream of getting parental approval to contact another adult person?

    I get that the first parent would want to be the one to break it to their "kept" kids that they had another child, yet if they are reluctant and keep putting it off, they shouldn't get to drag it out forever. Imagine being the adoptee who is shoved in the shame closet...not a great feeling at all. How long would YOU be willing to wait? A month? A year? A decade? At some point, if you can't count on the first parent to do the right thing, you just have to take matters into your own hands and reach out, if that is what you really want to do. And as an adult, you have the RIGHT to do that if you so choose. You don't need parental approval to dial a phone and call another ADULT person or send a letter or email to another ADULT person.

    While it would be nice if the first parents would tell the truth (and shame on them, really, if they don't) and give their blessing, it's not required. Adoptees never asked to be put into this situation, but we do have the choice as to how we proceed in picking up the pieces. So many people made choices for us when we were infants/small children; now, it's our turn.

  2. I didn't read the blog post like you did, anon, but I'm a First mother not an adoptee. I read it as the best way to go it to work towards getting a blessing from the first parent. Not because you need to but because it might be helpful in building the relationship with your siblings. It's the art of politics. I totally agree with you that if the first parent won't go along, in a timely fashion, with introductions then the adoptee has every moral right to contact their kin.

  3. Unfortunate initials for the adoptee who asks. In the sports-mad household in which I live, DQ stands for "doesn't qualify."

    It seems that in waaaaaay too many adoptive families, DQ also stands for the adoptees' status.


  4. As a mother who relinquished a daughter for adoption, I agree 100% with what Anonymous 12:06 PM said! If all parties are over 18, they are adults and can forge whatever relationship they desire.

    The onus is on ME to have told the truth to my parented children long before their older sibling is on the scene. I don't even feel like I should be required to be given a "head up" about it from either of the child placed for adoption or the one I parented unless THEY want to share it with me.

  5. I have a half brother who was not raised by our father after a custody dispute (long story). I did reach out to him, but I already had a good relationship with our father before that and waited and prayed about it.

    What I have to remember and respect is that not only did I not have any choices in this matter, by the same token, he was a kid and didn't have many either.

    I don't think you have to have permission to contact a sibling, but if you are carrying sadness, hurt and anger about the situation, a sibling in no way deserves to be caught up in that.

    In my case, and only in my case, I wrote and sent my half brother a registered letter using the template on this forum (thank you!). I included lots of photos and general information about me and my family and tried my best to think about how he would look at the situation and not necessarily me personally.

    We have had one lovely conversation that I treasure no matter what. But it is complicated, and for me to press anything would not honor him. I may reconnect next year by mail with an update if I don't hear from him again. He has a family, children, and his own pain...I can't forget and want more than anything to how him some compassion....Lee H.

  6. I definitely believe that adoptees have a right to introduce themselves to their siblings. (I think right is a good word because it let's adoptees know that they are not doing anything wrong or illegal by seeking out their siblings. And, truly, since these are our kin, we do have the moral right to contact them if we wish.)

    Do we have the right to sustained contact or a relationship? No. That's dependent on the others involved. But, we undoubtedly have the right to seek out our siblings, if we choose.)

    Do we need permission from our mothers or fathers? No. BUT, like it or not, we are the outsiders. If our mothers or fathers are not in agreement with our decision to contact our siblings, the chances of a successful contact are greatly diminished. People tend to circle the wagons around their own. Sadly, we adoptees do not fit into that category. So, whenever possible, it is a good idea to keep our mothers and fathers in the loop.

    If they drag their feet for too long, then a difficult decision will have to be made.

    Full disclosure: My mother and her husband do not want their adult children to know about me. I have chosen to honor their request. There is a huge age gap between us, and I have nothing in common with them. I would hate to disrupt their family solely to let them know I exist when I know that there would be little chance of an ongoing relationship. ("Hi, I exist. Goodbye." It would be the reunion equivalent of a drive-by shooting.)

  7. The question is a no brainer. It's not a matter of "should" or "shouldn't". People have the right to contact their siblings. Being adopted doesn't make it any different.

  8. Everyone has the "right" to contact their siblings; but without the support and encouragement of the birth parent involved--unless they are deceased--the likelihood of a warm relationship with them is markedly lessened.

    I sent photos of my daughter's (Jane) second wedding to the home of her half-sibling whose mother once expressed an interest in having her daughter know Jane, but there was no response. I also left a phone message once that was not returned. So I did not try further. I do not believe Jane ever tried herself either.

  9. I agree that adoptees (like me) have the 'right' to contact siblings on their own... but it is always important to weigh the best approach and timing.... and to be ready for anything...just like with birth parents....

    It was my situation...my natural mother was nearly 10 years deceased when I contacted first her husband (he affirmed that I was her daughter but denied he was my father).....He said he would tell their 4 grown children... but he never could 'bring himself' to do it.... eventually I called my oldest brother by mistake (he and his father had the same name) and he was excited ... we talked and by the end of that day I had spoken to 2 brothers and my sister... In the long run, though, they were very interested in any information I had about their mother... but not so interested in me.... our relationship is cordial but I feel the murkiness, confusion and lack of public affirmation I always felt.... Living 1000 miles apart doesn't help... but I think the problem is the problems in the family I was born into continue.... and I don't want to get too involved with that.... so it is a bit of a repeat rejection... I have 4 photos of my mother and that's all.... so be ready for anything... you just don't know....

  10. The thousand mile separation does not make it easy.

    I think if my daughter Jane lived 50 miles from her younger sibling things might have been different for the two of them. Instead Jane was only here periodically and then the sister moved upstate anyway, and most of the time Jane also was a thousand miles away in Wisconsin.

  11. So many segments of this article are reflective of my reunion with my mother, brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, great aunts and great uncles and even the cousins of my mother and father. I made contact with my mother, had a wonderful visit and asked if I could write. She said yes and after my 3rd letter with no-response to letting her know I wanted to meet my siblings and otheers, I moved forward. I've paid the price for 13+ yrs now with no friendship with either my mother or sister. I have however, developed very close friendship and family status with many others. I regret nothing. I may have moved faster in the relationship than my mother would have liked, but that's her baggage not time. My life span is unknownn and I will not be anyone's secret no matter how much discomfort it causes them. They own their feelings and I own mine. I initially hoped for a relationship but now I'm happier knowing my mother and sister reluctance and inability to be kind are traits I am extremely greatful to have not inherited or learned. I hope they live long and happy lives. If nothing else, it's just as important for my dismissive and reluctant relatives to know my name and the names of my children and vice versa...our families cannot intermarry. I'm a proud bastard and I'm proud of my mother and sister regardless of their inability to build a friendship with me.

  12. I have a friend who reunited with her mother, who asked her to wait to contact her half-brothers, and she did for a few years. Then decided to take it into her own hands. One brother sided with his mother (whatever that means, didn't want to go against his mother's wishes) did not want contact with her. The other embraced her wholly, an they have had not only regular contact, but many visits back and forth. Friend is totally okay with this, grateful to know one brother and his family, her niece and nephew. In the end, contact with her brother has brought her mother back into the fold (she has cut contact for a while). I say that adoptees have a right to know their siblings, and should go for it, if their mom is too hesitant for too long.

  13. Blogger Lorraine Dusky said...

    Lori: Thanks for your story. I think you did the right thing and probably what I would have done--waited for a while and then moved forward on my own. Your life and your time is your own; no need to stay a secret. You have a life, you have a biological family.

    The fact that you have developed good relationships with some of your relatives and your mother and sister have chosen to not know you indicates to me that they might have never moved on this issue, and you wouldn't know anyone in your family. The more people know about all of the issues involved here, they more other birth/first mothers and fathers might resolve to find the gumption to move past secrecy and hiding.
    Good for you.

    And Denise's story indicates the same kind of acceptance/denial. In the case of my daughter, her oldest half sibling never forgave her father (and did not attend his funeral, along with her two younger brothers) and so I think it would have been unlikely she would have ever wanted to know Jane, who represented to her the breakup of her parents' marriage, even though that happened a few years after my daughter was born.

  14. I am impressed with John Edwards' eldest daughter, Cate. When reporters asked her what she thought about Quinn (John's daughter from his extra-marital affair with Rielle Hunter) she responded that Quinn is her sister and she loves her. Cate has always accepted her half-sister. It is never the child's fault how she came to be, and I wish those of us who were born into less than ideal circumstances would quit being ostracized and punished for things we had no control over.

  15. I was happy to have found your site. I read your blogs from time to time, I find it interesting and very informative.

    A little information about me, I was an adopted child, born in CA. I grew up knowing, it was never kept from me. Both of my parents have been deceased many years.

    Information that has been provided on your site regarding adoptees is so true. I, too, grew up feeling out of place, not quite fitting in, not feeling totally whole and that something in my life was just missing. Like I was always searching for something, not quite knowing what that something was. Just desperate for "something".

    A few years ago, I posted what information I had on a free adoption registry. To my shock and amazement, I was contacted back within 24 hours with information regarding my family. The person doing the search had talked to my brother.

    I had 2 older brothers, 1 who had passed away, 2 half sisters, with my father. 1 living father whose health appeared to be failing, and had found out that my first mother passed away in 1983.

    Everyone, knew of my adoption, however, due to our fathers distress regarding the adoption, it was never discussed. My (half)sister told me that she attempted twice to talk to dad about me, but he would just start crying and leave the room.

    I was able to connect with my half sisters on Facebook, who filled me in on information that they knew and helped me wait our brother's decision on how he was going to tell our father. I certainly wanted to give him the opportunity to discuss it with our father first as the man lived with him. And to me, it just seemed like the respectful thing to do.

    It seems like it took forever, but it was about 6/8 weeks before my brother contacted me and we talked over the phone. To be honest with you, I was elated and seemed to connect with him emotionally right away. I was able to fly from Florida to New York to meet for the first time 1 of my (half)sisters, who accompanied me to San Diego, where I met my father and brother (along with my sister in law) for the first time. We all had the best time, there was a family reunion at my brothers house where the majority of the family came to meet me.

    When I first walked into their home, it felt to me like I had come home. That is exactly what it was I was home in San Diego. My parents brought me to Florida when I was 2 and Florida is where I was raised.

    Sadly, our father passed away a little over a year ago. I am sad that I didn't have more time with him. But I am grateful to have been able to meet the man that gave me an opportunity to have a better life than what his "kept" children had growing up. I feel that what he gave me was the ultimate gift of love.

    I hope that I was finally able to lay to rest the guilt that he carried all those years after giving me up for a better life. I know he knew that I loved him.

    I continue to visit and talk with my siblings almost 3 years after our first meeting. My surviving brother and sisters tell me that I remind them of their brother who passed away, his laugh, his body language. Maybe it comforts them on some level.

    I feel that you should absolutely contact siblings after a respectful period of time has passed. I was fortunate as my siblings knew of me. I had absolutely no knowledge of them. I grew up an only child. My sisters helped keep me sane while my brother tried to figure out how to bring it up to our father.

    I'm glad that I did things the way I did, and I would not go back and change anything.

    Thank you for listening, I hope that on some level my story may help someone. Locating family is stressful, you wonder about acceptance or rejection. Many times I teetered on that line in my own mind.

    Lisa Scott

  16. I am wrestling with a lot of the issues mentioned by others in this blog. Last December, after several months of research, a DNA test, and help from the Irish Family History Centre in Dublin, Ireland, I learned who my birth mother is. I wrote a letter to her in mid December. I had been placed in an orphanage at one week of age and lived there until I was two years old. I had been told by my adoptive mother that the reason I was so old was because my birth mother would not relinquish me until she was given an ultimatum by the nuns in the orphanage:sign me over for adoption or take me home. My birth mother is married to my birth father. They own a large farm in Northern Ireland. My father was kicked in the head by a young bull 11 years ago and sustained severe brain damage. He is in a wheelchair and cannot speak. I wrote to my mother in mid December, and she responded in January. It was clear that she was a nervous wreck that I had found her. She had never told my father or even her own mother about the pregnancy. She also said that the day she signed me over for adoption was the saddest day of her life. She asked me not to call or write because her family might see a letter arriving or pick up the phone, and she apologized for having to ask that of me. She told me she would write again and then call. Two months later, she wrote again and told me about her health problems and her parents and that is also when I learned that I have four full siblings. I have found a website for one of my sisters since she is an accountant and runs her own business. When I scrolled down on the Home page, there was her picture. She looks just like a younger version of me with straighter hair. I am trying to decide how long to give my birth mother. I am not confident that she will ever call. There are relatives on both sides of this family that I have been in touch with through the DNA site. One relative knows the family and is not happy with her response to me. She feels my siblings have a right to know about me. I would love advice on how long others feel I should wait before possibly contacting the sibling who I have found information for. I don't feel that I can wait forever, but I also want to respect my birthmother's wishes.

    1. I am puzzled by your letter. You write that you're in contact with relatives on both sides of the family but not your full sisters. I'm surprised that your relatives haven't contacted your mother or your sisters. You write that your mother's reluctance to have a relationship with you is because she doesn't want the family to know about you -- but some already do.

      There's no magic number for how long you should wait before contacting your sibling. I'd suggest you write your mother and tell her you're in contact with Cousin this or Niece that and that you hope to contact your sibling. Explain that you mean no harm. And this is critical -- explain why you want to know your siblings and other relatives.

      Unless your mother has read a lot about adoption and the impact on adoptees she may not understand why it is important to you to know your family. Many people including many mothers assume that adoptees are just curious and only want medical information. They believe the birth family is only a casual interest. Thus mothers don't see the need to deal with the emotional issues reunion brings up. They just try to suppress them.

      Write again and let us know how things go. Know that we're crossing our fingers for you.

  17. Sorry but no I don't. My BM gave me up for adoption which she did for the right reasons. She is totally entitled to a private life,and not having today's victim mentality its morally wrong to start cold calling so called siblings who you share no history with growing up, they are total strangers.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.