Blocked: An Adoptee’s Facebook Search Yields Much Information, But Little Comfort

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There’s little excitement in sitting at a computer, but on one warm weekday afternoon in June 2013 it was nail-bitingly dramatic. I was at my home office desk, out of work early from a crappy temp job, and a little scared. There she was on the screen, on Facebook—my birth mother, Diane. And there I was, staring stupidly at a blank “New Message” box trying to figure out what I wanted to say.

That wasn’t the first time I tried to contact her. It was more like the fourth. Since 2007, I’d written a letter, called her house, and even asked the case worker who had handled my adoption in 1982, to write a letter. I had hoped that communicating via a third-party might somehow do the trick. 

But each time, my efforts were met with silence. In my first letter to her, I dumped out decades of emotional baggage. “Dear Diane, I think I might be your son,” I had written. 

Years later, a therapist suggested, for a variety of reasons, that I be slightly more circumspect in my attempts; “hint at a family connection,” she had told me. “Be light, be casual, be vague—in case of inquisitive spouses.”

That’s what went wrong with the letter; I must have scared her off. And the phone call—had she received the message or had her husband heard it? But reaching out directly to her on Facebook? Maybe this could work. 

Play it cool. That was my mantra—just say that you think you might be related and that you want to talk with her, nothing too heavy, nothing too emotional.

If you could’ve seen me that day, you’d think I had dressed for playing it cool. Khaki shorts, a white button-down shirt, sandals, and the beginning of a summer tan—I looked ready for a backyard barbecue. But trust me when I say that, in that moment, no one had ever worked harder at casually dashing off a Facebook message.

“Dear Diane, I am doing some genealogy research and I think we might have a family connection…” I listed my birth date and the name of the hospital where I was born. “I’d really love to talk. Please contact me.” I clicked “Send” before I could have second thoughts, then left to meet my girlfriend for coffee. 

I’d hoped it was the last message like that I’d have to send—that this time, she’d reply, and acknowledge me in some way. 

I started searching for her in 2005, the same year that Facebook opened up its network to the non-collegiate public and the same year my home state, New Hampshire, became one of the first states to reopen access to original birth certificates, which is how I learned her name. 

The digital landscape of the early 2000s is almost unimaginable now. There were no smartphones and maybe only a half-dozen social networks. Our lives were still largely analog, and that’s how my search started, with snail mail and phone calls and copy machines. 

Up until then, all I knew, thanks to my adoptive parents Vic and Sue, was that I had been adopted through New Hampshire Catholic Charities when I was three months old, that my birth mother had been in college somewhere in the state when I was born, and that her sister may have been allergic to bees.

I remember childhood summers, the sun bright and hot, and my mother dutifully shooing me away from any spot that might attract bees. At ice cream stands, you could hear my mother through the din of customers: “Larry, get away from that garbage can. There are bees all around it! You don’t want to get stung! What if you have an allergic reaction?!” We weren’t what you’d call a very outdoorsy family.

Her warnings worked. I avoided being stung until I was 21, when I ran afoul of a bee while repainting an old barn. As a spot on the back of my right hand swelled, I sat down and calmly waited for certain death. Nothing happened, though, and after 20 minutes, satisfied that I wasn’t going into the throes of anaphylactic shock, I cracked open a can of soda and resumed painting. 

My search has been a lot like that bee sting, a string of accidental revelations. I caught a break in 2007 when I found Diane in a state university alumni directory.

On a humid Saturday morning in July of that year, I sat in the university library with Diane’s college yearbook open in front of me, looking at her picture for the first time. It was the first time I’d ever seen anyone who looked like me. Her smile tipped me off. It’s my smile, too—one that unfolds from our lips to reach a crescendo in our cheeks—a smile that lingers in the eyes. 

Another lucky break and a little detective work yielded her married name and address. I learned that she still lived in New Hampshire, a two-hour drive from my home on the seacoast. 

That was when I wrote my first letter. Two carefully printed and handwritten pages on a yellow legal pad, telling Diane about my life and how I would like to get to know her. She never responded. 

In 2011, in a fit of daring, I called and left a message on her home phone. She never replied. 

While the analog portion of my search for information proved fruitless, the digital side was greatly successful. 

Thanks to the internet, I cobbled together a sketch of my birth mother’s life, and my biological family, through a series of late-night Google searches. 

I learned about Diane’s three kids, her husband, and the church they attended. I read letters she had written to the local newspaper and found articles about her kids, their victories with local sports teams and spelling bee wins. An obituary for my great-grandmother yielded the names of cousins, aunts, uncles, and a legion of relatives I’d never even considered.

The clincher was a photo from Diane’s local newspaper of her and her children posing with a representative of a local charity. For their latest birthday, her twins donated their gifts to a children’s charity. Diane and the kids looked as though they’d just returned from soccer practice, or maybe from a family hike—glowing, beaming, full of life.

By the summer of 2013, I’d found my biological aunt—the one with the apocryphal bee allergy—on Facebook. And through my aunt, I had also found Diane. Her profile indicated that she’d joined a few months earlier. 

Diane’s profile added more to my sketch: she had a dog and ran in 5Ks along with the rest of the family. There were no pictures of her, just her kids, my half-siblings. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be part of that family, running together with them— unconcerned of errant bees. 

After sending that Facebook message to Diane, thoughts of a potential reply in my inbox consumed me during the coffee date with my girlfriend. I rushed to my computer as soon as I returned home and logged in to Facebook. My wall was empty. I scanned through my messages and saw it: Blocked. Diane had blocked me.

After eight years and many attempts to contact her, Diane had finally acknowledged me. It was that first bee sting all over again. A moment of pain, followed by nothing at all.

Today, I’ve got a folder full of digital artifacts, articles, photos, and familial facts, though I still feel little comfort. 

Is it better to know something about Diane and her family—my family—than nothing at all? Is any acknowledgement, even if it’s a passive rejection over Facebook, preferable to those unanswered letters and phone calls? 

It’s been a year since I sent that Facebook message. I’m still not sure which I prefer. I think, now and then, of writing another letter, of calling her one more time. I wonder if I can face a fifth or sixth rejection, and I wonder if that’s a reasonable price to pay for potentially knowing my mother. 

Each time I log on to Facebook, I hope Diane will have returned my message. When I get my mail, I hope that mixed in with all the bills and catalogs, I will find a letter from her. Mostly, I hope that one day soon, she’ll make the next move. 

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About the author

Larry Clow

Larry Clow

Twitter Website

Larry Clow is a writer and editor based in the New Hampshire Seacoast. He's working on his first book, "People You May Know," about how the internet and social media have changed adoption.

20 Responses

  1. Kimberly

    I’m so sorry! I’m a first mother who has been in reunion with my son for almost 4 yrs (he’s 23). I feel your pain as I now have been “blocked” from his FB and life since Jan. His adoptive mother has experienced enormous jealousy and insecurity about our relationship. I guess since he still lives at home with them, the pressure was too much. I was sent a message on FB by his A-mom stating he never wants to see or talk to me again. (A-mom and I haven’t seen each other in 24 yrs… She hasn’t wanted to meet me, but did email.) Ahhhhhh, the continued trials and tribulations of adoption. (He has sent me 2 letters since then, but otherwise I’m erased from his life.)
    I pray your first mother changes her mind. She’s missing out on a very special and healing relationship!

    Reply
  2. Yan

    Blocked is harsh. A response that acknowledged your existence and asked for no contact would be painful, but more humane.

    No one “owes” us anything as adoptees, no, but I don’t understand the lack of understanding on the part of some birth parents that we want to know, need to know, where we’ve come from. Even on the side of the family that rejected me, I got a bit of information and a brief contact first. It wasn’t that satisfying, but it did satisfy the bare minimum that I needed to make some peace with my own history.

    Holding out hope for you, Larry.

    Reply
    • Larry

      Thanks for the kind words, Yan. I agree–no one “owes” adoptees, or anyone, anything. But simple acknowledgement goes a long, long way.

      Reply
  3. Andrea Lea Olmanson

    Larry, you have my utmost sympathy. My uncle pulled the same crap when his kid (my first cousin) found our family back in 2010. At least my mother (my cousin’s bio aunt) and father, and my siblings and me, are in close contact with him (the heck with the rest of the family; nobody is going to tell us who we can and cannot be friends with).

    I also have another cousin– more distant– that I met on 23andMe. He had his genome mapped thru 23andMe, ancestrydna, and FTDNA. He also had his Y chromosome done through FTDNA, which is essential for a genetic birthparent search if you are a guy. I spent hundreds of hours on it, but I did manage to ID his birth father. As it turns out, his birth father and I are 8th cousins (with our most common ancestor being Marx Graff, born 1640). Unfortunately, the bio father is ignoring him, like if you ignore your problems they’ll go away. What’s even worse is that the bio father claims not to remember anything (and therefore we can’t get bio mom’s name from him). I’ve offered to pay for bio dad’s DNA testing so that we could run triangulations on FTDNA so that we can focus on autosomal matches unrelated to the paternal side, but the bio dad has ignored my offers to pay for this.

    If you want to know who your bio father is, I would gladly donate a little time once you have your DNA mapped (and like I say, the Y chromosome is essential).

    Ironically, if a person is male, it’s a lot easier to use DNA to ID the bio father than it is to use DNA to ID the bio mother. Slowly I’m getting there, but I’ve got hundreds of hours into this and it’s slow going.

    Reply
  4. Karen Goldner

    Larry,

    My heart sank for you when you wrote the word “blocked.” Heartbreaking. I feel so outraged when I hear stories like yours. Who decided that parents (both natural and adoptive) get to have all the control over our lives? Even now as adults, who said they get to control whether or not we meet, or even have access to our very own identity? We never agreed to any of this.
    I think I understand the fear a natural parent must have about communicating with a child they relinquished, but come on. Have some compassion. We are human beings, not puppies. Deal with your fear. We had to. You certainly have had to deal with yours. Every single time you reached out to her must have been terrifying.
    I just sent my natural mom a letter for the first time in about 10 years, (we met in 1988, but have not had contact for some time.) I don’t expect to hear from her, but it felt really good to get some things off my chest.
    I think your natural mom is a chicken. And I think you are very brave. And you are not alone.

    With warm support,

    Karen

    Reply
    • Larry

      Thanks, Karen! Good luck with your letter–I hope you receive some kind of response. It’s good to know there’s many folks like us out there routinely taking such brave leaps.

      Reply
  5. Kate C

    Blocked. Wow, that is incredibly sad and sounds so hurtful. Would be so great if these mom’s weren’t so scared or caught in their own feelings and had a least a bit of kindness or generosity toward their own children. Really sorry this is happening to you. Such a loss.

    Reply
    • Larry

      Thanks, Kate. While it’s painful, I do, in a way, understand where Diane’s coming from. Hopefully, things will change.

      Reply
  6. Mary Wolfe

    Larry, At least you know something now, and your heritage. I haven’t got that far yet. My mother would be 97 now – I’d at least like to see a picture. So sorry she has rejected you. Fear and blocking of emotional pain from certain times causes people to build walls.
    Keep hoping, but don’t push as it could bite you – badly. Have a wonderful future.

    Reply
  7. Elle

    Larry, I understand the trepidation in reaching out through Facebook. I don’t, because I am afraid my half-siblings will block me, and then I will have nothing. No window into their world, which I now peer through like a stalker.

    I hope your b-mother has a cosmic wake-up call, and reaches out to you.

    Elle

    Reply
    • Larry

      Thanks Elle! The social media world is difficult to navigate for everyone, but especially for adoptees. I hope your siblings likewise have a cosmic wake up call and reach out to you!

      Reply
  8. Kimberly Saxen

    Larry — I am in that same boat. It often feels like a sinking ship doesn’t it? Logging on, seeing the little red number in the message box and praying, hoping against hope, that it’s her! I got that little red number once. The response was something along the lines of “I have no idea what in God’s name you are talking about and i can not help you.” I keep waiting and looking hoping that she’ll change her mind. Maybe, one day, Maybe we’ll get the message we are waiting for. I hope so! Wishing you much luck, support, and strength!
    Kim

    Reply
  9. Paige Adams Strickland

    Larry, I do hope it works out for you! It’s prob the last thing she was ever expecting, and was told back in the day that no one would ever have access to records.
    Well, things change.
    I hope she does too.
    Paige

    Reply

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