' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: When a stranger writes to a first/birth mother asking for adoptee contact

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

When a stranger writes to a first/birth mother asking for adoptee contact

"Adopted child contacts birth mother" or adoptee finds birth mother" or What to do when adoptee calls birth mother" are phrases that I imagine some women are Goggling these days as they get a call or letter out of the blue--a call or letter that they thought might never come.

But they do. In a variety of ways. The contact maybe made via letter or phone call, directly or through an intermediary. The other day a distraught woman wrote to us through a comment at the page about writing the first letter to a Birth Mother or Sibling. I am repeating it here because DNA is locating more individuals every day, and there will be more during the holiday season: 

"When I first received the contact letter from a "friend of my daughter" I read it and thought was it another scam like the Nigerian Prince letters looking to get personal info and then scam money out of me? After all in 2017 that does happen. 
"My second thought was why didn't my daughter contact me directly if she had found out this much of my personal information, why use some stranger to contact me? My third thought was that I was told 50 + years ago by the state case worker I could never have contact with my daughter as all records are sealed permanently. Just after that I started crying uncontrollably and I have been crying for days off and on while trying to understand what I am feeling and decide how to proceed.

"My life has a different meaning now. I do feel I 'owe' her at very least detailed medical background information, but I am not sure about anything past that as no matter what I am the outsider, the intruder who gave her up. You see, from the letter it would appear she had a great life and the thought of accidentally disrupting her life or her adopted parent's lives upsets me. I am struggling multiple times every day while crying with questions of "Who the hell am I' and 'Why did I give her up?' and 'I had no choice and no way to support her' and 'I am a failure for giving her up' and 'I missed buying her birthday presents and helping her do her homework'. I am a total mess and my entire life is now in shambles no matter what I do as I know that I use to but now will never forgive myself for giving her up.--Crying Birth Mother"

Such a letter from a "friend of your daughter" will drive some mothers right back into the corner of the closet. If the child was a secret kept from family members--say cousins or even siblings, and now they are getting letters outing you--who this "friend of my daughter?"--they will retreat and want little to do with this individual, period.

My response to Crying Birth Mother:

First of all, understand that many adoptees feel cheated, or outright scammed, by closed adoptions, and are leery afraid of being rejected what feels to them a second time by you, their mother at birth. In response, they have a finely honed defensive mechanism in place and when that reaches us with a seeming carelessness about it, mothers may feel it like an accusation. What that happens, it's hard to know how to respond. Though you are in the throes of your sadness right now--all the feelings that happened at the time of giving up your child are bubbling out--try, try very hard, to look at the situation dispassionately from an outsider perspective. You well may have been told at the time you relinquished that you would never be in contact with your child; however, the last several decades have been full of stories in the media about such reunions, and that is what your daughter is aware of--and she imagines you are too. She may rightfully be wondering why you haven't found her! 

I don't know what you will find with your daughter, but right now the best response to what seemed like a cold letter from an outsider--as well as a reference to many others who may be getting the same letter about you!--is to look past anything that can be construed as hurtful and respond to your daughter from your heart. She is another person's daughter too, but she is seeking you out NOW, for whatever reasons. Since apparently there are other letters going out or have gone out, respond quickly and recognize that if you have kept your child a secret, that time may be over. And you will survive. 

Because your daughter may have felt responsible for her adoptive mother and father's happiness by not talking about her adoption, or even bringing it up, hard as it may be, you must not make her feel that she is now responsible for your feelings too. Adoptees grow up in homes where their adoption is never mentioned, and so they understand that they are supposed to keep their questions and confusion and hurt to themselves. If they find you, the last thing they want is yet another mother whose feelings they have to protect--they want to be loved unconditionally and protected! Not the other way around. 

Though this advice may be difficult to take at this moment because you are in what sounds like the first stages of grief/relief/fear about how your life is about to change, and has changed, remember that while none of us can shake our past, we don't have to let the wake behind us guide the future. Dry your tears as best you can, forgive yourself for what seems unforgivable, and contact the letter writer by phone or letter as soon as possible. Nothing is gained by putting this off. 

As for your own edification and mental health, start reading about both the adoptee and first mother experience--both on line and in the many books written about the subject. Just going through old columns at First Mother Forum will give you some background. Books are recommended throughout. 

Your daughter may not have written to you directly because she fears rejection. It's common for adoptees to use an intermediary unaware that a letter from a stranger lessens the likelihood that their mother will respond positively to the contact. Though this is not likely in your case, it is possible that the adoptee used a paid search service, and the letter writer lacked sensitivity in how she wrote to you. 

I've heard stories about state intermediaries who lack finesse and empathy and in the end shut a door that might have been opened. This is the reason I am against using outside contact unless an adoptee knows that the person will be most understanding of the birth first mother's fears. 

This is the reason that searchers of all kinds have such a wide range in numbers of successful reunions. One longtime searcher, a first mother, told me that she has never had a turn down from another first mother, even though some women took several phone calls before they agreed, but agree they did. Other searchers and confidential intermediaries tell me the "success" rate hovers around 50 percent, a statistic that is incredibly sad and disheartening. Knowing that could be the reason some letters from adoptees come off as cold and distant, or simply a request for medical history--for the adoptee is half expecting a rejection. Who can blame them? 

Also be aware that adoptees may write they had a great life even if they did not, assuming that's what their mothers want to hear. But it may also be true. Sometimes it is hard to put to rest the conflict inside us mothers who relinquished: We both want to hear that our children have had great lives, but we end up looking for holes in that because it is hard to quell the thought that we would have been better mothers to our own children, in only we could have found a way to keep them. No matter our own feelings, in this case, we mothers need to listen and accept at face value what our returning children tell us.--lorraine

PS: Since we initially wrote to Crying Birth Mother, we received this response:
I did not want to make contact with a third party as that was who send the 'are you the birth mother' letter to me that I described in my original post.  So I did some cross searching and found a few possible matches for my adopted daughter and chose the one with the photo that looked closest to my face and I was right. It as her. I made contact on Facebook with a private message asking for verification of her birth location and date. She responded with so much information I could not keep up with it. She is a wonder sweet smart beautiful woman and was very kind to me. I got her email and she got mine before I got wore out from 2 finger typing. I am making a medical history list for her and we will be communicating later this week. 

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA
December 14, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
on August 6, 2015
It took me longer than I usually take to finish this book, it is too real and close to my heart. It is a raw and honest 
memoir by a woman who surrendered her daughter to adoption and lived to tell of it. I come from the opposite side 
of adoption, my daughter is my husbands natural niece whom we adopted at age 6 when her mother could not care 
for her. I am in awe of Lorraine's writing but even more so, her ability to lay out her heart rending story in a manner 
that does not allow the reader to come away unchanged.


  1. To the crying birth mother;As an adoptee myself I understand your adopted daughters approach for first contact to you. The fear of rejection is strong. Thank you for contacting her back on your own. I bet she thought the same thing as you "wonder if this is some kind of scam?" when she read your message. I am glad you are at least open to providing updated medical information to her that is important for both her and any children or grand children she may have. I hope you will be eventually open to taking it slow and easy with baby steps towards getting to know your daughter. Also I hope you will tell her who her biological father is so that she may obtain the same information from him. If your daughter found you through DNA testing as so many of us do then I hope you will tell the people in your life currently about her they may be surprised to hear the news but better the news comes from you than you waiting to be "outed" by a close relative testing who matches her. Finally I hope this works out for the best for all concerned.

  2. I've helped a few people search and never did I even consider making contact on their behalf (and they never asked). Glad this mother and daughter were able to get in touch either way and I wish all the best to them in navigating reunion.

    1. Good practice, Anon.

      Unfortunately, some state laws require that state-assisted searchers (confidential intermediaries) that contact the other party to see if they want contact. If the other party says they don't want contact, the IM cannot legally connect them. The IM can ask the other party again but usually has to wait for a year or so. As Lorraine notes, IMs report that about the time the other party refuses contact. I have to think this is because it is so jarring to have a total stranger contact someone out of the blue. People are more likely to be responsive to their first mother or their child.

    2. From what I've heard anecdotally, first mothers make the best contacts for women in the closet. It may take more than a single phone call, but a mother whose walked the walk can best relate to another. But unfortunately it's not done that way. I also know a woman married to an adoptee who is a very sensitive CI and if she gets the two people on the phone at the same time, she will excuse herself so they can trade information privately, and exchange contact information without her being involved.

  3. I am a free search angel and often write a slew of letters to every address the parents ever had "Dear X family, I am helping my friend look for her mother, X, Father Y,". I've reunited well over 200 families in 20 years and only had one parent turn me down and I'll never be done trying - I just let it rest for a while and try again. I prefer to out the adoption or donor situation to the entire family first so that the parent can't keep my friend in an eternal limbo not telling siblings and other relatives that they exist. It's easier when everyone knows, even if it flips them out they wind up realizing that it's not the end of the world as they thought. I always say there is no 'bad time' to announce the existence of your son or daughter, is there a bad time to win the lottery? This is going to be fun, they adore you already, relax.



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