' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Reaching Those Women in the Closet

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reaching Those Women in the Closet

I wish I had the magic words that could unlock the hearts and minds of those women who reject the idea of their child coming back!

Though my pregnancy was certainly unplanned, and I admit that I tried to have an abortion in 1966, everything changed for me when my daughter was born. Everything. Giving her up was the worst/hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I will spend the rest of my life accepting that. So I can't figure these women out.

Several years ago I read about a type of personality in the New York Times that is able to put aside, or internalize, bad things that happened to them--the total opposite of "let it all hang out," and there was some thought that this might be psychologically healthy--perhaps even healthier--than keeping the hurt alive. Well, all that is fine, but when you have a child, no matter what, you end up with a certain amount of responsibility to that child. Even if you are unable to have a relationship--because of the constant pain that resurfaces--you owe that individual at least as much information as you can give, and one face to face meeting at the very least.

The best understanding I can have of these women is that the birth and relinquishment was so painful that they can not deal with having it resurface, as it all does during a reunion. Oh, it does. During that time of initial reunion it feels as if the scabs are all ripped off the grief and you're back to where you were when it happened--but at least with the knowledge that you are able to know your child. Which is the relief. I used to look forward to my daughter's visits (which might be the entire summer) but she had a myriad of psychological problems, many relating to her epilepsy, that drew me and the rest of my immediate family into her vortex. Consequently, when she left there was always tremendous relief, and guilt over feeling the relief. I've hated to admit this, but it's true.

Yet despite any difficulties...

The need for the vast majority of adoptees and their first mothers to reunite was considered by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) nearly three decades ago. After holding numerous hearings on the issue around the country, the agency included these words in a proposed Model Adoption Act in 1980:

“There can be no legally protected interest in keeping one’s identity secret from one’s biological offspring; parents and child are considered co-owners of the information regarding the event of birth….The birth parents’ interest in reputation is not alone deserving of constitutional protection.”

While some provisions of the act were promulgated, the recently formed National Council for Adoption (and, FYI, for closed adoptions) led the fight to keep this out the bill. According to E. Wayne Carp in Family Matters, HEW received more than 3,000 comments from the public, 82 percent of which opposed the model act entirely. Ninety percent of the adoptive parents who responded objected to the open-records provision. I'm going to project that if the bill came up today, adoptive parents would not mount this kind of opposition, because a Cornell University survey of more than a thousand adoptive parents found that the majority of them (80 percent) supported reunion. Or at least, giving their children the tools to effect it--that is, the information of their birth.

When the bill passed, the open records provision was rewritten "to protect the privacy of the birth parents."

Every woman who surrenders a child deserves our understanding, but...how do we reach those who reject a reunion? Maybe just by getting more of good reunion stories out there. The biggest hurdle for many is likely to be that they never told their new families, and how are they going to spill the beans? The husband/family is certainly going to feel as if they were lied to for all these years. Just as adoptees who were not told and find out when they are older feel betrayed. Lied to.

And on the other side, there are adoptees who reunite and then walk away, leaving the mother bereft and feeling worse than before the reunion.

Adoption is always painful. We are always making the best of a sad situation.


  1. I don't understand *why* our daughter had to have a new birth certificate. *We* (my husband and I) didn't create her. We had nothing to do with her birth! Why do they close the records?? I think it's *her* right to know! Is there a concern that fewer parents will place their children for adoption if the records are open? It makes me so mad!

    (FTR, I had a wonderful social worker who gave me copies of our daughter's original BC -- but only because I bothered to ask for it!)

  2. Lorraine - Thank you for expanding on this. Since my birth mother's denial I have tried really hard to understand, and I still don't, much as I don't understand adoptees who shut their blood relatives out - why? Isn't all of this hard enough without making it harder?

    When I started searching, I was repeatedly told I was being disrespectful to my first mother. "She's moved on - can't you leave it alone?" And even more so now that she has denied contact. When I express what you did - that if you have a child you have some responsibility - I am vilified for daring to speak up for my rights. I'm not asking to be invited to Sunday dinner, but I do want the same access to my original (unaltered) birth certificate and other records as everyone else. So many adoptees give up under that pressure of being constantly told "you are ungrateful, it's none of your business."

    Rozzo - Yes, the reason the records are closed is because the adoption agencies think prospective adopters won't adopt if the first family can come back to "haunt" them. It's why so many of today's adoptions are international, and in fact the adoption agencies promote this as being a means to ensure that the first family cannot be found. Your daughter is so lucky. I'd do just about anything to be able to obtain my original birth certificate, but my adoptive parents did the opposite and made sure it was locked tight.

  3. of women I have talked to, many who have "put it aside" look back and tell me how second, third pregnancies were terrifying, or how they were so protective, etc etc, and never knew why. When they revisited the trauma, it became crystal clear.

    I have ebb and flow of hope for a reunion. My child is still a minor, and will be for many years. The waiting always sucks. And, there is always the fear that one day she will attempt to find me, and then she will reject me. Or that I will say, do the wrong thing, and she will never speak to me again.

    But, I would never stop an adult (or child for that matter) in getting any of their information.

    adoption records are closed to protect the adoption agencies and the lawyers (and all other political influences that profit from adoption). If they were to be opened, we would see the coercion, the theft, the immorality of how most adoptions are (en)forced.

  4. As most (all) gay people will probably tell you it feels much better to be out of the closet than in. I didn't understand this until I found my son.

    One of the hardest things I had to do was tell my daughter who was born after I found my son that he had not always been with me and had been adopted. She was very young but I remember her being very understanding and supportive.

    I suspect these women have not told anyone and this is part of what they fear. I hope those around them are more understanding than that.

    And yes the scabs do get ripped off, as you say. But that's OK.

  5. Triona, what you said about prospective adopters and Intl. adoptions just makes me feel sad.:(

    My daughter's first parents, well, they...do things they shouldn't, things that are against the law. I *would* be scared of having them in her life *right now* because of the kinds of things they are doing. But I would love to be able to at least talk to them and give them updates. I would LOVE it if they would just *ask* to know about her!

    I just can't understand *why* people (PAP's) would want to slam that door shut and pretend like their kid's first parents don't exist/don't count.

    BTW -- I am sorry for these highjacks. Until I adopted and I started looking online for "adoption issues", I never thought of adoption as anything but a warm-and-fuzzy-everybody-wins-the-kids-will-be -just fine type of thing. KWIM?

    I have been trying to read and learn as much as I can.

  6. Rozzo - Sorry, not meaning to make you feel sad. It's the way the adoption industry operates. Take a look at Addie's encounter with the people representing Holt International at the Iowa State Fair (addiepray.wordpress.com). She mentions how the Holt lady was quick to say "most mothers disappear after giving up rights to thier (sic) children. She said there was no way that they could be found ever again."

    I think we all believed adoption is win-win for everybody, and we go through a period of shock and horror when we discover what's really crawling underneath. I know I was astounded when I discovered that my own adoption might not have been above board - and that such gray-market adoptions continue to this day. It's good you've kept reading, even though it makes you uncomfortable, because it will put you in a position to help your daughter with the questions she will have about her adoption and birth family.

    As for the women in the closet - I guess telling our stories is the only way to reach them.

  7. My mother was one of those "women in the closet," and she explains her personal perspective on our blog.

    It took me over fifteen years to find my mother, and I spent another 3 years waiting while she refused contact.

    The biggest reason for her? After all the programming that was drilled into her by social workers and the like, she wholeheartedly believed that I couldn't want anything from her besides medical information. And she couldn't handle opening up all those old wounds by seeing or hearing from me when she would be tossed away once I had extracted all the information I needed from her. Because, hey, after all, she was nothing but a babymaking vessel, right?

    I found my mother's sister after waiting for 3 years for the phone to ring. She was very happy to hear from me and was able to break down my mother's walls. The magic words my mother needed to hear were "she NEEDS you". Up until then, she figured the perfect parents with the 3 bedroom house and the swimming pool must have provided me with everything I NEEDED, that she could never give. What I really needed, though, was her love.

  8. I too am amazed when a first mom denies contact (being one myself). I have many adoptee friends who have been rejected. It breaks my heart. Another mom (whose son has denied contact), an adoptee (whose mother has pretty much ignored her for 12 years), and I once came up with a grand plan, where we would drive a bus around the country, visiting first moms, talking to them, and trying to get them out of the closet. Which of course we never did it...

    I do think it has to do with the trauma and indoctrination that occurred during relinquishment. Some rise above it and some don't.

  9. I've jokingly said I'm going to start a service a la match.com for rejected birthmothers and adoptees, i.e., create new dynamics. Like most of us here, I know far too many adoptees (one is more than enough) who have had reluctant birthmothers, if they had any reunion at all. And they all said they'd love to have me be their birthmother (but of course, it's just not the same, is it?).

    Sadly, of the birthmothers I know personally, none of us have an ongoing relationship with our [usually] firstborns/only children, and it was our children who ended the relationship. And after the grieving period--mine took about 18 months--we were shocked to find we were actually relieved. Our children, now in their 30s and 40s, are just overwhelmed, or in denial, or are perfectly "fine" and don't need their first mothers.

    I was always "out," I told anyone who was interested about the child I brought into the world but was unable to raise. I spoke often and loudly on adoption panels and presentations. But my involvement with the adoption community has lessened since our estrangement over three years ago, and now I'm more comfortable hiding behind my keyboard, supporting open records with e-mails to the editor and our elected officials. I'm usually the biggest cheerleader for any cause I'm passionate about, but I'm not optimistic that somewhere down the line my daughter will reconnect.

  10. Linda said "Sadly, of the birthmothers I know personally, none of us have an ongoing relationship with our [usually] firstborns/only children, and it was our children who ended the relationship."

    That may contribute to the fears mothers have when a reunion is attempted. It's always there in the background, "what happens if he walks away?" That is an overwhelming thought for me.

  11. I take it to the lessons that are learned when (some) women relinquished in secrecy in the closed era.. Grief was not acknowledged.. Feelings were put away and a person was expected to get out there and get a job or get back to school..
    And lie..

    A person may have learned that the way to be loved is to ‘act as if’ and in turn they chose the emotionally distant mate..
    and in turn kept the secret for years..

    Turning that train around can be daunting..

    I kept my secret for twenty years..

    What I try and do is hang out in places where a woman that is coming out of hiding would go.. and I watch for them.. and I welcome them and I encourage them to post..

    It works..


  12. 9 months after identifying her, several letters with no response. She bore me 58 years ago.

    Called – 6:00pm Phone rang 3 times.


    "Mrs. Robertson? Is this a good time to call? Can you talk for a minute?

    "Yes. Who is this?"

    "Robert Haight. I just wanted to know if you could answer some questions for me."

    "I've told you, there's nothing to talk about. "

    "I understand that. I just hoped you could give me some answers."

    "You know I told you before – I don't want to talk about this, I don't want to think about this. It was a closed adoption – you have no right to bother me. I made my decision years ago and that's that."

    "I just want to know some things."

    "There's nothing unusual in your medical history. That's all you need to know. Please leave me alone. Why do you want to know?"

    "Two reasons, I guess. One is that I still want to know my paternal history. The other is that I just want to know how I fit into the human race, where I come from. Can you at least tell me who my father was?"

    "I don't think I can even remember his name. I don't want you to contact my family or friends about this. Can you understand that?"

    "I understand and I don't want to hurt you. But I just need to know."

    "You know you had no right to go onto Vicki's website and leave that message. Vicky was nothing like you, you had nothing in common. She took after her father. It was not right for you to be there."

    "I'm sorry that you feel that way. I think she and I would have been friends."

    "Don't you understand by now how I feel? I feel like you're stalking me. Just leave me alone."

    "I wish you didn't feel that way, but I understand. If that's the way you want it, I'll just have to live with it."

    "That's what I want. Don't call me again."

    "I guess I just have to respect that. I'm sorry"

    She got a bit angry. I didn't want to be so I said goodbye.

    My half sister died in February, just before I found her. I still have a half brother out there.

    It's hard not to be angry, to understand how badly adoption hurt her.

  13. Interesting article on reunion and rejection: http://www.quantumparenting.com/articles/10/

    Also, sign up for Stephen Fitzpatrick's new form at www.adoptionevolve.com

  14. Dear maybe...just read the article you suggested, and it really covered a lot of good points, esp. about the adoptee's push-pull reaction to the first mother. Anybody still following this chain, take a look at it, (see above comment for url.)

    I'll write more about it later, but my experience is that there is some anger and resentment and it comes out one way or another. The paper above talks about how the adoptee hopes in some way that that adoption can be "undone" and when the reunion is over, the hurt linger on...and so we blame the first mother. And punish her. My daughter, with whom I had a mostly good relationship...did it many times.

    And d28 bob--I'm still reeling over that conversation you related for us. I'm so so sorry your mother isn't more ... evolved, and can at least see that meeting you would be a good thing, for you, for her. She needs someone to tell her that you need her. I wish I could do it.

    many many hugs.




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