' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum


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Friday, February 24, 2017

When an adopted teen wants to live with his birth/first mother

Two steps forward, one step back is how I'm feeling about open adoption today after reading family-expert John Rosemond's recent column about a 14-year-old who "now wants to go live with his birth-mother."

The adoptive mother writes that at the onset of the adoption, the first mother was out of the picture even though there was an open-adoption agreement. A few years ago she phoned, saying she had changed her life, and "wanted to re-establish contact with 'her' son." Phone calls led to visits, led to overnights, and apparently eventually the teenager wanted to go on vacation with her last summer. Whether or not he went is not included in the column. The teens grades have taken a nose-dive, he's become difficult to live with and now, the column question is framed:  "He’s told us he doesn’t want to live with us anymore. I think he believes there will be no rules with her and he’ll be able to eat ice cream all day long, figuratively speaking. What should we do?"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Telling first mothers to shut up--again!

Apparently we are not supposed to say in public that adoptions in general remind us of the mother and family of loss. Yesterday's post noting that Hoda Kotb's new adoption--which generated happy congratulatory tweets and well-wishes from more than 60 thousand people--did not make us happy because we knew that somewhere out there a mother was bleeding on the battlefield of loss.

Other than noting that she is 52 without further comment, I didn't specifically attack Hoda and I said that I didn't have more details about the adoption.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why we aren't celebrating with Hoda as she adopts a baby

The Today Show star Hoda Kotb adopted a baby girl. She is thrilled. This is her picture with Haley Joy on Kolb's Twitter account. She writes: "Welcome to the family, Haley Joy! She is the love of my life."  Followed by 63K likes and still going. Her co-hosts tweet the good news.

Friday, February 17, 2017

First Mothers: What not to do at the start of a reunion

In an earlier post we urged first mothers to react with their hearts when a child--now adult--lost to adoption first makes contact, even if the words you hear put you off. What about the next step, once the first flurry of words and excitement is over, and the conversation continues?

From listening to adopted people for the last several decades, I've learned that a great many of them have spent their lives past the age of reason reassuring their adoptive parents in ways large and small that they love them, fully, deeply, completely. Because of what parents have said about them and to them--You were the answers to our prayers; I couldn't love you more if I had given birth to you, when we found you we knew our family was complete, I thank God every day for bringing you to us...they have fully absorbed the message that they are responsible for their parent's well-being and happiness. This message will be inculcated further if the individual was adopted after having children via nature failed, or a biological child's death. The burden the adopted person carries is heavy indeed, no matter how great the parents' affection.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Here's how to write good adoption law

Although adoption experts—the Donaldson Adoption Institute,* the Child Welfare League of America,** and others--agree that children should be raised in their biological families if possible, state laws are tilted to increasing the supply of infants for adoption resulting in the unnecessary separation of mothers and children.

These laws allow mothers to consent to adoption before or immediately after birth with little or no opportunity to revoke their consent and with little or no counseling. Open adoptions agreements which may encourage mothers to relinquish are often unenforceable.*** Unmarried fathers have few rights.

Those of us interested in reforming adoption so that it coincides with its original purpose—to find families for children who need them—are faced with well-funded and well-organized opposition from the adoption industry. While adoption is governed mostly by state laws, adoption reform must occur nation-wide. Otherwise, those who put profit before child welfare will simply move their operations to “adoption-friendly” states. Adoption reform organizations throughout the country must come to a consensus about adoption laws so that they speak in one voice to state legislators and the media.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

To First Mothers: When your adopted 'child' calls out of the blue

This is for the mothers (first, birth, natural, biological) who search on the web for how to react to a phone call they are either waiting for or fearful of--that from their child lost to adoption. Years ago I would have assumed that every mother on earth who gave up a child would be overwhelmed with joy and say something like: Oh my god, you found me! I have been waiting for you to find me! 

Today I know that is not true. Not only have I heard of so many birth mothers rejecting reunion that it makes my head spin in sorrow, but I also had a long-time neighbor and friend who did not admit that she had a child that her other children did not know about--until she was on her deathbed. For years we managed to maintain a friendship while we argued about what I fought for, mystifying me and her children. One of them figured out the truth before she came clean, only weeks before she slipped away. If such a mother was that close to me in real life, there are many others out here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

When first parents adopt their surrendered 'children'

A father wrote to advice columnist Amy Dickinson recently about his wife's adult daughter whom she placed for adoption as an infant. His wife was reunited with the daughter, Betsy, now 30, ten years ago. Now she wants "to divorce her current adoptive parents" because of "irreconcilable differences", and for legal reasons involving her own 8-year-old daughter. Betsy wants her natural mother, and her biological father (who has been out of the picture for 30 years) to adopt her. The man who wrote to Amy says he and his wife (the natural mother) have children together, as well as children from prior marriages.

Apparently the letter-writer will be asked to go before a judge and make a public statement that his wife and Betsy's biological father are now the adoptive parents. He identifies himself as "No Prior Precedent" (NPP) feels uncomfortable about doing so. He asks if he is being "an oversensitive territorial man"?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Making the first contact with a first mother: What not to say

"One reason I had searched for [my birth mother] was that I wanted to tell her that she'd done the right thing. I always felt she deserved to know that" wrote Jean Strauss in Birthright. "I proudly said it now on the phone, sure this one sentence would make her feel good about her decision thirty-three years earlier to relinquish me for adoption. 'You know, you did the right thing when you gave me up.'

Her answer burst my hallucination. 'I'll never believe that. I should have never let you go. I wish I had taken you and run.'"

Strauss is not alone in her lack of understanding of the dynamics of surrender. We mothers who have ached for reunion are roiling under the long buried grief of loss, and yes, guilt, even if we don't recognize it as such. We someone thanks us for something, the usual response is something along these lines: Oh, you deserved it; I'm so glad you liked it; or, It was nothing. Anyone can see how none of the typical responses to "thank you" fit the situation. We suspect that mothers who hear the "thank you" that seems to be popular today feel a tad weird but ignore thinking about how to react because they are so glad to be found.

What does a "thank you" really imply when said to a first mother by her child? Thank you for giving me up because I've had a better life than I would have had with you. I got this great education you never would have been able to afford, I have a life that is of a higher social class than yours...I made out just fine so thank you! 

Now we suspect that adoptees who want to say "thank you" don't understand the meaning that creeps into our mind, or we hope they don't--but that attitude has spilled out some adoptee memoirs. Sarah Saffian's Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found comes to mind. (As we recollect, Saffian didn't say "thank you" because she was uncertain about being found in the first place, here we are talking about the general attitude her memoir conveys.

Here are some more clueless comments that we have heard from adoptees which make us cringe:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lion: An adoptee returns home

If you haven't already seen Lion, grab a hankie and catch it before it is gone. Besides being a compelling story and a well acted film, it reinforces what we who live adoption know to be true: the need to know one's original family is universal. It could be the story of a young girl from Kansas or a weary warrior in Greece. No matter how difficult the journey, it must be attempted.

Lion is based on the Saroo Bierley's memoir "A Long Way Home." Five-year- old Saroo lives in abysmal poverty with his mother, sister and older brother, Guddu, in a small village in India. One evening he goes with Guddu, whom he adores, to the train station. Guddu tells him to wait there while he seeks work. When, after many hours, Guddu does not return, Saroo crawls into a train and falls asleep. The train leaves the station. He is unable to get off the train until it arrives in Calcutta several days later. Saroo has to survive on the mean streets, which is particularly difficult because he speaks Hindi, not Bengali, the language of Calcutta.  Eventually he is taken to an orphanage which arranges his adoption by a kind and loving Australian couple, Sue and John Bierley. The contrast between the hovel where he lived for his first five years and the Bierley's beautiful home and opulent surroundings in Tasmania could not be more stark.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mr. President: Pardon Sandy Musser

Sandy Musser
Dear President Obama:

In 1993 Sandy Musser was sentenced to federal prison for four months. Her crime? Finding a way to reconnect individuals separated by adoption--mothers and grown children who had no legal recourse that led to reunion. At the time all but two states--Alaska and Kansas--had legislation that forever denied an adopted individual a way to reunite to his family of birth, and vice versa.

What Sandy Musser helped effect is becoming increasingly commonplace as state legislation slowly but surely is ending secrecy and anonymity in adoption. In 20 years, what Ms. Musser did will be seen in a whole different light, and her "crime" will be seen as a courageous act of compassion.

Some background: From the Seventies onward, a movement comprised of adoptees and mothers who relinquished children to adoption began demanding an end to the anonymity and secrecy that had ruled adoption for the previous half century. The forced anonymity of closed adoption was a practice that began in the mid-teens of the last century, as state after state sealed the original birth certificates of individuals when they were adopted. Neither adoptees nor their mothers--the two groups most affected--had any input into this legislation. For both sides, there was no recourse, for the anonymity was designed to be for all time. Health histories were not possible. Even descendants of the adopted could not learn the true family of origin.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When an adoptive mother says...My daughter isn't interested in searching

What do you say to someone you meet at a luncheon who says that she has an adopted daughter who "isn't interested in searching" as soon as she hears the subject of your recent book. Daughter is in her late twenties.

I said that many adoptees don't search until their parents are much older or dead, because then they feel that are free to do so. I said that adoptees don't search because unconsciously you [adoptive mother] have made it clear that doing so would hurt you very much. She understood. And she added that she always thought her daughter would search one day. I realized that my new acquaintance instinctively understood that the desire to know one's history and reconnect with kin on some level was instinctual, and not unusual. She wasn't being aggressive; I think she was simply surprised to meet a birth mother in real life, at a New Year's luncheon in an artist's studio.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Life lessons from Downton Abbey

It's New Year's Day and I've been hearing from first mothers and adoptees who had a difficult time this holiday season, but then...all major holidays can be difficult for us because we are either missing people, or a whole family, in our lives; or we are alienated from someone we don't wish to be at odds with.

You know the drill--should I make that phone call? Will I be rebuffed again? Can I talk to my mother without the daughter she lives with (my half sister who sent me a wretched email) listening in? If I send a card/gift to my son/daughter will they acknowledge it? If I call my 15-year-old daughter will I be able to talk to her, or will this upset her adoptive parents and make life more difficult for her? Will she be cold if I call? What if she doesn't answer the phone? Should I contact a cousin, the only one in my biological family who is willing to be in contact with me?

Monday, December 26, 2016

What Happens to women who give up their babies for adoption?

In today's New York Times: 

RE: Emboldened by Trump’s Victory, Abortion Foes Vow ‘Onslaught’ ” (front page, Dec. 12):

The increasing difficulties that women are likely to face in getting an abortion make clear that two things will inevitably rise in response: More women, denied access because of distance and cost of travel, lodging and so on, will try to self-abort, and many will be permanently injured as result; and there will be increased pressure for women to carry to term and give up their babies for adoption.

The short-term reaction to such a loss is expected, but the long-term consequences for a mother to lose a child to adoption are nothing short of disastrous. Poor grief resolution for a great many women leads to lasting

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukkah Everyone!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Festivus for the Rest of Us...

 Gulls at Otter Pond on half frozen ice; above Manhattan skyline from tram to Roosevelt Island.
there are more photos...read on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

At Christmas first mothers and adoptees get the blues

Our Christmas tabletop "tree"
I'm reposting a blog from a few years ago, with some updates:

We had a Christmas lunch at our house yesterday--friends came by for Champagne punch and sustenance. Two guys my husband made sure to introduce to each other were both Vietnam vets. One was a journalist who was captured and briefly imprisoned; the other was a Naval officer who had spent two years in combat. After my husband made the introduction, they spent a long time talking. Later my husband said: It's the most intense experience of their lives--no one who hasn't been through it can quite understand. My husband was in the Army between conflicts, and after ROTC, only spent six months on active duty. But he understood immediately why these two men would bond.

I thought: That's what being a birth/first mother is like. No one who hasn't been there can understand the immense loss and grieving that comes with relinquishment--except another first mother. And yet, most of us don't go around talking openly about our experiences so that it's unlikely that I'm going to end up at a party one day and the host will introduce me to another person and pass on what we so deeply share: that we both lost a child to adoption.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why do some first/birth mothers reject reunion?

Why do some first/birth mothers reject reunion?* Or even resist acknowledging a lost son or daughter? It's a question that won't go away, and at the holiday season the slings and arrows of adoption and separation hit their mark ever more keenly. With families every where planning celebrations, the hurt of every rejection by a natural mother is magnified.

Adoptees call and write us asking for suggestions on how best to reach their mothers, especially when the mothers are not responding to a letter or email--when other first mothers are praying and waiting and hoping for that phone call--and so I've done a fair amount of thinking about why do some mothers reject when others rejoice. There are multiple causes:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sofia Vergara sued by her own frozen embryos in unethical case

I did not want to get pregnant when I did, but once I had my baby I knew doing anything but keeping her was wrong. I knew I would "never get over it." I knew I wanted to keep her and take care of her and watch her grow up and be her mother in every sense of the word.

Now imagine that someone else is trying to force you to become a mother because in a moment of craziness you donated an egg and it was implanted with your boyfriend's sperm, and then frozen away for use (as in birth) at some future time. Then imagine you decided the boyfriend was a creep, broke up with the guy, met and married someone else and now the ex wants to hire a surrogate to nurture the embryos because he wants...your children. Nightmare scenario, right? 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Giving up a child may mean giving up a grandchild

When I gave up my infant daughter Rebecca half a century ago, I did not consider that I was giving up my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, that giving up a child could create a cascade of loss and mystery. I am one of the lucky natural mothers, though. Since my reunion in 1997, I've been able to spend time with Rebecca's children. I've been to their weddings, They've visited me at my home in Portland. I spent my birthday last October exploring a park on the Great Salt Lake with one granddaughter. I traveled to Peru with another.

Many natural mothers--like Jane Guttman author of The Gift Wrapped in Sorrow: A Mother's Quest for Healing--are not so lucky. Their lost child shuts them out. They are told in no uncertain terms, "You are not my children's grandparents. Please go away." Or worse, they are threatened with legal action if they dare, dare send a birthday card. Guttman writes:
"Soon Adam [her grandson] will be two and a half. I long to see him. I long to hold him. His smile and laughter are such significant moments

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

First Mother Forum under construction

Patience please!

First Mother Forum is being updated and getting a new look but we aren't quite there yet. You may have noticed tonight that the blog appearance was changing as we were reconfiguring the layout, and it is still under reconstruction. All the posts are there if you scroll down, but we removed some of the clutter of the sidebar to focus on the posts themselves. Suz Bednarz was most generous in giving us her time and expertise as we work through this. Another change will be coming in a day or two. But in the meantime, none of the posts are missing, and the pages can be accessed in the pull down menu, as can our popular posts and our bios on the right. We hope to get this all finished tomorrow! --lorraine

Sunday, December 4, 2016

This Is Us gets adoption right

Does media attention to the issues of adoption change society's perception of adoption?


Every show that focuses on adoption moves public opinion--media attention is a major reason the acceptance of LGBT individuals and marriage equality moved seemingly quickly, compared to the adoption reform. But progress on our issue is being made and more states have at least limited access to birth information for adoptees. Shows also now portray adoption in less than a glowing light. Sixteen and Pregnant, for instance, went from showing Catelynn and Tyler's giving up of their daughter in at least partly positive light so they could go about their teenage lives and finish school, et cetera, but a few years into their semi-open adoption, the audience learns that not all is happy in adoptland, and the limited contact with their first daughter Carly is far from ideal. In 2013, The Baby Sellers on Lifetime with Kristie Alley showed the dark side of international adoption.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What's the Use of Regret?

                                                                                        Photo by Ken Robbins
Regret is a concept, a feeling, that we first mothers deal with one way or another once we give up our babies to the unknown--or sometimes to the known--parents. We mourn, but unless we end up mad we eventually find a way to get on with our lives. My life after relinquishment included the career I always wanted, but I recognize that it came at a great cost that was unexpected and in fact, changed the course of my life. The cost was not only to my damaged psyche and altered prospects, but to my daughter's also. She would be born already fragile, subject to seizures, and so she was handed the double-barreled whammy of epilepsy as well as the sense of abandonment that being given up instills.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

On Thanksgiving: Accepting reality

For all those from families that are separated, Thanksgiving is the beginning of the long season of remembering who is not present in our lives.

It's not easy, it's a long hard slog to the other side of tranquility sometime in January after the holidays because the lives of first mothers and the adopted are so full of what-ifs. The other life. The other mother. The missing child at the table, in the will, in the family tree. Where there should be a face, there is only a blank. Where there should be an extra person at the table, there is no one. And because families in general do not talk about the missing person, there is no glass raised in remembrance, with the added hope that he or she is having a good dinner with the adoptive family. We might raise a glass to someone who died, or is far away, but the particular etiquette of silence about lost children prevents that. Perhaps that has changed today, with openness in adoption. If that is so, it is a welcome change, a somber but realistic acknowledgment of who is missing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Korean mother asks her son for forgiveness

Adam Crapser, American-Korean adoptee but never made a citizen, has been deported to his homeland--where his original mother was waiting for him, according to recent news accounts. “I have so much to tell him, especially how sorry I am,” she said [to the New York Times writer], sitting in her bedroom, which doubles as her kitchen, in her one-floor rural home in Yeongju. “But I am at a loss, because I don’t know English and he can’t speak Korean.”

The she is Kwon Pil-ju who had been desperately trying to teach herself English before her son got there, which would have been last Thursday.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Happy Birthday to my lost daughter

Today is my lost daughter, Rebecca's, 50th birthday.  She was born on a Thursday, like today, a week before Thanksgiving. She lives half a continent away and I won't be sharing this day with her. I do share my life with her and that is a blessing.

We re-connected 19 years ago, a week after her 31st birthday, when she found me. Until then, I was left to wonder about who she was. Perhaps a celebrity, a movie star, a CEO, or in my worst thoughts, a drug addict living on the street. Sometimes she was a phantom; sometimes I thought maybe she didn't exist at all.

We met two months later in January, 1998 in Chicago where she lived at the time and coincidentally where I grew up. Until then, my life had been divided in two parts, pre-Rebecca and post-Rebecca. So while after her birth, my life went on, law school, marriage, three wonderful daughters, a career, a part of me was stuck in the events of 1966 which led to her birth. With our reunion, my life took a third turn, embarking on a new road, rocky in places, but ultimately rewarding.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Does my birth mother think of me?

Adoptees often ask us whether their natural mothers think of them, "at least on my birthday." Lorraine and I assure them that their mothers think of therm often, likely everyday. "Then why doesn't she try to find me?" they ask. "She may be thinking about searching " we tell them, but there are reason why she is hesitating. She doesn't know she can; she promised the agency she wouldn't; she had it drummed into her that she's shouldn't. She doesn't know how to search. She can't afford a searcher. She doesn't want to disrupt your life. She doesn't want to disrupt the lives of her raised children, her husband, her parents.

These thoughts coursed through my mind for years. I'll search later I told myself, when my youngest daughter graduates from high school, when I have more money, more time. Then 19 years ago my lost daughter Rebecca found me. I'll write more about this on her birthday, November 17.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It's a world wide revolution, folks

Once Brexit won in Great Britain, I began to be worried. I began being very afraid that the protectionist, anti-immigration, dissatisfaction with the old would sweep our country too. I kept up a brave heart, but even as I ordered my Hillary t-shirt and Hillary buttons and stickers, I always was fearful that Hillary would not win, no matter what the polls said. There were those who were not willing to tell pollsters how they were leaning because he was embarrassing them with his misogynist, racist, and xernophobic comments--but they were going to vote for him nonetheless. And if Hillary did win--since taking the House was a mathematical impossibility, given gerrymandering--she would only face years of GOP investigation about stuff that she would eventually be cleared of. The government would be in stasis, and nothing would get done during her presidency.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why voting for Hillary today is so emotional

Lorraine voting this morning for
First Mother Forum could not have taken a stand in this election, but we both strongly believe in women's rights, and a woman's right to chose, and we haven't been nonpartisan up to now. So there's no point pretending we are not rooting for Hillary to win tonight. That's me on the left at my polling place this morning, taken by my Hillary-supporting husband, Tony. Jane voted early in Oregon a week ago.

I wore white in remembrance of the suffragettes who wore white as they campaigned for the right of women to vote in the early 20th century. They were arrested and jailed, tube fed when they went on a hunger strike, spit at and lost jobs in their journey to the vote. We finally won the vote in August 18, 1920 when the youngest member of the Tennessee legislature, Harry Burn, 22, who had made his intention to vote Nay, changed his mind and voted Aye. This made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, thus meeting the constitutional requirement of having three-quarters (of 48 states) pass the amendment.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Adoption Not Abortion: First mothers who never have another child

Someone--an adoptee--recently posted on Facebook about how she did not want to see any posts about abortion right now, which may have been triggered by our earlier posts about the presidential election this Tuesday, and our keen backing of Hillary, who supports choice for women. That includes the right to have a legal abortion.

Abortion can be difficult for adoptees to ponder because that ultimately leads to an awareness that they could have been aborted. I had to explain to my daughter how my trying to have an abortion--when it was illegal--was unrelated to any maternal feelings and the deep, consuming connection to her once she was born, and the soul-shattering sadness of losing her to the adoption that was inevitable. I changed--everything changed--beginning in the months just before birth, and then, her birth. Perhaps the worst day of

Friday, November 4, 2016

Impressions of the 2016 ASAC Conference: Good Job!

Lorraine at 2016 conference of Alliance for the Study
of Adoption and Culture in Minneapolis
Thanks to Penny Needham for photo
That adoption is not a universal good and that it is fraught for the adopted individual--and natural mothers go into a certain kind of hell--was for me the overall takeaway at the sixth biennial conference of the Alliance for Adoption and Culture (ASAC) last week in Minneapolis.

At a panel on Adoption and Social Engineering--it could have said Adoption as Social Engineering--Kori Graves of the State University of New York at Albany--spoke of how black families were carelessly, but systematically, denied the pathway to adopt black children in the past, and the movement to have white families adopt transracially began. That adoption might be better regulated with an eye to reducing the actual number of adoptions came out at another session. Overall it was refreshing to walk away knowing the conference did not present adoption as this warm and fuzzy concept that was a wonderful answer to parents who could not have "their own" children, or who adopted because "there are so many babies that need to be adopted."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Catelynn and Tyler's "semi-open" adoption closed!

When teens Catelynn and Tyler placed their newborn daughter Carly for adoption with Brandon and Teresa Davis on MTV's 16 and Pregnant in 2009, it was all that adoption was supposed to be and more. Catelynn and Tyler made the "loving" decision to give their baby a better life. Brandon and Teresa were the dream parents--attractive, professionals who wanted for nothing except a baby they could call their own. The facade began to crack early as Catelynn and Tyler continued to grieve from their loss of their daughter, and their relationship with Brandon and Teresa began to deteriorate. Last year Brandon and Teresa threatened to cut off contact because Tyler posted pictures of Carly on the internet contrary to their instructions.