Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Do First/birth mothers want to be found?

Lorraine
Birth mother - do you want to be found?

With all the attention focused on Vernita Lee, Oprah's mother--a reluctant-to-acknowledge birth/first mother, who denied being Patricia Lloyd's mother for years--this is the what a lot of adoptees want to know: Do their mothers want to be found? This is what someone goggled yesterday and found her way to First Mother Forum. Answer:

Overwhelmingly, yes. YES, FIRST MOTHERS WANT TO BE FOUND.


Research has piled up showing that vast majority of mothers do want to be reunited with the children they gave up for adoption. Taken together, surveys from various countries where access to original birth certificates is granted, including those states in the United States, show that 95 percent of birth mothers welcome contact and wanted reunion. Yet From my own unscientific survey of confidential intermediaries (CIs) in those states that do not release original birth certificates to the adoptee but use a system of intermediaries to make contact, the number is not so high as that. Many more are like Oprah's mother.

Just as Vernita was able to say no to the state intermediary, no when Patricia wrote her herself, no to Patricia's pastor who also wrote her (which kind of blows my mind and doesn't speak well for Vernita as a person), many more women chose anonymity because the fear of being embarrassed by having to tell the truth of this lost child to husbands and other children. I don't like this, but it happens. And as one intermediary has pointed out to me, no one is checking on how well or poorly an intermediary does her work, or if she even fulfills the agreement to do a search, and succeeds in good faith, so some adoptees get bad news because of sloppy and unethical intermediaries. 

Yet in those places where there are open records, only a very small number of birth mothers actually file what they are allowed to: "No contact," if they do not wish to meet their children. In Oregon, which has had open records for adoptees since September of 2000, more than 10,000 people have requested their original birth records. Eighty-five birth parents have filed "no contact" provisions. That is less than a quarter of one percent.

The vast majority of them were filed (79) as soon as the Measure 58 became law in 2000. The Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) tied up the repeal of an old law in court for two years, and most of those requesting no contact are thought to be members of the LDS church, which has opposed open records for adoptees through lawsuits  (always losing) and their well-funded adoption agencies, a large percentage of the membership of an anti-open records lobby organization, the National Council for Adoption (NCFA).

SearchAs for the old saw that we birth mothers don't want old wounds opened, well, that may be the case for the few, but that is not true for most of us. We do not forget. We do not forget your birthdays. We do not forget when we are shopping at a large mall or simply walking down the street and see someone of the right sex and age--could that be my daughter/son? We carry the knowledge of you deep in our hearts, most of us praying for the moment we open a letter, get an email, see a message from an unknown person on Facebook, answer the phone, and find that the person there is the one we have been waiting for: you, our child who had to be adopted because we did not have the wherewithal and support to raise you when you were born. Many of us have spent our lives grieving over the decision to give you up. Some of us were forced to do so by our parents. 

Do birth/first mothers want to be found? Oh yes, desperately. Many of us are afraid to search ourselves because we have been conditioned to think that way. Find us, please, find us before it is too late. We are waiting, we are waiting by the hundreds, thousands, millions. We are getting older everyday.

And we hope tomorrow will be the day you call. --lorraine
_________________
To those just coming to First Mother Forum for the first time, let me add that I found my daughter when she was fifteen, and we had a relationship for more than a quarter of a century. She died in 2007. I have two granddaughters (one of whom was adopted), both of whom I cherish and have relationships with.

For more research on first mothers, please see one of our permanent pages: Our answer to The Adoption Option, listed in the sidebar. See also research at the American Adoption Congress.
See also: Birthmothers Right to Privacy -- An invention of the ACLU?
Explaining Adoption Reform Issues to the Hip, Educated Masses
In Adoptee's Search, Loss and Grief Collide

29 comments :

  1. "many more women chose anonymity because the fear of being embarrassed by having to tell the truth of this lost child to husbands and other children."
    it pains me just to think of this, and remember how it felt to be rejected by the one person who had always been there, the one I loved so much... still, I always trust in love, and if I'm wrong then in time I see that I am 10 steps ahead of them, and if I'm right then we are all ten steps ahead.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do not feel I can speak for any birthmother but myself, and annecdotally about mothers I know. I always wanted to be found, but could not wait so I searched. But I am very careful when talking to adoptees thinking about searching to say that I am not their mother, do not know their mother, do not know the mind of all mothers or why some refuse contact, but some do.

    Anyone starting a search has to be aware there are many possible outcomes, and not get stopped by unrealistic fears nor be crushed by disappointment because of unrealistic hopes. Probably the majority of surrendering mothers want to be found. I would not put a number on it because I do not know that there are reliable numbers. However, when you are in the minority that gets rejected, it does not matter so much how it goes for "most" others.

    ReplyDelete
  3. True, Maryanne, I'm tackling that subject tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Lorraine:

    I've read your blog on and off since I wrote to my birth mother about 4 months ago with no response as yet. Your writings and readers comments have helped me to deal with the hurt and disappointment of my Mom's silence. The Patricia/Oprah story was timely: I'm the same age as Patricia, searched in my 20s only to abandon the search when I got very close to finding both my birth parents out of fear, it must be, from that much feared second rejection. In October of this year, I decided it was now or never: I wrote my Dad first as I still hadn't found my Mom and he responded in 2 days. He knew about me, although he thought I was a boy, and was thrilled to make contact so many years later. He couldn't understand why I had waited so long to contact him. We've met and it's been really satisfying getting to know him and reveling in all the things we share, from our squinty eyes, to our love of music and singing. I found my mother a week after sending a letter to my Dad and wrote her and sent some photos. So far, nothing. Although she's in the minority, as Maryanne says, her non-response has been a terrible blow. It's what I always feared would happen deep down inside. In any event, I wait and hope that at some point, she'll call, she'll write. It seems I waited my whole life to hear or see her - running to the mailbox as a kid for my letter, looking out the window to catch a glimpse of her--things like that make sense now. Like Patricia, I, too, have a sibling that I've yet to know. I hope, as you've mentioned, that the publicity the Oprah story has generated will reach her and perhaps inspire her to contact me. I'm still in limbo, but searching, finding, and contacting my first parents has been freeing and reunion with my Dad, although at times bittersweet, has been joyful for us both. I went full circle, I closed the loop, I showed up, and I reached out to the beginning, to my first parents, with love. It's what I always wanted to do. Perhaps with time and support, my Mom will be able to reach back to me.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am not a first mother, and I can't speak for first mothers in general at all, but my situation was very dark and dire and turned around. It can happen.

    I was born and adopted in Missouri, which has draconian adoption laws. I had a CI who really, really needed oversight. She was rude and spoke for my first mom where she had no place to do so. Sloppy is an excellent word for her. She misspelled my mother's name when she searched, couldn't find her, and wrote me this:

    "It seems that your birth mother has gone to great lengths to make sure she wouldn't be found or contacted again, and I feel it's time to give up all attempts at finding her."

    I yelled at the CI, and guess what? She found her the next day. Lazy, careless or both? I was denied contact, but what an unprofessional woman the CI was. What if I had believed her?

    My first mother continued to reject me for another two years, but softened eventually. We speak on the phone every month or so and things are going well. I am so glad I didn't give up. My mother has said, as well, that she is relieved not to carry her secret anymore (my brother, aunt, uncle, and cousins know about me now).

    My relationship with her is precious--and new. I won't take it for granted. It has done so much to make me feel human.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not only some natural mothers but also natural fathers allow their shame and the fact that they never told their "secret" to later spouses or children. Both sides of my origins are still trapped in 1949,,,

    ReplyDelete
  7. This article makes it sound as if it is solely the adoptee's responsibility to search. To search for someone who "rejected" you and risk being rejected again takes an enormous amount of courage. Ann Fessler wrote in her book about a Look magazine article (p.182) that described first mothers as content with their decision to give the child up for adoption. As if the choice to relinquish was made without any pressure or coercion. And many adoptees still think this is true. I know that if I had not learned about the BSE and that many mothers were forced to give up their child, I would not have looked for my fmother.

    I've heard fmothers say that they don't feel they have the "right" to search, that they made their decision and it is now up to the child to decide if s/he wants to find her. To a small degree I understand this sentiment, but to a larger degree I think it is a cop-out stemming from fear. It actually enhances the adoptees self-esteem to know that the fmother never forgot and cared enough to search. Also, you may not be so easy to find. If 95% of first mothers really want to be found, then you need to do some searching, too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Soley from my perspective as a firstmother, I simply cannot imagine not wanting to be found. Following the loss of my daughter during the BSE, I made it my life's mission to both find her and then to be the best mother that I could possibly be. I was one of the lucky ones and was able to accomplish both missions.

    ReplyDelete
  9. When you think about it, the CI is just doing a job. He or she will get paid regardless of whether or not they find the person or there is a reunion. So really why should they care? I doubt they have some "quota of successful reunions" they have to meet in order to keep their job. If the CI doesn't help, I say keep trying other avenues if at all possible.

    @Maureen,

    I think the onus has always been on the woman in these situations and hence she feels more shame. Men were allowed more sexual freedom and might feel less guilty. I wouldn't give up hope yet. Things can always turn around. I certainly hope they do.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow, the comments have been great and I thank everyone who has posted so far. I believe confidential intermediaries get paid whether they succeed or not, but that is not true of the people who work for OmniTrace. No matter what you have to pay yourself to the company, I believe the person who actually takes the case only gets $150 no matter how long the search takes, no matter how flimsy and slight the information the seeker can supply, and the searcher does not get paid until the case is
    "closed."

    A friend of mine who is totally scrupulous and works for open records in her state--which would put her and others out of a job--reported that her actual wages can work out to $2 an hour. She blames the OmniTrace for accepting cases they know are nearly insolvable, and has stopped working for them. Buyer beware.

    The good news about OmniTrace and other search organizations and private searchers of course is that they are not bound by confidentiality restrictions, and are able to simply pass on whatever information they find to the person seeking.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I wanted to be found, and put my info "out there" to be found on my son's 18th birthday.

    I did not actively search for him, as I had been told that if I ever looked for him, I would be breaking the law. I didn't think that was the truth, but still did not feel it was my right to search. Thankfully a search angel matched my on-line reunion post to my son's on a different website.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lorraine, I couldn't agree more with you about not giving up. You encouraged me to keep trying, and I am so glad that you did. The CI was useless except that she told me my mom's father had died when he was a certain age, and I had a ballpark figure for birth year because of my non-identifying information. I also knew the general region of the country in which to look.

    Search angels found my mom from an obit, but the surname I had from my pre-adoptive agreement was misspelled. I hired Kinsolving, and they confirmed the find within three days.

    I know my mother would likely never have searched for me, so I am glad I took the initiative, painful though the rejection was.

    If a mom wants reunion, I would say "Search!" I agree with Robin that the responsibility and risk should be borne by both parties (and fathers who know of their children: mine doesn't).

    Thank you again, Lorraine, for being so consistently supportive.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I am a first mother who did not think I wanted to be found and felt I had no right to look for my sons. However, nearly 5 years ago my first son did find me, and I am so very happy that he searched. His finding me led to finding my second son also, and my coming to terms with most of the facts of my surrendering them at birth. I am a member of support groups and search groups and a huge majority of mothers I know do indeed want to be found and reunited with their lost children.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I as a surrendering mother..was the one to search and find. That was back in 1999. I did not belong to any adoption groups whatsoever, had not even spoke to another natural mother. I just knew what I had to do, as a woman and a mother. I knew nothing about 'search/reunion rules/advice'. All I knew was that I needed to find her, I needed to know out if my then 34 yr old daughter was OK, if she was dead or alive. I needed to hear her voice, if only once. I had no expectations of her. I knew from day one before I found her that she would be angry..and angry she was, at me. We had our tussles, our tears, our months of silence. But somehow, someway we have found a way to stay connected, these last almost 12 years now.

    Just to add: AFTER I found my daughter is when I would read various forms of 'searching and reunion rules/advice' on the net. In almost all instances, these so-called advice/rules...was advising the mothers that it was best the mother didn't search, because it would take 'control' away from the adult adoptee. And that if one was found (adoptee found the mother)...that the mother had to let the adult adoptee have full control in reunion, because as newborns they had no control. Sooo..reading about the 'control' after-the-fact..I let my daughter 'control'. Those were the worst years of our reunion, probably the first 5 years. Today...neither of us has 'control' nor 'control' of the other. We are both adults, we must respect each other as the adults we are today. She isn't 2 days old anymore and I am far, far away from being the 18 yr old I once was.
    So, I wonder how many other mothers have read the 'advice' on the net, years ago..about who should search and who shouldn't..who should have the control and who shouldn't. Luckily I didn't read this 'advice' until after I searched and found. Was bad enough that I read this 'advice' AFTER reunion. That type of 'advice' did not serve my daughter and I very well at all. If one wants to search...then search..there is no right or wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks Chris, for such good advice. I searched myself (thinking it would tell my daughter I did not "abandon" her), and was glad I did. I do not believe she would have been able to find me.

    I'll write a new post tomorrow, I'm just wiped out tonight. Just sent a batch of letters to the editor out in NJ and wrote Indiana legislators, as I suggest to all on the sidebar. Please take 15 minutes and do it! Your letter could be the tipping point.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Lorraine said that she doesn't think her daughter would have been able to find her.
    She is probably right, but I think the point also needs to be made that it isn't always possible for a mother to search.
    I relinquished in the early sixties. Ten years later I made inquiries about how to find my child, but the records were still tightly closed and I had no information on which to go. It was only when I was contacted out of the blue thirty years later that our relationship was able to be renewed.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I fall into the category of adoptees that searched using the adoption agency as the CI and was rejected by my natural mother. She was willing to be an anonymous penpal to me for several years, but in the end was unable to tell her raised children of me, even though her husband knew. It has been one of the most devastating experiences I have ever faced. I wholly regret using a CI, I believe that given enough time I could have found her on my own. At least then I could have heard her voice. There is no doubt in my mind that it is easier to say no to an intermediary than to your own child. I will never fully understand her pain, but I wish that she could receive the love that I am willing and wanting to give.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Chris, I think the "let the adoptee be in control" advice is meant for early in reunion, not for the relationship for the rest of your lives. That should evolve into a relationship of comfortable adult equal parties, hopefully with time.

    There is a whole lot of questionable advice out there, and one size never fits all reunions or personalities. We all need to take what works for us and our children, and leave the rest that does not apply. There is no rigid formula for reunion that guarantees results, or one "right" way for all to proceed.

    Anon, about "the love you are willing to give"...for what it is worth, that is one of the things my son found off-putting and scary, that I professed to love him, and yet to him I was a stranger. It took him many years to accept that I was an ok person, what I meant by "love" was not the manipulation and obligation he had grown up with.

    I hope you are able to find your birthmother and try again yourself. Sometimes people do change.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I found my son in 2000 when he was 23. He said he was always curious about me but probably would never have searched. I was having all kinds of strange dreams and feeling that I needed to find him, maybe something was wrong. As it turned out, he was fine but very confused about why he was given up ,who I was etc. Our reunion day was one of the happiest days of my life, second only to the day he was born. There have been ups and downs but ,speaking for myself, this has been a very healing experience. We keep in touch still after all these years and I hope this continues. Adoption Crossroads Search snd Support group found him for me. I found the group counselling helpful with both birthmothers and adoptees in the group.

    ReplyDelete
  20. YES, they do! With a few exceptions.

    I remember feeling that I would be breaking the law if I searched. So all I did was register with ISSR. I'm not sure I would have initiated an actual search. Thankfully, I didn't have to — once my son registered with Soundex as well.

    Adoptees, don't forget how indoctrinated and shamed your mothers were. They will be afraid. But most often welcome your finding them.

    ReplyDelete
  21. My first mom most definitely did not want to be found. I have spent some time on adoption related websites, facebook pages, blogs, and live support groups, etc. I have decided that the information and opinions I have heard from first mothers in those setting is interesting but only illuminates the minds of women who want to be found. It appears to weigh the scale in favor of first moms who are eagerly awaiting our search. Trouble is, moms who don't want to be found are not putting any information out there. They are silent. I think there are many, many women like my first mom, who have put us in a box in the past, left us there and want nothing more than for us to stay there. I’m not saying I am sorry I searched. I think it is better to know than wonder endlessly. I just want to reiterate that adoptees who are reading sites like this for insight into their first mother’s mind could very well be clinging to false hope.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Michelle: the opposite of what you say, I fear, is also true. Adoptees who want reunion and information are the ones who search, and yes, those who are disappointed look for solace on the Internet.

    But it is good you found out the truth of your life. We can't all write pretty pictures. I know many first birth mothers whose daughters and sons will not respond to their calls and emails, but just walk out and away for years at a time.

    Adoption leads to many broken hearts.

    ReplyDelete
  23. @Michelle,

    You make a very good point that going to certain blogs and attending search & support groups can give both adoptees and first parents a skewed perspective. Actually, I have been surprised since coming to FMF to hear about so many rejections (especially the number of adoptees being rejected). When I was searching, I was so inundated with positive information about reunion that I didn't think there was a chance I would be rejected. My naivete frightens me now. Well, thank heavens I wasn't rejected or I would have been totally crushed. Not to mention very, very confused.

    The moral of the story seems to be that adoption is very painful and difficult and that the best thing to do is to try to make adoption as rare as possible.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Good post, Lorraine! I have to say though, as a mother of loss and adoptee rights advocate, that it really doesn't matter whether the mother wants to be found. When we signed that relinquishment, we gave up *all* rights to the baby, to ever know about his or her placement, adoption, welfare or whereabouts thenceforth. We were threatened with criminal prosecution if we ever intentionally tried to find our child or interfere in its life with the adoptive family. We retained no rights whatsoever to do with our babies, especially not 30, 40, 50 years later to have ultimate control over his or her access to their own birth/genetic/family history information.
    Even if we wanted to search or make ourselves available, the great majority of older mothers especially are not computer savvy and haven't the slightest idea there are registries or how to go about registering. So we go about our lives and wait in silence, and days slip into months and months into years.
    Don't even get me started on "confidential intermediaries". LOL Just boil down my opinion on that to NO gubmint interference in our intensely personal mother/son/daughter contact or relationships!!! Period!
    Love,
    Pris
    Mother of loss '64 reunited '86
    Now search angel/genealogist/adoptee rights advocate

    ReplyDelete
  25. I dreamed of being found. I imagined my son coming to my door. I would ask him in, offer him a cup of coffee, tell him his story, and he would understand. It didn't happen that way, but it did happen. Our road has been rocky, but I'm glad he searched. Krowing each other has made us both "whole."

    ReplyDelete
  26. I have finally found something to help me with my deep need to understand the feelings I and my daughter have towards each other. Even though it has been 16 years since she "found" me and we retain a close relationship, it is a roller coaster ride. Some days she barely will look at me, other days she hugs and holds me and tells me how much she loves me, I just feel so needy about wanting it to be always right but knowing that somewhere, way back in the dark recesses of my mind, I just have to accept whatever she is ready to give and there is nothing I can do about it. Just stay close, Just stay close, don't criticize, don't argue and maybe she will love me more.

    I gave birth in 1970 at the tender age of 17, only 11 months out of high school, traveling every day by bus to a new job in NYC. After hiding the pregnancy from my parents, friends and co-workers, all of whom I am sure were pointing fingers at me and laughing behind my back because they “knew”..for the entire 9 months. Feeling terror, anger, fear, regret, sorrow and shame, so much shame...fearing they would send me to a home for "unwed mothers" and hate me for ruining their lives.

    You cannot imagine the horrified, disbelieving faces of my two 30 something parents, staring at me from the foot of my hospital bed when they came to see me after the birth, called there by my best friend who came out in the dark of night to bring me to the hospital after I sneaked down the stairs to meet her in her waiting vehicle.

    I signed my daughter away on the 4th day, with much hate in my heart for myself knowing that there could be no life for her with me and my parents under the same roof, it would be brutal. I went through the next 25 years of my life, telling no one. not even the man I later married. Then one day in 1995 my phone rang one day, and it was "her" OH MY GOD!, my feelings of elation. I was bursting with joy. We met later that day and have been connected ever since. I never for one moment had a thought of not having her in my life, to hell with anyone who could not handle this news. And I told everyone in my life including my husband and his family… and oh yes, I am one of those women who never had another child. because in my heart, I didn't deserve to be a mother.

    My daughter is now a mother of three aged 6 and twins of 3. I moved closer to be near her and involved in their lives. we spend a lot of time together. Sadly my mother has refused to meet my daughter. How absolutely enraging this has been to me. My old fashioned mother, fearful of airing her "dirty laundry" or her "skeletons in the closet" My father is long gone but I believe that the birth of my daughter was the huge tear in their relationship so many years ago, my father not understanding how a "mother" could not see that her daughter was pregnant and my mother so angry that she was being held responsible by him for "letting" this happen.

    To this day my mother will not see my daughter and God knows I have tried. But I always bring over videos and pictures of them all to, I guess, push them in her face. hoping deep down that maybe someday the old woman will open her heart.

    Though we are connected in so many good ways, there are some very very tough days, weeks, months where I feel she cannot bear to look me straight in the eye. She is very happy to have a grandma for her kids and wants that. Her adoptive parents passed on 10 years ago, and I will say that it became easier to bond with her once her Mom died because I think her sense of betrayal lessened when her Mom wasn't there to feel perhaps abandoned by us reunion.

    She is a wonderful, bright, smart but complicated young woman...with some mental health issues that I truly believe are deeply rooted in the fact that she is an adopted child. something I can't change, can't take back and will probably spend the rest of my life trying to make up for.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Gale--our stories are different but have the same themes. I hope that other women out there who need to read this find their way to the blog, and the comments. We need to know we are not alone in our grief.

    lorraine

    ReplyDelete
  28. Gale,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your story is very similar to my mother's, except that she was so shamed by what had happened that she refused contact for 11 years. We are now past that, I think, although we have yet to meet.

    You and your daughter deserve every happiness together. I am sorry that you had to live with that burden and emptiness for so long.

    Kara

    ReplyDelete
  29. I wanted to be found and was. My birthson contacted me and we met last sunday. I am glad because I finally was able to let him go entirely. For days afterwards anger, rage, resentment, over all embitteredment came out at nearly everyone. I was shocked. I had to address some real issues. After we met we both understood that I was not his mother. That he had one and this was futile. When I finally got that I was elated. No more guilt, any attachment issues are his not mine. I am grateful to move on. My mother gave me up it took years to let her go. The only Mother I have is Our Holy Mother Mary. I pray to Her to tend to my seedling.

    ReplyDelete

We welcome comments from all, and appreciate letting us know how you relate to adoption when you leave your first comment.

COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish or not. We are trying to find a way to end the endless anonymous comments, which drive many of us crazy. Pick a name! Any name. Choose the NAME/URL selection. You do not need a URL. Your name does not have to be your name IRL though we appreciate those who do, and we understand due to the sensitive nature of our subject, many will prefer to use a nom de plume. Okay with us, but the endless Anons are tiresome for everyone. If you post as "anonymous" you run the risk of not being posted.

We try to be timely but we do have other lives.

For those coming here from Networked Blogs on Facebook, if it does not allow you to make a comment, click the "x" on the gray "Networked Blogs" tool bar to exit out of that frame and it should then let you comment.