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Expert advice for making first contact with birth family members

Once your post-adoption search is complete, you are now ready for a reunion. If you have a mailing address, telephone number or email information about a birth family member, you are ready to make first contact.

Which method best accomplishes a positive result? Some people are more comfortable with written word, while others prefer spoken communication. Because there are pros and cons to each method, a combination of these methods is preferable.

With written contact, the information can be read and reread several times, and connecting with the writer is outlined in the document. At the same time, speaking directly to a birth family member has the advantage of interpreting each syllable and tone of voice.

A letter should be composed as a genealogy request about family with a specific last name (your birth last name). One color photo can be enclosed in the letter, along with every possible way to contact you directly by phone, email and mailing address. Do not send this very important initial communication via special delivery mail, email, Facebook or other social media. Instead, use regular “snail mail.” If there is no response within 10 days to two weeks, follow up with a telephone call. Your letter needs time to arrive, and the recipient deserves a few days to digest the informational request.

This article offers advice for making first contact with birth family members using written communication, as well as a phone call.


Do

Do include photos with your letter

In the letter, add a photo of yourself and anyone biologically related to you, such as children and grandchildren. While you may or may not physically resemble the birth family member you are contacting, your child or grandchild may strongly resemble Uncle Joe or Aunt Betty. Photos with close-up facial features are preferred.

Do jot down important points you want to discuss on the phone

Adoptees often comment that their mind went blank during the excitement of actually talking with a relative. So after the conversation, immediately write down everything you remember from the call. You may believe these details will stay in your mind forever, but specifics fade over time.

Do explain your contact with birth relatives before describing your familial connection

Before stating your familial connection, establish immediately that you are in direct contact with the birth mother, genetic father or biological family member you have searched for on the Internet.

Ask for identifying information, such as birthdate, maiden name, residency at one time in the city or state of your birth, name of grandparent or whatever type of identification you have discovered during the search process. Practice beforehand exactly how you will start the conversation, so you can be as relaxed as possible when you make the call.

Do be sure your conversation takes places at a convenient time

You might be calling on the evening that your birth mother is hosting Bunko at her home. Or your birth father may be heading out the door to visit his spouse, who is hospitalized with a serious illness. Inquire if they have time to talk about the letter you sent. Assure them you are not a salesperson, just someone interested in your roots. If it is not a good time to talk, ask when would be a better time to call back.

Do give family members time to digest what you have just revealed

Although you have spent weeks or months looking for birth family, this person probably did not expect a letter or phone call. A genetic father or birth sibling may not know of your existence. When initially contacted, birth mothers often flashback, similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, to the time of the relinquishment.


Don't

Do not disclose too much information in your letter

Ensure your letter is vague enough that someone not aware of the pregnancy and relinquishment can read the letter and view it as a simple genealogy request. The spouse or subsequent children may not know of your existence. For example, do not write a letter detailing that your first mother was pregnant in high school and you believe she is the one.

Do not show up on a doorstep immediately after sending your letter

Be sure to slow down and do not come on too strong. The other person may not have thought this reunion was ever possible. Letters and telephone calls can help ease the way to plan a face-to-face encounter.

Do not overwhelm family members with too many questions

Prioritize your questions. When you first connect, ask some, but not all of your questions. This new relationship needs time to develop and later conversations can cover some of your other areas of curiousity.

Do not contact extended family members before a birth parent

A first mother may need to inform her spouse or subsequent children of your existence and may want to do this face-to-face if possible. Don’t put your birth parent in the position of facing an angry extended family member, who demands to know why a stranger is making inquires about relatives.

Do not be discouraged if you are not warmly welcomed during first contact

Not wanting contact at this point in time may mean that in a few weeks, months or years, you will experience a different reception. Simple cards or brief letters sent on holidays or birthdays demonstrate your door is open always to contact from them.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Searching for birth family can be exciting. However, first contact can be overwhelming to think about. Be certain you are in direct contact with the person you are seeking and begin with a personal photo and written correspondence. Make any letter vague enough that someone else could read the document and view it as a general request for genealogy research. Respect the genetic parent by contacting him/her first before writing or calling extended family members.

When talking with the family member, establish that you have called at a convenient time for a conversation. Give the other person time to digest what you are revealing and calmly answer any questions. Do not be discouraged if you receive a cool or cold welcome. Simple greeting cards at holiday time lets the other person know you will be there when--and if--the desire for connection changes.


More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

Photo Credits: © Antonioguillem - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Marilyn Mendenhall Waugh, MACo-owner and Founder

Marilyn Mendenhall Waugh, MA, is a reunited birth mother, Director of Adoption Concerns Triangle of Topeka, a search and support group serving those in Northeastern Kansas, past president of the American Adoption Congress and currently the AAC s...

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