We're not all born writers. Even those who have a knack for putting their thoughts into words may find it difficult to find the "right words" for this particular correspondence... Making initial contact by letter is rarely the "method of choice" for those who are very impatient...or very impulsive...and waiting for a reply can be an agonizing, draining experience...
According to a study conducted during a pilot program which preceded the launch of White Oak (see our Research section for additional details), approximately two-thirds of those who locate their birth relative will choose to initiate contact by letter.
If you have decided to make initial contact by letter, here are a few pros and cons and dos and don'ts:
It's less invasive, for some people, than a phone call...
It gives the person who's been found more control over what happens next...
It allows the person making contact to share a picture with the person who's been located...a picture really is "worth a thousand words" to an adoptee who's never seen other biological relatives...or to a birth parent who has tried very hard to "forget."
It allows the person who's been located to take all the time they need to make a decision regarding contact; in cases where the person located has given little thought to reconnecting with birth family members, it can make the difference between "limited contact" and no contact at all...
It is easy to include supporting documents (adoption decree, other birth and court documents) along with your letter...
If the letter goes unanswered, you always have the option of following up your initial request for contact with a phone call later on...
The U.S. Postal Service does not always provide the world's most reliable delivery service. (To avoid delivery dilemmas, consider sending your letter by priority, certified or restricted mail or via express mail.)
It gives the person initiating contact less control over what happens next...
Making initial contact by letter can lengthen the "reconnection process" by a week or two...or more...
Try to keep your letter simple... outline the information that was available to you and allowed you to locate the birth relative...and briefly state your expectations at this point in your search (e.g. "I'd like to learn more about you/my birth family...and hope we can one day meet")
If you've registered with any national adoption registries, or your state's registry, be sure and include that info in your note, too.
Take your time! Double-check your letter for spelling and grammar mistakes before sending it off...and make sure that all the facts included in your letter are correct (date and place of birth, hospital, if known, etc.)
Don't forget to include a return address both in the letter and on the envelope.
Include a picture (recent or not-so-recent, it's your choice) with your letter. Nothing pulls a birth relative out of denial faster than seeing a picture of their long-lost son, daughter or parent.
If you have any reason to suspect that the person you're writing may not be the object of your search, consider including a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply or to return any pictures you've included with the letter (see our "Outreach" section for more on this option).
Share your letter with someone you trust before sending it off...someone a little less emotionally involved may be able to help you spot "awkward language" or other problems that may actually hinder the reconnection process, rather than help...
Try to validate any possible negative reactions the other person might have to your request for contact (as in "I realize there is a chance you may not be ready or able to pursue contact right now, and that is OK, too.")
Don't panic if there's no reply within a week or two. People go on vacation. People move (and forwarding mail to an old address can take weeks). And some people just take a long time to make up their minds. While most birth parents located through our Outreach Program have responded within three or four weeks, we've known adoptees who have taken as long as a year to get back to a birth family member. It has taken you a long time (probably years) to feel "you're ready" to do this...and it may take the other person just as long to warm up to the idea of meeting you, too.
Don't provide too much background information in your initial letter. There will (hopefully) be plenty of time to share family history later on.
Likewise, keep the number of pictures you send to a minimum...Sending an adoptee an entire family album, with pictures of Auntie Jane and Uncle Bill can be a little overwhelming. Limit pictures in your initial mailing to yourself and other close biological relatives of the person being contacted.
Don't be afraid to sign your letter "with love" or "affectionately"...Just signing your note with your name may seem a little cold and unemotional.
Likewise, going on and on about how painful the adoption/relinquishment was for you...or talking extensively about your current emotional state...may have a negative effect at this stage of the game. Sum up your feelings in a few short sentences (e.g. "I have always felt that a piece of me was missing, and long hoped that we could one day reconnect").
Don't issue an ultimatum! Writing something like "if there's no answer to this letter within a month, you will never hear from me again" is not the best way to go. Try to give the other person as many options as possible...and as much time as they need.
If all goes well--and the person you've located is just as happy to hear from you as you are to have found them--you may soon be ready to move to the final phase of the reconnection process: the Initial Meeting...
If you still have questions about making initial contact by letter, you may find the sample "Dear Birth Mother" and "Dear Adoptee" letters included in our "Outreach"" section to be helpful resources...
And, as always, if you have any questions or concerns, please e-mail us at ILtreesurgeon@aol.com for additional assistance.