The "Hello...are you my birth mother/child?" route is not for the faint of heart... Dialing the 7 or 11 digits of a birth relative's phone number for the first time, hearing the ringing at the other end of the line...and waiting for someone to pick up before the answering machine kicks in is as emotionally intense at the phone call in "Dial M for Murder." No matter what happens (unless you get an answering machine and quickly hang up...), this will be a moment that you will probably remember for the rest of your life.
According to research conducted during a pilot program which preceded the launching of White Oak (see our Research section for additional details) in 2000, approximately one third of those who locate their birth relative--and have a choice about it--will opt to make initial contact by phone. Since, according to just about every research study ever conducted on this subject, less than 10% of triad members decline all contact when located by a birth relative, the chances are high that this phone call will go well.
If you have decided to make initial contact by phone (and have been fortunate enough to locate a birth relative whose phone number is not unlisted...), here are a few pros and cons and dos and don'ts for that once-in-a-lifetime call:
It's quick...no waiting for an answer, no wondering for days to find out what the other person's response is...
It gives the person searching total control over initial contact...
Hearing the voice of the other person just might make the difference between "yes" and "not now."
Timing is everything. If the call comes at a bad time or on a bad day, it could delay the reconnection process...sometimes indefinitely.
The person located has very little time to think about their response; a knee-jerk reaction is always possible.
If the call goes poorly, you may find yourself with few avenues to explore in the future...
Set aside two or three hours at a quiet time of day (between 8 and 9 p.m., for example) for this all-important phone call.
Write out a script ahead of time. Questions and answers. "Hi, my name is...." Everything you'll be saying during the first few minutes of the call.
Make sure that all the documents you have pertaining to the adoption are within arm's reach before dialing the number. Write down any known facts that aren't included in your adoption papers and have them handy, too.
Once someone has picked up the line on the other end, be sure you have the right phone number (dialing these 7 or 11 digits can be more difficult than dialing most numbers)
Make sure you have the person you're looking for on the line before moving on to questions pertaining to the birth or adoption.
Once you're certain you have the right person on the line, make sure that this is not a "bad time" for a phone call. If you have the right person, it is probable that they will quickly figure out who you are and why you are calling...If you hear panic in the other person's voice, make sure that it's not because they're in the middle of hosting the monthly D.A.R. meeting.
Ask the birth relative to write down your phone number before you begin asking any questions... Should the call end abruptly for any reason, they will then have the option of calling you back.
Start out with "yes" and "no" questions. An adoptee might begin by asking the birth relative if the date of their birth has any special significance for the birth mother, father or sibling...a birth parent might start out by explaining that on a particular day in a particular place they (or their wife or girlfriend) gave birth to a male/female child...Unless you have the wrong person, at some point in your monologue, the object of the search will probably start filling in the blanks.
Don't panic if the person starts asking questions like, "Who is this?" "What do you want?" Questions of this nature usually indicate that you've found the right person...and are not unusual in this era of telemarketing blitzes...Calmly repeat your name and explain that you're trying to locate an old family friend...
Don't lose your cool if the person denies being the object of your search...It's always possible that you do have the wrong person. It's also very possible that you don't (!). In either case, stay calm...and accept their denial politely (if the call ends cordially, you may be able to initiate contact via the White Oak Outreach Program later on...)
Try to avoid ending the conversation on a bridge-burning note. However the call goes, try to leave yourself an opening for future contact.
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 in the reconnection process: the Initial Meeting...