Thursday, April 5, 2012

Phone Dialogue for Contacting Family

A phone call between the two primary parties is the best way to make initial contact. If possible, do not have a third party intermediary make the call. As one adoptee put it, “This may be your only chance to hear your mother’s voice.” Although, we have to reassure you, this form of contact is successful 95% of the time, if it happens that you are one of the few where it’s not successful, and you are positive you have the right person, come back to us for suggestions for further follow-up.

Before you make the call, go to a quiet, comfortable spot in your home. Make sure you have no distractions such as TV, radio, other people, children clamoring about, etc. Write out a script of what you want to say. The following is our suggestion; you will want to put it into your own words before you call.

It is much more preferable to call someone’s home, if possible. But, sometimes you have no choice and have to call at work, and, if so, it’s very important to say from the get-go, “I’m sorry to bother you at work, but this is the only number I could find. Is it okay to talk about a personal matter now, or would you prefer to call me later at your convenience?”

Make sure you speak only to the primary party about the reason you are calling, and NEVER reveal to a third party the purpose of your call. If you are calling your mother or father, DO NOT EVER “out” them to anyone else.

Say, “May I speak with Mrs. So-and-so?” If she is not available, give your name and call-back number or ask when is a good time to call back.

If the answering party continues to question why you are calling, say, “I am doing research on the Whatsit family of such-and-such place. I am looking for Mrs. So-and-so, whose maiden name was Whatsit.” If they continue to want to talk, say, “I have to go now. Thank you for your help, and I will look forward to speaking with Mrs. So-and-so at her convenience.”

If you get only an answering machine or voicemail, do not just hang up and call back again and again. Many people screen their calls when they don’t recognize the number on their caller ID. Leave a message: “My name is — and I am calling about the Whatsit family. I’ll try back in a couple of days if I don’t hear from you.”

When you do get the party on the phone, repeat your name and where you are calling from. Ask, “Is this a good time for you to talk about a private family matter?” Make sure the whole family isn’t hovering around or she has visitors. Say, “If it’s not convenient, I can call back at any time you say.”

If she indicates it is okay to speak, begin, “As I said, my name is —. I think we might be related.” She’ll probably ask, “Oh? How?” and you can say “I was born [birth name] on [date] in [city, state].” PAUSE

If you don’t hear a loud gasp or “Oh my goodness!”, say, “Does that mean anything to you?” DO NOT EVER say “I think you’re my mother!” You must let her come to the realization herself, at her own pace, and really “own it.”

If she indicates, yes, she does recognize the name and date of birth, immediately say, “I am so happy to have found you! I am 99% sure we are a match, but there are things we can do to verify it 100%, if you want, such as registering with the state registry, DNA test — whatever you are comfortable with.”

Be sure to reassure her that you do not want to intrude in her life or make her feel uncomfortable, that she might want a few hours or days to think things over, etc. You have the rest of your lives and no need to rush into anything. Just let the conversation flow naturally. Ninety-five percent of the time, the loved one will be happy to hear from you and at least know you are okay.

We have had reactions ranging all the way from, “Oh, yes, I think I am your mother, but I can’t talk to you. My husband and other children don’t know about you.” –to– “Oh my God! I’ve been searching for you for thirty years! Where are you? I’m coming right now!”

Do not begin pressuring her for information, for example, about your father. Let her manage the conversation, both pace and content. If you press for details about your father, she might feel hurt and discarded. Don’t forget, mothers are just as afraid of rejection as adoptees are. ← Memorize that sentence and believe it!

If she indicates that your birth name or date of birth have no meaning for her, ask her leading questions about the facts which led you to her to begin with, i.e., “Is this not Jane Doe Whatsit who was born [date] and lived in [city, state]? Your father was — and you have [sisters, brothers]?” IOW, don’t immediately assume you have the right person but keep her talking.

If she continues to deny knowing anything, back out of the call gracefully. Apologize for disturbing her and say, “Please keep my name and number in case you think of or hear about someone with your name and other identifying information who fits the description of the person I’m looking for.”

Whatever the outcome, positive or negative, follow up the conversation with a note and photo. If positive, “I’m so happy to have found you, and I am excited about the prospect of us getting to know each other better.” If negative, “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I am so disappointed that you are not the person I was searching for. If ever you think you can help me, please get back in touch with me at any time.” Include your Facebook address so she can check you out. Always leave the door open.

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If the call is to the father, the procedure is the same, except you will ask if the name of your mother is familiar to him and your date and place of birth.

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If the call is to a son or daughter, you will say, “I am looking for So-and-So who was born [date] in [city, state] and who was adopted shortly after birth.” If they say they were not adopted, again back out gracefully, but leave your name and number. We’ve actually had adoptees who did not know they were adopted who confirmed it after the mother called and called her back.

Please don’t hesitate to ask us to help. We’re happy to do practice calls with you anytime.

With love,
Your Search Angels

18 comments:

  1. Hi Priscilla,
    I sent you an email earlier today about my initial reunion with my son, and I wonder if I sent it to the right address. Did you get it? If so, you can "publish" it if you want to. If not, I'll try sending it again--with a couple of corrections I discovered when I re-read it. I don't want to have as public a profile as you and the other Search Angels, but I do want to stay connected, so I'm following your blog anonymously.
    I will never be able to express my gratitude to you and Joan Edelman for helping me find David. It is truly a dream come true.--Pam

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    1. Hi, Pam ~~ Sorry, I just saw this message. I don't recall receiving anything from you, so if you will email it to pris_sharp@yahoo.com, I'll be happy to post it.
      Thank you for your kind affirmations.
      Pris

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    2. Priscilla,

      As a free volunteer search angel, with hundreds of reunions under my belt, I respectfully disagree with you regarding on who makes the initial call. It is entirely probable that a third party making the call has a more positive response from birth mothers & other family members.

      It's been my experience that it's easier for someone who is "outside" the adoption to make the first call to spare the seeker rejection. It is obviously up to the seeker who makes the contact, but it's less stressful for someone else to do it. It prepares the way for the connection.

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  2. I cannot express my disagreement vehemently enough; at the same time, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to try. In every single case I have seen where the third party receives a negative response or rejection, the rejected party is left with forever wondering what would have happened if they had made the call themselves, if the response would have been different if the mother, for example, had heard her own son's/daughter's voice making the contact instead of an uninvolved third party. That's something I will never take a chance with.
    Adoption reunion is an intensely personal - and should be private - moment between a mother or father and their son/daughter. I can think of no other emotionally-charged occasion in life where we would even think of using a go-between. Would you send a third party to propose to your girlfriend? An intermediary to tell your family about the death or birth of a loved one? Of course you wouldn't! This is their *family* - their once-in-a-lifetime moment of connection.
    It is my firm rule - I will never intermediate. I have had over 300 reunions in the past four years - more than 95% of them, when they follow my guidelines, are successful and happy. The very few rejections are being followed up on an individual basis. Of those, most have eventually consented to some type of contact or we have found other members of the family (siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) who are happy to share family information. And, finally, I am always ready to help adoptees do genealogy research to learn more about their family history, heritage and medical history.

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  3. I wish I'd seen this before I found my birth parents in November 2011. The initial contact with my birth father was bungled. I wish I'd had your script and made the call myself. I called my birth mother without your script, but with an idea of what to say and it went well.

    Robert Leopard

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  4. Thank you for this. Search Squad on facebook just helped me find my birth mother. I am trying to process all this and give myself time. I will follow your advice. I had thought I would write a letter, but maybe it will be harder to dismiss me if she hears my voice.

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    1. That's wonderful! Yes, the Search Squad on Facebook are doing wonderful things, solving lots of cases. I hope your contact/reunion is positive, welcoming and everything you wished for. Let me know if I can help.

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  5. Any recommendations of what to say in a letter to a birth sibling? Birth mother is deceased, and they may or may not know about the adoptee. Thanks!

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    1. In a phone call or letter, start off by identifying yourself and say, "I am researching the Johnson-Jones Family of Timbucktoo. I believe you are the son/daughter of Mary Sue Johnson whose maiden name was Jones? If so, I have very good evidence to indicate we are closely related...." Hopefully, this will pique their curiosity to hear you out and let you explain. If they need further proof, you can suggest a DNA test [see The Wonderful New World of DNA Family Matching] and recommend that they sign up with the adoption information registry for your state.

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  6. My mother is the adopted child. She made contact through a 3rd party over 20 years ago. A letter was sent in response from the birth mother asking for no further contact, because she never told her husband and children. Since then, I have done a lot of genealogy research on my own. Her next oldest child passed away about 10 years ago and her husband died 8 months ago. I am hoping that since the loss of one of her children and now that her husband could never know, if she may now be open to contact. I actually talk with the birth mother's first cousin (made contact through ancestry.com)and she wonders if she should call in lieu of us. I think now after reading your advice that I should do it ( my mom doesn't feel comfortable calling). What is your advice about contacting the birth mother again?

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    1. Yes, I believe you should attempt to contact again, but it should not be done by a third party, preferably a private phone call from daughter to mother. What has she got to lose? And it may be the only chance she will have of hearing her mother’s voice. Mother may very well have been put off that a stranger was interfering in her personal life. My experience has been 50% failure rate when intermediaries make the first contact. That’s why I do not approve of intermediaries.

      If your mom is rejected again, then there are other things she can consider.
      http://www.womensvoicesmagazine.com/2015/03/01/what-to-do-and-not-do-when-faced-with-family-rejection-or-alienation/

      Let me know if mom would like to chat on the phone to prepare herself.

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  7. I'm an adoptive parent of a 14 year old how is seeking to make contact. I would like to support her in this process. We would rather reach out not instead of waiting until she is 18, do you have thoughts? I would like to make the contact in order to protect her, do you have thoughts on that? Thanks so much for your perspective

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    1. That's commendable of you, and shows your loving concern for your daughter's well-being, peace and happiness. If your experience with the mother and/or agency that placed your daughter leads you to believe she would be receptive to contact, then you should proceed. I hope you have prepared your daughter for all the possible outcomes of contact and reunion. You might consider a couple of counseling sessions with a counselor or psychologist trained in adoption issues. If you don't know of one, I personally recommend Leslie Pate Mackinnon. She is based in Atlanta but offers phone and Skype sessions. http://www.lesliepatemackinnon.com/

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  8. After finding my birth mother, I began sending her messages on Facebook. She never replied though they were being viewed. I had her address and telephone number so I made the phone call and got a machine, left only my name and if she was available to talk to please call. The phone rang back immediately. She asked me what my birthday was, and why I was trying to torture her, hadn't she done right by putting me in a good home? I tried to assure her I'm not the type ow woman who would do something like that, I never thought to look for the family but for medical reasons and I thought so admirable of her for her placing me up for adoption. She said if my father was still alive (passed from Alzheimer 2013)maybe we could have met, but she wants to just die peacefully and be left alone. She explained briefly the conditions surrounding the pregnancy and if I needed medical information, to contact her only. She told me to not contact any about who I am. I have two sisters and a brother. I told her I would not trouble her and apologized and hung up. After a year went by, I reached out again in a message as she didn't block me, and asked for the medical info she said she would provide. She responded with a no more contact and a block. I'm taking a trip next week and I will be in her area where my siblings also live. I'm wanting to go to my siblings and gently pass on the information that I have of who I am, and leave the rest up to God. With little anticipation comes a lesser amount of pain in the end. Any suggestions on the personal approach passing on info, rather than a phone call with my brother?

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    1. Maria ~~ I would not recommend contacting her or your brother just yet, and certainly not showing up at their door. That is not usually a good idea. Have you thought about getting your DNA in the Family Finder databases? Start with Ancestry and, if you want medical information, go for 23andMe. Here are some other ideas in my article on rejection. http://www.womensvoicesmagazine.com/2015/03/01/what-to-do-and-not-do-when-faced-with-family-rejection-or-alienation/

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    2. I just wanted to give an update! I did go ahead with my intuitive thought and met with my brother at his work. I utilized your slow approach and told him I was there with information I believed he should have. I started with small talk, so we were completely comfortable with each other, taking about being from the same home town, and I slowly added the adoption information, and began to hand him the information I was given, and would pause in between each step. He was very surprised and welcomed me, shared pictures with me and told me my mother was not a very happy woman and to just focus on inner peace and that we get to know each other. I am so happy I found him. We are staying in contact and he's encouraging me to see my grandfather who just turned 100 !

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    3. Thank you for getting back to me. I am very happy it turned out well for you. Your approach seems to have been carefully thought out and, by taking it slowly with bits of information, you were able to gauge his receptivity along the way. Some things are meant to be.

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  9. My new book called "Separated Lives" is a true story about the adoption of a baby boy. Years later I take him on a fascinating but uncertain journey to search for his birth parents. It is available from Dorrance Publishing (in Pittsburgh, PA) www.DorranceBookstore.com, Barnes & Noble barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com (ISBN: 978-1-4809-1247-2)
    Author: Lynn Assimacopoulos

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