' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Are Birth Mothers Motivated by Selfishness?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Are Birth Mothers Motivated by Selfishness?

As National Adoption Month draws to a close today, I find myself irritated with myself that I let the thoughtless remarks about birth mothers who search from an acquaintance get to me as much as they did. He basically said that birth mothers searching and longing for a reunion was motivated by selfishness, and selfishness alone. Our deep-seated guilt and continuing sorrow over abandoning a child to genetic strangers? Oh, well. His attitude, I would guess, is formed by the many adoptive parents he knows as well as that lovely movie, Juno.

An email response to his wife alerted both of them that the heated discussion about adoption that we had in September got out of hand and hurt me deeply. He called on the cell the evening before Thanksgiving just as my husband and I sat down to dinner. He was apologizing, but I did not actually think he knew why he was doing so. I said, let's get together, we just sat down to eat...

The meeting never happened. He did have a busy Thanksgiving weekend at his house, but his house in less than a half-mile away, and he has no kids demanding time and attention. He may have thought I wanted to berate him and dissolve into tears, and while I told myself I expressively did not want to do that, He didn't know that and I was insisting we meet in person. Now I am sorry I set any kind of pre-condition. I assumed we were better friends than we were. My mistake. I just need to let him move out of my life. Or at least, move away from the place where he can upset me so much.

I've been attacked many times over the course of the last three decades when I published the first birth mother memoir, Birthmark. And I've always been able to brush aside the fusillade, even though my adrenaline is coursing through my veins. Talking about adoption for me is never merely an intellectual exercise; it's always intensely personal and strikes my core.

But Lordy, even writing about this incident again feels like too much messaging of my sore ego. Now he's probably on the way back to the city in this miserable rain; I just want to drop this whole thing and move somewhat away from him (not as easy as it sounds, given our multiple connections), but be able to sit next to him comfortably at a dinner party. But when he asked: What part of the pie chart of a birth mother who searches is 'selfish'?, I wish I had quickly responded: "What part of the pie chart of adoptive parents who are against a birth mother making a reconnection is 'selfish'? The woman gave the adoptee life, doesn't she have any rights? How did all the rights move over to the side of the adoptive parents? The condition of anonymity was not requested, it was imposed on birth mothers."

What this contretemps taught me is that here are a lot of people out there who really really think our curiosity about the children we lost to adoption--what we feel is so much more than that word conveys--is motivated only by base and selfish reasons. We've got some educating to do. In that respect, I ought to be grateful to this man. Now I know how he, and many, many others, feel. To them, open adoption is pretty much unthinkable.

Now the good news: In the Zanesville Times-Recorder, columnist Lori Law writes of adoptive parents who make the birth mother a part of their lives. And in the Fredericksberg Free Lance-Star there is the story of an adoptee who was happy to be found by her mother. So progress is being made.

Happy Adoption Month...Well, I don't know if I'd go that far.


  1. My surrendered daughter Megan's adoptive mother, Roberta, insisted that I had some kind of sinister motive for continuing the relationship which Megan had commenced. "What is her [my] agenda" she asked Megan repeatedly. Roberta suggested to Megan that my objective was to convert her to feminism. I did send Megan a copy of "The Feminine Mystique" but convincing her of the validity of the woman's movement was not my reason for continuing the relationship.

    In fairness to Roberta, she had been told that mothers didn't want their children, forgot them, and went on with their lives. It may have crossed her mind that I was motivated by love and sorrow but I'm sure she didn't want to think this.

  2. Selfish schmelfish.
    I think it's reductive to think that way, and that those do might consider whether perhaps they have their own 'selfish' reasons for doing so.

  3. I just throw the selfish thing back in their face. The adoptive parents are selfish for not allowing a relationship with the natural family.

  4. I think it's the way he put it that's insensitive.
    I have no doubt that in my own case there's a selfish element my reunion, but I don't see what's wrong with that. If I had been *more* selfish (as in less submissive and easily cowed) when I was young, I'd never have been separated from my son. Selfish isn't all bad.

    I wonder, in a case of a mother who vetoes her adult child's right to his/her information, how much of *that* particular pie he'd think was selfish.
    Or would he label the adoptee selfish?
    Just wondering.

  5. Searching has some selfish and some selfless motives for most people,as do many choices in life. I know this was true in my case.

    But the fact is searching mothers don't know if their child might need information or want to know them, and in a closed adoption the only way they can find out is to search and ask. So they are taking a risk, but that does not equate with being selfish.

    I guess it might be really selfish to keep contacting someone who clearly told you they did not want to hear from you, but that was not so in your case.

    Your friend was rude. He's probably not much of real friend.

  6. True. That is something people even don't stop to consider.
    I think the instincts that prompt a mother to search are generally sound, and include the desire to pass on family knowledge.

  7. Kippa said: "I wonder, in a case of a mother who vetoes her adult child's right to his/her information, how much of *that* particular pie he'd think was selfish. Or would he label the adoptee selfish? Just wondering."

    I'd love to know his answer to that, Lorraine, since I'm in that boat. I have been told repeatedly (by the intermediaries, by strangers, by friends) that I am the "selfish" one for having bothered my first mother when she obviously doesn't want contact with me (not that I would have known that otherwise). And I'm even more "selfish" for still wanting my original birth certificate despite her denial.

    "Selfish" is another loaded adoption word, like "grateful" and "anger" (as I recently blogged). It's used as a weapon against those whose opinions don't match the common perceptions. Adoptees and first moms have to be "selfish" because they have no one else standing up for them. Why is it "selfish" to want the same things everyone else takes for granted?

    Growing up, "selfish" was one of my adoptive parents' favorite epithets, as in, "You're such a selfish child!" I would like to know why they weren't selfish for obtaining me on the gray market and lying about my origins.

    Oh, wait. I'm being "selfish."

  8. Triona,

    I'd say your birthmother was the selfish one, for refusing to share information that is vital to you and concerns you. I really do not understand mothers like that.

    I think it is a low blow to accuse either adoptees or mothers of being "selfish" just for wanting to search. Nor should your mother have any say whatsoever about you getting your OBC. I am so sorry to hear you found a truly "selfish" mother:-)

    Like you said, "selfish" is a loaded word.

    Lorraine, I think you are cutting Aston too much slack trying to preserve the friendship. His only proper response to you would be "I'm sorry. I was out of line by saying things that I should have known would be very hurtful to you. Please forgive my ignorance and insensitivity and know I will think before speaking next time." Since he has known you for years he had to know what he said was cruel.

    Somehow I doubt he will respond that way, but rather will try to defend his boorishness. Let him go play with his uptight adoptive parent pals.

  9. Hey Everybody, thanks for your kind posts--and the different takes on who is selfish. I had completely forgotten about adoptees being told that search and contact with their first moms was "selfish." What a crock!

    Mairaine, Aston was apologizing but I said I wanted to see him in person...and that didn't happen. Now I just wish I had had a ten-minute conversation with him on the phone and let it go. Yes, I've known him for a long time but he's not one of my closest friends. So it was time to not seemingly make a great deal out of it, and I didn't do that. He and his wife knew I was upset as soon as I sent her the email saying so.

    So it goes.



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