Q: We send letters to our seven-year-old son’s birth mother once a year through our agency. We wanted to wait until he was older to include him in the correspondence, but we have recently learned that she has cancer. How do we tell him this, and how should we open up contact?
A: I’m assuming you have already discussed adoption with your son and shared some information about his birth mother. (It’s never a good idea to save information about the birth family for the teen years, with the assumption he will “understand more” at that age.) Having your son write her a letter is a good way to initiate direct contact. Share concrete information — her name, photos — and encourage him to tell her about his interests and achievements. If you decide to move on to a face-to-face meeting, I suggest asking your agency to facilitate it, since they’ve been involved in your contact thus far.
In your case, it is important to take this step toward greater openness now. Be honest with your son about his birth mother’s illness. There are many children’s books and other resources that can help you talk with your son about cancer. Yes, there will be sadness, but your son will benefit from having a “real person” to connect with the word “birth mother.” I have spoken with countless adult adoptees who regret not having a chance to meet their birth mother because she was deceased by the time they searched. You have an opportunity to prevent this far greater sadness for your son.