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In standard adoption cases, it's become less common over the past 20 years for newly adoptive families and birth parents to have no contact at all. Most agencies encourage some form of communication, and most birth mothers demand as a condition of the adoption such things as e-mailed pictures, annual letters or a frequently updated website. But social networks are throwing wide open a door that used to be merely ajar.
"I want my son to meet his birth mother," says an adoptive parent who lives in a New York City suburb and who asked that we not print her name. "When he's old enough, we'll all go on a road trip." Every year, she sends a letter and photos to the birth mother, but she worries that a birth-family member will contact her 12-year-old on Facebook before she decides he's mature enough to handle it. "None of us are ready yet," she says.
Mindful of what can go wrong, several adoption agencies have issued advisories on how to handle social networking. The worst thing to do, they say, is to try to keep kids off the Web. A smarter strategy is to keep an eye on children's online activities and help them understand the ramifications of finding their birth parents, says Martha Henry, director of the office of foster care and adoption at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "Parents should figure out what steps they can take to join that journey and try to create an environment where their kids feel safe to talk about it."
Henry says it helps to understand why a child is looking for his or her birth family. Some parents fear being replaced in their child's affections, particularly during the relentless tussles of adolescence. Others think their child will be overwhelmed. But whatever the reason, the situation is better faced, like Thanksgiving, as a family, with professional help if necessary. "The search for the birth parent is not just about the child," says Henry. "It's about all of you."
In January, when Lowrey discovered her birth father's identity, an intermediary ended up making the first contact. "I was torn. I said, 'I'm going to have to pass on it,'" says Morse, a former musician and truck driver. "I called the guy back five minutes later."
"I'm glad this came out to be a good thing," he says. Lowrey is still in touch with all three of her recently located family members. Mostly she talks to them on the phone, although Daugherty has made a couple of surprise visits. And thanks to Facebook, now they all know exactly where to find each other.
This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2010 issue of TIME.