' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What do we owe the children we gave up for adoption?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What do we owe the children we gave up for adoption?

Fellow birth mother and writer, Denise Roessle, who had her own birth mother blog until a few months ago, suggested a topic for us the other day, which she calls "adoption debt." I was not sure what she meant, but she revisits the topic of the anger our children whom we relinquished towards us, now matter what the circumstances. We have written about this before, here and here. As well as here.

Additionally, Jane of our own Birth Mother, First Mother Forum has done an extensive study of the feelings of the adoptees that come clear in their memoirs, which I hope she will post very soon. What follows below is from Denise Roessle:

In this recent post on my “Write-O-Holic” blog — HATRED OF THE GOOD — I wrote of my son’s continuing mission to punish me for the crime of having given him up for adoption 39 years ago. My apologies, explanations of the circumstances and the era, and 13 years of trying to hold onto our relationship haven’t been enough for him. He has repeatedly told me, and others, that he wants me to suffer as he has. One week he’s plotting and threatening, the next he’s making overtures to try again.

I no longer trust him and it breaks my heart.

I received a number of emails from mothers who have had similar experiences in reunion. Our grown children did not reject us, nor we them. We want to be in each other’s lives. But at some point the price to be paid becomes too high, perhaps unpayable.

I’m wondering how many others are caught in the trap of “adoption debt.” We can’t change the past. But our children cannot forgive us. My son didn’t have a good childhood or early adulthood (or current life for that matter). Many adoptees did and yet they are determined to hurt their mothers, fathers and other first family members.

How can we possibly make it up to them? What does it take?--Denise Roessle


  1. I have no idea, I think we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. When someone figures it out please, please tell me. I will do whatever it takes to have my son want to be a part of my life. We had an absolutely blessed first year of reunion, then his a-mom decided that my existence made her sad. My son, who is only 19 felt he had to make a choice, sadly his choice is that she wins at any cost. He loses, my husband (his father) and our daughter and mostly importantly and profoundly, our son loses. But a-mom, she wins at the expense of all of the rest of us.


  2. Since I am one of those that is not in reunion, my only wish is for her to contact me. Her debt to me is that she contact me once.

    I do not think that mothers should have to apologize over and over. Every adoptee must take responsibility for their own actions. For me, I just want her to own her part in the act of adoption. That is it. Although I have not heard her side of the story, I am pretty sure that adoption was the only choice for her. She made that choice willingly. I hope for one face to face meeting. I want to see what she looks like so that I can have a point of reference. I want to know her but I have long since accepted that I won't have that chance.

  3. Denise that made a comment...(I'm not sure if author of blog and Denise that made comment are one and the same?)

    I am an adoptee in reunion with my b-mom. There are just so many feelings I deal with every day, new ones popping up all the time! Mostly the reunion is going well, but sometimes I feel a pang of never being good enough, or important enough, in BOTH my a- and b-families! The worst is the feeling that I am truely an orphan...both my a-parents have passed away, and in my b-family I am not really a daughter. (Yes, b-mom has said that, that I'm more like a friend)

    It is tough, but I have my own family to help me get through it, (4 kids and a hubby) experience from almost 36 years of life, plus I've been through enough crap to have just about the toughest skin on this planet! Your son is only 19, and is not even old enough to drink alcohol legally. He probably just needs time. And his loyalty to his a-mom is something that is hard for you to accept, I understand that, but really, when you gave him up for adoption, isn't that what you wished for him? A mother he would love and that would love him back, and that would always take care of him? I can understand that he takes her feelings before yours...he has only known you for a short time, and even if you are his mother, so is she!

    So my advice is to not push him or make him feel guilty. Hopefully, he'll come arund one day and give you and him a chance!

    As to the blog...I don't believe we are owed anything, except for the right to know who we are from birth! This sounds like just an excuse to be nasty towards another human being! Being adopted is HARD, but it's not an excuse to be a jerk!

  4. I'm always so sad to hear of reunions torn apart by divided loyalties. What a heavy load on the shoulders of the adoptee. Anonymous, I do hope your son finds a way to navigate this relationship. Alter all, beyond a certain point you don't need to consult mommy (a-mom) about the people you choose to have in your life.

  5. Agreeing with Kristina on the 19 year old adoptee...give him time to grow up. It took my rejecting teenager almost 20 years to come around at all, and even now that is tentative and minimal.

    As for Denise Roessle who wrote the blog quoting Ayn Rand (not my favorite but the quote fits the situation)it sounds like you have done all you possibly could. You ask "how can we possibly make it up to them."? We can't.

    Your 39 year old son sounds like a person who has serious mental health and personality problems that may or may not relate to adoption, but rather than look at himself he has chosen to blame you.
    I have known several other mothers who found sons like this, and no matter what you do it is never enough; no matter how much you suffer, they still want you to suffer more. It is like you are dealing with a black hole that is never filled no matter what you do.

    This is not just normal adoptee anger or disappointment. I'd say you are prudent to protect yourself and the rest of your family from him, sad as that is. You can't fix his life for him, or his emotional problems. You mention 4 marriages, mood swings, threats, other issues that relate to his bad choices and perhaps mental illness or personality disorder. Your surrendering him did not cause every problem in his life, and you cannot fix them, no matter how much you want to.

    You have done more than enough if you were dealing with a rational person. Forgive yourself, and see that you are a good mother of a son with mental problems that prevent him from being a good son or seeing the decency in you. This is a heartbreaking and frustrating situation to be in, but you did not cause it and you cannot fix it. He has to seek his own help and take responsibility for his own life at this point.

    If he ever does, you will be right there behind him supporting him, but until then, you have to protect yourself from blame you do not deserve.You have already given him everything that a mother owes a surrendered child, honesty and understanding and welcome. Your debt is paid in full.

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  8. So my comment suggesting that you have compassion for the abandonded person was offensive?

    Sadly, I am not surprised that you "fire horses" think so.

    I really feel for your children.

  9. Thank you Maryanne. I'm finally starting to get that.

    Denise R.

  10. It takes a long time to get it, because it is your kid, and you want to be able to do something. Plus there is all the guilt we carry anyhow, no matter how our kids turned out.

    Often addiction or substance abuse are part of the picture as well. This is tough enough when it is a kid you have raised. I have several close friends dealing with life-long mental illness and in one case addiction in their adult kids. When it is a surrendered kid everything is twice as hard and painful.

    Dealing with what you and others in your situation are dealing with is different than dealing with some thoughtless or unkind behavior or even outright rejection from an adoptee who otherwise has a reasonably healthy life.

    My son keeps me at arm's length, and ignores my communication a lot sometimes, and I find that painful, but what I have seen of his life and character is very stable, loving, and grounded. I don't doubt he has had pain because of being adopted, but it is not the center of his being and has not destroyed his life. For that I am grateful.

    One of the sons I raised has more struggles around career and relationships than my surrendered son, due to learning disabilities and extreme shyness, but none of my sons have ever been mean or blaming, including the one I did not raise.

    My heart goes out to you and other mothers dealing with the kind of problems your son has, having seen how difficult and thankless it is.
    After all these years, you are in a very different place than the newly reunited mother of a teen or younger person. The ingrained life-long behavior patterns of a man almost middle-aged are less likely to change than those of a troubled young person.

    Take good care of yourself, and keep praying for him. Sometimes that is all you can do.

  11. I have never met my mother, but I would hope she would never feel the weight of such a debt - she has suffered enough. I don't feel that she "owes" me anything - not even an explanation.

  12. I wanted my mother to hurt, I really did. After I learned I had a sibling as a subsequent reaction "birth" to my adoption, I felt betrayed.

    But within time, I also recognized that when my mother had no choice but to surrender was when she went through her own agony the most.

    She had years to "get through it" (not that she ever really did). I had it full force when I contacted her.

    The thing is, I had no "real" way to contact her and she didn't speak my language, so we both had to "go it" alone.

    It took me a long, long time to get past my feelings of betrayal and to this day I think it will always sting a little, how could it not?

    P.S. She still doesn't speak my language and my skills are barely rudimentary.

  13. Denise,
    I would think that we both found the same son if mine weren't older than yours. My 42 year old son, with whom I have been 'reunited' for almost 20 years, is so very similar to yours, from what you write. I am sorry. I know your feelings. I have walked in your shoes.

    The last time we talked, I told him that his choices were becoming more and more difficult for me to handle. I told him that before he decided to disappear again he should consider very carefully because I might not be so eager to take his drunken midnight phone calls the next time. He chose to disappear for 2 years anyway. A couple months ago he had his old girlfriend call me to have me call him since he had lost my number. I haven't called. I am still not sure I want to. I just don't know. I will no longer, as one commenter stated, 'do whatever it takes to have my son want to be apart of my life.' There are two human beings in this, and I am no longer the youngish woman he first contacted. Time is no longer an endless road. I don't know if I have the energy any longer.

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  16. Just to straighten things out: Megan, who is a Mormon, is Jane's birth daughter; Linda's daughter is in contact with other members of Linda's family, but not Linda, as earlier posts have detailed. Not sure which ones but if you search for Linda and daughter, you probably will find them. Both Linda and Jane were found by their daughters.

    And Jane, I hope, will be posting later today about the subject we are talking about here--basically, anger from the children we relinquished--as evidenced in numerous memoirs written by adopted people. I hope to have it by late afternoon.

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  18. By way of background, I am both an adoptee and a birth mother,who relinquished a daughter when I was 17. She is now 22 and has reached out to me. I've known her for a little over a year, and it has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I loved her instantly, when she was born, and mourned her intensely, when she was taken from me. I did what I thought was best.

    I have given what I feel I owed her, and I feel horrible by the way she has treated me.

    So many people think they can judge birth mothers. We somehow owe a lifetime of suffering to our birth children. Some say we are less compassionate people, and should have done anything to keep the child. So, perhaps they are right. Perhaps keeping this child, to have her be repeatedly molested by my father would have made her feel more "wanted" and her life would have been better than what she was given? Really??? Really??? This is the typical guilt crap that no birthparent deserves. And oh, maybe I should have sat back and never married, never had children and spent my life in a deep depression over her relinquishment. After all, I've obviously set out to make her feel so abandoned and unwanted, because I grieved and went on with my life. Really????

    What my birth daughter will never understand is everything that came in between her relinquishment and where I am today. And she should be glad. She won't know what it's like to testify against a grandfather who molested her... only to have a jury be hung. She won't know what it's like to share a bedroom in a tiny apartment with a sibling, while her mother sleeps on a fold-out sofa in the living room, because she has no bedroom. She won't know what it's like to have moved 7 times as a child, losing friends each time, and changing schools. She'll never know what it's like to watch her mother fall into a deep depression over the shame of an adopted father who used her as a sexual toy. She won't be a child who loses her dad at 6 years old, because her parents divorced, and she wasn't important enough to continue to be involved. What she does know is the joy of healthy parents who have given her a stable home and unconditionally loved her and put her needs first. Her adoption sheltered her from all the things she'll never know. What she doesn't know is how appreciate it. What I can't understand is why???? But when I put her recent behavior together in my mind, with other things I have seen, I truly believe she needs help. I think her a-mom knows this too, as even she has brought it up.

    Birthparents cannot fix adoptees. We are all responsible for our own well being and happiness. I've done all I know how to give her the best chance at a life of happiness. I was also available 22 years later, to answer questions and allow her to know her birth family. Do I really need to sit in my own home and be berated with F bombs and every other mean thing she can think of to throw at me? Does my whole neighborhood really need to know what she thinks of me? Where does this immense anger come from? Haven't I endured enough pain for her happiness?

    The notion that this is my due, or my debt, is very self-absorbed and considers only one side - the adoptee. I have to wonder why?

    My birthdaughter expects unconditional acceptance, no matter how she acts. I have do not accept it - this is not her birthright.

    My birthdaughter has demonstrated she does not understand adoption, has little respect for my home and my family and begrudges me happiness.

    I needed to go back to work, be a mom, a wife and continue with my life, which I tried to include her in. It was never enough, obviously, and she has never understood when I can't do or be what she wants.

    Her involvement in my life has become negative and hurtful. I do not want that for her or me.

    We all have a divine right to do what is best for ourselves, even though we have been trained to think otherwise.

    Thank you for letting me share my story.

  19. Dear Anonymous:

    Adoption is so complicated and the emotions for some never heal. My daughter, who was adopted, was sexually abused by her grandmother's live-in (after her adoptive grandfather died)and after it came to light (when she was seventeen) nothing really was done. The man continued to live with the grandmother; the police were never called in; her adoptive parents had a hard time believing her, largely because she told so many lies, which are a frequent response to being abused.

    I simply have no answers. Take care of yourself, and do not let your daughter abuse you.



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