At age 22, I will be meeting my sister for the first time, but I have no idea what to expect.

I’ve always known I had a sister. She wasn’t a topic of conversation in my household, but whenever I had questions about her, my mother or grandmother would answer.

What I do know is:

  • She’s five years older than me
  • Like me, she lives in Calgary
  • My mother gave her up for adoption at 16, because she was too young

That’s it. I know nothing more.

I’ve only recently considered reaching out to my sister. My grandmother gave me the idea. My mother’s mother asked me to reach out so that she could have a connection as well.

My grandmother knew her name. I decided to message her through Facebook. But what to say?

Do I go all professional and formal? Do I write in an easy, breezy tone? Do I take my time before I mention we’re sisters? Or do I bluntly come right out with it and say, “We’re sisters!?”

I froze. I had no idea what to do because I didn’t know what to expect.

I decided I needed to find an expert in this field. Peter Choate, a social work practicum director at Mount Royal University, was who I turned to.

“You’re always working with the assumption that the other person shares the desire to connect,” says Choate.

“Assumption number two is that they know you exist,” he says.

“So let’s email, let’s text somebody on Facebook and say, ‘Oh, by the way I’m here,’ is probably one of the riskier methods of doing it because it doesn’t address these assumptions.”

Hearing that, Facebook was out of the question. I needed more time to think about the questions that never occurred to me.

Is this something I want to do?

Initially, reaching out to my sister wasn’t my idea, it was my grandmother’s. She asked me to do it and I said yes.  That is a huge task to place on my shoulders. I didn’t know if I was even ready to meet her, but I had already said yes to my grandmother and I didn’t want to disappoint her.

“Just because one family member wants to meet [with your sister], doesn’t mean you have to meet them too,” reminds Choate.

“You have to think about and consider your own boundaries.”

So I took more time.

Was meeting my sister something I really wanted to do? If it was then I would be doing this for me and only me.

I’ve always known about my sister. She has always had a place in the back of my head, just sitting there, making me think about her. I came to realize that I want to know her. I want to know what she’s like, who she is and all the other things that come with meeting my sister for the first time.

I want to connect with her for myself, but there’s more to consider.

Is my family prepared?

Once I reach out, it’s not just me being affected, nor just my sister.

“Whenever we talk about connection, we’re talking about the person seeking, the person being sought, but we’re equally talking about the ecological realities of both sides,” says Choate.

Many people could be affected: our closest relatives, mother, father and grandparents may become involved in this reunion. I need to prepare my family for what is about to happen.

I need to believe that even though I am an adult and my sister is an adult, preparing all of these relatives is the right thing to do.

“There is fairness in being able to say to people: ‘I am engaged in searching for my sibling, I think I may have found my sibling,’” says Choate. “Rather than the siblings meet and show up to one of the family’s homes and say, ‘Well look who found each other,’ and the family has no preparation, and that’s on both sides.”

Am I prepared?

What happens after I reach out to my sister and she doesn’t want to reciprocate the connection? What should I do then?

“If one side isn’t interested, respect that. Absolutely respect it,” says Choate.

“And then the seeker has to do some emotional work around that because that can feel like rejection.”

How do I accept that rejection?

“The closure of that is — can be, ‘I remain interested in meeting you and if you change your mind at some point in the future my interest would still be there.’”

Suddenly throwing a new sibling into your life is complicated and unexpected. It’s not the easiest thing to adjust to because even though I know about her, she may not know about me, and that complicates the reunion.

What do I have to do to make sure she wants to be a part of my life?

“It has to have something in it for both people, that is emotionally powerful and emotionally important,” says Choate. “So that’s also something that people have to prepare for.”

Will we click?

I am calling this woman my sister. She is my biological sister, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she is my sister.

“You are at some level meeting somebody who is connected with you, and you’re meeting someone who is a stranger to you,” says Choate.

“Lets say your sister turns out to be engaged in a lifestyle that is really contrary to who you are. Is meeting her going to be a good thing for you? That’s a question you have got to sit back and be able to be open to.”

Once again, this is another question that didn’t occur to me. What happens if we don’t form a bond and remain strangers?

I need to face the reality that the process of meeting my adopted sibling for the first time includes many aspects that need to be considered.

“You got all these sort of cascading things that arise from doing this,” says Choate.

Do I rush in?

Once I’ve gone through all the steps of planning, when do I meet her?

Choate explains I shouldn’t rush to meet face-to-face, and we should take some time to explore who we are.

“You are your lived experiences, you are your relationships, you are the values that you’ve grown up with, you are experiences that have molded who you are today. What you have in common to start with is DNA,” says Choate.

Where can I turn to for support?

It’s hard trying to figure out how to handle all these questions and tasks on my own.

Calgary has many adoption agencies, counselors, workshops, groups and books to help make it slightly easier.

What Choate says to do is, “If you can find somebody else who has been through the process you’re in, that’s a really good thing,” which is exactly what I did.

I recently learned that the wife of a family friend was in a similar situation. She had a sister who she first met when they were both in their twenties. I caught up with the pair, now in their forties, to understand what they went through.

Two strangers become sisters

IMG 2508 bodyLena (left) went from being the youngest sibling of her family to the older sister of Christie (right). Photo courtesy of Christie Warren.

Christie Warren and Lena Sybulka are sisters that were separated by adoption then met in their twenties in 2001.

Lena was given up for adoption by her biological mother. Two years later, Christie was born to the same mother. They grew up separately, not knowing of each other, living their own lives.

Christie grew up in Calgary in a household with two older step-brothers and two younger brothers. Lena grew up in Saint Albert with two older brothers.

Each one always wanting a sister.

One day, Christie’s mother told her she had given up a daughter for adoption, and Christie had a half-sister.

Christie was shocked, for over twenty years she had never known she had a sister. Christie’s mother was now at the stage where she wanted to search and see if she could find her adopted daughter.

Christie was on board.

“I knew I wanted to meet her, and I didn’t really think about the whole dynamic of it. I just knew I had to meet her,” says Christie.  

“Even though she’s not the stereotypical type of sister you have in your brain. I at least know who she is, and where she is and how her life was.”

Christie’s mother had gotten a private investigator to search for Lena. The following day, they found her.

“They approached her on our behalf, cause you don’t want to freak someone out by knocking on their door. You don’t know what they’re doing in their life too,” says Christie.

Meanwhile in Saint Albert, Lena’s experience was somewhat different.

“The letter that I got from the agency was kind of confusing cause the first statement was talking about the year or date that adoption papers could be opened. Why are they telling me this?” says Lena. “And then, the next sentence was just, your birth mother would like contact with you, and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”

Lena always knew she was adopted, but receiving this letter still shocked her.

“When I was younger I just wanted to see her, [my mother], be in a restaurant and have someone point her out and say that’s her,” says Lena. “I wanted to see what she looked like, but I wasn’t really ready to have contact.”

Contacting her biological mother wasn’t an easy process. Lena felt pressured to contact.

“[The private investigators] were like, ‘Don’t you want to get to know her and talk to her?’ And I was like, ‘Um yes, but let me process this first. I need to kind of get more information,’” says Lena.

July long weekend — that was when she planned on contacting her biological mother.

Plans changed however, and Lena gave birth to her first child, Madison, that weekend.

Instead of Lena calling her biological mother, her adoptive mother made the phone call and it went well.

Lena, her mother and her daughter decided to drive from Saint Albert to Calgary a couple months later.   

In September of 2001, Christie and Lena met for the first time.

IMG 2503 bodyLena (left) says there will always be ‘what if’s’ when meeting your adopted sibling for the first time. She stands beside her biological sister Christie (right). Photo courtesy of Christie Warren.

“It was scary, cause you don’t really know, you dont know them, you don’t know what type of people they are.”

Christie waited at her house patiently.

“You’re so nervous, how could you not be? You tell yourself ‘I’m going to be fine,’ but really you think there is this person coming over and she’s my sister. I could hug her and cry all over her and just be a goof and be a blubber and mess up,” says Christie.

It was an emotional time for the both of them. Lena and Christie held each other deeply and cried. The connection for the two happened right away, they knew they would get along with each other.

“We just seemed to really click right away,” says Lena    

“They made me feel comfortable and it was easy. I think cause I just had Madison and Christie was pregnant with Kristen, we had so much in common.”

Christie says,“We talked a lot on the phone and it was easy because we weren’t like too far apart in age and we were both starting our families so we had a lot in common.”

Having both wanted a sister in their lives and being so similar in personality, their experience of meeting for the first time formed the relationship they have now.

Christie says, “Our kids are growing up together, we share things, she’s my sister and I love her.”

IMG 2507 bodyChristie (left) says, “The anticipation of everything [reaching out] is so built up it stops you from actually doing the thing you wanted to do in the first place… Just count to three and do it.” She sits with her sister Lena (right). Photo courtesy of Christie Warren.

In the end

When reaching out to an adopted sibling for the first time you can never know what to expect.

It is difficult, and making a connection can be even harder. However, no one really knows the answer to what will happen or what you will experience.

“It’s a minefield without a map,” says Choate.

Editor: Izaiah Louis Reyes | 

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