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Ask the Open Adoption Expert: Reestablishing Contact

ďWe lost touch with our sonís birthmother two years after his adoption. Heís seven, and asking lots of questions about heróshould we try to contact her?Ē

People often assume that the most common problem families face in open adoptions is an intrusive birthparent. In fact, the opposite is true. The concern voiced most frequently by parents is that they donít hear from the birthmother as often as they would like, or that they have lost contact with her.

Your losing touch with your sonís birthmother is not unusual, nor is it unusual for your son to ask new questions about her. Heís at the age when children really start to understand adoption, so questions are to be expected.

One child I know, Carrie, had photographs of her birthmother, but the families hadnít been in touch since she was a baby. When she was 10, Carrie began asking her mom about meeting her birthmother. Carrieís mom attempted to contact her when she realized how important this was to her daughter.

Getting back in touch
A letter is probably the best way to reestablish contact. If you donít know the birthmotherís current address, see if you have contact information for any of her relatives. Perhaps you met her parents at the time of the adoption. Although itís possible the birthmother has moved, chances are that her parents have not. If that doesnít work, enlist the help of your adoption agency or professional. My agency frequently gets such a request, and weíve helped many birth and adoptive families reconnect.

In a letter, list some of your sonís questions and encourage her to write back to you and him. Since you havenít been in touch since your son was a toddler, he does not have a relationship with her, so I recommend starting slowly. He can write about his interests, and ask about hers. When a six-year-old I know, Jason, wrote to his birthmother, he described his pets and asked if she had any.

Your sonís birthmother remembers him as a baby. Iím sure sheíll be pleased to hear about the boy he is today!
You may eventually decide to meet in person, but I recommend building a relationship through letters, e-mails, and/or phone calls before taking that step. You might decide to continue contact through letters and wait to meet when your son is older.

Helping your child understand
Parents may wonder how the birthmother will react to contact after several years without communication. They may even fear that she may not want to have a relationship with your child. If youíre concerned, have your agency or another intermediary make the initial contact for you.

As you wait to hear back, or to find out whether contact is possible, satisfy your sonís curiosity by sharing the concrete information you already have. Since you met your sonís birthmother at the time of the adoption, you probably have stories to tell. Even though heís probably heard them before, heíll want to hear them again now. Donít leave anything out; the smallest details will mean a lot to him. Let him look at any photographs or letters you exchanged during the two years you kept in touch.

If you canít locate your sonís birthmother, let him know that you will try again later. You can suggest that he write periodic letters (perhaps an annual letter on his birthday), and tell him that you will save the letters and photographs he selects for her. In this way, your son can share his interests as he grows and changes over time.

If you reestablish contact with his birthmother some day, she will treasure this chronicle of his childhood. It will be good for your son to express his thoughts and questions, even if you canít deliver the letters now.

My experience is that most birthparents welcome renewed contact. You sonís birthmother would probably delight in hearing about his personality, milestones, and interests. Share anecdotes and send pictures. She remembers him as a baby. Iím sure sheíll be pleased to hear about the boy he is today!

Kathleen Silber is the associate executive director of the Independent Adoption Center in Pleasant Hill, California, and the co-author of Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption (Corona).

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I first contacted my natural mother when I was 21. I was adopted as an infant, closed adoption, but had been assured by a family friend she wanted to be found, never left my birth town, and kept her married name, married my natural father and had 2 children together after me. With all that to go by, I felt confident contact would be easy. But after writing her letters and sending photos for years, it took 6 yrs to have 1 phone call with her! Then it took 4 more years of silence from her for things to FINALLY get rolling, I was 30 and by that time very much damaged by the additional perceived rejection. Now, after an intense year of almost constant daily email, chat, phone with her immediate family and having met most of the extended family... there has been a huge blow out, mostly because of the actions of my birth father insensitively digging deep into my rejection wound and now I am being treated for attachment disorder and PTSD as a result, having been "normal" before my reunion. My point ? You don't know what to expect from them, or you as the adopted person. Finding my family as an adult hurt me and I dealt with it as an adult, resulting in SERIOUS pain and personal DAMAGE. If I had been allowed as a child to wrap my head around this, maybe it wouldn't have been so destructive ? If there hadn't been so much silence when I was seeking them as a young adult and they weren't ready for me, maybe I wouldn't have had additional trauma. Watch out for your children. Talk to them about WHATEVER they need to, and validate their experience. Maybe it will be beautiful. I still believe it can be, I just wasn't prepared for the pain.

Posted by: Adult Adoptee at 11:33am Aug 11

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