' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoption is Always Painful

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Adoption is Always Painful

This is for all the birth mothers who are afraid to tell her families about their first child....

This is for all adoptive parents who do not want to talk about the biggest thing in their adopted child's life: being relinquished by one mother and adopted by another....

This is for every prospective adoptive parent who reads the ads directed at pregnant women and urging them to make a nifty adoption plan for their babies....

This is for every prospective adoptive parent who thinks adopting a child will make their families "complete" and only think about how much they want a baby--anybody's baby....

This is for the commenter the other day who said that against the will of many people around her, she was beginning a search for her daughter's natural mother....

And most of all, this is for the young teen who left a comment recently at Birth Mother/First Mother Forum. She said she was crying inside because she doesn't know who she is. "I want to know if I have my dad's eyes and my mother's nose," she wrote. "Can anyone help me to start to search? My parents can't--actually won't...."

Breaks your heart, doesn't it?

She asked us to keep this confidential--but I think she thought we could reach her by email. We have no way to reach her because when someone posts a comment, we can not respond to her or him because we do not have access to his or her email address. So I'll leave her name off here, and no one will ever connect it to the young writer, whom I hope has come back to find this. We are thinking about you and we send you all the love we can through the air. And we wish from the bottom of our hearts that we could reach across the nether and somehow find your first mother for you.

But what can we say to stop the hurt, what can we realistically do to fix the problem? Though we have the power of the word and the communication offered by the Internet, we can't go in and shake up those adoptive parents, like we would like to, and tell them how much their daughter is pain, and how much they could help by simply opening up the conversation. Nor can we do a search for the girl.

Maybe, we think, maybe she's lucky and lives in a state where the records will be open to her when she turns eighteen. Maybe she lives in Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, or Kansas where she would have the unfettered right to her birth records when she grows up; maybe she lives in Tennessee or Delaware where unless her first/birth mother has filed a "no-contact" veto, the girl will get her original birth certificate. Or maybe she lives in one of the other states where a crazy quilt of various degrees of openness will work for her.

Or maybe not. That leaves a lot of states where searching for one's original/natural/genetic/real/biological parents is like walking through a maze blindfolded and being beset with trap doors that lead nowhere at every turn.

What can we do for her, and the millions of other people like her? We can start by fighting for open records for all adopted people. If we live in a close-record state--and that includes most states--we can join the campaign there to open records. (Learn how at American Adoption Congress and join us. There is strength in numbers, and AAC is not only for adoptees and birth parents, but also adoptive parents.)

If you are a birth mother who haven't told your family about your first child, and fear that knock on the day from a stranger who looks like you, dig down deep and find the courage to do so. Fellow blogger Jane admitted recently how difficult it was her for to tell her three other daughters about her first, and her recent posts here and here should be encouraging. Once the cat is out of the bag, then you won't be afraid when your son or daughter comes back. Then you won't be afraid, may be even able to start the search yourself. Maybe you will find your son or daughter is looking for you. Maybe your daughter is the one who wrote to us.

Adoptive parents can begin the conversation with their children about what it feels like to be adopted. The other day, Blogger Malinda (one of our followers, I'm pleased to say), wrote a wonderful, enlightened post over at her blog, adoptiontalk, about the importance of talking about adoption to your adopted child. It's something that every adoptive parent ought to read. It's about recognizing that your child thinks about adoption, whether or not he or she lets you know.

I think back about 30 years--when I was working in Manhattan and had a business lunch with some PR guy, and I knew I was going to quit my magazine job and finish Birthmark--I thought, what the hell, and told him I was a birth mother (though I probably didn't use those words back then). This was quite a shocking revelation back in the mid-Seventies. I'm not even sure I had told my mother yet. Do you know what he told me? That he was an adoptive father, that their daughter was at college and in her twenties, and that a couple of years ago they got a call from the girl's birth mother...and decided NOT TO TELL HER.

She's never asked about her, he said, she's never talked about it....God, I wanted to scream at him: What right did you have to make that decision on your own, you @#%head. It's her mother, it's her information, it's her right.

And to those people considering adoption, think deep and long and hard about what you are doing. While you are thinking about your happiness--and worrying that the mother of your child is eating junk food or vegging out on soap operas rather than listening to Mozart--ask yourself whom you are doing this for....the child, or yourself, your husband? One adoptive mother I know said that if she had to do it again, she would adopt both the teenager who had her baby, and the baby. She would, in other words, keep mother and child together.

While it is sad to want a child and be unable to have one of your own, that does not entitle you to someone else's.

Remember: Adoption is always painful.


And Joyce Bahr has a good essay worth reading. Joyce was in Philadelphia yesterday at the adoptee-right demonstration.

We may be a little slower with the posts around here....we need a vacation. First Mother Forum was a year old on July 18.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Lorraine! I couldn't agree more with what you said. I'm a follower because I can't talk to my children's Chinese birth mothers, having no idea of who they are or any way of tracking them down. But listening to birth mothers from all over have helped me grow and understand more about adoption -- and it's my job to know as much as I can so I can do the best I can for my children.

  2. I can't count the times I have heard an AP say they would be willing to give the child info about their adoption, but the child never asks, so no need to bring it up. Sad - if only they knew how much adoptees think about their adoption, their natural family, and their identity. Adoption is a huge issue for most adoptees and should never be swept under the rug.

  3. "They don't ask." How many times I've heard this from adopters. Of course they don't ask!! They are afraid it will HURT you if they ask! They are afraid you will think they are not grateful for you adopting them! And MOSTLY they are afraid of being rejected by YOU. So they don't bring it up.
    YOU are the parent. It's up to YOU to bring it up to your child. It's up to YOU as the adult to help them understand that their feelings of LOSS and SADNESS are normal. EVEN IF YOU WERE THE BEST PARENT THERE EVER WAS, they still miss their first mother. At first they may not even REALIZE they miss their mother. It's up to you as the parent to help them.
    It must be tough to bring it up. I am not an adopter; I am a first mom and I lost my daughter in 1972. I can't imagine how hard it must be to talk to your adopted child about this. But, like all the other important "talks" you have with your child, it's necessary. For adoptees, it's critical. Just do it.

  4. Lorraine, I'm sure you and everyone here at FMF will be a great resource to this young woman if she returns or e-mails you privately. It's great that she arrived here! I am so struck by the fundamental injustice of preventing children from searching or kids feeling that they cannot search.

  5. I've never understood how an adoptive parent can claim undying love for their child, but dismiss their child's original family.

    My children's families are a part of them. They are a part of our family. Nothing can ever change that.

  6. I may not be welcome here, because I'm an adoptive parent, but I feel the need to speak out. I don't think there's any excuse in the world to justify AP not sharing whatever they can with their children. It's upsetting to read things like this... to realize how many APs aren't open with their kids... and to get the vibe that so many birth mothers despise or resent APs.

    We are blessed to have wonderful relationships with both our kids BMs. We speak of them often, honor them on their birthdays and Mother's Day (and Birthmother's Day), and name them in our prayers of gratitude. We exchange emails, pictures, homemade gifts and finger paintings.

    I don't understand people who are surprised at that, and some even commend us on "being so comfortable with the situation." WHAT?!?! These women created our children. They shared their bodies to give them life, and they chose us to be their Mama and Daddy. They gave us the greatest gift a human being can give another... it's a sacred trust, and I can't understand any AP who doesn't see it that way.

    I happily spend a lot of energy correcting people's misperceptions about adoption and BPs, and I'm sad that so many BPs think so poorly of APs, and even more sad that there are APs who give good reason to think poorly of "us" as a group.

    I'm only one AP, but I'm one who daily gives thanks for the two amazing young women who enabled me to be a mother.

  7. Just wanted to add something else. I do have a daughter reluctant to talk about this stuff. She is 12, adopted from China in '98. It is buried so deep that you really need to come up with some strategies to unlock it without making it look like it's your campaign. One tactic I've used with some success is going at it via her foster mom. Stories about her first year of life are precious to her and humorous as well so there's a comfort zone there. These are also *real* stories because we were all together when they were told.

    Once when we talked about that period of her life I noticed that without my prodding, a few new questions came up: "Tell me again about the whole boy-girl thing in China because my friends have asked." She was old enough to have some of the historical background, and able to digest more information. She gets more each time. "Did I have a note?" That was the very first time she ever asked that. "You always said I might have an older sister. Do you think I have a younger one?" I could see the wheels turning here around the idea of her family keeping a younger girl sibling. It was a tough question which I answered by talking about how circumstances that let families stay together may change but cannot really be controlled by families themselves.

    We always conclude these conversations the same way. I say, "One day you may want more information about your parents or you may even decide to look for them." And she says, "I don't want to." But she always adds that she wants to know more, know something, have some connection, a picture, a note...

    Which is a perfect illustration of the point being made here. I guess I'm just not discouraging anyone from giving up even when they hit a brick wall. There is a reason this is difficult, and painful, as Lorraine said. Don't give up. Keep talking.

  8. Thank you everyone for the comments,particularly the adoptive parents. Those of you who deal with this openly and lovingly can show the way to others who...still don't bring the adoption up and live in a cocoon thinking it's not there.

    One little Chinese girl was visiting when my granddaughter was here and they were drawing and later my granddaughter told me that Lulu had made the picture for her real mother in China. Osolo and Melinda and Sally, you are poster people for the way it should be.
    Thanks for commenting.

  9. This was something our SW covered with me at length during our home study. She told me that the thing about talking to talking to your child about their birth family is this: once you start, the words happen and the next time, well, it's easier and not the elephant in the room. Is there a right way or a wrong way to talk to a child about their birth parents? Maybe, heck, i'm sure that there is...but i think that once you open those doors to be willing to talk (and most importantly to LISTEN) you find that your part in this can help. Waiting to have these conversations is never a good idea.

    My husband smiled at me when i started talking with E about her birthmother the first night we were home and i was rocking her in our chair. Yeah, i know, she was only 4 months old but i didn't care. I wanted to be the Mom who she could talk to about this. I wanted her to be able to talk to me about this. And i wanted to be at complete ease with our talks. It is that important to me that E has all and any info that she wants and that she knows that it's okay to talk and ask questions without worrying about what i think. I'm taking care of E; she's not responsible for taking care of me.

    Gee, for a lurker, i sure have lots to say, eh? ;)

  10. Lurkers always welcome.

    We can learn from each other. And respect the other.

  11. Lorraine, thank you. It's much nicer than being called sanctimonious and entitled. I learn things on your blog every day.

  12. Lorraine- I am an AP and had just too much to say about this post so I wrote my own blog response which I will link to here. Thank you for reaching out to help this young woman in great need of support.

  13. "One adoptive mother I know said that if she had to do it again, she would adopt both the teenager who had her baby, and the baby. She would, in other words, keep mother and child together."
    Lorraine, this is what I wish more women would think about ... don't buy a young mother's child and pretend he/she is yours ... welcome/mentor/support/help them both!! and, when that pair has matured, share your good fortune with another mother and her child, and another, etc. What a blessing you will be in many lives!
    We need more mentors for young moms and their babies. Please, let's work to change our culture from adopting to mentoring.

  14. "While it is sad to want a child and be unable to have one of your own, that does not entitle you to someone else's."

    "don't buy a young mother's child and pretend he/she is yours"

    I appreciate there are all kinds of views out there, but I did not feel entitled to anyone's child, nor am I pretending my daughter is mine. She is mine. I didn't give birth to her, but believe me, I'm doing years and years and years of heavy lifting. I did not "BUY" her (and I pray she never runs into someone who is cruel enough to say that to her.) Her mother relinquished her rights to her, as did my bio mom. Would you rather I left my daughter in the orphanage without any parents at all? Or that I have been raised hopping from foster home to foster home?

    Adoption is not always bad.

  15. Gee, I've read my post over and I did not say "buy a young mother's child..." was that a Freudian slip? Did you read between the lines and think, wow we paid a lot of money?

    No adoption is not always bad, but it is always painful.

  16. Birthing a genetic child is about one degree more significant than being a gestational carrier for another couple.

    You carried a child for 9 months.

    But the "real" mother is she who carried the child the rest of their lives. She who lost sleep, washed clothes and changed diapers, burped, fed and suffered sleepless nights with her child's fever.

    I remember the mom who held me in her arms and said "I love you more than life itself." I remember the mom who played games with me and always made my favorite foods. My REAL mother was there every single day, doing what REAL mothers do.

    My birth mother gave me a cancer gene mutation. Gee, thanks!

    But my birth mother also gave me to my REAL mother and for that I am forever grateful.

    You're tainted by what adoption used to mean over fifty years ago and the secretive and shameful nature of having been born to an unwed mother and being a "bastard" child.

    That no longer exists! It's actually cool to be adopted in the last couple of decades.

    No, that doesn't make you happy because it reduces your significance to what it actually is: a genetic gestational carrier; the female equivalent of a sperm donor.

    My birth mother didn't have a choice and I told her I never faulted her but that my heart was already very happy and at peace with my REAL family.

    Five years ago I married and had a beautiful son. Last year I adopted a little girl. I adore them both exactly the same! We look forward to adopting another child and having another genetic child before completing our family.

    Please consider the enormous chip on your shoulder and the ugly, negative vibes you send out. Your anger and regret only represents what you've experienced.

    It is far, FAR, more satisfying for most of us in the adoption world. Too bad you're too angry to take part.

  17. Yikes- i can feel her anger!! This last post would scare any first mom off. I wonder if that is an attitude she picked up this attitude from her adoptive parents.



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