Thursday, April 23, 2009

Preparing Yourself For Your First Contact

I want to take a few minutes to talk about the importance of initial contact between YOU (whether you are a birth parent or an adoptee) and the person you seek. This initial contact can be critical and can make all the difference in the world; it can facilitate a wonderful reunion or it can do more damage than most of you realize.

I write this because I have been doing what I'll call "damage control" for the last week with two unrelated individuals. I am not going to name names because confidentiality is important and even though one person did the damage in both cases, the truth is, the possibility of the 3rd party initial contacts doing more harm than good always exists. Everyone searching needs to be keenly aware of this and needs to be exceptionally careful in selecting who makes those initial contacts if you cannot do it yourself which is clearly the best possible option.

When we are searching, we get in an extremely focused mode where all of our energy is poured into the search. In this searching mode, this gathering of information mode we leave no stone unturned and visually I liken it to finding an old trunk in an attic. Very often, we open the trunk and begin to tear through its contents with this deep seated longing to find that one important thing that we "just know is in there." In our search mode we come upon many trunks, often getting to the very bottom and finding nothing.

One day, at the bottom of one of those trunks there is going to be what you are looking for and the minute you see it, the minute you find it, I can only hope that your entire attitude and frame of reference will change; that you will step back in awe as if a radiant glow surrounded this long sought-out treasure and that you will touch it as gently as you would pick up the most delicate and fragile of items, knowing that if you don't handle it with great care it may crumble to dust in your hands.

It's time to stop; time to step back; time to take a good look what you have found and try to imagine and plan how you can best lift it from the bottom of the trunk and hold it close to your heart without doing any damage. You do not know the pain, the shame and the anguish that was sealed in that trunk and the damage it may have done to the one you have just found. The search is over; now you must do whatever it takes for you to get out of search mode and this is rarely done overnight. This requires a new type of energy, one that is much more tender and gentle.

Please don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Yes, the outrage is about YOU (if you are an adoptee) and about all adoptees as a group in our society but the moment you find you need to redirect any outrage you may feel. It is now not only about you, but also about the person you found and anyone else that may occupy space in their heart.

There are CIs (Confidential Intermediaries) out there who (in some states) must make the initial contact -- part of the reason I am opposed to using CIs. There are also search angels who thrive on making the initial contact for a variety of reasons. They may be conducting your research for you for free or a small fee; they may like having control of the situation; they may be someone who has nothing else going on in their life and this "find" and the control of this "find" makes them feel important and needed. The reasons, which I don't have time to analyze, really do not matter; please beware of any "search angel or better stated search person" who is hesitant to give you the information so that you can make the initial contact on your own.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with working with a search angel who will work with you until you are comfortable enough to make the first contact yourself.

It's time for you to gather and hold on to every ounce of patience you can. Making an initial contact that is not immediately glorious does NOT mean you have failed. If you do not get an immediate response, let it sit a spell -- years have likely passed and another week, while it will seem like forever, isn't going to hurt. You are about to make an emotional revelation to the one you have found; it will bring up feelings in that person that perhaps they never knew existed.

If you find yourself coming up short in the patience department, it does NOT mean you need to let someone else step in and take over. If you have made an attempt to make contact and a response was not immediate, you may hear something like,

"Let me call and talk to her. I am closer to her in age and she will be able to relate to me."

If you haven't waited a reasonable amount of time, another phone call or email from someone else may put entirely too much pressure on the treasure you just found. It will help you to remember how fragile the entire situation may do not know this person, you do not know what is going on in their life, you do not know what they are capable of dealing with -- in fact, you know nothing except that you found them and you want to talk to them.

In the past week, I have worked with one birth mother who was given very poor advice from a search angel (no one I know personally I'm proud to say). This birth mother was advised to send four emails, she was advised to have the half sibling send two messages within a few days. When that didn't work, the search angel (and I really would like to use another word here) suggested that she talk to the adoptee. In
desperation, the birth mother gave her permission which resulted in hourly phone calls at the adoptee's work place and her home. Final result -- 19 contacts in one weeks time to one young woman who was not prepared to deal with any of this and who needed the time to let it all sink in. Every contact pushed her further and further away.

I also worked with one adoptee this week who was given similar advice from the same search angel. The birth mother was initially contacted by a CI five years ago.

This happens to be one birth mother who was promised confidentiality...a rare thing but I believe it in this case. For five years, this woman lived in constant fear that her husband and her children would find out. Once the CI was out of the picture, the adoptee contacted her birth mother several times as she was instructed to do. When the birth mother tried to explain why she couldn't have contact with her, the adoptee was advised to be persistent and to begin to search for the birth father as well. Unfortunately, searching for the birth father in a small town of about 1,000 people resulted in further exposing the birth mother. The adoptee was encouraged to continue to pursue her search for her father and further convinced to allow the search angel to again contact the mother.

I'm going to be very specific here because if you should ever hear this type of question from someone who is about to call your birth mother -- forbid her to make the call! The search angel, in a casual conversation, asked the adoptee,

"Would you contact your half-siblings in the event of the death of the birth mother?"

The adoptee answered that she would. Sadly, that answer translated into the search angel threatening the birth mother by telling her that everyone would know upon her death.

When the threat from the search angel didn't get the expected and hoped for result, the search angel advised the adoptee to call the birth mother's sister. Folks...this is breaking a cardinal rule.

The birth mother's sister knew nothing about the pregnancy, resulting birth and adoption as she is older and was away at college at the time. However, the sister was willing to talk to the adoptee and explain that her birth mother is married to a very prominent figure in the community who also happens to be a very controlling man.

As a crisis intervention specialist, this is where things were when I entered the picture. Damage control doesn't even begin to describe what needed to be done here, and please don't misunderstand me, I am NOT patting myself on the back. The message I am trying to convey is that it is NOT all about you anymore. Others, their lives, the persons in their lives and in fact, their very safety may come into play.

Be ready and willing to respect and honor the person you find regardless of the fears and short-comings they possess. Be ready to be patient and caring. Prepare yourself to make the initial contact on your own with all the help from true angels that you can get. Be prepared to understand that while your actual search may be over, your wait may not be.

Beware of anyone who wants to make that contact for you -- you have no guarantee as to what they will say or the tone of voice they will use. And know that that contact may be the only contact so if you come away with nothing more than having heard your mother's voice, that's something worth cherishing.

Damage control isn't always successful. I'm happy to report that in the case of the birth mother it appears that it was. She has warm and caring email communication going on with her daughter.

In the case of the adoptee, she is meeting her birth mother this week. The birth mother, who by now is visibly trembling most of the time, cannot eat and keep anything down and cannot sleep, along with her sister, agreed to meet the adoptee if the adoptee would agree to cease her search for her birth father. The birth mother had to wait for her husband to be away and had to sneak to another city to have this meeting.

It's about genuine unconditional love, respect and honor. If you don't truly feel those things in your heart once you find, hold off on making contact until you are better prepared to deal with every possible scenario.

One further thought: If you have a successful conversation with your birth mother, please take the time to get to know her before asking about your birth father. Often this makes a birth mother feel as though finding her is not enough and initially she needs to be enough because she likely went through it all alone.