How to Approach a Birth Family Member You’ve Just Found

I am considered by my family to be careless and impetuous at times.

I agree with this assessment. I am one who “throws caution to the wind.” A LOT. Especially in fragile circumstances. Such as finding my birth family through Classmates.com and barreling headfirst into finding their contact info and immediately reaching out to them.

Now, if you are an adoptee searching for birth family, I would certainly encourage you to seek out contact information for your biological relative(s) once you figure out who they are. But after you’ve retrieved the contact information, I wouldn’t recommend following my lead.

See, once I found out who my birth mom was (there she was, pictured in a 1958 Bogota High School Yearbook), I Googled her name, I looked her up on 411.com, and I wrote down the information presented in front of me. I actually took it a step further and Googled addresses and phone numbers for every person in the United States with my birth mom’s last name. I immediately sent letters to every address. (Oddly enough, one of the only ones that came back was my own birth mom’s.)

But don’t do as I did. I recommend that after you’ve found actual contact information, put the information aside. For AT LEAST 24 hours. Your brain and your emotions need to take a break. I know this seems impossible. Why stop, right? Just dial the phone number, send out a letter, write that email, friend that person on Facebook . . . it’s so easy!

I am telling you to stop after you get the information because you need to allow time for the address, the phone number, the photo—whatever you’ve found—to become real to you. It has been a fantasy up until this point. Now, it is a reality.

I didn’t give my brain a chance to process what I had just unearthed. I wrote a letter, made many copies, and sent them off. I dialed the phone number I had found for my birth mom immediately upon discovering it. I had no idea what I would say. I did not stop and think, “HOW IS MY BIRTH MOM GOING TO REACT? THIS IS GOING TO CATCH HER WAY OFF-GUARD!” I was selfish. I was excited, but looking back, I was selfish. I was only thinking about my own desires in this situation.

When you find out who your birth family member(s) are, let yourself realize that you contacting them is going to be an absolute shock to them in more ways than one. What I would do if I had it to do over again is anticipate possible reactions or questions they might have. I would also type or write up the questions I might want to ask.

While you sit on this information, I encourage you to talk to other adoptees and birth family members about how to proceed in making contact. (There are lots of online support groups that can get you in touch with others who have walked similar roads.)

A few days after I sent out my letters, I received a phone call from my birth mom’s brother. He was wary on the phone. He didn’t know who I was because I purposely had left out that I was his niece, but rather stated simply that I was a relative wanting to make contact. I think this was actually a good idea on my part. This way, it left the ball in his court. If people receiving a letter from you want to know how you are related, they can ask the question. So, in approaching birth family members, do what you can to give them control over the contact. 

And now I will leave you readers with this general piece of advice:

When approaching birth family member (s): PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

You are not just talking to a new acquaintance who may become a good buddy. You are talking to people who share your DNA but may have no idea they do. So please, go ahead and make connections with family members, but tread lightly. You are dealing with fragile hearts and souls.

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