' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: To Search or Not: That is the question for adoptees/birth mothers

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To Search or Not: That is the question for adoptees/birth mothers

With Mother's Day creeping up on us...I thought I would answer the adoptee who said she read several posts here and elsewhere and was basically wondering if she should search for her birth/first mother, since so reads about so much heartache and trouble post reunion. And I know searching will be on the minds of many as the newspapers are full of ads, the stores are full of cards, the restaurants are offering Sunday specials...for Mother's Day.

I can not answer for others, but as for myself, a first/birth/original mother who had relinquished a daughter, I could not help but search. I had to find out what happened to her. Not knowing was eating at me and would continue to gnaw through my nights and days until I found her. When I was getting married, and my life seemed otherwise full, I hired a searcher, paid him $1,200 through an intermediary--we never met--and my daughter and I were reunited, with her adoptive parent's blessing, when she was fifteen in 1981. End of story? Not quite. 

Many of you know my daughter Jane had myriad problems due to not only being relinquished, but also because she had epilepsy, and both issues led to neurotic behavior. She welcomed me into her life, saying she always wondered, especially on her birthdays, St. Patrick's Day, Christmas and New Year's and yes, Mother's Day, if I ever thought about her; she intended to search for her birth mother as soon as she turned eighteen, she said. That I found her first she counted a blessing.

Yet unlike her relationship with her other mother, her adoptive Mom--who in truth said plenty of really nasty things to her over the years, which Jane would tell me--our relationship was more fragile, sometimes tenuous. Even after we knew each other for decades, she could turn off and out and walk away on a dime when it suited her; the smallest irritation or perceived slight or wrong word that I hardly knew escaped my lips lent to agonizing days, weeks of soul-searching: What had I said wrong? What should I have done differently? What did I do? Once she ignored her email, changed her phone number, sent back a letter with REFUSED stamped on it. Now that's a rejection. 

A Deep Sense of Abandonment
Whether or not she ever admitted it--and she did not--she was imprinted with a primal sense of being abandoned, and she never truly forgave me, because she could not. When I read newspaper stories of reunions--written in the glow of the honeymoon stage--the often the adoptee finds that the word "abandoned" escapes from his mouth, and he then expresses surprise because, he tells the reporter, he never consciously thought of himself as abandoned. Yet there it is. And there it was deep inside my daughter. When she shut me out, it always felt as if she was determined to let me know: I'll show you how it feels to walk away. I'll show you that I don't need  you. I'll show you that I can get along just fine without you.

On the Internet, these are the kinds of relationships we hear about the most--the high of reunion, followed by the long slog of the lows. Birth/first mothers and adoptees with happy relationships are not writing about their successful, glorious reunions. Life has has highs and lows, many bumps in the road, and reunions between adopted people and the mothers who relinquished them have more bumps than otherwise. And we birth mothers have to accept what is, not what might have been.

Flower Clipart ImagesThere Were Good Times Too
To live a life with answers, with a real daughter, not an imagined one--however troublesome our relationship could sometimes be--rather than with a void was to me the more fulfilled life. I had to know what happened, who she was, where she was. And I cherish the years of good feelings and good times we shared, the simple satisfaction of being mother and daughter, at the Montauk lighthouse, at a local bar over a beer, on top of the Empire State Building, shopping for a new outfit for her. She said wonderful things to me that I hold dear. She was, first and last, my daughter. She committed suicide in 2007.

Some birth mothers, and adopted people, seem to be able to shut out the questions, and maybe they are happier living their lives that way; but I could not, and did not, and was never, not for a single moment, sorry. I would have been sorry had I never searched.
I am going to be taking a hiatus from posting as often. Life is taking me elsewhere right now, and I need to go there. I will try to post once a week. And I may put up short notices about stuff in the news on the sidebar. Jane will continue writing too. This is a link for my memoir, Birthmark, about relinquishing--before I felt I had a right to search: Birthmark


  1. I, too, felt compelled, the need to search burned in me. Reunion is not easy, it's true, but it's far FAR better than what came before. Not knowing was so horrendous. Knowing my son, even though our relationship isn't going that well, is still much much better. And really, even if he never wanted to see me again, just the fact that I have seen him, spoken to him, touched him, it's worth any pain I might feel.

  2. For the first time in memory, I’m unfazed by the ads and hype surrounding this upcoming Mother’s Day. The daughter who hasn’t communicated with me in the past five years has moved without sharing a new address; I know not to expect a card or phone call from her. My niece has already sent me an “awesome aunt” card to mark the day, probably the only acknowledgement I’ll receive. Much of this growth is due to last year’s Mother’s Day being saved by my office “goddaughter,” whose own mother lives in another country. We had a lovely brunch and spent the afternoon walking a long stretch of beach, enjoying the ocean breeze, collecting shells, and basking in the compliments from strangers that we were a beautiful “mother and daughter.” She calls me “Madrina,” and has become one of several young women who graciously, effortlessly, easily filled that void in my heart.

    It has taken me most of these five years, but I’ve finally come to terms with my reality, thanks in great part to the advice and shared experiences of the countless courageous, tenacious women here on Firstmother Forum. As Lorraine and so many other wise women have said, it’s one day, and merely a Hallmark holiday at that. I haven’t yet decided how I’ll spend this Mother’s Day, but I know it won’t be a day of mourning.

    So let’s all vow to be good to ourselves—let’s celebrate our fierce, fabulous selves by enjoying our simple pleasures— gardening, spending hours in a favorite chair with a good book, taking a long walk, watching a favorite movie, spending quality time with our loved ones. And yes, HAPPY Mother’s Day.

  3. I think the answer Lorraine is right here on your blog. Within the wisdom of your favorite quote on the Find My Family Message board...
    We all should search. We all have a right to know. Because Mothers and Adoptees are a part of our lives. And nothing in anyone's life, whether it be painful or not, should ever be forgotten, for it shapes who we are. And determines what we might get over or what we might learn. I will add though, that as there are many games played with our psyches on the internet and off due to the Adoption Industry, all Adoptees and Real Mothers should take DNA tests. This link on my blog, for The Adoption Activism Press


    is running an important article on this subject along with providing a link for free DNA testing for Adoptees and Real Mothers. Due to the horrible experiance I had with reunion and the strange phonecall I received later, I was not shocked reading Ann Fessler's words about "hollywood scripts" and due to what happened to me, I think there may be a whole lot of writing still going on about who some Adotees Mother's really are, especially from Agencies that vie for Closed Records. Just a thought to keep in mind. Lorraine-I don't think I can ever tell you enough how sorry I am for Jane and for you. Your story will haunt me forever. And my heart is broken for both of you and always will be. Every time you write about it, my eyes well up with tears. I hope you are still going to publish your second book because what you both went through should continue to be told. I hope you enjoy the time you are going to take away from Bloggerland. I think the internet wears people out and I know the subject of Closed Adoption does. I wish you a place of peace to find within you somehow on Sunday....

  4. I knew from the minute I signed the surrender document that I would search. I've never been the kind of person who lives well with mystery in my life; and I had also promised him the last time I held him at 6 days old.

    Reunion was an unbelievable high initially, but I found a son filled with anger and yes, abandonment issues. We've been through lots of therapy together and he has chosen to not get past those issues. He is stuck and it is very tragic because he medicates with drugs.

    I have had to move on, but that doesn't mean I don't grieve what could have been. I don't feel guilt or anger that it didn't go the way I had hoped; but I cannot stay stuck in the mire of my son's rage at the world when he has made the choice to not help himself. If he feels his issues are valid, then they are valid for him and it's not my place to endlessly try to convince him otherwise.

    Being a part of this community and having so many adoptees and other first parents as friends and confidantes has helped me in my healing process. It would be naive and dishonest for me to say I will ever completely get over the loss of my only child and even if I thought I was, Mother's Day and other holidays remind me of the differences between having raised a child vs. finding him later in his life.

    I am currently helping two moms to search and they will never stop until they find their child,they tell me. I know another who doesn't think she has the right to search, but makes sure she has her Waivers and contact information filed everywhere appropriate; hoping to be found. It's a personal choice.

    Some people can just get on with their lives and not look back; but I can't, nor would I want to. Good topic, Lorraine.

  5. snipped...
    "I can not answer for others, but as for myself, a first/birth/original mother who had relinquished a daughter, I could not help but search. I had to find out what happened to her."

    I too had to search for my daughter, born in '69. I promised her when she was 18 days old - at the adoption agency - that I WOULD find her one day...
    I found her in 2006, but unfortunately, she is not ready for any 'contact' - maybe when she has a child - she said. I did find her FaceBook page - and she just had a child in December, 2009 - so I STILL hold out hope that she will contact me one day!
    If not - I am happy that I did the search, I know she's alive and well and had a great set of parents that I wanted for her such a long time ago - and I can continue on with my life JUST knowing this!
    But it's harder than I thought with no contact with her...

  6. I am ambivalent about having searched for my son when he was very young, as I feel the outcome would have been better had I waited until he was an adult and possibly searched for me.

    I got the opportunity to get my son's new name when he was only 8 and took it, fearing I would not get the chance again. I contacted his parents when he was 13, first big mistake, and him in person at 16, huge mistake # 2. These contacts did not help him, but caused his adoptive parents to move when he was 13 and happy where he was living. Me showing up when he was 16 caused further problems in the adoptive family as his mother found the letter I had given him.

    It took 18 years of mostly silence on his part and anguish on mine to even begin to establish any kind of relationship. Now he is 42 and we have an email only relationship that is getting better, but very slowly.

    I do not think search is for everyone. It is such an individual choice, and nobody knows what they will find. If one does search, it is best to have as few expectations as possible, and also a huge amount of compassion for the person you find, who may not be at all prepared for contact.

    I am glad to know my son, but not happy about the way or timing of my first contact. I would not advise others to do as I did with a young adoptee. But what is done is done.

  7. Maryanne, this is why I cringe when I see online people say to others just do it, it's your right!

    Reunion is not a decision to be taken lightly, the ramifications can be huge. Don't get me wrong here, I can completely see saying to my newborn "I will find you one day", and doing it. I just think it needs as much care, realism and respect as both parties can muster up.

  8. Whether or not an adoptee or a mother chooses to search is an extremely personal decision.

    For me, the thought of not searching or not knowing is so far from my reality that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around those people who have no interest...but it does not mean I think they are wrong, just different. Very different.

    I can remember being a very young child and dreaming of finding my mother. (my own oldest child is now the same age I was when I first remember thinking about searching, age 8, and I have a hard time imaging him/me having those kind of complex thoughts at such a young age...but I did!) Searching was one of the very first things I did when I left home at age 18. Luckily for me, I was a very very clever little 19 yr old and despite this being before the Internet, I was able to locate my mom and her entire family within a couple of months.

    Was it a happy reunion? Well, that is hard to answer. I was well-received and her love for me was deep and readily apparent which really is all any adoptee could hope for. She, however, was an end-stage alcoholic and she just didn't have much to give. I was so very young and was lost and spinning trying to save her.

    In the end, she passed away suddenly only 14 months after we met. I was 21 and she was 41.

    That's been 14yrs ago now and I have had many years to reflect. Despite everything awful that happened during the time I had her and all the pain that she (unintentionally) caused in my life, I WOULD NOT CHANGE A THING. I know who I am. I know where I came from. I know my story...the good and the bad. I am complete. Having known her, I know myself much better than I ever could have otherwise. I am a better wife, mother, friend, everything because of our reunion and in some ways in spite of it.

    (((hugs to all the first mothers and adoptees, today and every day)))

  9. In the beginning I thought I'd never see my son again. Then not knowing became unbearable. I'm shocked when I meet mothers who don't feel that way. As well as adoptees who don't want to search or be found. Their choice, of course, but I think there's a lot of fear — of what they'll find and of the inevitable emotions. I'm glad I found my son, even though our reunion isn't going well now. Knowing was worth all the pain. I wish I'd been more prepared though. It was a very rough road.

  10. I think Mother's Day has a different impact on those who never had another child. For me now it is about the kids I raised, and I understand why my surrendered son ignores it. It is not a big deal either way.

    I will probably go out to eat with my husband and the son who lives with us, and my other kids might call or send something. Any day I don't have to cook is a good one:-)

  11. I'm so very sorry for your loss. :-(

    It took 4 years of searching to find my mother, and in that time I was able to prepare myself for just about any outcome by reading message boards and forums for other perspectives. I was very fortunate---my reunion was and still is very smooth and loving.

    I tell every adoptee I talk to who is in the process of searching---you gotta do the work if you want a successful relationship. You can't take the papers from the agency at face value. You have to be prepared as much as you can for whatever you find (the variables are endless). Chances are it's not going to be roses and lollipops.

    You're not going to immediately fall in love---relationships take work!

    Neither of my brothers chose to search for their own personal reasons. I'm so glad I did. It gave me closure. It changed nothing (still have to pick up dog poop and dirty socks), but it changed EVERYTHING.

  12. I dutifully surrendered my son at birth when I was 17. I was fairly 'iced over' while he was growing up, not dealing with any of the pain..just waiting until he was an adult when no one could tell him, or me, what to do. I just knew I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I didn't do something to find him when he turned 21. Luckily for me, I found him very quickly once I started to search and he was very receptive to knowing me. We have had a wonderfilled 21 years together since we met in 1989. We have been blessed beyound either of our wildest imaginations. Why us? Neither of us know. What I am sure of though is this: not searching was never an option. never. I would have chained myself to the State House door untill the law changed...I'd have been a mental woman with a sign in the grass between the highways with his birthdate on it..I would be in jail or dead if I hadn't found him. I am sure of this. It was that important to me. I have a wonderful husband of almost 40 years and 2 more successful, happy adult children. But this surrender of my first born attached itself to me in a way I can not explain. It was wrong.. he and I both know it. We know our lives would have been very different had I been allowed to keep him...and we talk about that sometimes. Neither of us would have had the material things we aquired as a result of our separation by adoption. But,neither would we be part of a triad. We talk about how that just might have been a good thing for us. Then we order desert and head out to finish our day.

  13. I second Atilla's comment that search should be accompanied by a great deal of adoption-related reading. Blogs, books, forums - there are many sources of information ranging from personal stories to academic info that will help one prepare for the intense emotions of reunion.

    I'm also like the others here who wrote that searching was not an option. Searching was a necessity.

    As for mother's day, I don't sweat it much, mostly because I've never been a fan of holidays that are focused on obligatory gift-giving. I think it's due to the "adoption is such a gift" mentality that makes me uncomfortable with the notion of gifts; I don't like to give or receive them. Weird, eh?

    I've also decided that I don't need to volunteer or "give back" to the world and I no longer feel guilty about it. I "gifted" my most precious baby to others, I'm done with "giving." I gave at the office.

  14. I began searching for my son when he was approximately 2 years old, prompted by an adoptee friend who had began her search for her natural family.

    A long story, but I finally found him when he was 19. It was 19 years too late, imho. Luckily though our relationship is slowly healing from the damage done by the years of artificial, forced, involuntary separation. No family, no mother, should ever have to endure this type of living hell.



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