' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: First Mothers who reject a reunion? How many are there??

Monday, February 2, 2009

First Mothers who reject a reunion? How many are there??

Reading through the Adoption News Service this morning I came upon a disturbing statistic in a story out of Wisconsin. Mention Wisconsin and I take notice right away because that is where my daughter was raised, and had a daughter she surrendered twenty years ago.

In the Wausau Daily Herald on January 11, 2009, the piece I refer to is a sweet reunion story: Fifty years later, daughter finds her mother. The writer, Robert Mentzer does not even use the word "birth mother," which is amazing enough in itself.

The daughter who searched, Chris Barrington, finds her mother through the Wisconsin
Adoption Records Search Program and for seemingly only a $25 registration fee gets her mother's name and current address, and they have a great reunion. Chris's adoptive mother and father are both deceased. Chris is photographed sitting next to her daughter, who looks like her mother's spitting image. The first mother is not photographed or named, seeking privacy.

Jacy Boldebuck, the adoption social worker who is quoted, says that her office gets between 600 and 700 requests a year, and she and her three colleagues can clear most of their requests within a month. "Locating the birth parents is not difficult," she says. "We average less than 30 days to open and close a case. The law gives us six months." Whoopee! Sounds fabulous.

Boldebuck notes that although adoptees can request their records at eighteen, most do not come in until they are in their thirties. She adds that approximately a quarter are only seeking updated medical information; some want merely to let their mothers know that they are okay and that they were raised in a loving family. "A lot of time the gift is really just saying, 'Forgive yourself. I turned out fine,'" Boldebuck comments.

So far, so good, but then: "About half of the parents Boldebuck contacts say No to contact. That could be because a birth parent 'was hidden away in the home and shamed,' Boldebuck said. Sometimes the adoption file reveals the child was conceived as the result of a rape."

Half of the parents say NO? Are we talking mothers only? Are fathers included in this statistic? How many rapes are we talking about?

We don't find out.

The story goes on: "Boldebuck makes calls and has conversations with both parent and child. The agency requests an 'outreach statement' from adoptees that tells the birth parents why they want to get in contact, what they are seeking. And as much as she works to smooth the reunion process, she said each one comes with an emotional weight.

'It's almost always emotional, and it always changes the people,' Boldebuck said. 'The adoptee is never the same.'"

Now sometimes I think from reading various blogs that there are, indeed, a great many mothers who don't want to meet their children. As readers of FirstMotherForum know, my late daughter sadly was one of them. All I was able to extract from her was an unenthusiastic promise to tell her daughter, my granddaughter, how to contact me and that I was willing, should "Lisa" ever return. My daughter seemed to have inherited this attitude from her father, whom she never met because he refused to, and then he died. He could not handle emotionally difficult issues, and for her own reasons my daughter had buried her daughter so deeply that nothing--and I mean nothing--seemed to be able to open that door. Also, she had at least two siblings who I know were aware of her existence but made no contact. And I am not exactly hard to find. So maybe all this played a part in her sensibility.

But about that statistic-- half of the parents do not want contact. I have a copy of a letter from Dolores Helb, the adoption registry coordinator in New Jersey, dated Dec. 13, 2004, that states: "Despite the face that the majority of parents we search for are not registered with us, 95% do agree to some form of contact with the adoptee. Though this percentage has not changed since 1996, newer technology has brought us greater success in the number of people we have been able to locate."

And in a 2000 study from Britain, The Adoption Triangle Revisited), John Triseliotis, Julia Feast, and Fiona Kyle found that in their sample of both sought and seeker mothers, 94 percent of them were pleased that their son or daughter had made contact with them. Ninety percent said the contact and reunion experience had been a happy and satisfying experience.

What is going on here? How can these statistics from Wisconsin be so wildly different? A fifty percent refusal rate? Versus a three to six percent?

I once was in contact with a confidential intermediary in Michigan, who was also a first mother, and she said that she was able to talk to reluctant birth mothers and bring them along. Does that account for the difference in the statistic? If someone is a Michigan intermediary, or an intermediary anywhere, please contact me. I'd like to explore this further.

Note: Though the newspaper story does not mention it, a sidebar on the webpage says that birth parents can file an affidavit stating their preference, the search service is not available to us poor wretches who had to agree to closed adoptions. The phone number is included. As for myself, I contacted Jacy Boldebuck and left word that I was more than willing to be known to my granddaughter, and she promised that it would be in her file. So far, she had not come back. Or chosen to make contact. ---lorraine


  1. In the light of all the other figures, a 50% refusal rate makes no sense whatsoever.
    Unless there's something rotten in the state of Wisconsin.

    Would Jacy Boldebuck be a Church Lady?

  2. I find a 50% refusal rate hard to believe. In Oregon where mothers can fill out a contact preference form to be given to her child when he requests his original birth certificate, the refusal rate is something like 1%.

    I have to believe the 50% rate is a result of clumsy confidential intermediaries. Direct contact by an adoptee is much more likely to have a positive result.

  3. Jane,

    I have to agree with you seems those intermediaries are aptly named.

    Adoptees and mothers should have right to contact on their own without the "inter" as a go between and that's where the scewed rate may come from the "in" betweens.

    Or the article may be biased to try to keep those who want to search from doing it. Fear, and rejection exactly what adoption is built upon.


  4. Proof that intermediaries do more harm than good.

  5. Lorraine, as you know my first mother refused contact. I am positive this was due to the Illinois intermediary program's inefficiencies.

    From what little I can gather, it seems the CI program simply tossed my anonymous letter at her and said, here you go. The program claims they provide counseling but when I asked to see the standard documents and forms they provide to contacted birth parents, they refused citing "confidentiality." But this information has zero to do with my first mom and everything to do with the functionality (or lack thereof) of the intermediary program. I do not see how a state-run program for which I paid hundreds of dollars can refuse to provide its standard operating procedures and policies, unless they are trying to hide their mistakes. My guess (and my attorney's) is that they didn't have any standard procedures to show. The whole process felt very much like flying by the seat of one's pants, and considering the Illinois CI program has been around ten years you'd think they might have a clue by now. I learned more about search and reunion surfing online adoption support groups than I ever did from the program.

    My mother, faced with abrupt contact, may have been too frightened to say anything but no. I have no idea if she was told at my surrender, as many first moms were, that she would be held legally or financially liable if she ever tried to find me. So the CI coming out of the blue may have seemed like the authorities swooping down on her. I don't know. This is all conjecture since she cut off our anonymous letters halfway through, suspiciously right after the CI program "accidentally" gave her my identifying information.

    I may never know how much the CI program contributed to her decision to deny. But I wonder, if I had been able to find her identifying info myself and had an online search angel or a friendly first mom contact her instead, would it have gone differently?

    The intermediary program may have cost me any future contact with her, and any hope of gaining information about my birth father (since she adamantly refused to provide information to the program about him).

    Intermediary programs are one great big social experiment at the expense of the adoptees and relatives who, like me, mistake them for an actual avenue of help.

    I would also like to note that if I HADN'T gone through the Officially Sanctioned intermediary program, my birth mother might never have filed a denial and I could have gotten access to my original birth certificate under the possibly-defunct and definitely yucky IL HB4623. But because I tried to do it the "right" way, I am forever punished until Illinois laws can be changed. That is the big gotcha of intermediaries they never mention when you apply.

    All first moms and adoptees should be wary of these programs.

  6. Intermediary programs are not necessary. Let adult relatives work out contact and relationship for themselves; it seems to go much better in most cases. 50% refusal is suspiciously low.

    I wonder if they call those mothers and say "I have terrible news for you......."? Something indeed is rotten there.

  7. Triona,

    Adoption was and is "one great big social experiment" and we are all a part of that skewed logic!

    Your mother could very well have felt legally liable for something or another.

    Until the CI found me I lived under the impression that it was illegal and immoral for me to look for my son. Once I knew he wanted contact I found the Internet and realized I had been duped, by myself, all these years.

  8. I saw that article and the same thing jumped off the page at me, too. I agree with what everyone has said here.

    However, I have seem more and more mothers who are saying no to reunion. Maybe it is just that they are getting older and no longer have the energy for it.

    I am certain also that there are some who are reading on the internet and see the contempt and disdain that is thrown at surrendering mothers of the past, and are rethinking their options.

    I don't think that it is epidemic as yet, but I wonder if it will become so. Just a thought.

  9. I can't imagine anything said on the internet would deter a mother who really loved her child from wanting to meet him or her. Nor have I seen any increase in mothers not wanting to be found.

    There have always been these mothers, just as there have always been some mothers who really did not want to raise a child and freely chose surrender. Maybe these are the ones who will not meet their kids. They really never did care. It happens. People are people, some good, some bad.

    I am not a numbers person but I think probably about 80-90% of mothers would welcome reunion, but many are afraid to search, and this figure has held pretty steady. It may be higher, as has been seen in some states that have opened their records.

    I don't really know what would make a mother reject her own child. I have no insight into that mindset. I just can't imagine not wanting to know my son no matter what. I certainly can't comprehend "having no energy" for reunion no matter how old I was!

    I feel terrible for adoptees whose mothers reject them, but I really don't know why any mother would do that.

  10. First of all, I find that 50% figure awfully suspicious. It seems to be pulled out of a hat. Don't they have actual records they can cite?
    Besides, why Wisconsin particularly? It doesn't seem to be the case anywhere else.
    Please let us know if Jacey Boldebuck ever responds to your inquiry, Lorraine.

    I also have a niggling feeling that if a first parent shows any uncertainty at all, the Wisconsin Adoption Records Search Program has a bias towards discouraging contact. Or at least, not encouraging it. Probably, of course, for what they mistakenly believe to be the best of reasons, based on antiquated ideas and "When in doubt, don't", and "Do no harm" policies. Though personally I am convinced that that kind of approach only consolidates damage already done and even actually adds to the harm - for both parties. For the searching adoptee, for whom it is a second rejection, certainly. And for the rejecting mother too, because it brings alive the anguish of the past for her while at the same time allowing her to leave the real problem unresolved. Like raising ghosts without any intention of exorcising them.
    Check this out:
    "Giving up a child is traumatic and before telling their families or considering a reunion, many birth parents simply, “need time to think and even grieve all over again,” Boldebuck offered. "
    That sounds like a bias towards 'letting sleeping dogs lie' to me.
    I could be wrong of course. Just speculating.

    And no, I don't think stuff on the internet has anything at all to do with women who reject contact.



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