Writer and broadcaster

I want to make contact with my biological family. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I was adopted at six weeks in 1962. About 16 years ago, when I had two small children, I decided to trace my birth mother. I made contact with her via an intermediary (Norcap, which no longer exists). The rather unexpected response was a solicitor’s letter requesting no further contact.

This was a blow and I have often mused on her reasons. From my adoption file, she clearly found it difficult to give me up, keeping in touch up to my first birthday when she was allowed a final photo. She later got married and had two daughters. Maybe she never told her husband or family about me. Maybe she buried the memory, finding it too painful.

Two adopted friends have found their birth mothers recently and have positive relationships with their half-sisters. I therefore set about finding mine on social media, and succeeded. What do I do now? I would love to contact them – one can’t help but be curious having grown up without blood relatives. But I also appreciate that I must tread carefully. I will, in all probability, be outing my birth mother, which could cause serious problems with her husband and daughters.

However, in today’s open climate, I don’t imagine that two women in their mid-30s would be overly shocked to find out that their mother had a child earlier on. I imagine they would at least be intrigued, maybe even pleased.

Also, I feel that my birth mother (now 74) can’t just deny my existence. She gave birth to me and therefore has some moral responsibility to acknowledge me. Surely it’s better for the truth to come out.

I never saw the solicitors’ letter so I don’t know if the request applied also to her family. Would this letter have any legal standing? I’m concerned about going against my birth mother’s wishes, but the urge to contact my half-sisters feels stronger.

I would, of course, love to meet my birth mother too – the ongoing problems brought about by separation at birth (which Nancy Newton Verrier so wonderfully explores in The Primal Wound) are something I have had to learn to live with – but I’m not holding my breath.

You sound very switched on and attuned to everyone’s feelings. I think it’s entirely normal and natural for you to want to make contact with your half-sisters and maybe try again with your birth mother. But equally, you know you need to proceed with caution, not just because of what others may or may not want, but in order to protect yourself.

The letter you received has no legal standing, so there is nothing to stop you contacting whom you want.

I consulted two people: Julia Feast of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (baaf.org.uk) and Sara Barratt, a family psychotherapist at the Tavistock clinic in London, who works extensively in this field.

Feast thinks that 16 years is a long time: “Things may have changed [for your birth mother]”. She advises contacting the adoption agency that placed you for adoption or the adoption team at the local authority where you live, and to ask to see an adoption support worker to talk through your options. If you did decide to make contact then to do so through an intermediary would provide a buffer for everyone involved.

My worry is that the sisters may act out of shock and you may take that as them not wanting to have anything to do with you.

If you wanted to talk things through with someone, you could also ring the BAAF anonymously for advice and support on 020-3597 6116.

Also good for information and support is adoptionsearchreunion.org.uk.

“In my experience,” says Barratt, “people who put a child up for adoption and then have a new family can put it in a box and try to block it out. But they can also have a change of heart.”

You astutely hinted at this in your letter to me, wondering if your birth mother may have tried to block it out. This doesn’t mean your mother has had a change of heart – we just don’t know. My worry for you is that adopted children may see rejection in many things because they can be attuned to rejection. So only you can decide if it’s worth the risk, but the cost of not taking the risk is, as Barratt says, that, “You may always regret it.” She also advises using an intermediary if you decide to make contact and also seeking therapeutic help for yourself (aft.org.uk).

You have to think about what you want to achieve here, how realistic it is, and the impact not just on your half-sisters and birth mother but your own family. I’d be interested to hear about other readers’ experiences.


First published in The Guardian Family on 28 February 2014.