Adoptee contact
February 3, 2018 9:01 PM   Subscribe

A bit over a year I found out that recent changes to state law allowed me, as an adoptee, to request a copy of my original birth certificate, including mother's unredacted name. My first two attempts at contacting my birth mother via mail at the most recent address info I could found got returned undeliverable. In early December I made my last attempt with a better formatted address that I think should be more accurate, and it hasn't been returned, but I also have not received any return contact. I have other people I know are related/affiliated with her I could contact but I am not sure of the ethics of contacting them, either directly as a relative or as a way to find her correct contact info.

(There is zero doubt in my mind that I have located the right person/family).

So, it's been about 2 months since the last time I mailed out my introduction letter and this time it has not been returned. It is possible that the mail piece was delivered but not to the right person. Since the last time I tried mailing it I found out I was not including the directional "North" on the street number or what I believe to be her correct condo/apartment number. However, I have no idea if the mailing address info I have from a public "white pages" directory is current or accurate.

It's also possible that she received it and is processing the information. However, my understanding is that relatively few mothers who give up children for adoption do not want any contact.

I have several other indirect routes that I could inquire as to her current mailing address, and I need input whether I should attempt to get her contact info through these other routes and how I should frame my inquiry:
(1) I have active FB pages for her 2 daughters, who would be my half sisters.
(2) I have an active FB page for a younger brother (my uncle), who additionally has showed up on a DNA analysis site as a very close relative.
(3) I know the church where she was an active member/choir member.

I also have names of other siblings but the youngest brother/uncle is the most logical route if I were to contact a sibling of hers, and not a half-sibling of mine.

I really really really would like to make contact with my maternal birth family, and I've spent over a year now knowing of their existence, internet stalking photos, genealogies, etc. But this desire of mine do not want to step on any toes/hurt any feelings/open up cans of worms if my birth mother does not want to be found/does not want others in her family/circle know that I am looking for her. If it's relevant at all, she's ~70 years old, liberal Christian, and was 19 years old when I was born.
posted by drlith to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When I reached out to my birth mother, I contacted the agency who handled the adoption and they acted as an intermediary. It was always known to me that I could go this route and they had informed my birth mother that if she kept her information up to date with them that they would contact her if I reached out. She did this and so when I reached out it was easy for them to connect us. This also made sure that I had the right person. And secondarily was confirmation that she wanted to be known.

Is this a route you could go?

If not, and given her age, I’d move quickly. It might be best to continue to try contact - can you find a phone number? Would you want to send a registered letter so you know it had been received? If there is very specific information you would like to know such as medical history, that might be a way to go.

This is tricky stuff and there’s no “right” script for how it should all go down.
posted by amanda at 9:17 PM on February 3, 2018

Ethically, I think there's nothing wrong with contacting her one more time, via Facebook. At that point, you know for a fact that you are contacting her directly.

A Facebook message can't go astray, get misdelivered, or put aside and lost. She might not have seen your message.

This method will also give you an emphatic certainty whether she wants to respond and hasn't been able to, or if she has been choosing not to.
posted by headspace at 9:20 PM on February 3, 2018

headspace, unfortunately she herself does not appear to be active on facebook. I do have active FB accounts for her two other daughters and at least one of her siblings.
posted by drlith at 9:23 PM on February 3, 2018

I wonder if you could reach out to the daughter(s) or brother and say that you're attempting to find your birth family and her name has come up as someone who might have some relevant information? Or that you're doing some genealogical research and it would be be helpful to talk to her? I expect that if they pass the information along she will know what you really mean, but it doesn't drag them into the middle of it.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:49 PM on February 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

A Facebook message can’t go astray

Actually, Facebook does do some message filtering by default. There is a separate, somewhat hidden inbox that messages from “strangers” go to. I’ve found legitimate messages in mine.
posted by delezzo at 11:12 PM on February 3, 2018 [30 favorites]

I would not go through a male relative tbh. As a woman I'd be oddly uncomfortable with that, especially in a religious family. I'd go daughters over brother but I'd also probably pay someone to track her down first if I could afford it to make sure I had the right address. A PI can do this pretty cheaply because they have access to databases you don't.
posted by fshgrl at 11:21 PM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just in case you send a FB message to a half sib and don't get a reply, even that isn't proof that it was received and rejected. Some people don't even use FB messenger. I recently got a reply to a FB message I'd send *five years* ago. The person was active on FB but just didn't use messenger. So, perhaps registered mail is the only way to really know if a letter has been received.
posted by velveeta underground at 12:24 AM on February 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

First, I recognise that this experience is bound to be fraught for you. I know you want to do the best thing and not open up a 'can of worms' but you have rights here too. You have as much a right to know about your birth family, as your birth-family has to want whatever they want. Your needs don't come second. They come equal first. So be clear about what your needs are and respect them. Even if you are a secret to these people, you didn't sign on to keep that secret as your own.

The lack of response from your birth mother could mean the letters didn't arrive, they arrived and she didn't want to respond, they arrived but she is too unwell to deal with them, or they arrived and others took them before she saw them. If your birth-mother had told her daughters about you, don't you think she might have been more willing to respond to your letters? If she hasn't told them, then going through the daughters is going to cause a double-dose of discovery.

For this reason, and a couple more, I recommend going through the brother, your uncle. He is the one most likely to have known about your existence, and your DNA matching is a legitimate reason to get in touch. Who knows? Maybe he did the DNA sampling hoping you would get in touch? I hope you have a good outcome. And from what I know of you here on Metafilter, they should be proud to call you their own.
posted by Thella at 12:27 AM on February 4, 2018 [14 favorites]

Since you left off the "N" in the address last time and aren't completely sure it got delivered to her, you could try sending another letter. You could tell her that you would like very much to be in contact but if she calls or writes you to tell you that she'd prefer not to, or that she needs some time to consider it, you'll respect that.

This gives her an opportunity to set boundaries and it gives you the reassurance that if she does receive the letter, she's had a chance to delay or postpone future contact if that's what she wants. If you don't hear back within a reasonable amount of time, proceed with other family members.

Good luck to you!
posted by bunderful at 7:35 AM on February 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Are you involved in an adoptee support group? If you are in NJ (thinking that because the law changed here in 2017) contact NJCARE
They can let you know about local meetings, I attend one in Morristown NJ. If you are in another state, look up American Adoption Congress to be referred to a group near you.
All the suggestions I see here are decent ones, it is up to you to decide what works for you. If you did 23 and me for DNA, you can contact your uncle through them at first, with "we are somehow related..."

I am a long reunited birthmother, many years in adoption reform. I know it is scary where you are now but the only way to know for sure is to proceed with some kind of contact. It may matter how old your mother is. My son was born in the 60s but some mothers from my era are still in the closet and not sure how to deal with being contacted. Good luck and don't give up, you have a right to know your own truth.
posted by mermayd at 8:21 AM on February 4, 2018

Send one more letter to her restricted delivery, which requires her signature and confirms delivery. That will ensure that she received it, so you won't have to wonder anymore. And then leave it in her hands.

Contacting relatives is disrespectful of her privacy.
posted by metasarah at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

check your memail.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:58 AM on February 4, 2018

I don't have any advice one way or the other but I did read this article in the NY Times Ethicist column a couple of weeks ago about a woman who had given up her child for adoption with the understanding that it would be private. She has recently been contacted by her birth child and is not happy about it.

I feel like I did what I had to, when I had to do it, and kept my part of the bargain. A part of me is angry that her mother broke our agreement.

I have tried to come to terms with the idea of putting all this “out there,” and I cannot. For me, I did something wrong, and then I did something right, and making this public would not work for me. What do I do now?

Good luck to you whatever you decide.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I feel for you.

I wouldn't recommend contacting any of her relatives. In my case, my birth mother very much wanted contact, but nobody in her family knew I existed besides her parents. So when we got in contact she had to quickly get everyone up to speed. As an aside we met thanks to ISRR:

If your birth mother does not want contact, contacting her family could open up a big uncomfortable can of worms for her.

I would recommend trying to get a hold of her personally. There are services though could dig up a phone number for her, or you could possibly try going by in person. My birth mother recognized me on sight despite having never seen me since I was a newborn.

As someone else mentioned, there are no right or wrong answers to all of this. For me meeting my birth mother and her family was an incredibly stressful experience despite all of them being incredibly welcoming. I expect it was pretty hard for them too.

If she doesn't want contact and tells you so I'd respect that. Since you've received no answer at all there's no way to tell if that's what she wants, however.

I wish you all the best with this.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 4:31 PM on February 4, 2018

a younger brother (my uncle), who additionally has showed up on a DNA analysis site as a very close relative

I'm assuming you have your own DNA results set up such that he could see you are close relative?

I feel like the availability of DNA testing has changed the game on getting in touch with people. In your situation I would reach out through the DNA testing site, not facebook. Whether or not your birth mother would feel comfortable with him knowing of your existence, DNA testing has already let the genie out of the bottle and many people are finding relatives they didn't know existed. If he can see that he has a close relative who he hasn't known of before, there's a limited number of places that person could have come from so he may already suspect (or have suspected long ago if your birth mother went to "care for her sick aunt" for a few months or something)

As far as not getting a response from her, you could go with certified mail but even if you don't get a response to that, in the absence of knowing anything more about her health and living situation I would not assume to much from that. Some elderly people aren't able to handle all of their own mail any more, either due to vision, cognitive, or strength or dexterity related issues. If you send something else make sure it's in a really big font.

Note: My personal perspective on this comes from not my own birth records being sealed, but someone higher up on the chain than me having sealed records (and only having access to DNA sites, not the records), so I'm in a different situation.
posted by yohko at 9:45 PM on February 4, 2018

My adult adopted cousin found a raft of blood relatives after doing DNA testing. In fact, he did the testing hoping to find his birth mother. He also found one full sibling, his father and two half-siblings born from his dad's second marriage. (He was born before the marriage when his parents were teens, but they later married). I believe it was the full brother who was DNA tested and contacted their mother. It seems to have worked out for my cousin, but this may be an outlier.

I have a friend, though, who found out that his mother had had a son as a teenager and gave him up for adoption. I can't remember how he found out - it was years ago. He and his half-brother have met and socialized with each other's families, but their mother is NOT willing to have an ongoing relationship with her first child. She had severed ties after his birth and did not want to open herself up to him. My friend stays in fairly regular contact with his half-brother and they carry on their relationship without their mom's involvement. So there is that possibility for you, too, even if your birth mother is not willing.
posted by citygirl at 10:23 AM on February 5, 2018

From an anonymous Mefite:
A few years ago my mom awkwardly told me that she'd given birth and given up the child for adoption when she was a teenager. Then she had another child, and gave that one up for adoption too. It was a huge stressor between my parents. It had all happened before they met, and the story I've been told is that she came clean before they were married, but considering how the secret was kept and how (in retrospect) it was an undercurrent of a lot of the fights they had, I'm not entirely sure she was honest with me when she said she'd been honest with my dad.

When she told me, she revealed that my sister knew. Our half sister lived in the same state as us and had already contacted mom at least once, and mom believed she would have seen my sister's wedding notice in the paper. Rather than have a surprise guest, mom made contact with her, told my sister, and they all met for lunch before my sister's wedding. I have now learned my dad was extremely angry after the first time my half sister contacted our mom (the records were supposed to have remained sealed), so that introduction was handled without his knowledge.

By the time mom told me, my half brother had contacted her on Facebook, and I think she only told me because she expected him to try to contact me there too. Without that fear I don't think she'd ever have told me. At this point, even though I know, and my sister knows, and apparently a half brother and half sister I've never met know about us, if not each other, I don't have any reason to believe a single person outside our family knows. It would have been really painful for both my parents to have those secrets made public. I'm not sure my dad ever knew that mom had finally told both of us.

At this point with records being unsealed and DNA testing becoming increasingly common I think it's a strange secret to try to keep, but it's also not mine to divulge (hence the anonymous answer). I wouldn't consider my own name tarnished by association, but it would have been a bombshell for both my parents if my sister and I had found out through that sort of approach. I can't imagine how they would have responded if we said we'd been contacted that way.

FWIW my half brother did try to contact me via Facebook, and I didn't see the message for months because it went into the "messages from other senders" purgatory inbox. I never responded because by then it seemed even more awkward than it already was. If you do try to contact your mother's brother, don't do it via Facebook. If you can send a message through the DNA testing site, do that. It seems the most natural way of initiating contact. Otherwise, I dunno, maybe try a lawyer?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:40 PM on February 5, 2018

drlith, it sounds like this has not moved forward over the past seven months, based on your comments in the NFL coach reunion thread. I urge you to joint Adoptees Only on FB and spend some time familiarizing yourself with the resources and discourse there.

I have MeMailed you.

Finally, first, in my own IRL adoptee support group I have seen similar situations go several ways. It's fraught! You can move the needle, but you have to be ready for a negative outcome.
posted by mwhybark at 7:24 PM on September 5, 2018

Pretty late to the game here, but I also found this AskMe via the NFL coach reunion thread. My brush with adoption was positive, perhaps yours will ultimately turn out positive too.

In your original post, you said "I know the church where she was an active member/choir member." Maybe you could get in touch with the pastor of her church? You could talk to the pastor a bit first before you reveal your mother's identity, and see if s/he's the kind of forgiving and supportive pastor who realizes we are all imperfect, or if s/he's likely to judge and ostracize someone in the flock. If your mother then indicates she wants to make contact or leave the past in the past, the pastor can tell you. In my experience, many pastors get into the business because they care about people and want to help them.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:42 AM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

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