Saturday, April 7, 2012

After the birth mother/adoptee reunion: Dealing with rejection all over again

Jane and Lorraine in Sag Harbor, circa 1996
The reaction to the post about my daughter that have stayed with me were with ones from first mothers whose children, now found, are not speaking to them. I mentioned the lapses in my relationship with my  own daughter's at the end of the previous post, Remembering my daughter on her birthday.

I usually don't write about her not talking to me much now because it's obviously no longer an issue. She is gone. I don't cry anymore because she won't speak to me; I have cried plenty, but now she cannot speak to me, except in dreams.


But the silences, oh the silences were terrible.  Her birthday was the worst: did I send a card or call when she had rebuffed me for so long? When I felt that calling would only reach a answering machine? When leaving a message felt like it was going into a black hole? So I did not.

Adoption reunions are so complicated. What starts in joy and relief--as ours did--by turns was up and down and sometimes felt gone for good. One time Jane stayed away for more than a year; that was when her first daughter was born, and given up for adoption.

Then we were close again. For years.

Then, nearly a decade later, after she married a good man, after I had a reading in that ceremony, after years of smooth sailing, after I thought she would never distance herself again, her younger brother died in a skiing accident. He was not an adopted son, but the biological issue of her adoptive parents. She called me crying, I tried to comfort her; the memorial service, as I understand it, was disturbing to both her and her adopted brother because of a casual remark by their mother. The adopted son did not speak to their mother for nearly a year.

Jane took the opposite track: she got rid of me. She would prove to her adoptive mother she was a good daughter and she could do that by pushing me--only the birth mother!--away, far away. When Jane left for the memorial service in another state, we had been close; when she returned, the distance in her grew greater by the day, and within a couple of weeks, it was as if I did not exist. We did not have words; we had no disagreement; she was just gone. She was not going to answer my phone calls, or respond to any letter. She didn't have email then. I retreated. At the time, I had no idea why this had happened.

I saw her once when I went to Wisconsin to pick up her second daughter, who would spend a good part of the summer with us. Jane and I spoke, but never alone, and in the presence of her parents--we all hand lunch after mass--she was surly to me. After that summer was over I went to a CUB (Concerned United Birthparents) retreat and heard Nancy Verrier say that at least once we ought to tell our children that we were sorry they had to be adopted--no tacking on excuses, or blame, just a simple, I'm sorry. I screwed up my courage and called a month later, her husband answered, and she came to the phone. I said, I'm sorry. We talked for about an hour. But that was it. There was no change in the relationship. She did not call back.

FEELING LIKE A MAGNET
Then, miraculously, months later, she called one day and we were back on, as if nothing had been in our way. She ultimately let me know that she had pushed me away to prove to her other mother that she was a good daughter, and the way to do that was to show her other mother that I did not count much. Another time she told me she felt like a magnet--if she moved towards one, she had to move away from the other, that she constantly felt pushed and pulled in different directions. When she committed suicide, we were at a good place--after a summer when she cut me off again. It was always like that, up and down. Over all the years, however, we were in touch much more than not, and we had a lot of good years. She'd answer my phone calls as soon as she could. One Thanksgiving when we couldn't be together, she called our house four times throughout the day. She returned phone calls as soon as she could. For long stretches of time, our relationship actually felt normal.

Yet I think of a good friend, a birth mother, who has a daughter who hasn't spoken to her in five or six years. I read the blogs of mothers whose tears could fill a small lake. I sometimes think adoptees can never understand how deep the pain they inflict when they walk away; but it has to be the same for them when first mothers distance themselves when they, the adopted, want desperately to have a relationship. I think often it is the husband who doesn't want this reminder of another relationship around; like lions who kill the cubs of another father if they take over the pride, the fathers do not want the individual from other time, issue of another man, around either, disturbing everyday life as they know it. It is easy to accept someone when he or she isn't around, but when she or he pops up, that's another story.  I know wives of birth fathers who are just as rejecting of their husband's children from another time, and as cruel. A child is proof of something; someone perhaps to be counted in the will, or to claim objects when the heirlooms are divided up, or to claim a grandparent's affection, and when that someone is not related by blood or kinship or friendship to them, some individuals revert to basic animalistic urges and motives that go back to the beginning of time.

ACCEPTING WHAT IS, NOT ALWAYS WAITING FOR WHAT ISN'T
I started this post hoping to find some words of comfort for those first mothers still bravely going through the silences that are so deep, and the same for the adoptees feeling the same despair and rejection, but I seem to be unable to find any words that sound comforting. Ultimately, we all have to recognize that the choice another makes is not our doing, and nothing we can do will change her unless she wants to be changed. We have to live our lives finding joy where we can, in our families, in our pastimes and careers, in a church, with our friends. We have to release those who do not want us in their lives. We can feel sad, but we have to see that sometimes a broken relationship is beyond our ability to repair. Relationships take two people. We have to accept what is, and stop waiting for what is not. This is hard to do, and full of sorrow, but ultimately leads to serenity. We have to make the best of the hand that's dealt us, and we all don't get a Royal Flush. --lorraine
_______________________

From FMF: Valentine's Day Message: I'm sorry without caveats
Does surrender (for the birth/first mother) and adoption (for the child) lead to PTSD?

Nancy Verrier's second book about adoptee trauma and its lifelong effects.

34 comments :

  1. Lorraine, sometimes, in the weeks, months and years that my daughter is silent, I feel as if my world is going to spin out of control. Or I used to. After 10 years of the game - 2 of them in total silence - and all the insanity that seems to come with it, well, I just don't want to play anymore. I love my daughter, always, but I don't like her much and I don't want to continue this mess the way it is.

    Accepting what is, well that was easy at first.... until this year. This year it finally registered that I am really nothing to her. That I am a convenient money tree or someone to blame when she feels like the world is against her.

    I always accept people at face value.... it is like a tip to a waitress. You start out with the maximum amount you will tip. Each time there is an issue that is the waitress' problem, it gets smaller. With people, I accept almost every person as a good person, it is up to them to be good people.

    Sounds a bit harsh, but it is my reality. People come in all shades of gray and I accept that and those shades.

    To simply wait for the other shoe with my daughter is not something I am willing to continue.

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  2. My heart goes out to those mothers who are put in limbo by their grown children. Off and on, and some who have never been allowed the chance to be on.

    In my 16 years of reunion, I too have been on and off, allowed, then denied. If I had to venture a guess during the first 10-12 years, I'd say 60% on 40% off, usually by my sons' choice.

    I am one of those rare mothers who has ultimately denied contact, because of the on and offs, the abuse I was subjected to during the ons, and the threats to be off again. I thought I was just taking a break. Then it turned out that I enjoyed the break. I focused on boundaries and my own needs for change in our relationship. I am hesitant to jump back in, since I've seem no evidence of change, just more excuses, and I doubt my own ability to uphold the boundaries, to not be drawn back in emotionally. Because, yes, I am still emotionally vulnerable and probably always will be.

    I know this flies in the face of mothers whose children have been denied contact. That they might love to have what I do, at least as it once was, to see and know their child. And here I am holding back.

    Trust me, in my case it is with good reason. I wish all of you to meet and be in the lives of your relinquished child. that they will let you in, and that you will have a better result.

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  3. Your story always brings me to tears, Lorraine. Thank you again for sharing. I think adoption breaks us in ways we don't always understand, and the ways we react to that don't always make sense. I, too, wish that I had the words to comfort those who have been rejected.

    "Accepting what is..." for me, that is the hardest part of dealing with my mother's rejection. My brain knows I shouldn't take it personally, but I'm not sure it can be explained to my heart. It's not something I will ever get over, even if somehow our relationship improves one day. Part of me - and part of her, I'm sure - will always remain broken by adoption.

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  4. I wish I did no so fully understand all these comments. The big adoption promoters have no idea what kind of lifelong heartache adoption unleashes on a great many of us--first mothers and adoptees. And like Triona says, it never ends. When a friend said yesterday that if I hadn't found Jane, my life would just have "gone on," I thought, yes, that's true, but with the biggest aching question mark in my soul. I will always be eternally glad I found her--I had to find her--even though our relationship--despite a shared religion and political bent--still had so many rough patches. But as I said, I focus o the good parts now. She could be funny, ironic, and understanding, and most of all, she was my daughter and I saw in her so much of myself.

    Broken by adoption? Yeah, me too. Damn, you folks have me crying this morning.

    In a previous post, Jane and I both commented about the fact that the year our children was born the Easter week issue of Time magazine had a cover that simply stated, against a black background: Is God Dead? This week it is Rethinking Heaven. Quelle difference.

    My world changed when I gave my daughter up to what seemed like the only solution. Today, this morning on Easter once again, I am spirited back to that time when I had just gotten out of the hospital and spent the day alone in despair. God was certainly dead to me that day. There is not much difference in how I feel about "God" between that day long ago and this one. But oddly enough, today I may slip into Mass. The ceremony is weirdly comforting.

    And because of my surgery, I am not able to make a nice lunch for my friends today. Miss that too. But life goes on. We can't all get a Royal Flush; today I'd say it's a pair of sevens.

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  5. Accepting what is, not always waiting for what isn't - words of wisdom but they seem impossible to me. I am in a communication limbo with my son - we live in the same city and have yet to meet despite him indicating he wanted to - I reach out with no response. If somebody could tell me how to do this - how to find joy in the blessings of my life without yearning for him to be part of it - I'd gladly do it. I wish peace for all of us impacted by the "gift" of adoption.
    S

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  6. I think we have to accept that we all go on yearning, and that it is incredibly stressful and hurtful. How hard to be in the same city, and have him be...cold and uncaring.

    "Gift" of adoption, indeed.

    Sometimes I have remind myself that there are mothers who raised children--who do not speak to them for what seem to be the slenderest of reasons. Didn't help much, but it was a reality check.

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  7. I do the same, Lorraine, remind myself that there are many 'intact' families who do not speak to each other.

    I am trying to find that joy in everyday things. I am also realizing that this abyss in my soul is a new normal and I'll never get rid of it. My son hasn't spoke to me in several months, but my reaching out does nothing to provoke a response, so I stopped. No disagreements, no fights, no hateful words exchanged; just dropped like a heavy rock without explanation. I have to accept that. He knows the truth, he knows what happened, he knows I love him and my door is open. But I can do know more. When he comes to the city here where I live, which he does a few times a month, I just have to swallow my heart and let it go, depurate to find comfort in the fact that he just may possibly be happy. I long to wake one day without a constant reminder.

    Happy Easter, indeed.

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  8. Well, unfortunately, I am one of those first mothers who has contacting my daughter, but she wants no part of me... I've been seriously thinking of sending her a message when she turns 45 (2014), I know - 2 years off, but you know... I don't want to, but I do! She has asked for NO contact whatsoever, until she contacts me, if ever... I've already started a letter to her, but keep getting "stuck" on what to say in the first lines about that "no contact" she emphatically stated in her letter to me!
    Oh well... life goes on, but it sure hurts that she doesn't even want to meet... or have ANY contact with me...

    Happy Easter!

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  9. Lo your last post had me crying so much I was speechless. It was a beautiful and bittersweet tribute to your daughter.

    And now today's post has me crying too. Just the title was triggering, and left me with a lump in my throat.

    Like you I try to remember the good times. There isn't a day that goes by that I do not think about my mother. It would be a futile effort to even try. I see her every time I look in the mirror.

    I never rejected my mother. Not once. Not even during our darkest times. I remember once not all that long ago during a dark time when we both ended up sobbing and I collapsed in her arms and for a few moments I thought we are going to make it this time. Things will be better this time. Love will win and beat down adoption.

    But that didn't happen. And again not my choice, but hers.

    When we reunited, both of us so young, me 15, mother 34, I know we both felt at the time we beat adoption and NY's horrific closed records system. (all the credit to my mother as I was just a kid). Going with your card references, well that was a Royal Flush.

    The reunion was a success. The relationship afterwards not so much. 27 years, I would say 50% on, and 50% off. Hurts to think about it like that, but there it is.

    Today I suppose I feel like I'm holding a pair of Jacks. I have good memories and pictures that go with those memories.

    My mother gave me many gifts ( and I'm not talking presents, although there are those too). Today I hold those gifts,from both her and my father, close to my heart.

    Happy Easter to all.

    Elizabeth

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  10. Happy Easter all. Having now spent almost 21 years in reunion with my daughter, I can attest to feeling your collective pain. For almost 16 years I had the picture perfect reunion (if you didn't dust the lens).. then it all changed.
    Here's what I know after 4 years of a very rough road, lead with love in your heart. And if that means no contact, so be it. Always, always keep our love flowing toward them, especially when they don't want contact. I've shut down and shut off, rebuilding the walls of years ago, but they are made of sand not stone. I may not like the way she behaves, but I am glad in my heart to have known her for all this time - and had a chance to be grandmother to both of her daughters. No matter what the future holds for us, I remain grateful and loving in my mind. It settles my soul.
    Would I love our relationship to be like it was when her children were small and she needed and wanted me close in her life - of course. But these are different chapters. I just have to trust that time will be on our side and I remain open to her love when it comes back again.

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  11. "My world changed when I gave my daughter up to what seemed like the only solution."

    All our lives changed - mine and my twin daughters. This week was their birthday, and we are (apparently) well into another period of silence. Logically, I honor their choice to communicate, or not. Emotionally, I am at a loss, cycling between despair and a ragged defeat that is the closest I can come to acceptance.

    There is so much joy in my life from my children after them and a loving husband. How can this continue to be so painful?

    No answers here, either. Maybe there are none to be had.

    - sherri

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  12. Your words are both comforting to know that we as "birthmothers" are not alone in the challenges we face, and also frightening. Will we as natural mothers always face rejection from our relinquished children?

    I give credit to the courage of natural parents who can weather the rejection from their children. I don't see myself being able to suffer through it much longer then when my daughter reaches legal age and can make decisions independant of her adoptive parents.

    Already I feel that our reunion with my daughter has caused pain to my other children, husband and family. My daugher will be faced with the decision to want to love us or not. If she keeps going away then she has made the decision.

    I may go to my grave with a debt to her that I cannot repay. That no matter what I could not give her enough love to make up for the damage that my "loving decision" has done to her.

    I am willing to live with that. So much better then being the wreck of a person I became after reunion. The family who loves me deserves so much better then that.

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  13. Rejection is terribly, terribly painful, no matter how you cut it. Having been on the receiving end for so long, and having been deeply enmeshed in what seemed liked inescapable despair, I don't know how I got through some of those days. They felt terribly long, and I was so broken.

    We all have to manage our lives as we can, and that management can be an ordeal--for some more than others, to be certain. My heart breaks for those who long for connections they want but don't have, or are denied by others who aren't ready, who are also broken, or who just have nothing to give.

    I spent years and thousands of dollars trying to "fix" things that I thought were on me. If told myself it would be fine if only I pasted on a smile, looked at all the good things I had, etc. It wasn't, because it wasn't *me*. Recently a first mom pointed me to Pauline Boss's work on ambiguous loss, defined as loss without closure, which many of us reading here know all too well. She writes on her Web site: "Rife with ambiguity, losses that cannot be clarified or verified become traumatic, but they can be discussed in community with others to gain meaning and hope. As a colleague said after reflecting on his own experience, 'It’s not easy, but an untenable situation can be maintained indefinitely. I can stand not knowing.'" www.ambiguousloss.com. It's not just *one* person, it's relational, which makes a hell of a lot more sense. Which isn't to say that I like being told, "It's not *you*, it's the situation." It's more complicated than that. I don't know where I'd be if my first family hadn't broken down their wall; I feel whole for the first time in my life, which is something amazing, and more than I ever dared hope. My family and I helped each other, and I am sensitive to their needs now, as they are to mine. I know we will have ups and downs, as any relationships must, but I trust we will communicate about them. I am committed to that, and I have you moms here to thank for that encouragement.

    Lorraine, I am so sorry that you have lost your beautiful daughter. xx

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  14. Thank you for writing so the thousands of us out here in "reunion" don't feel so alone. Hugs!

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  15. Not only this post, but so many of the comments resonate heavily for me. My son's silence slowly started a year ago after his visit here to meet his siblings and their children. I was comfortable with the longer times between emails at first, as I knew he was coping with the reality of all of us. However, now the silence is almost deafening...

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  16. Thank you for this post, I found it very moving.
    My mother hasn't spoken to me in almost 13 years.
    We had a falling out, and despite several attempts to work it through, I was met with refusal, and told, "I wish you were dead and if you would just leave me alone, THEN, [she] could be FREE".
    I've like another commenter said, spent thousands and 13 years, hoping to figure out why this is my fault.
    It's unfortunate all around, but I've arrived at the conclusion, that it's not my fault. At times I can put it down and not think about it, but other times I have to grieve it over again.
    It's nice to know somebody else understands all this.

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  17. Allison, I would be honored to be your birthmother by proxy. The singer/songwriter Mary Gautier (an adoptee whose mother who does not want contact) and I have joked about setting up a matchmaking service for rejected birthmothers and adoptees...if your biological mother/child denies contact, you're free to find another. That would surely work for me. I really like what another commenter said about no closure, we just wait, and hope, that some day things will be different, and live out our life sentences. All things considered, I'm doing better than many, but it requires effort, but it's worth the peace of mind.

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  18. Sometimes long-term rejections do turn around. Not often, but once in a while. Mine did and I am very grateful. It is very hard to balance having hope, and getting on with one's life despite the silence or rejection.

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  19. It is unrealistic for first mothers to think that after doing something so life-altering as giving up a child for adoption that you can expect to have a trouble free reunion with your child.

    This is why it makes me so angry when social workers like Dawn (of Teen Mom fame) lead expectant mothers to believe that adoption is a good idea in the here and now because they can later reunite with their child. As we all know, that is not always possible. And it rarely goes smoothly.

    I recently read on a pro-lifers facebook page that women who place their children for adoption are heroic, courageous and amazing (there's that word again!). I guess with a pat on the back like that it's no wonder young women with crisis pregnancies are still giving up their babies.

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  20. You're right on the money about spouses of birth parents "eating the offspring" of their spouses - the later wife of my birth father absolutely refuses to allow me any contact with him and told me she would have me charged with harassment if I visited, called or even wrote to him. I don't know what she is terrified of, but I find it hard to think kindly of her.

    As to mothers who refuse contact with their adopted children, I did write to mine with all the information I thought she would want to know about me - apparently she got what she needed and felt no need to reciprocate. It makes us adopted persons feel so effing good to know we have no worth in the eyes of those who were responsible for bringing us into the world.

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  21. Adoption rejection works both ways, and that to me is the saddest part of it all. It is awful no matter what side you are on.

    I don't know what birth mothers and birth fathers who reject are afraid of, or how they can do it.

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  22. Speaking of reunions, Jack Wagner of General Hospital and Melrose Place fame recently met his duaghter who was lost to infant adoption. Might be old news to some here, I just read about it today.

    Echoing Robin, I too am annoyed at "Dawn" and "Drew" on Teen Mom who just casually spout off platitudes like "it's not goodbye, it's see you later." If only it were that simple.

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  23. 'I guess with a pat on the back like that it's no wonder young women with crisis pregnancies are still giving up their babies.'


    That meaningless pat on the back had no influence on me as a pregnant 16 year old. What did was being told that a) my child would have a totally shit life with me, and b) there was a wonderful, loving, proper family out there just longing and completely able to give him a fantastic life, and how mean would I be to deny him that?

    Both of these assertions were utter crap, as I found out when I was older, and both me and my son suffered horribly and deeply as a result of this confection.

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  24. What you heard Belle, is what social engineers called adoption social workers have been saying for generations.

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  25. Yes, sadly I know that now. I didn't know it back then, like so much else I didn't know.

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  26. As an adoptee, it hurts so deeply to hear these stories of original abandonment justification. As a first mother, feeling rejection from the child you abandoned is too much pain to bear. You turn to what you know and abandon him again, somehow internally justifying that original choice.

    As adoptees, our original abandonment never (never!) heals. Even if you return to us, it doesn't erase the "primal wound"; instead, the "wounder" returns...and for what? Somehow, we know that every (every!) person with whom we have a relationship will abandon us if the circumstances line up just so. We (subconciously) try to push those individuals to that point. But with you, who already abandoned us, but are our Mothers (my Mother!), we hope that somehow you'll be the mother we dreamed of - the mother that many others have, the mother that we adoptees are to our own children - we hope that, somehow, you won't make that terrible mistake again, especially now that you know us.

    But, you do. It's always been easier for you to walk away, so you do. Like Frankenstein with his monster, you've come to detest the very thing you created.

    And then, the adoptee is able to justify what he always knew - she abandoned my because something was wrong with ME.

    Original abandonment justified.

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  27. Re: Kristi's comment

    Many of us remained unaware of our own abandoment issues as it related to adoption for many years, not to mention being ignorant of the adoptee's point of view.

    I know in my case I was unaware of how the pattern of abandonment played out over the years in my own life (by this I mean both abandoning others while expecting rejection from pretty much everyone).

    It wasn't until reunion and a great deal of book and blog reading that I was able to reflect on this problem and how it keeps rearing its ugly head. I can now consciously work on it when I see myself moving in that direction with people in general, and more importantly I can focus on not abandoning my son again regardless of the circumstances. That's the best I can do until I find a time machine that will allow me to undo the past.

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  28. Kristi, maybe, after a while, and also after understanding the issues, I became aware that my daughter was going to come and go, but I decided I could never reject her. The last break, it seemed to me, was over an issue so silly though that I could hardly believe it had happened again. When she returned several months later, this time we talked but it. I said, if you mean what you say now, don't do that again.

    She said, OK.

    She added some precious words to me then that I will always hold dear to my heart. She said she knew I was her mother.

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  29. I'm sorry but Nancy Vernier has some great ideas but the one that has me upset is when adopters realize that there AREN'T unwanted children and they created a market by wanting what wasn't theirs THEY should apologize! And not at 18 but right that minute. they should be in search for the real mother and apologize to her that instant and forever. Since the wounds of adoption remain FOREVER!

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  30. Anon, your point is?

    That the wound of adoption is not forever? Read some adoptee blogs; start with The Declassified Adoptee and others listed on the blog sidebar. They might let the scales fall from your eyes.

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  31. That makes me teary, Lorraine! Thanks for sharing. :)

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  32. Thank you Kristi for your comments. I have been in reunion (if you can call it that) with my natural mother for 30 years, and your comment about 'Frankenstein's monster' hits the nail on the head. I recently tried again to find out why she is so rejecting and cold, and the message I received in return was so shocking - she seems to view me as a weird, disembodied monster not a human being. It's truly shocking and disturbing to be on the receiving end of this. I have to be honest and say that I wish I had never met her, I have suffered mental health problems ever since we were reunited, before that I had a very limited childhood but I had my dreams, which have now been shattered. I think I need to be honest with myself and attempt to cut her out of my heart, however difficult that may be. There is a level where this kind of behaviour is abuse, and that is not something anyone should have to tolerate...

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  33. Thank you Anonymous, you really helped me today. I am also the Monster in my mother's life...weird. I also had an email which was brutal in the extreme. She was denying she was a Monster, so maybe that's it, her or me. This is abuse, I can see from the comments here that it is part of the effects of surrendering a child to some extent, I can mentally understand why...but emotionally, it is abuse. To blame an innocent baby, which is what we were, for being the victim of rejection is a failure to take responsibility as a parent. Yes, I too have had mental health issues since reunion, this messes with your head. In my opinion, there's a big difference in parents stopping contact and children. I have finally got some peace by stepping away and understanding that I was an innocent being who was the victim of two perpetrators, my mother who abandoned me to fate, and the adoptive 'parents' who took what was not theirs. All adopted people are victims in this way. We are made by double think to own the guilt of both sets of 'parents' and to parent them in this way, whilst remaining orphans in our hearts. It's heart breaking. I don't mean this to be harsh on natural mothers who fully accept what they have done when they learn the truth, later, I speak from the experience of my mother who has been as cruel and cold as could be imagined.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, Anonymous, the world is made up of all kinds. Adoption was supposed to be a "good thing" for both child and mother, but it often messes up so many--which may be the case with your mother, who was undoubtedly told that she would "make a new life" and not think about the child. Worse advice cannot be given.

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