Q: When my daughter was in her late teens, she asked for my help in locating her birth mother. We sent a letter via our adoption agency, but never heard back. This was tough for my daughter, but she eventually made peace with this. That was five years ago. Yesterday, I got a social media message from the birth mother’s sister. She told me that my daughter’s birth mother passed away nine years ago, and noted that, as far as she knew, my daughter’s birth mom had never expressed interest in searching, but that she (birth aunt) had decided to search on her own. How do I break this news to my daughter? I worry she’ll feel twice as hurt—learning that her birth mother died and she’ll never get to meet her, and that her birth mother never tried to search for her (do I have to reveal both pieces of information at once?).
A: While we hate to disappoint our children, one truth I have seen proven over and over again with adoptees is that it is so much better to know. Even young children are generally able to handle difficult truths better than adults think they will. For adoptees, not knowing is generally more painful than knowing. It is possible that you could let the birth aunt share the additional details, but it will likely benefit your relationship with your daughter the most if you share with her everything you know as early as possible.
I imagine it could sound something like, “Sweetheart, I have some good news for you—I was contacted by your birth mother’s sister who has been searching for you. She was really happy that we were able to connect. The bad news is that the reason we never heard back after sending that letter to your birth mother is because she is no longer living. You can contact your birth aunt by ____. I am sure she will be able to answer lots of questions for you. Would you like me to help you with that or is this something you want to do on your own?”
You wrote that your daughter’s birth aunt had never talked with her sister about searching for your daughter. While it sounds like you were saddened by that information, I don’t think you or your daughter should necessarily take that as a sign that her birth mother never wanted to find her or never thought about her. She may simply have never talked about that with her sister (or perhaps with anyone), even if they were otherwise close.