What exactly do we say when we contact a long-lost relative for the first time? Is it better to go slowly, in the hopes of establishing further contact? But what if that initial correspondence is the only chance you have to speak to that person? If you’re using a state-based mandatory intermediary like the ones in Illinois, you’ve got one and only one chance to say what you want to say. Should you take that chance, or hedge your bets and potentially let the opportunity slip by?
This was the dilemma I faced during my brief contact with my birth mother. I had been through so much just to get to the point of speaking with her: years of wrangling with attorneys and bureaucracy even to be able to participate in their blighted, benighted intermediary program. And then to be told we were only allowed three letters each… I felt I had no choice but to try to squeeze as much as I could out of that brief chance at contact. Maybe I scared my birth mother off with what I said, although I tried very hard not to be angry or judgmental. But if I hadn’t taken the chance I would have forever lamented not being able to share what I wanted with her while I could. I will always wonder if the reason she denied contact is because of something I said. But what else are we supposed to do? I think sealed records and mandatory intermediaries lead directly to this problem. When you are given a very limited shot at something as important as contacting your own parent or your own child… if there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication there is no second chance. Not very humane, is it? Makes me wish I’d never heard of intermediaries or open records or hell, being adopted. Maybe ignorance IS bliss.
For example, I made the mistake of mentioning that my daughter wants to know about her “other grammy”. I said it that way because my daughter, who is all of five, considers my husband’s mother her “grammy” and so that’s her vocabulary for it. I think it freaked my birth mom out because she wrote back very strongly that my adopted mother is my “real” mother. I tried to explain that it’s just how my daughter verbalized it and that I wasn’t trying to imply anything. But the fact is, my birth mother is the only “real” mother, genetically, that I could have. That also makes her the genetic grandmother of my children. It’s a simple fact of biology, nothing that either of us can do anything about. (She also said I should “make up” with my adopted mother, as if thirty-odd years of emotional abuse could be repaired with a wave of a magic wand. I guess it would be easier for her if I could take my need for a mother and dump it onto someone else but I can’t, not that I’m expecting her to fill that role either. Truth is, in this lifetime I don’t get a mother. Perhaps I don’t deserve one.)
Do the harsh policies of mandatory intermediaries actually hinder reunion rather than help it? Personally I don’t think the state should be in the search-and-reunion business, period. It’s like the tin-can telephone, the message gets distorted the more you pass it through third parties. And all adult adoptees really want is equal access to the records of our birth, not search, not reunion, and certainly not a strict matronly chaperone wagging a finger and telling us our time’s up.
How many times have you said the wrong thing to someone and had them take it in a way you didn’t expect or intend? In the real world you can go to that person and explain, move through the miscommunication. In Adoption La-La Land it’s one strike and you’re out. I submit this is cruel and unusual punishment, the icing on the sealed records cake. First contact, no second chances.