Friday, June 19, 2009

FirstMother Husbands: How they handle the news of an earlier child


Photo by Ken Robbins

How do the husbands of first/birth mothers handle the news of learning their lovers and wives have relinquished a child for adoption? What, if any role, do they play in whatever relationship occurs with the "lost" child of the birth mother they are married to? Should first mothers tell their husbands about the child? Here are the experiences of we three FirstMothers:

LINDA: I met my husband, Ken, when my daughter was 21 months old, and I told him about her very early in our relationship. He wasn't freaked out, it never bothered him, and he accepted my status fully, except when her birthday arrived every fall and everything stopped for my "national day of mourning." He always said it had nothing to do with him, so he'd just step aside and let me deal with it.

Ken answered the phone the day the adoption agency contacted me; he knew exactly what it was about, thanked God the phone call finally arrived, and was thrilled for me. He also admitted just last night that he was thankful that we would finally come together on something that separated us...he always felt like an outsider, excluded, whenever my sisters and I would talk about my daughter in hushed tones.

My daughter and I exchanged letters and photos immediately; when her letter arrived I asked Ken to open it, look at the photos, and tell me what he thought. "Oh, she's definitely your daughter," he reported. When he met her for the first time at her home in the South, about four months into our reunion, he confirmed she had my temperament, and loved her very much. He still does. Throughout our reunion ups and downs he would have preferred I hadn't been so hard-nosed, but he understood why I was--there was more to deal with than just my daughter; he never said anything because it wasn't his affair.

Ken told me he could see the troubled relationship coming. He described me as out of control, as though I was on speed, trying to cram 23 years into two; "everyone" but me knew it was overwhelming. He wanted to be the knight in shining armor, wished things were different, that things would turn around.

I asked him what was the best part of the five years my daughter was in our life and he replied having her in our home, having her here. She came to us, it meant a lot to him. The worst part is now, not having her in our life, but he knows it's something he can't control, and he won't voice an opinion. He knows he could call her today and they'd have a great conversation, but he won't because of how it would affect me. As we were discussing this last night he kept saying, "She is your daughter. I love her. It's the not knowing that tears you apart. When I met her I thought, how could you make me miss this for so many years?"

Ken and my daughter's parents are about the same age, i.e., a decade or so older than me. When I told him there are many husbands and significant others who aren't as open minded as he is when it comes to their wives' past, he just couldn't comprehend men rejecting their wives' children because another man is their father. Ken confessed, "If it ever bothered me, I got over it once I became a part of things, I embraced it, welcomed it. It was a joyous occasion. The black cloud left, and then the sun came out, and then the sun went away [the past four years without contact from my daughter]. But today, seeing the pictures [coincidentally, my daughter emailed us photos of my grandsons the same day I interviewed him for this article], I see a rainbow."

JANE: My husband, Jay, and I began dating when I was in my first year of law school, the year after Megan was born and surrendered. Jay went into the Army at the beginning of my second year. He had leave over Christmas and we went to Reno to visit his sister and her family. He asked me to marry him and we were married in Virginia City, Nevada on December 31, 1968. The evening before our wedding I told him about Megan. Other than a few people who knew me when I was pregnant I had not told and did not tell anyone else about her other than my obstetrician until our reunion in 1997. One reason --I have to admit--that I told Jay was that I read in Ann Landers (please don't laugh) women should always tell husbands about previous childbirths.

A week later he returned to his Army base in El Paso, Texas and I returned to law school in Eugene, Oregon. We did not talk about Megan for many years. He did try to bring her up several times but I did not want to talk about her to him or anybody else.

Several weeks after Megan contacted me in November, 1997, I told Jay we had connected and he was very pleased. He has been welcoming to her, her children, and her husband.

Although I've heard of women who were afraid to tell their husbands about their lost child, I have never met any birthmothers whose husband rejected them. Au contraire, every birthmother I've known who has married has had a supportive husband. Interestingly, about 20 percent of birthmothers marry the birthfather. I really think the outraged husband who rejects his wife when he finds out about her sin, a la Angel Claire of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles, is a myth.

LORRAINE: I've been married twice (the first one within two years of relinquishing my daughter) and both husbands have been entirely supportive. I told Husband Number One when he asked me to marry him. No problem; we did not, however, share this with his parents. When I met Husband Number Two, Tony, it was a little more than a year after my memoir, Birthmark, was published and when he asked what my book was about...the truth was out. When he barely reacted, I was naturally surprised. Later I found out he (who had one daughter in college, a son in high school from his previous marriage) had only been meeting and dating women my age (35 and up) who were desperate to have a child and his first reaction was: Great, she's already had a child, she won't be having baby hunger, worrying about her biological clock, I wonder if she will go on a date with me.

Tony and I have been together since then--1981--and he had a lot to do with my decision to search for my daughter when she was fifteen. He saw no reason why it was sacrosanct that I wait until she was older. After I found her, she lived with us off and on for several months at a time beginning when she was in high school, he became a kind of step parent to her. Jane liked and respected him. Though I have not been active in the adoption reform movement for long periods of time, Tony has always been supportive whenever I have. He understands this is so much a part of me that to stop it would be like trying to turn me into someone else.

Our advice from FirstMotherForum (and reaffirming advice columnist advice): If you have not yet told your partner, and if you have a loving relationship, it is unlikely to be harmed by letting go of this secret. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to tell, because then it will seem as if you have been lying by omission, something Late Discovery Adoptees know about. And once the truth is out, your relationship is likely to strengthen because now you are sharing this very deep part of you. And there will not be any difficult moments with your partner and other children, should the phone ring one day and someone says: I was born in City X on such-and-such a date...."

7 comments :

  1. I know someone from the scoop era who told her husband (not the father) before they married. It was a state secret before and after but even more so after because he shut down all discussion about the topic, apparently for the very old-fashioned reasons you allude to. According to someone who knows, he reacted negatively when she would bring up the subject up *yet again*. I have no idea what that means but I suspect on anniversaries, she was naturally inclined to talk about it. The whole event remains shrouded in secrecy to this day. I later went on to adopt and became estranged from this person for other reasons (or were they so other. . .I often wondered), so I don't know how this ended. I'm afraid I can't give any more details because the state secret thing has been drummed into me from Day 1.

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  2. I told my husband of 32 years before we were married. He always wanted me to find him and knew how important it was for me.

    we have since divorced, he did tell me one time, to stop beating myself up, about the adoption.

    seems men can do this guess that's why so many can walk away when the woman is pregnant. although different nowadays they have to pay child support!

    we as women can't walk away and our baby goes with us at least until adoption enters the picture and then baby is gone faster than one can blink their eyes.

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  3. The first Anon who posted here. First off, you three sound like you have the most amazing men in your lives. I am so glad for you. BUT, and it's a big BUT, not all women have had such supportive husbands and the people who never surface here or anyplace else. . .the ones who want anonymity, secrecy, vetoes. . .may also be with partners that want *nothing* of this. How often, do you suppose, have these women shut off the possibility of contact because of their husband's views? Is this even talked about? I just think that you guys have such good relationships, you're forgetting about another hidden segment of the population. If you're telling women "there's no risk," are you really considering everyone's story? btw, I support open records.
    Anon1

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  4. This is such an important topic. Adoption impacts so many more people than the mother and child.

    My mother's husband rejected the idea of her having a child, or as she put it on our first meeting his point of view was , "No step-children". That really freaked me out. I pulled back big time after that. It hurt me to think of causing problems in her marriage, and it hurt me that he had taken that position.

    20 or so years later, his attitude has effected our relationship a lot.

    My husband as well was not too happy about reunion. It was more about attention, and me dealing with emotional fall out that took away from him, rather than thinking poorly of me. He got over it though.

    Feeling unwelcome in my mother's house though, has created a lot of grief and hard feelings on my part. As far as I know, her husband is indifferent to the situation, wait not indifferent to me, hostile toward me, but indifferent to the pain it has caused me, my mother and her kept children.

    Of course this is just my take, the lack of information from his side reduces me to guessing.

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  5. None of us at Birth Mother, FirstMother Forum had to deal with husbands who did not understand about the child we relinquished, and so we seem like such a fortunate jolly bunch. Maybe we were unusually lucky, but I believe that most men are and will be empathetic--especially if they hear about the missing child early on in the relationship, or soon after. Holding a secret is what makes it a problem. If you haven't told your significant other about a child who has been relinquished, and you intend to stay together, don't keep this inside any longer. If you are reading this, it's because your birth child is on your mind, and your partner should know.

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  6. My husband has always known and been supportive. This has not been the case for all mothers. Many of us had very little self esteem after surrendering and got into bad relationships and unequal, sometimes abusive marriages with controlling, bullying men. It is a matter of marrying "anyone" who will accept "damaged goods."

    For women in this position, it is difficult to be honest about surrendering a child, and even more difficult to form a relationship with the surrendered child if the husband forbids it. Men of this type who know about the surrender hold it over the woman's head as proof of her inferiority and his magnanimity for taking her anyhow. If he does not know, she lives in fear he will find out and leave or worse.

    These are not relationships based on love, but on fear and dependency which have gone on for years this way and are very difficult to change.

    Some mothers needlessly fear telling a loving husband they have been hiding the truth from, but others really do have reason to worry and fear a bad situation getting worse.

    Those of us with decent husbands are lucky, often that they just turned out to be decent guys, but others are not.

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  7. I know that my first mother has told her husband. I prayed that she would tell him that I contacted her via a CI. He was my hope as were her sons. Her sons have not been told about me that I know of.

    The lack of reunion and its aftermath has hurt my marriage. It is just now finally getting somewhat better. I can not say what would have happened if I had reunited.

    ReplyDelete

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