' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: After the Mother and Daughter Reunion....

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

After the Mother and Daughter Reunion....

Jane and Lorraine, 1983
Other than the disappointment over her natural father's refusal to meet her, you may be assuming that everything was hunky-dory when my daughter Jane* visited--as she did for weeks and then whole summers--and that we continued to bond without issues, that I was generally on Cloud Nine, and that she went back to her adoptive family and home in Wisconsin like a shiny penny, self-esteem restored, LD (learning disabled) classes—what’s that?

It took a while, but as Jane returned and stayed the entire summer for several years, we began to see that she was far more psychologically damaged than was readily apparent at first. She not only had to deal  with the very real fallout of being epileptic, known to leave a huge emotional footprint. She also had the issues of being adopted and growing up in a biological family not her own, about which rivers of literature have been written. She had trouble telling the truth if she thought a lie was what we wanted to hear. Maybe she had gotten so used to being the center of attention because of her seizures, but it often felt that she was more comfortable creating huge dramas where she had the starring roll than just living. Her capacity for creating turmoil reverberated through our lives, and as time went on it just got worse. 
There were periods of calm, to be sure, when we’d be at the beach, shopping, or having lunch in a restaurant, just the two of us, when she seemed happy and normal and we could delight in just being together at last. Birth mother, birth daughter, call us what you will, anyone seeing us together would have known we were related by biology. 
One year she sent me a gigantic (two feet by one foot) Valentine’s Day card with this message “Just Think, Valentine! Once we were perfect strangers, but then fate stepped in and through some miracle, out of all the millions and millions of people in the world, our paths crossed.”
Inside it says: “Now what?”
She wrote: “Dear Lorraine, I just wanted to say I LOVE  YOU in a very special way, to a very special person, on a very special day. Love, Jane :) ” 
There was that. But there were periods when we were not in touch, typically because I’d said something that she deemed unforgivable—it was always something that I hardly remembered because it had been so inconsequential, but she would decide that was reason enough to be out of my life for good. I was on trial. I was always on trial. I was the mother who had given her up, and to most adoptees, that registers, on some level, as abandonment: What was wrong with me? that my mother didn’t keep me?
I came to realize that her visits sliced me open like a turkey being carved to serve, and guilt was the gravy. Was I guilty about having given her up? Was I guilty about the birth control pills I took before I knew I was pregnant—could they have been a factor in her epilepsy? Was I horrified thinking that some part of me realized given the circumstances of my life in 1966 it had been reasonable to relinquish her, that I could not imagine how I would have raised her myself? Did I feel that I could never do enough to make up for the past, no matter how upright and caring her adoptive family had been? Did her spending time here exhaust me emotionally? 
Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. 
Would I have traded any of it for not knowing where she was, and how she was?
Not for an instant. She was my daughter. Time would of course ameliorate some of the guilt--ultimately she was responsible for her own life, and simply beating up myself year after year surely wasn't healthy. But I could never walk away from all of it. It just was. No matter what I told myself about the mores of the times in which she was born, about how her father saw her relinquishment as the "only solution," about how I convinced myself that she would have a better life with a complete family, no matter everything, I was the mother who had surrendered to forces greater than my ability to overcome them, and I had given her up. She and I would never just be "mother and daughter."
------------from an upcoming memoir by--lorraine
Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience*Lots of Janes at First Mother Forum. Not only is my esteemed blog partner named Jane, so was my daughter.  
Lost & Found is an excellent book for all involved in adoption, natural mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents, grandparents and close friends and relatives, written by an adoptee and therapist, B.J. Lifton. She intelligently touches on the issues adoptees face in even the "best" adoptions and reunions. Link to it here. (Lost and Found is also the name of a book about Jaycee Dugard written by John Glatt.)


  1. "I was the mother who had given her up, and to most adoptees, that registers, on some level, as abandonment: What was wrong with me? that my mother didn’t keep me?"

    I don't ever wonder what was wrong with me, but I do wonder what was and still is wrong with my mother that she abandoned me and has yet, after 40 years, to come looking for me. When I read your blog I realize that she must think of me often.

    This morning I was in the bath and realized that I could no longer make out my c-section scar. Not at all! It brought a tear to my eye because I loved seeing that physical proof that I gave birth. I have two little angels playing in my yard right now to show for it. My natural/biological/womb/first/birth mother has nothing.

  2. Adoption stinks! I NEVER abandoned my son yet because he was adopted he might feel abandoned by me.
    That's one reason I had to find him besides seeing his face for the first time since he was tore from my womb.
    I wanted to let him know the truth. Low and behold as soon as I found him adopter told him I didn't want him. Guess all
    those years of her telling herself that I would never be coming around scared her so much she decided to reinforce to him that I didn't want him. No wonder adoptees feel the way they do.

  3. Lorraine, I love that picture of you and Jane, never tire of seeing it.

    I too have had to fight off guilt over the years, because my son isn't okay (although he's still here) and may never be. Was it something I did? Something I took? (the adoption attorney's doctor who did my post-natal care had me on all sorts of tranquilizers and sleeping pills to keep me calm). Was it genetic? Nothing like his symptoms in my family, but what about his father's. Or simply the act of abandonment?

    When I first met him in reunion, I thought that adoption had failed him, that he would have been better off with me (even though I would have been a poor, single mother). But in truth, we'll never know. He might have the same problems. I could still have failed him.

    It feels good to say that adoption stinks. I think it does. But are there not kids/grown children with problems, who were not relinquished and adopted?

  4. Denise:

    Of course children raised in their own biological families have issues; I'm just saying that my daughter had issues to deal with that appeared to have antecedents in both her epilepsy and adoption.

    And her coming and going? Incredibly close one week and then I'm dead to her the next? And then she's back months later, like nothing happened? Not normal in intact families without adoption. From what I can tell, that is nearly normal behavior between birth /natural mothers and their reunited daughters and sons.

  5. Lorraine said: "I was on trial. I was always on trial."

    Lorraine, I identify so much with this statement. And I'm right there in the trenches with you when it comes to my son appearing, disappearing, and then reappearing...and acting as if we had just seen each other yesterday. We reunited face-to-face over 21 years ago, and he STILL pulls away with no warning, no explanation, nothing. I sit here and question every single word I've said to him or written him, and I can never figure out what exactly set him off.

    My son is in a pullback phase right now...once again. And I feel guilty, but I don't know what I'm guilty of...I just can't figure out for the life of me what's happened THIS time.

    I know in my heart of hearts that he'll be back - he always comes home to me eventually - but it certainly is maddening in the interim.

  6. When I gave up my son(after asking for him back 3 times and being promised him before realizing that it was useless to fight the system any more) and also being terrified that I couldn't take care of a helpless little baby , I still felt like he was with me and I was still connected to him. I didn't have any stretch marks for some reason except for one right above my navel that made it look like I have 2 belly buttons. Every time I looked at it I thought of my son and felt like he was still with me.

  7. Raven:

    My husband calls it: Advance and Retreat. Maddening? It is totally crazy making.

  8. Advance and Retreat - describes it perfectly! The hardest part is that I fall for it every time. Leading up to a visit, there's lots and lots of emails and I-can't-wait-to-see-yous. Then we have an amazing time together all the while talking about how soon we can see each other again and how much fun we have together, and I start to think this time it will be different. This time, we've finally crossed whatever bridge it is that we needed to cross and we'll actually have more contact with each other even though there's no upcoming visit planned. But each time, I'm devasted when she goes home and I go back to being on her Do Not Call list. Then, some time goes by, I suggest another visit, and the cycle starts up again. And I fall for it every time. Because I love her to death and hope springs eternal.

  9. There MUST be some successful ongoing reunions; I'd like to hear about them...please speak up!

  10. "There MUST be some successful ongoing reunions; I'd like to hear about them...please speak up!"

    No way. I wouldn't dare.

  11. It takes time (and courage) to sort out issues. Adoptees can be stuck in kiddie head-spaces, and with no vocabulary at their disposal to talk it through, issues are not easy to talk about. Time.

  12. I found this blog because I am a regular on infertility blogs: people who are trying to have a baby through medical intervention. Over and over again, someone will jump in and say "why don't you JUST adopt?" As though you simply go to Walmart to pick out a kid. Some of your posters have said some of the same hurtful things about infertility (these stupid career women should have had their own kids at 20! - forgetting that even women in their 20's experience infertility, and about 40% of the cause of infertility is male factor. Besides, we all make choices when younger that we may regret when older. So now what?). Nonetheless, rather than seeing them as enemies, you should recognize the pressure infertile couples face to adopt. I would love it if one of you would write an article on Babble.com about the falacy of the "why don't you JUST adopt" canard from the perspective expressed on this blog.

  13. Anon,

    I am in a successful reunion. My son and I have been reunited for over 20 years. It has not always been easy
    as there are so many factors involved after leading our
    lives without each other for 26 years.
    I do think mothers and adoptees share a lot of the same
    feelings and fears. I think that both need to be open and
    willing that is true in any relationship. I do think adoptees
    have many things to deal with in reunion including the
    issue of abandonment.

  14. Nasrin:

    Great Point about the pressure on infertile couples to adopt. Someone needs to have the knowledge to say back: but there aren't that many kids that need adopting! It ain't that simple!

    I understand about women not having their babies when you are getting started in their careers--but they could read up on a little biology while they are in college too and learn how fertility starts to go down by the late twenties and plummets by the mid-thirties. And it's not just the women, of course, men don't need to get married to have sex and so they wait and wait and wait...until they are older (Warren Beatty, Scott Simon, Bill Ransic) and then unless they choose a much younger woman, the issue of fertility is still there.

    And 40% of infertility is the male issue? Is that also related to age? I know that Aspergers and autism and epilepsy show a relationship to the age of the father.

    I'll check out Babble.com but do prospective adopters even think about this other side of the issue? Seems to us, rarly, if ever.

  15. Mother,

    I agree. A successful reunion has to be based on TRUTH. No matter how hard it hurts.
    Mother and child both share many of the same issues in reunion. We as mothers were also abandoned. By our families,our friends,church and society.
    Trust is a hard thing to regain. We left them once and they must feel that we could possibly do so again.
    I know in my case I want more contact but understand and am grateful for what contact we do have. She has also made it clear that I am on her mind everyday and
    need to initiate contact myself instead of always waiting for her.

  16. Anon said:"There MUST be some successful ongoing reunions; I'd like to hear about them...please speak up!"

    No way. I wouldn't dare.

    Ditto that. Not safe. Personal details picked at and used to hurt.

    'nother anon

  17. Anons: how about making up a moniker you use when you come here so we can ...relate to you better?

    and yes I agree, personal details are picked at and used against the writer sometimes. It's sad.

  18. I am a 52 yr old adoptee. I searched for my mother 2 years ago. She was found by the agency and has requested no contact from me. So no reunion ever. That said, the behavior you describe of adoptees fits me to a tee in all aspects of my personal life. Perfectly normal relationships one minute and a overwhelming desire for space the next. That covers all people-parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, my own child. I have heard alot of adoptees have this issue. Do not take it personally. We all do the best we can. Adoption leaves its mark on everyone it touches, better or worse. I do not want my mother to feel guilt for giving me up, I understand. However, getting too close to anyone might mean rejection on a level even I do not understand, so perhaps she is experiencing the same emotions.

  19. Kristi wrote:"but I do wonder what was and still is wrong with my mother that she abandoned me and has yet, after 40 years, to come looking for me."

    You do not know for sure that your mother has not been looking for you. My natural mother was given erroneous information about my a-family and my whereabouts. I don't know if she would have been able to find me.

  20. Kristi wrote:"but I do wonder what was and still is wrong with my mother that she abandoned me and has yet, after 40 years, to come looking for me.

    Every person is unique. I began looking for my daughter the day I gave her up and she was very angry with me for searching. She wanted the "power of search" and I took that from her too.

  21. I am a birthmother who relinquished a daughter in 1986. We met face to face in 2004, hung out like soul mates for a couple of years. Just like all the books say the honeymoon period was OVER!! She got pregnant at 20 and the contact completely stopped. She stated that she has plenty of grandmas and wanted to be friends. I was horrified and for the past 4 years I have completely poisoned any chance of having a relationship with her. The rejection just about killed me. In addition to finding out I am unable to have any more children, the obsession of wanting something from her that she is unable to give me and I am unable to give her.

    We all live in the same town and I still deal with the shame of it all every day.

    I just have to ask is there ever a time when a birthmother will be at peace?

    I have finally come to a crossroad I just have to move on, let it go. I have a great, supportive husband. But I do believe this pain is for a lifetime.

    She is in touch with the birthfather and his children which makes me nausous and so furious.

    AM I just hanging on to something that will never be?



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