' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: How to address your first/birth mother/father when writing the first letter

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to address your first/birth mother/father when writing the first letter

Ms. Dusky would have felt weird
When writing the first letter to your first mother how do you address her? There are many ways to go about this, and each conveys a different message. Dear Mrs. Jones? Dear Darlyne? Dear Mother?

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.


  1. Thank you so much for this information. I am an adoptee who is struggling on how to write the first letter. I have found really good advise from your website and at adoption.com.

  2. Good job, but the problem you eliminated by starting with "Hello," still is right there in the first sentence.

    How about:

    "Hello-- My name is Anabel Lee and I was born in Chattanooga on April 17, 1975 and adopted. I believe I was born to you."

    Another way is: Hello, My name is Sue and I believe we met briefly on April 17, 1975 in Chattanooga. That's the day I was born."

    But more importantly is the content of that letter? Are you suggesting the adoptee ask for information they want without asking to meet, if that's what they want to do? OR offer the mother a choice to meet to share information at a meeting???

    And why after all your efforts to spare mothers their feelings to you then use the terminology "BIOLOGICAL" father??? Is that acceptable...as a salutation when writing to a first letter???

  3. Mirah, I believe your objections are answered in the link about writing a full letter. It's a permanent page on FMF and liked to twice in the post.

    I don't have the same reaction to "biological father" as you do. Many of the fathers of children who were adopted were not at the "birth." Quite honestly, as I have written, I sometimes prefer to be the biological mother rather than the "birth." Birth is a one-time event; biological is for a lifetime. Nor do I say that is how to address the father. I'd start there with Hello also. I think that if you give the date and place of birth, if you have reached a mother, she knows exactly who you are and you don't need to say...I'm adopted, BTW. She already knows.

  4. If I had to do it all over again, I most likely would do as you suggest and just start with "Hello."

    Using my mother's first name was very unsettling for me. I grew up calling my friends' parents Mr. and Mrs. XXXX. Even when they told me I could call them by their first names, I still couldn't do it. So, I think just a hello would have been perfect for me.

    But, Sierra, just remember this: if your mother is interested in reuniting with you, she probably will not run away because you used the wrong salutation. And, if she is highly closed off like a vault at Ft. Knox, you won't get in no matter how empathetic or pitch perfect the letter.

    Good luck! I'm pulling for you!

  5. Lorraine,

    This is an interesting post. As an adopted adult, I struggle with how I address my (first) mother. When speaking or writing to her, I address her by her first name. To other people, I simply refer to her as my mother. She knows that I do this, and hasn't objected.

    I'd much rather just refer to her as mother all of the time, but I don't because I don't want her to feel pressured by the title. My desire is for her to feel comfortable and free to be herself with me, not burdened down by a role. Does that make sense?

    I'm interested in getting your take on this.

  6. I'll have to ask my mom if she remembers how I addressed her in the letter I wrote 21yrs ago. I don't. I remember that I left the 5th page in the library photocopy machine- because it was mailed back to me a few weeks later. Luckily she had my phone number on page 4!
    I do know that it was about 4 or 5 months later that I wrote Mom without even thinking in one of our many letters. I noticed it but sealed the envelope anyway and I think it took several more months for either of us to mention it. She's been Mom ever since.

    Mirah-I think this is one time that the double standard does affect men in a more unfavorable way- to be referred to as a biological father. I think that because of the intensity of pregnancy- the fact that moms nourish us and are connected to us for 9months that it is just naturally accepted that she has gone through so much more trauma. Of course there are exceptions- look to the Utah dads fighting for their rights. There are many birthdads who did not even know their girlfriend was pregnant. My biodad -and I choose to call him that- did try to reach my mother after running off to marry someone else when he knew about me- but never tried to offer support. He also accepted his paternity but didn't offer a relationship. So yes he's a bio-dad. I think in a letter you would offer the same benefit of the doubt and just say I think you are my father...he would earn his title from the behavior that follows. My natural mother was just that- she was and always will be my mother. But the MOM title came from the relationship.

  7. Added to the post this morning (I hate that I get these ideas later one, but so it is):

    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 their 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.

  8. Java Monkey:

    Tell your mother how you feel and what you want to call her. She may be thrilled! Or not. In any event, after you talk to her, call her what she prefers--just as you would anyone else. My daughter called me Lorraine, but frequently sent her letters (and we met in the days before email) to Dear Mother. I loved it.

    Because birth mother was the preferred term for many years, she probably called me that in talking to her friends. Her funeral was of course sad, but I remember sweetly being asked by her acquaintances form Toastmasters if I were Jane's "biological mother," and then being told how often she spoke of me.

  9. Renee: Yes, the Mom comes after there is a relationship. Thanks for sharing your experience; I am sure it will help others.

  10. Is there a cut off on the amount of times you attempt writing a letter?

    I'm in the process of writing an email to fmom (found her email online). But I've tried contact before and have already done the "intro" stuff, and everything else every website suggests. What is there for me to write to her without flat begging? Your post from Nov. 11 has been helpful, but I am not sure what to do.

    Here's the timeline of events:
    2001: 1st phone call. she told me to call back in 2 weeks, I did, and she hung up on me
    2006: Wrote brief note asking if she was interested in contact. no response
    2006: Months later, I knocked on her door (i was visiting from out of state). VERY brief.
    2011: Sent her a brief "thought I'd try again" private message on FB. she promptly deleted her account
    2013: found her email, desperate to try again.

    - Laura

  11. I think only some adoptees feel "only looking for information" will make their adoptive parents feel less threatened by the fact they are seeking contact.

    I am glad you put in the part about what to do if there is no response. Don't let anyone but the person you are seeking tell you that she isn't interested and has gotten on with their life.

  12. Anonymous, hard as this is to accept, your mother is too afraid to meet you and can't get over that. My best guess is that the thought of facing you is too painful, and that has never told anyone about you, including her husband or other children, if there are any.

    Sadly, this happens both ways. It's a misfortune and heartbreak for the other side.

  13. But is there a cutoff time? Not really. Not if you still feel like trying.

  14. Anonymous,

    I don't know what you have already written to your mother. But, if you haven't already done this, you may just want to email her (or send her another letter) and let her know all the ways she can contact you in the future, if she should ever change her mind. Let her know that you are now leaving future contact up to her....

    I'm not certain if I would send her an email. She didn't give you her email address, and she may feel as though she is being stalked. Remember our mothers didn't grow up with the internet, so they are not as aware of how easy it is to find information.

    My heart breaks for you, but I think you've heard her answer. This last letter should just let her know that you are available if she ever wants to get to know you in the future.

  15. Lorraine,
    Thank you for saying there isn't a cut off. Though I am unsure of what to write. In all honesty I know she will not respond back, and probably delete her email account. But I just have to try.

    Do you have a blog post on what to write on your 5th attempt in 12 years to make contact? :)

    - Laura

  16. To clarify: Please don't make assumption about my feelings of how to address birthfathers. I merely ASKED if that was what you were suggesting.

    My feelings on the subject are in fact quite in line with those of Renee.

    Sorry I did not notice the links!

  17. finding my sweetspotJuly 13, 2013 at 1:49 AM

    Why are we now using the term "birthfather" as one word, when it is absolutely taboo to use "birthmother" one word. Should we not use "birth father" two words?

    btw, I use the term "biological father" for my first father, because that is how he designates himself. He has also referred to himself as my "Sire." I think he prefers Sire. He has made it clear that is not my "real dad."

    I don't use the term "biological mother" when referring to my first mother because she has made it clear that the term is offensive to her. I would never even consider calling her my Dame.

    We adoptees try so hard to please everybody, but so often our efforts to communicate are taken the wrong way. A term that is preferred by one family member is often rejected by another.

    It seems like no matter what we do, we are destined to make somebody uncomfortable. We will be rejected for our efforts no matter what. There's no point in wasting energy stressing about how others react.

    Our first parents accuse us of either pushing too hard or being too distant. If we say we only want information it is perceived as rejection and denial. If we say we want a close relationship it is perceived as gold-digging.

    The first month I was in contact with my first mother, she wouldn't even tell me her surname or what state she lived in. She was afraid I was going to wreck her nice life. Later in the relationship she was hurt that I didn't pursue more intimacy. I thought I was following her signals but I didn't get it right. I will never get it right.

    My advice to adoptees is to write the letter however is most comfortable for you. Don't stress about terms. And know in your heart of hearts that whatever you write will quite possibly the wrong thing.

  18. FYI: AT First (SPACE) Mother Forum we do not use birth mother or birth father as a single term, just as "adoptive mother" and "adoptive father" is not adoptivemother....Others may use them differently but as we cannot edit the comments; they go up as written.

    I agree with you, SweetSpot, that the language is a messy problem, and has since there is so much disagreement, one has the capacity to hurt someone else. Let me be clear, I did not like being reduced to my daughter's "biological mother" at all times, but in the situation of my daughter's wake, at which her adoptive mother was present and standing ten feet away from me, in her home town, that is, on her turf, not mine, "biological mother" actually felt less forced that "birth mother," because that phrase has been so co-opted by the adoption industry. I have enormous respect for Lee Campbell and all that she has done, but by latching onto the "birth mother" terminology to be less offensive to adoptive parents who objected to "natural mother," a linguistic monster was created. Adoptive parents objected to "natural mother" because it made them "unnatural." But the meaning stems "from nature," and if that had been accepted back in the Seventies by the adoption industry, we would not have so much dissension today among ourselves. Although I see the reason to go with "first mother," I can also see that it then points out that the adoptive mother is the "second" mother, which technically she is.

    But we are both real mothers. We gave our children life; adoptive mothers gave them care when we were not able, for whatever reason. While I support the movement away from "birth mother," I am sorry to see the rancor that the term generates in some circles.

    "Sire" is quite truthful for a father who did not raise a child, and neither diminishes or raises him up, and doesn't have negative connotations. SweetSpot, it sounds as if you were placed in an impossible situation with your mother (first mother, natural mother, etc.), because her feelings changed so much over time. But just as you say, whatever an adoptee writes to her or his original mother may strike her as wrong or offensive because she is not ready to welcome her child to her heart. But for those of us who hoped to be found, who long for a reunion, any salutation or none at all would be welcomed, and will be the right thing.

    But for any mother who does want a relationship, "birth daughter" or "birth son" will be offensive. I can never be friends with the woman who interrupted a friend of mine shortly after my daughter died to make sure that she referred to my daughter as Lorraine's "birth daughter." I wonder if anyone has ever asked her about the health of her "adopted daughter." I doubt it. Wouldn't it be too rude? Her saying that was a way of telling others that my loss was not so great because she was only my "birth daughter." Fie on her!

  19. I agree with Sweetspot. Adoptees should feel able to use their own sense of tact and judgment when they write that first letter. Most adoptees have plenty of both and I don't know any who would be deliberately hurtful in attempting such an important reconnection.
    If a first mother is going to get offended by terminology, that's a red light from the start.

  20. When I found and reunited with my son in 1992,lsnguage was the last thing I thought about. He was my son from first time I saw him. I finally got to see his face 27 years later. I did not hold him or get to see him being put on my stomach after his birth.

    I did notice my feelings changing about myself. I remember being so elated in reunion I would allow myself to be called birthmom. A term I hate now. I am his mom and if I wasn't his mom he wouldn't ever been born. His adoptive mom did not give birth although it says she did on his amended b cert. WE gave birth exactly in same hospital, same time, same day EXCEPT she wasn't there. LIES.....

    Sweetspot, moms have same problems as adoptee's trying to get it right. I can remember the walking on eggs feelings both with me and my son. I remember the feeling when he called his adoptive mom "mom" in front of me. Made me sad but that's what adoptee's grow up with calling a stranger mom.

    Now, my son and I are finally in a near normal situation. His adopter has passed away. He and I can finally breath and enjoy normal life events. My son's daughter just graduated from college it is the first time I have not had to look at adoptive mom's face. Felt so wonderful to share this moment with my son and granddaughter.

    See how abnormal adoption is it creates weird relationships. I should have always been in my son's life. He did not have to be adopted, I was young and a good mom. She was married....

  21. I sent my FM 2 letters that went unanswered. Many months later I phoned her and had an awkward but wonderful 2hour conversation. A couple months later I sent her an email(she gave me her email address and told me I could contact her this way or by phone). I straight up told her that I'd like to try to develop a friendship and keep in contact and that I'd appreciate a response either way. I had already made 4 attempts at contacting her, and I was beginning to feel like a stalker. I did get a quick response letting me know that she needs to think about it... I greatly appreciated the response. And I will respect whatever decision she makes. It's the not knowing that is ultimately the most painful thing to deal with.
    I addressed her by her first name. HDW, I am very much the same in calling people Mr. or Mrs. I didn't call my in-laws anything for my first 2 years of marriage because I couldn't bring myself to use their first names:) Anyway, I called my FM by her first name because I figured that I am an adult addressing another adult. Mrs. Felt too distant, and mother... Totally presumptuous and awkward for me at this stage. During our conversation I referred to my APs as adoptive parents or just parents. What else can I do? For close to 4 decades these have been the only parents I have known, so of course I call them my parents... Force of habit.
    I hope that the content of our conversation and correspondence and the fact that it comes from my heart has more import than the semantics. My FM was so darn nice to me during our first conversation. She seems like a good person. I hope she will want to continue a relationship, but its up to her now. Wish me luck:)
    G Dean

  22. GDean, we wish you and her all the luck and good fortune.

    My granddaughter (who was also adopted) decided to cut off a relationship after she met her natural father. That was nearly two years ago. So it goes.

  23. I don't think adoptees should worry and fret about how they address their first parents in an initial contact. Instead, they should commend themselves for even having the courage to contact the parents who gave them up. If someone refuses a relationship because they don't like a salutation, then they probably would have ended the relationship for some other bogus reason anyway. Adoptees are caught in the middle in this awkward and difficult situation, that was not of their making. There is no absolute right or wrong here.

    To those adoptees like Laura who have met with several rejections, I sadly think that you know the answer. Your first mother does not want contact. As HDW said, the only thing you can do is to provide contact information in the event that she ever changes her mind.

    No adoptee should ever apologize for calling her adoptive parents, "mother" and "father". It is not force of habit, they ARE your mother and father. I never subject adoptees to some kind of parental limbo-land, where they don't even know who their natural parents are, or have any relationship with them, and yet are not allowed to accept their APs as their mother and father. For this and many other reasons, surrendering parents should never be able to choose a completely closed adoption. Adoption cuts off an adoptee's roots and that should never be allowed, unless for some reason the adoptee's familial history is unknowable.

  24. Lorraine, thank you for your post. I structured my letter to my mother based on your advice and it was the right thing to do. I received a favorable reply and have since developed a warm and loving relationship with my mother. Your advice got me over the hump of not knowing how the heck to get started.
    Thank you so much!

  25. Robin,

    Excellent post, could not have said it better myself. Totally agree with all of it. Could say more but will leave it at that.



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