' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Do birth mothers/first mothers have the right to search?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Do birth mothers/first mothers have the right to search?

NOTE: If you read the blog since last night, there have been several ads at the bottom.
Should first/birth mothers search for the children they gave up for adoption? Or should I say: Surrendered to forces greater than one's ability to resist--maybe we should start substituting that every time someone uses the damn phrase "made an adoption plan."

But the question remains: Do first mothers, or birth mothers, or whatever we are called have the "right" to search for our children?

Yes. We have the right to know our own children. We have the innate right to know what happened to them after they were surrendered to adoption. Neither law, nor custom, can violate this sacred bond, despite law and custom. The right remains.

Lawyers, friends of adoptive parents, many adoptive parents, many people in the general population think that birth mothers searching for the children they gave up for adoption is an abomination. We are going to absolutely ruin a perfectly happy family and destroy the child in the process! Who's going to be the mother? What right do you have? To destroy .... !!! You gave up the child and now you want him back?  Are you crazy? That's the kind of attitude first mothers face, or think we do, when we start to think about searching.

I've written about this before when a "friend"--an attorney, asked: What part of my pie chart was not selfish when I decided to find my daughter? When I told an adoptive grandfather whose son spent at least $25,000 per child to get two from Siberia, he looked me in the eye and said: "You are our greatest nightmare." In truth, I don't mind being this guy's greatest nightmare. It's what I think of when I run into him and smile and say hello at the ATM machine in town. I didn't think I was nearly that powerful.

I found my daughter when she was fifteen. I did not want to destroy her family, uproot her and bring her to New York from Wisconsin, or destroy her relationship with her adoptive mother, which I fervently hoped was strong and loving. But I had a crying need inside of me to know what happened to her, and how she was, and that was damn near destroying my life.

I was going to ALMA meetings at the time, and Florence Fisher, who ran them, was very clear: No searching until your child was eighteen. But through contacts at ALMA I learned about the great mysterious "Searcher," who damn near seemed to be able to find anybody--adoptee or birth parent, as I recall, but it was mostly birth mothers I heard who used his services.

Lorraine's latest memoir
I had hoped that with the publication of Birthmark (my memoir of relinquishing my daughter) and the clues inside of who this child must be, surely she, or her other mother, would find me, however young she was. I did get letters from kids her age, but none of them were my daughter, and I had to write them back and tell them I was not their mother. I probably would have gone along with Florence's dictum to not search until she was eighteen, but a few weeks before I was to get married a friend of mine, one night after dinner, simply asked what was so damn sacrosanct about waiting until she was eighteen--I wasn't going to go nab her, was I? He was  a Brit, well educated, and England had already opened its records to all adopted adults. Tony, my husband to be, chimed in too: Why are you waiting? Why not use the lifeline you've heard about out there? This not knowing is killing you.

That was all the encouragement I needed. Within days I called someone who called someone and put the process in motion. When we got back from our honeymoon, in the pile of mail waiting for us was a letter telling me she had been found. Hallelujah! All I had to do was pay $1,200 in cash.

A few week or so later we drove to New Jersey where I gladly paid the money, and within days after that I got the phone call that gave me her name, her parents' name, their address and phone number. For me it was incredibly simple. A few days later I made the call, talked to her adoptive mother, and told her who I was. We both wept. Because of our daughter's epilepsy, her parents had tried to locate me, but the agency did not even answer their doctor's inquiry about me--written about the same time I began writing to the agency. I was told that she was "happy with her new family" and I needed to stop writing them.

That's only one story, and my search was, in a sense, short and simple. Later I learned that the anonymous "Searcher" had figured out who my daughter had to be and had the information on her before I asked. How he or she did it I will never know.

Jane, my daughter (who shares a name with my fellow blogger, Jane Edwards), told me that she was glad I searched because it helped her feel that I had not abandoned her lightly, that I cared enough to find her, that I did not forget. I have heard other adoptees profess an interest in their birth parents but add: if my birth mother wanted to find me, she would.... Conversely, first mothers feel...I cannot interrupt his or her life...if he wanted to find me, he would....

You can start by registering with the International Soundex Reunion Registry, which is free, and tracking down whatever adoptee/birth parent organizations exist in your state. Birth parents can join organizations such as Concerned United Birthparents, and Origins-USA or Origins-Canada; You can join the American Adoption Congress. The Internet has made searching easier, and search angels, who provide the service for free or a minimal cost, may be able to help you. A word of caution: Not everyone succeeds. Birth mothers have the information of when/where/what agency, but not the all important name of the new family; adoptees may have more limited information to work with.

What happens after reunion? Whoa, that's a whole other issue. But to answer the question--Do birth mothers have a right to search for their surrendered children?

Yes. Unequivocally yes. It is time to push aside the voice that says--if he wanted to know me, he would search, I can't interrupt his life. Trust me, by surrendering him to adoption you interrupted what would have been the normal course of his life and let him begin the age of reason with a question he cannot answer unless he is in a good open adoption. IF you truly want to know him one day, IF you are willing to put yourself out there and be ready to accept that he may not wish to have a relationship at the time you find him, IF you can find the courage to go on this journey, take the matter in your own hands and start the search yourself. You may not find who you are seeking, but you will at least have the peace of mind of having done your part. Your child, no matter what age, may need you. Mine did.

So though the search is not always easy, and you may face rejection and disappointment once you find who you seek, the promise of answered questions, the ability to look in the face of your daughter, your son, to not carry around with you this nagging feeling that maybe...should I...what if...is worth this journey however fraught it may be. You will at least have tried.--lorraine

Postscript to search: Some months after I found my daughter I ran into an acquaintance I rarely saw, he was a friend of a friend. He asked her if I had had a facelift or something done "to my eyes." Florence said she noticed the same kind of difference in birth/original mothers after a reunion. A cloud is lifted from your heart, your brain, your soul. Closed adoptions are death knells to many of us.
The Adoption Reader is a wonderful, heart-breaking collection of essays by birth parents, adoptees and adoptive mothers, including Louise Erdich, Nancy Mairs, Florence Fisher, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Shay Youngblood and moi. Highly recommended for all groups touched by adoption for its breadth of point of view.

Who Am I? is a good book for adolescents and teenagers. I don't agree with everything in the book, but it honestly answers the questions young people have. I'd give it to an adolescent myself.  I ordered a used copy from Amazon and found this inscription inside: Cheryl--On your 21st birthday--Thought you should know. Opps. Someone forgot to tell her. How can any loving parent be that cruel?

I urge anyone who has suggestions on how to search or who to contact in any state to leave a comment with contact information or website. If you are adopted, read previous post: Do First/birth mothers want to be found? 

And to answer questions left by adoptive parents, Yes, I totally think that adoptive parents who entered into closed adoptions, whether at home or abroad, should search, and search while the trail is still "hot." What a gift this could be to your young child. When they are older, it is trickier. Then whether or not you are involved should depend on them. Some adoptees may want you to search for their birth parents; some will prefer to do it on their own. The important thing is to let them grow up feeling that they have that right, and that by doing so they are not putting a knife in your heart, or in any way should they feel guilty for searching for their birth mother. Too often adoptees wait until their adoptive parents have died--both of them--and then...it is too late, because so have the birth parents.

WuHu Diary by Emily Prager is the story of one woman's return to China with her adopted daughter. Emily is the daughter of a good friend, and now makes her home with her daughter in Shanghai. Emily herself spent part of her very young years in China when her father was a military attache stationed there. Emily is somewhat controversial among adoptive parents of Chinese daughters for her appreciation of the Chinese culture, but I think many of the adoptive parents who come here will find the book and Emily's approach to raising Lulu affirming.


  1. Of course, they do. Anybody has a right to search for anybody else.

  2. I wish that I could have known 20 years ago, what I know now - my daughter would have been spared a very harsh life. I should have looked much earlier than I did... but I feared to ruin the "forever" family - that she did not really have, just abusers that used her to fix their ills.

  3. I would love it if our sons' birth mom sought us out. Yes, she has that right. (I would of course love it if along with exercising that right she was open to a friendship with my husband and me, at least while our "shared" kids are really young and living in our home. Once they're grown, though, the three of them have every right to have a relationship without us anywhere nearby, if that's their preference.)

  4. Lorraine, I just want to humbly thank you for putting your voice out there. I have learned a great deal from you and have enormous respect for what you are doing.

    Do you have an opinion on a-parents searching for the family members of their internationally-adopted kids while they are still young? There are strong societal forces in my kids' birth country, akin to America's BSE. I would love to locate their families but am frankly terrified of getting their mothers in trouble. I guess I could just put a note in their file at the agency that we are open to identifying contact, and let it up to the mother. Or wait several more years and hope their situation becomes more stable as they get older. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

  5. Lorraine, I think you're asking the wrong question. It's not whether first parents have a RIGHT to search or how old their child should be.

    Rather the question should be "What right does a first parent have to NOT make every effort to provide their child with all information they may need someday?"

    Until you put that information down in an archive in trust for the day we come looking, we have no chance of knowing; if anything happens to you, we will never know. Do it now, update it, put the information on any registries we may someday discover, demand the agency accept it and hold it in trust.

    Even if the worst happens and you die before we find you, we at least know that you cared enough to try. Any first parent who fails to do so is not a mother but only a breeder. Sound harsh? Remember we were not the ones who coerced anyone, we are not the ones who know the truth and hid it. We did not choose to be raised by someone else.

    Rather we are the ones who were told never to search, that it might hurt our adoptive parents, the ones who provided our nurturing. We fear being rejected by you, being rejected by our adoptive families, even our own spouses and children for not being satisfied with the "happy story." Nothing tells us more that we were loved than that you searched for us! This may not mean an instant perfect reunion will automatically follow, but it's a start.

    It really comes down to responsibilities, not rights. When you or your raised children develop breast or ovarian cancer, our own daughters need to know this! I feel an obligation both to those who nurtured me (even mentors of mine, as well as those I have mentored) and to those I nurtured to stay in touch, to share important discoveries with them. Surely those whose genes I share can do no less.

  6. Anonymous, one of our Triad adoptive moms has taken her daughters (7 & 5 at the time) back to India to explore their culture and roots and by luck discovered one's original family. Contrary to what their "non-identifying information" stated (that their daughter was a product of rape) they found their daughter's parents had married and had two more full siblings to their daughter! They try to visit India once a year, telephone weekly, and recently the birth parents had a fourth child - they waited until their firstborn could visit and pick her new sister's name!
    The adopted girls are studying Hindi and learning about Islam, the language and faith their parents were raised in.

    My opinion is the sooner you start the search, the fresher the trail.

  7. ". . . England had already opened its records. "
    To adopted adults.


    It was the change in the 1975 UK law (which gave adopted adults the right to their OBC and info) that gave them the means to search.

    It was not until the 1990s that things started to loosen up for birth relatives, and although they do not have a comparable right to information, they now have access to intermediary services.


  8. ADDED TO THE BLOG THIS MORNING: Yes, I totally think that adoptive parents who entered into closed adoptions, whether at home or abroad, should search, and search while the trail is still "hot." What a gift this could be to your young child.

    When they are older, it is trickier. Then whether or not you are involved should depend on them. Some adoptees may want you to search for their birth parents; some will prefer to do it on their own. The important thing is to let them grow up feeling that they have that right, and that by doing so they are not putting a knife in your heart, or in any way feel guilty for searching.

    Too often adoptees wait until their adoptive parents have died, and then...it is too late, because so have the birth parents.

  9. Yes, I believe original mothers (my new term of preference) have every right to search for our children. We surrendered our right to be their parent - nothing else.

  10. I do not see it as a matter of rights, everyone and no-one have the "right" to search, or rather, both mothers and adoptees search, whether they have that right or not. That is not the question.

    Some search, some do not. It is a deeply personal choice, from both sides. To adoptees like D28Bob, mothers searching do not necessarily care more than mothers who wait to be found. Many of us who searched, and especially those like me who searched for young adoptees, did so out of our own needs as much as concern for the child.

    I do not see myself as more noble or loving than mothers I know who were found but did not search, just more desperate at an earlier age. My son did not want to be found or to search. He was not pining for me, and it did nothing for him at the time, me showing up when he was too young.

    Mothers who surrendered should search if they feel the need, but they should be aware not all adoptees are eager to be found any more than all birth mothers are. There are good reasons to search, and for some, good reasons not to. There is no "right" to search, it is a choice that should be made with clear vision and careful considerations of the pros and cons.

    I am glad I found my son. I wish I had waited many more years to make contact. I cannot advise others to do as I have done, as I regret so much of it. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the relationship with my son that I have now, in spite of all the mistakes.

  11. JMHO,

    The advantage to waiting until the child is 18 is that s/he is now an adult and can have a relationship without interference from the APs.I would also suspect that an adult to adult reunion would have a greater chance of success. If the child is a minor, then once again all the parents are making the decisions that so profoundly affect the adoptee without the adoptee being in control. Also, I think that many adoptees have an insecure attachment to their APs and that the presence of the original parents could make this even more difficult. As for IA, I definitely think that the child should be exposed to his/her culture as much as possible. Though the example of the Indian girl who found out she had full siblings who were kept must be devastating.

    If a fmother feels she has no information to go on, she can at least do some "passive" searching such as registering with the ISRR. Joining a search/support group can also give her ideas on how to at least put her name out there and make herself findable. Also, you may have more information than you realize and a search angel can help you piece it all together.

    d28bob wrote:
    " Nothing tells us more that we were loved than that you searched for us!

    I couldn't agree more :-)

    "So yes, please search. While there are some adoptees who will be rejecting (ugh) most of us want to be found, too.

    @Denise (comment on the last article),

    Thank you for reminding adoptees just how much shame and fear first mothers have. I'm afraid we sometimes forget or don't fully understand.

  12. Right, Maryanne, no one is noble or ignoble in this effort---it is a matter of searching because we were bleeding without knowing where our children were. I frame the discussion as a matter of rights, because that is what I hear from birth moms and adoptees...that is what they Google. I just wanted to answer those first mothers who feel they have no "right" to search for their adopted children.

    As for waiting until a person is 18, that is a purely individual choice. I did not find my daughter, at 15.5 years, one day too soon. Years earlier in fact would have been better for her, and her adoptive parents.

    And some kids end up languishing in boarding schools because one parent has died, the other remarried, and the new spouse doesn't want to raise a child that isn't the other's biological child, and the adoptive parent goes along. Answer: Boarding school and sleep-away summer camp. It happens. Waiting until that child is 18 only increases the damage.

  13. If I had heard your words 20 years ago, I may have had the courage to search for my son. I felt that if he wanted to find me, that was fine, but I was not going to disrupt his life. Thank heaven he did find me!

  14. Yes, Lorraine, I know Julie's story (the son left in boarding school and given back at 12) and a few like it, that were part of my motivation in contacting a 16 year old. But there were so many more young adoptees whe were ok or in situations where the adoptive parents would not allow contact, and were themselves not ready for contact. I wish I had thought more rationally about that. Some early contacts worked, some were vital, some made things worse for the adoptee. Mine was the latter. Everyone has to make their own choice and live with the consequences, good or bad,

  15. I would also add yes, of course they have the right to search. There's no reason, legal or moral IMO why not.

    I believe some first mothers have been searching ever since closed adoptions were invented, regardless of whatever "rules" governments and social workers have laid down for them. Often with success too, depending on a number of variables such as the amount of information they had to start with.
    But if they find when their child is still young or even in their teens I think they have a extra special obligation to proceed sensitively.

    I don't think mothers who don't/didn't search are necessarily less desperate. They may simply have less to work with, not have a support group to encourage them, or be in a situation that makes it more difficult to search. They may even simply be old and not clued in to the social changes that have taken place since they relinquished.


  16. Well, someone has to search. It would certainly be a rotten shame if adoptees sit around thinking "if my first mother really loved me then she would look for me" and first mothers sit around thinking "I don't have the "right" to interfere in my relinquished child's life". Let's not be at cross-purposes her and miss the chance to reunite.

    Maybe we all need to do what our hearts are telling us to do. And we deserve support for that choice.

  17. "Well, someone has to search."
    No they don't. There is no absolute obligation. Nobody can make them search, but they have the 'right' to do so if they want.
    Equally, no-one has the 'right' to prevent them.

    I do think that what gets lost in discussions about search and reunion is that it is the prerogative of an adopted adult to have access to their OBC and information, in the same way as any other citizen.
    That is of central importance because it is a right of a different order. It is a civil and human one.
    The other kind of right is the right to be able to seek for and connect with whomsoever you please, and not to have it presumed that by doing so you intend them harm.

    Conflating the two kinds of rights serves no good purpose. JMO.


  18. Agreeing with Haiga, the adoptee's right to their own OBC is NOT a right to search, although search sometimes follows. Adoptees should have full legal rights just like the rest of us citizens to their own correct birth document. What they do with is it nobody else's business.

    Also. nobody HAS to search, but they should not be prevented or vetoed should they choose to do so. Reunion is about delicate human relationships, to be worked out by the parties involved, and the state and law should have no part in it.

    It is not illegal to search or contact anyone, except in those places that have passed "deformer" laws criminalizing some contacts which were never forbidden under law before. That is why laws with contact vetoes are so bad, they set an awful legal precedent as well as shutting out the adoptees whose mothers veto them.

  19. @Haigha,

    I think you misinterpreted what I wrote. I was not implying that it is mandatory that anyone search. I meant that if an individual wants a reunion, then she has to get off her duff and do the searching. Rather than insisting that it is the other person's responsibility to search.

  20. Speaking for myself, I had to search. I felt as though my child had been taken from me and I needed to find her. I'm sure this isn't the case for everyone and each situation is different. So ultimately I guess one must follow his or her heart and be prepared to live with the consequences.


  21. "I meant that if an individual wants a reunion, then she has to get off her duff and do the searching. Rather than insisting that it is the other person's responsibility to search."

    Robin, that's how I interpreted what you said. I never thought you were suggesting that search was obligatory.

    There is so much totally useless finger-pointing about who should do what: it's the adoptee's job, it's the first mother's job, etc. As you said, Robin, if a person feels driven to search, he or she should. End of story, as long as the person being sought is treated with respect.

    And yes, adoptee access to his or her OBC is the thing we should all unite behind, but throwing that into the mix of this discussion is off topic, IMO.

    I thought this thread was about searching and who feels he or she can or can't. Or the "love" value invested in originating a search or being found.

  22. @ Robin - "I meant that if an individual wants a reunion, then she has to get off her duff and do the searching."

    I hope that isn't intended to imply that a mother who doesn't "get off her duff" is not interested in reunion.

    "Rather than insisting that it is the other person's responsibility to search."

    I don't think anyone did.
    Unless you mean that comment someone else made about "breeders"

    @ Anonymous - "I thought this thread was about searching and who feels he or she can or can't. Or the "love" value invested in originating a search or being found"

    I thought it was about whether first mothers had the "right" to search, not about "feelings".
    However, you may be right insofar as it seems to be as much, if not more, about of the "love value" that is apparently implicit in searching. And about passing judgment on those who, for whatever reason, didn't or don't.
    I believe there are many, many mothers who would search (or would have searched), if they thought they had even a 1/2 way reasonable chance of success.
    Some mothers are more fortunate in that respect than others, having access to reform and support groups, as well as practical advantages to help them in their search.

    On a personal level, I can say with confidence that if adoption records had not been first opened up to adoptees in the UK in '75, I and my son's father would not have been able to find him.
    It was absolutely fundamental to the reconnection.


  23. Well said anonymous, I too, understood you perfectly Robin. I am not clear on the difficulty or how OBC's got lobbed into the conversation.

    Up with OBC's! yay! but yes, back to the topic at hand, excellent post Lorraine. Good on you for phrasing it in a way that reaches out to the broader community.

  24. Joy said, "I am not clear on . . . how OBC's got lobbed into the conversation."

    How? Here:
    "He was a Brit, well educated, and England had already opened its records to all adopted adults." Etc.


  25. Joy, the subjects of adoptee access to their OBC and the right of mothers to search do seem to me to be related topics. I wonder why you question this?

    This is curious as your Adoptee Rights Demonstration group just partnered with SMAAC to endorse birthparent access to amended birth certificates as part of your agenda for "equal access", so this makes the connection especially germane.


  26. I know for me, I had sought help with searching for my daughter, and many people said that they couldn't / wouldn't help because she was a minor. But, luckily, (or unluckily as the case may be) I found people who knew how to research and found her. Coincidently, I was on the right track, but information on the internet was actually being removed (such as certain states' marriage certificates). But, it was too much for me to look, because it overwhelmed me emotionally. But, I did find her. Rejected by her kidnappers, but found her nonetheless.

    In terms of the question, I must say, that whether it is a Right, I can't answer, as I have no faith in laws. My right, according to the UN, would have been to parent my daughter, but no one providing "services" to me, let me do that. I feel that searching for my daughter was a Need. Plain and simple.

  27. H.R. wrote:"I feel that searching for my daughter was a Need. Plain and simple."

    Yes, that is how I felt as well. I did not even consider the question of rights. I was given the opportunity to find my child, and I took it. In retrospect, for me, not so much for him, although I did worry about him of course. Some of the worry was alleviated by seeing he was alive and seemed well.

  28. I just founf this site,and I am a birth mother to a chid do not know if it was boy or girl closed adopation.I am 60years old and would like to find my birth child,my child would be 43 now.Ido not have money to look for my child if I just knew my child was healthly and happy before I died.

  29. Please email me at forumfirstmother@gamil.com

    Comments at old sites are rarely looked at by anyone. If you start reading a lot of the posts you will find a lot of information.


    PLEASE EMAIL US AT forumfirstmother@gmail.com

    and read the latest post, and leave your comment there, if you want to ask more readers. We do our best to respond but we are only two people with other lives.

    Thank you for your understanding.

  31. my daughter was adopted st the aged of 7 she as recently contacted me, nearly 15 now, she wants to come home and has adopted mothers permission, but she wants it to go though the proper channels, what are the chances off her being able to come back, as she as got so excited, and don't want her to feel let down.

    1. Beverlee, the chances of her being able to come back depend on the circumstances. If your daughter's adoption was handled through your state's child welfare office, you should contact them about her returning to your home. Otherwise, I'd suggest you contact an attorney. Here's a website that will give your information about legal resources in your state. www.findlegalhelp.org.



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