' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why birth/natural mother-adoptee reunions go awry

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why birth/natural mother-adoptee reunions go awry

Someone asked recently if we could report on good reunions--without the hurt and anger and rage that so often breaks out here on First Mother Forum. Well, I wish I had better news to report, but the operating mode seems to be what was first mentioned in a comment at an earlier post: advance and retreat. Reunion is like a huge ocean wave that comes in and thrashes everyone about, and in the process, everyone's emotions are rubbed raw again, feelings are tender, real rage can emerge.

I know a birth/natural mother, A, who had a good relationship with her daughter, or so she thought. The daughter, B, was still a teenager and actually stayed with her for extended periods. The mother became pregnant with someone she did not intend to marry, but now was--sixteen or so years later--in a position to have the child and keep him. He was a boy. When he was a toddler, B was staying with A, and at some point, A made the comment "Boys are easier to raise than girls." People say that--and the opposite--all the time; her mother meant no slur upon her daughter, of course, nor did she relate it to the fact that she had given a daughter up. The sex of the child did not enter into the mother's decision whether to relinquish her daughter when she was born to her, a single woman who was seventeen at the time in a different era. 

Her daughter got up and walked out and left. I mean, she was gone. She must have come back and gotten her stuff, but the daughter did not respond to her mother's entreaties--for a conversation--for more than a decade. B did contact A when she had a child herself, and asked for medical information, which A sent her, along with a gift of baby clothes. No response. Years went by again. Eventually B did contact her mother, met her, they had a great time, but then...she disappeared again for years. Do adoptees understand how this kind of  behavior hurts and makes us natural mothers crazy?

After the reunion
My own daughter, Jane, did the same kind of thing. We'd be close and everything would be going well, and then she would disappear for months at a time; a couple of times, for longer than a year. Then I might call her--because it was her birthday, say--and we'd be back on track. For a while. Another time her avoidance occurred soon after her adoptive mother said of one of her biological children: He was my favorite. Jane was gone for a couple of years then. Understand, this was after years of knowing her, after feeling that we had come to some kind of a good place, after she lived her for a while with me and my husband, met my brothers and their wives and her cousins, etc. This was after years of knowing her and having a generally good relationship.

One time when she hurt me badly and I told her so--I didn't yell or accuse, I just said I was upset and, as I was going out the door at the time, said we could talk later. Her reaction? She had her phone number changed and unlisted. I wrote to her daughter, Kim, who was thirteen at the time, and the letter came back "REFUSED." Let me tell you, that stings. When she called and was ready to resume "normal" relations after five months or so, her reason for having an unlisted phone number was not anything I could believe. I wish she had had the guts to say, I was so angry with you that I thought I never wanted to talk to you again. I was gonna show you! Then we might have been able to talk. But I just bit my tongue and said: How are you? She acted like nothing had been wrong. No mention of why this had happened, because to tell you the truth, I don't think she knew.

I think that the rage that frequently emerges after the reunion is because the adoptee was relinquished when he or she was pre-verbal, and had no way to express their deep confusion and frustration at the time of the transfer to someone who didn't smell the same as Mama, or have the same heart beat. So later on, it is hard to rationally deal with the issue of being transferred to a stranger, or recognize the feelings that reunion brings forth. The anger and rawness of the whole situation becomes vested on Mama, the woman who gave you up in the first place and is ultimately responsible. Adoptees surely are not going to be angry with their adoptive parents; the birth mother becomes the punching bag.

What all this advance-and-retreat behavior after the reunion does is make us natural mothers nuts! We can't figure out how to act to make our sons and daughters after reunion not abruptly pack up and go away! We end up being incredibly cautious about what we say, we end up leery when they call and act as if a six-month or a two-year absence is nothing and just say: How are you? My daughter did this numerous times. We end up trying to monitor everything we say, thinking, if I say or do this, will that not drive her away? Can I say this? Or that? Should I tell her this? If I say that, will that drive her away again?

The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their StoriesI would get angry at times with my own mother--who doesn't?--but our arguments weren't t so clouded as I my relationship after reunion was with Jane. My mother and I would make up and go on, say what was on our minds without constantly monitoring every word or nuance. But then, I hadn't been given up for adoption. I didn't have another mother to feel guilty about. If I was angry with my mother, I knew exactly why. With Jane, the daughter I relinquished, that was never going to happen. Sad? Oh yes. We natural mothers long for a kind of normalcy with our reunited daughters and sons that we cannot have. What has gone on before will not allow it. --lorraine
 After the reunion: How do (found) mothers and daughters relate?
The Hard Realities of an Adoptee/Birth Mother Reunion
Why first mothers walk away from their children after reunion
The Adoption Reader is a wonderful, informative collection of essays and some poetry:  "Birth mothers, adoptive mothers and adopted daughters tell their stories."  Louise Erdich, Shay Youngblood, Nancy Mairs, Minni Bruce Pratt and  (moi) Lorraine Dusky are represented here.


  1. I have a hard time relating to this. Me and my first mother were never out of touch from the time of our first phone conversation (initiated by me). We both said things that were considered insensitive by the other but it was never enough for us to lose contact. And it is not possible to compare the relationship between a mother and the biological child she raised with the relationship between a first mother and a relinquished child. Adoption causes too much hurt, pain and damage for anyone to expect these very different scenarios to turn out the same.

  2. These are definitely cautionary tales. Things can and do go wrong even when people are trying to do all the right things. My heart goes out to everyone struggling through a reunion. The damage of separation is profound. Your image of a wave is apt. It seems to me that we must always be watchful for how that damage will manifest itself, both in us as mothers and in our children.

  3. I definitely think there are some adoptees who do so out of malice, but I think sometimes the retreat/advance behavior is less about harming the parent that just the adoptee (or vice versa) trying to deal, but in an inadvertently hurtful way.

    I don't know if it would be different if I reunited with my mom instead, but reuniting with my dad triggered a pretty serious episode of depression. I don't call him very often (more weeks/months than years, though), but not because I'm trying to punish or hurt him; I'm trying to protect my own mental health.

    I do think everyone in reunion needs to try to be kind and respectful, so I think I probably do bear some responsibility for not calling him and letting him know that it's not him. But at the same time, I'm also afraid to call him, in case being honest about depression and my adoptee experience will jeopardize the relationship.

  4. Robin, thanks for your comment and I'm really pleased to note that you and your natural mother have stayed in touch as you describe.

    I don't for a minute think most adoptees plot to hurt their birth mothers, it just happens as they are dealing the best they can. Most people are not malicious, but because of the pain, hurt and damage caused by adoption in the first place,all that gets spread around to the natural mother or father after reunion...just because.


  5. While I am always pleased to hear of reunions that seem so calm and both parties are close and accepting, this article told it just how it has been for me. Life and emotions become so unsettled. I never knew when the other shoe would drop. Those first years of reunion had so much pain in them. I know my son was not out to deliberately hurt. He has so many unexpressed emotions, which he tries to hide. So the feelings come out in behaviors or he simply withdraws.

  6. I think we all long for normalcy, but for many adoptees, most if not all, it is not possible, never will be because of the loss which reunion never 'cures', makes up for or deletes.How to trust someone who walked out on us? Yes we know all about being 'loved and wanted' but often find after reunion it is not so and was never so.However much we might have been loved and wanted, how ever little choice there was we were still left alone in our vulnerability with our loss and trauma.No blame there, just fact for us.
    Given the damage, reunion is approached with such lack of caution, such lack of preparation and support and with many expectations and assumptions.
    I too attempted to do a post on happy endings, working reunions.I had about four possibles and ended up with one story.I have not in this adopted life ever met or known of anyone who could call reunion 'successful' Isn't it time we took that seriously and started trying to do it differently?

  7. I searched for my son, found him and then spent almost 4 years with email and phone getting to the point of a visit. It was excruciating. Finally I went.

    Generally, I would say it was a successful week (I stayed with a cousin) but I knew on my last day that I would never see him again. He couldn't handle the complications with his very wealthy apars who also didn't approve of his choice for a wife.

    For awhile I kept in touch without response. On his bday I always called. After the birth of the second child when I wasn't informed, I quit. He was never openly hostile. It was all that nasty passive-aggressive stuff (just like his dear old dad).

    It tore me apart and seemed finally to be pathetic to continue. It reminded me of women who can't let go after rejection. That was about 8 years ago. For almost 10 years I ignored the adoption etc. community. More recently I have reengaged. I don't expect anything except better understanding.

    When I was in reunion I tried to help an adoptee whose first mother refused to meet her. I talked to the mother a couple of times. She was afraid the reunion would destroy her current life. The truth is, it could have.

    Reunion requires a great deal of courage and patience from both parties. I ran out and he wasn't involved. There was nothing left to say. Makes you wonder at the level of cruelty required not to send a birth notice.

    1. Know fully well what you're saying. It's unbelievable what the adoption industry set us up for. No one knows except us. Peace.

  8. SameOld, I discovered the birth of my two grandsons via Internet searches. My five year reunion was similar to yours, more off than on. My daughter hasn't spoken to me in over six years, though we saw (but didn't speak) one another at her cousin/my nephew's wedding a year ago. I don't have hopes that we'll ever have a relationship; the odds are just stacked against us. I haven't ignored the adoption community, but I've withdrawn significantly, and honestly, I'm saner, healthier and happier for having done so. I hope you, and other first mothers who've loved and lost more times than they can count, are too.

  9. I would like to believe, honestly, that the reason my daughter is like that is the reasons given... but reality, I haven't a clue and she is well aware (we talked about it a number of times - probably the only real conversations we had were about this subject) that she does these ugly things out of her need to punish me. I have, out of self-preservation, given up. I will always love her, but I want nothing to do with the situation until she works out her anger issues. I respect that she feels she has the right to be angry, but I am not a punching bag and never will be.

    Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I was supposed to do A and did B - but reality, she needs to work out her problems - not me.

    1. You have just written what I am personally gong through. My brother and his family feel I should just "suck it up" and deal with his anger. I cannot. I am doing the best I can-and apparently it will never be good enough.

  10. As an adoptee, I have no concept of what a normal family relationship is. How often do you call? What do you talk about when you have no history together? I also have a phobia of phones and have panic attacks if I need to call someone. My mother wants nothing to do with me but my father has welcomed me. It is heaven to be with him and hear his voice and lay my head against his beating heart. But the sadness at all the years lost with this beautiful man is overwhelming sometimes. It hurts like hell and takes an enormous amount of effort on my part to keep contact and deal with that and not get angry.

  11. Anonymous,

    How often do you feel like calling? When my daughter and I were "on," we would talk a few times a week. I knew her, and her life, well enough that we talked about the stuff going on in our lives at the moment. Her college courses, what she was reading, how the daughter she was raising was doing, her husband, their dart league, the sale at Land's End, her adoptive family, the good stuff and the stuff that hurt, etc. Obviously, when we were in a good place the conversation did seem like the weekly calls I had with my mother.

    Call your dad, and try not to take the anger and hurt you feel out on him. If it makes you feel good, it probably does the same for him. We can't undo the past but the future will be what you make of it.

    And good luck.

  12. Its impossible to make up for a lifetime of non-involvement in a short period of time. I have yet to find my birth mother, but I get waves of retreat as well. I am the child, she should find me... etc. From what I have read it seems to be part of some Adoptees make up, and they need to be shown over and over that Birth mother is finding them. Everything combines into a VERY SLOW process. If I find my birth mother, I won't retreat, I already understand why I react the way I do, but I am sure some Adoptees don't?

  13. Gretchen, that is exactly where I am. At one nasty point I wrote and told him that he was confused if he thought I as obligated to allow myself to be denigrated for his needs. I have a good ideas what it is all about. Nothing I can do.

    Interesting point he was absolutely hysterical about NOT knowing anything and wanting no contact with his father. No problem. The feeling was mutual.

    I told the family of the father (my ex) because I thought after all these years he (and they) needed to get real. He tried to deny. Unfortunately for him I had all his letters. Guess I am the only one into reality. Hard as it is.

  14. My reunion with my son has been up and down since I found him in 2003. He treated me horribly. I say that with a past tense because I decided after 6 years of it to walk. He still calls and asks to see me - but I don't trust him. When I found him he was living in a horrible place and from hand to mouth. I bought him a house & paid for his wedding to help him - wanted nothing in return. Wanted him to have things to be proud of to instill confidence he so lacked due to adotpers that beat him up emotionally. And have not regrets - just wish after I had done it I ended things rather then going thru the following years of abuse, disrespect & being degraded. He even lied to my family telling them I did horrific things at his wedding of which never occurred. He was trying to justify his, his wife's nasty behavoir and for the adotpers having their relative physcially threaten me at the airport when I arrived for the wedding.
    It is the same old "my pain for adopter gain".
    I decided that I won't let this all consume me anymore, after 30 plus years of missing and wanting my son I am letting it all go. No more.
    I think a lot of adoptees are mad - and more so when they meet the real family, like them, feel like one of them, only to realized what they missed out on. Who do they blame? Not the people that paid to have them taken from their real mother/family, but the actual mother who suffered because some infertile people couldn't live with what they were handed in life. I won't play anymore.

  15. Ok here is an honest question to all the first Moms.. Why do you let your child retreat for several years?? I was placed for adoption and I am currently in reunion with my mom... and I am guilty of walking occasionally.. When I do get mad and walk it would probably only last a day or so.. but when I realize that she does not really come after me.. then it last a bit longer. I know that the Mom (adopted mom for those who need to understand which I am talking about) would never let more than two days go by without talking with me.. and I know for a fact my first Mom would NEVER EVER go more than a day with out talking to the sons she kept... so yes it does bother me that she lets me go without just coming over and talking it out. So my question is.. why do you not just put on the "mommy" pants and go talk it out with your child. Maybe they read you as ..not caring enough to come after them.
    (Or maybe that is just how I read it..)
    My first Mom and I are going to therapy together starting next week. I can not tell you how helpful theses last few blogs about reunion have been!!! SO glad to hear we are pretty normal!!
    Thank you!!

    1. Thank you patty for confirming my thoughts.

  16. I’d like to share a few words. For personal reasons, I rarely respond to adoption blogs, though Lorraine’s thoughtful questions and observations are compelling. While speaking only for me, I know my 30 years experience with search and reunion affects my thoughts. So, I find Von’s comments hit the nail on the head and I respectfully offer more. First, I am not sure we can fully prepare folks for the emotions coming from search and reunion Lorraine so well describes. Second, I do not believe the motivation propelling adoptees and birthmothers to search is necessarily the same, and thus may lead to misunderstandings. Third, searching adoptees may feel they struggle against insurmountable odds. Do not underestimate for them a good result or successful search means getting to the finish line. Fourth, Von refers to the rejection adoptees experience that comes with their being placed for adoption. On a scale of one to ten I rate the experience of being given up for adoption a fifteen. Fifth, I believe the pattern of advance and retreat Lorraine describes occurs in other complex relationships, and may be frustrating and painful. On a personal note, my three daughters have taught me, the hard way, much about getting along with daughters—and I am still learning. I think I have said enough for now. 

  17. My son and I have built a relationship. We have had an unusual opportunity to live together. During that time we
    got to learn and interact daily. I am not saying it has
    all been easy but I do think we grew together.
    Before, we lived together I would call, write and let him know that I wanted to see him. Writing is very personal and
    I learned a lot that way.
    The anger issues were there on both our parts although he
    never blamed me outwardly. I really don't think anyone born in the Era of Mass Adoptions can understand what happened and why white women were targeted.
    I have a lot of anger that I have tried to get help for therapists don't deal with adoption anger. I have been to three different women. Last one had been trained in EMRD
    Which deals with post trauma with veterans. I asked for that therapy specifically she talked tome and wanted to deal with my anger issues with my mom her abandoning
    me. Cannot even get issues I want addressed I know what
    I need as I have lived with it.

  18. While reading here this morning, I looked up and noticed this quote from Hillary Clinton hanging on my fridge. She said, "I cannot excuse the past and I will not try. We can either think about the past and be imprisoned by it or we can decide to have a better future and work to make it." I found it helpful so I decided to submit it in the event that others might too.


  19. It's just a tough situation all around. From the first mother's point of view, you've been a mother without a child since the day you gave birth. For us adoptees, we've been children without a mother. Now look at the difference - where you once had something and lost it, we never had it. We grow up never having it. To reunite means to go back to a relationship that we had. First mothers were the only ones with the relationship to reunite.

    As an adoptee, I will always have grown up without parents. Contrary to belief, I was angry for many years with my aparents for many reasons. Now, I feel sorry for them. They didn't quite get the blank slate they'd been promised, just as I didn't get mommy and my first mother didn't forget her loss.

    I don't believe that adoptees go "in and out", "advance and retreat". We just live as we always have, not knowing where exactly we belong, trying to protect ourselves all along the way.

  20. Patty:

    In all the situations I know of, the natural mothers have made attempts to talk to their children but they did not respond to letters, phone messages, you name it. We try, we get ignored.

    My daughter ignored emails, and changed her phone number, had a letter to her daughter sent back with REFUSED in it. Her husband was their postman. She lived in Wisconsin, me on Long Island, New York. I had already been to Wisconsin once when she barely spoke to me, and only then because her adoptive parents took us all to brunch. She did not look at me, said only a few sullen words. I did screw up my courage and go up to her alone outside the restaurant where she and her husband were having a smoke afterward. That was not quite hostile, but did not lead to a resumption of relations.

    We can't go chasing after grownups that way a mother can chase a toddler who is investigating how it feels to run away from Mama.

  21. And I'm sorry but in the context of telling your relinquished daughter that boys are easier to raise while raising a son, is insensitive at best, downright rude at the worst. Your friend should have been given a chance to explain herself but I understand in the heat of the moment just not being able to deal with a statement like that.
    My first mother told me how glad she was that she waited to be married before having her OWN kids. That stung. We went to therapy and hashed that out. But through the years the comments just kept coming. I guess my question is, When does the injured party get to say enough is enough?

  22. Patty,

    I think that each adoptee is very different, that is pretty much true of every single person on the earth. Some things, however, are universal.

    Lorraine had it right when she said that we try and get ignored. You say that your "mom" would never allow that.... My daughter changed her phone number, moved, threatened me.... over a single phone call. One to notify her of the death of her grandfather and my leaving the state (we lived less than 300 miles apart almost all of her life).

    I have attempted many times over the last decade to help her and myself through the crap surrounding adoption. I get emotionally slapped in such a way that I can even tell you when it is coming. The cycle is so plain to me - its scary....

    A - talking, excited, open

    B - talking, wary, rude

    C - nasty, ugly comments on my blog - or comments and questions designed to set me up for the nasty ugly comments to follow (stalking my blog - blog hits that have reached 86 in one day)

    D - a screw you, I hate you and don't and never will care about you - usually email (a couple of letters that I still have)

    E - silence that can go on for months and months - even, at one point, over a year.

    So, you ask why we don't chase... hmmmm.... well, there is only so many times we can get slapped around before we have to say "no!" and honestly, one of the things I hear a lot is the statement that you can't build on air (no early relationship) so what do you have to talk about.

    My question is this: If you can't talk to someone that you don't have a prior history with, exactly how do you make friends?

  23. I appreciate Kristi points about the natural mom's reuniting with a child they lost vs. the adopted reuniting with something unfamiliar.
    This is perplexing to me - my son told me that he felt normal for the 1st time after I found him. It appeared he was reuniting with his self - what he truly was and where he came from.
    My son we treated like a king by my family and myself. We would fly him in have huge luncheons/dinners in his honor - cater to his every whim and desire to assure him how loved he was. I tolerated hate from him, disrespect, kicked out of his house, having him lie about things he claimed he desperately needed to get lots and lots of money from me, degraded - on and on.
    What I still don't understand is why I wasn't treated with the same courtesy he extends to his friends. I never wanted anything from him but to be treated like he would treat any friend or acquaintance - instead I was baited to visit only to be used and abused each and every time - over 12.
    I accepted this for 6 years to assure him that I wasn't going away again. However as time went on it got worse and the abuse escalated to horrible levels.
    Wish it was different. And I agree with Hilary Clinton that we can't change the past. And agree that the scars of my past will not longer control my future - I will.
    My son is sad about my decision - however would he ever change his behavoirs to have me back - doubtful. For me it is time to move on and enjoy what I truly do have - a wonderful family even with him not a part of it anymore.

  24. My son stated he felt normal for the 1st time in his life after I found him. He was reuniting with his self, what he truly was and where he came from. He felt that loss he entire life - as I felt the loss of my child.
    With may adoptees they have some sort of alligence to the adopters - this I never understood. Especially when it effects their children to be raised with unnatural relatives while their real are available with open arms.
    My son was treated like a king by my family and me. We went to extremes to reassure him of our love and committment to him.
    In return he treated me like a person only worthy of cleaning out an out house. He would call with "so called" emergencies to get lots of money from me. Baited me to visit so he could use me and torment me. My friends that know the details told me to dump him within 2 years of finding him. Yet I took the abuse to reassure him I wasn't going to leave him ever again not matter what.
    After 6 years of it, having it only escalate to higher levels I threw in the towel. He wants me back badly - but will he behave nicely towards me - highly doubtful. All I askeds was that he treat me at least as well as a friend, that would have been enough. He can keep his "mommie dearest" - it is bye bye for me.

  25. No, Lorraine, you can't go chasing grownups, that's true. But that's not what you are chasing, and that's not what your daughter was when she was running away from you (no matter how old she was).

    When you come to terms, one day, if that can ever happen for any of us, that you GAVE AWAY YOUR CHILD and you will NEVER get her back (even if she were still alive), then you might understand what we adoptees had to try and come to terms with, or at least, live with, since our births.

    We were told, "the person who gave birth to you wasn't your mother, the person who raised you was"; and, "she loved you enough to give you a better life"; and, "even if you find her, she may not want a relationship with you". And the lies go on.

    But the reality is that we, adoptees, whether we have "two mommies" or one, once that original bond is broken, we are on our own to figure out life and love and everything else thrown our way. We become our own mothers. For you, we are that missing part of yourself that was ripped from your body. To us, you are a curiosity - "who, what, why, when, how and where" is what we really want to know.

    Because to us, there really is nothing more that the relationship between first mother and adoptee has ever been - just wings, no roots. Why would you ever expect that we would act any differently than you taught us? It is our only genectic expectancy.

  26. Excellent post,Lorraine and explanation of a very complex(now) relationship and what was supposed to be the simplest,most basic (then). I know when my son would withdraw after 'the honeymoon ' kind of beginning of the reunion,he wouldn't answer my calls and I can only imagine what I did or said(probably said-I don't have a way with wordsLOL) Anyway, he's into sports and also music as are most young people, so one day I just thought I'd try once more and call, but this time I'd didn't say anything,just played an old song that starts with the line"Won't you take me back to school I need to learn the Golden Rule" and he must have been listening because he picked right up. But everyone is different and my son is not a super-mean or vindictive person He's very kind and brave,too, to go through this with me.

  27. I can feel another blog post coming on because the comments are making me want to answer some of what you are saying. But I can't respond today.

  28. Reunions are inexplicable,I think, to anyone but those who've sailed through these stormy seas. I'm a different person now after several years of being reunited with my son. In the beginning I acted like I did when I was young and gave birth to him. I now realize this must have seemed strange to other people seeing this behavior in a person my age. I occasionally have flashbacks, and the strange part is my chemistry changes I couldn't drink coffee then but now I can and if I have cup during one of these flashbacks I'm flying and not sleeping for 2 days.

  29. Reading the comments made me so sad. It's like we are forever doomed by adoption. If you can find one, I'd love to read about a truly good reunion relationship.

  30. @Kristi, most of us mothers did not give away our son/daughter voluntarily - I sure didn't. Was locked up in a home of 7 catholics to be the nanny, cook & maid until I had my baby, in the catholic hospital. I was told I didn't have any rights to my son period, with no valid reason other than someone wanted him that couldn't have children. I was told to go have another one because I could and the adopter mom could not.
    Studies done have shown that over 97% of moms did not want to surrender their child.
    I know my son was told I was incapable of a person - yet I was being taken to Europe to be a professional nanny, and offered several jobs as one from very very wealthy families in this country. As my son was living with a "mommie dearest". Hard to swallow.

  31. Denise... my reunion is good!!! Really good. We are starting therapy so that when someone says or does something that hurts the other.. we talk it out rather than get all quiet and bail. We have had out ups and downs.. but I realize now that I have met her.. that I do much better if we are getting along. I am interested in this thread though.. because there are not many people who talk about what happens after the reunion.

    Lorraine... I have followed the story of you and your daughter.. I am sorry for how she treats you. That is above and beyond what I am referring to. I wish you peace.. I know you have tried.

    <3 to all..

  32. @Denise, there are many successful reunions. Usually the ones that aren't cause the need for support and why we hear about those more. One of my friends who is an adoptee has a very very successful search business - has for over 15 years. And he helps with the reunite process. I hear wonderful stories from him - and he has commented to me many a time that the majority of reunites are very good - to include his with his natural mother. He recently even helped an Ambassador find his real mom.

  33. Oops.. the note I just wrote my response was to Lori not Lorraine... sorry for confusing the names!!sammali

  34. I know of several good reunions. whether male or female the following conditions existed:

    1) both parent and child are open, wanted and needed the relationship
    2) they are deeply compatible and generally healthy
    3) the adoptee either felt totally alienated from the adopters because of life style, talents, sexual orientation or one or more elements that made the adoptee feel like the "other" or the adopters were exceedingly supportive and helped the reunion along without interfering.
    4) the two were able to spend some time living together ... whether on extended vacations alone or as a living arrangement.

    The best reunion I know involved a woman and her son taking a week together for the first 5 years of their reunion. Then they involved each others families. They were able to get to know each other and they wanted to.

    I think the worst situations are when the two can't sort their victimhood. I didn't even know I felt like a victim until I did. I had so totally repressed my emotions to be the "adult one in control of the best situation". I sought therapy and learned to deal with the reaction (it overwhelmed me at first) and I was somewhat passed that when I finally met my son. We just weren't and probably never will be in a compatible place. He does not WANT to know his natural parents. Can't fight that.

    My sister has a son she raised, in fact her favorite child, and he is nasty, abusive, makes up stories, doesn't call, plays games, etc. So who knows? I feel that her situation is worse.

    I read some research recently that indicated that if the pregnant woman is under profound stress, it has negative psychological and physical effects on the baby. Couple that with bad diet and smoking and the poor tikes started in the negative. It is no wonder there are problems.

  35. @Kristi As a reunited firstmother, I am hurt by your comment about never having had a relationship with your firstmother and thinking that this bond can be so easily broken We as firstmothers were told this by society and to our great sorrow found out just how untrue this is I was listening to a grief counsellor talk recently and she said she doesn't think the mother-child bond can ever be broken,even by death. If I remember correctly from one of your recent posts you have 2 children, so I am surprised that you would say this.

  36. Same Old, some good points there on what makes a good reunion. I have seen lots of good ones, long term. Not many have lived together but there is lots of contact and visiting, involvement in each other's lives that develops over the years. Several friends have situations that really have normalized as much as that is possible given all the stress of adoption. The one thing that characterizes these long term successful reunions is mutual respect, maturity, boundaries, empathy for the other person, and getting rid of blame, from both sides.

    These are not people who come to these forums. They are just living their lives and doing well with their reunions, not problem-free, but what relationship is? You may not hear about them here, but they are out there, just as the failed and rejected reunions are. It takes all kinds.

  37. @Patty,

    Thank you. Yes, my daughter goes above and beyond. I have given up and really don't want a relationship with her at all. I gave her all her answers and I am fine with life, as long as she doesn't come back. I can't deal with it. She uses her father-in-law to find out things now - he calls, we chat, he is raising one of the grandsons, so it is impossible to cut contact. I refuse to hurt a 6 yr old to satisfy my daughter's lust for revenge.... She is now living in a house that her adopters own - having done that before and it ending badly, I have to wonder why she would set herself up for a third time. I am just done.

    For the young lady that said we are a curiosity - thanks, I needed that - can you kick me harder next time?

  38. @Kristi, doesn't look like you are led by the Holy Spirit, you are deliberately making a nasty comment to a mother whose daughter is dead.

    (nasty name calling deleted)

    Go learn how to be a real Christian before you announce on your blog that you are Holy Moly Criss Cross Christian led by the Holy Spirit. Maybe you meant the Spirit in the bottle from the bar?

    All this anger, how's it working for you ladies?

  39. Reunion has definitely been a Pandora's Box for me. I haven't been the one to turn and walk away. My mother has. I understand that there are difficulties and ebbs and flows for both adoptees and mothers. Not all adoptees are warm and loving, nor are all mothers. It's reality.

    But damn, the pain related to rejection AFTER reunion is worse than anything I had ever imagined possible. Von's and Joanne's comments were really helpful for me. The sense of rejection being a 15 on a scale of 1/10 is about right. Sadly, my mother doesn't love me the way I wish she did. She may one day, she may not. Coming to terms with this lack remains an ongoing, brutal trial for me. And there was no way to prepare, as Von said. It sucks. We need better support systems for both adoptees and mothers.

    I can say that the turning away and cutting ties and running is something that I wouldn't do to my mother, because I want her so very desperately. But it is a coping mechanism quite familiar to me. It's something I have done, and will do, and did do even last week to a dear friend. I will lash out if I sense doubt in someone's loyalty, even for a second. I am most likely to do it to those who are closest to me and who have the most probability of hurting me profoundly.

    My heart goes out to those mothers whose children reject them, but also to those adoptees who have been hurt; sometimes the hurt seems never to end. There is so much that cannot be mended. We can only do our best to trust and hope and move forward together with awareness and compassion.

    1. I know this an old post, but… I found my first mother through my half sister (and later, half brother) on Ancestry.com. She met her future husband of 50 years 1.5 months after I was born. Never told him, (nor my birthfather). Denied me until indisputable truth came out (very specific grandparent info on adoption papers). She wanted no part of me but let it be known who my father was. That was a wonderful and great relationship. 3 years later she calls and wants to meet- at the Father’s house.

  40. I have to apologize to my daughter's father-in-law. He is a good man and I am sure he doesn't mean anything other than to be nice and to share our grandson with me. I just get fed up with everything.

  41. As an adoptee that has met my birth mother, I do understand the situation. I do think that it takes work. However, I feel this post was just bashing the adoptees in the reunion. I spent ten years and thousands of dollars looking for her (I'm 25 now) but when I found her she didnt want to tell anyone that she had a biracial daughter, she called me every name in the book, tried to have sex with me and still blames me for her life being miserable. I have bought her things, held her hand through things, went against my adoptive parents to find and meet her and poured myself out to her. What are some first mother thoughts on that? I would appreciate help, but I also want to say that I tried my best and would give my left arm for a good relationship, so I think that first mothers left the child (not all) but my mother was not in the babyscoop era and said she doesnt think adoption should effect me and i need to get over it (i brought it up maybe five times to her) but she is the one who left me and keeps coming in and out in an abusive fashion, so I had to say no more. I didnt want to, but she is the parent and its so murky. Please dont act like it is all the adoptees fault,while you may have been stuck in a rock and hard place you still had a choice, we didnt, and adoption hurts everyone involved. I'm open to dialogue and dont mean to step on any feelings, I know that I as an adoptee tried my best and was horribly treated.

  42. cont. and I think that I would be open to a relationship again, I just feel like she left me and I forgave her, but she wants to blame me and justify the abuse, I would really be open to opinions and advice (I was originally posting to say that it goes both ways sometimes one party is more damaged, but that adoption in general is a killer) but I would be open to giving it another shot

  43. Dear Anon: If you have been following this blog, of course we know it is not all the adoptees fault that reunions don't go like many of us wish they would. This blog is not a book and not every post can cover all the bases. I was simply writing about the experiences of women I know who wanted to have relationships with their found and reunited children, including myself, and what many of us have found. The outpouring of comments show that many other mothers have the same difficult experience I had. I will still never be sorry I found my daughter.

    Adoptees suffer incredibly by being relinquished--tons of books have been written about that--and not all first mothers are nice people. Yours sounds incredibly sick, and I am truly sorry for your pain, and that of all adoptees.

    Adoption is always painful--for both the birth mother and the child.

  44. Lorraine, I have always used the ocean's waves as a metaphor for the post-reunion relationship (21 years now) I've developed with my son. I was raised on the beaches of San Diego and learned to surf at a very young age, so the imagery works well for me. Most of the time, I have no problem at all staying up on the surfboard while navigating our relationship, but once in a while, a huge wave will slam me off.

    I don't know how many of you have ever surfed the big waves, but if you have, then you know how you need to constantly change direction depending on the wave. It soon becomes so automatic that you don't even think about it. And that's basically how I've been with my son all these years - I change course depending on what he needs at the time and "go with the flow."

    Currently, however, I'm pretty smashed up by the latest big wave...well, it's actually more like a tsunami. All I can do is head for the shoreline, sit down in the sand, and catch my breath.

    The other day when you told me how your husband calls it "Advance and Retreat," a lightbulb went on in my brain. That is exactly what my son does. When he retreats, he does NOT want me to come after him. He doesn't want anything to do with me for whatever reason. There is no way I can put on my "mommy pants," not with a 39-year-old man. When he was younger (we reunited when he turned 18), I did run after him, especially when he was self-destructive and strung out on crystal meth. But I can't do that anymore, not with a man who is closing in fast on middle age.

    I seem to be damned if I do and damned if I don't in almost everything having to do with my son...or with anything having to do with surrender and adoption. If I send him a short email to let him know I'm thinking of him, I'm accused of crossing boundaries, and other adoptees are quick to point out that his wishes, desires, wants, and needs have to come first. I'm sorry, but he's not a perpetual baby, and our relationship has withstood the test of time. He's had me back in his life now for over 21 years. I don't know what caused this latest huge wave, and frankly I'm really tired of trying to figure it out...so I'm sitting on the sand just waiting.

    He'll come back...he always does eventually. And he'll act as if nothing ever happened; he'll act as if he was never angry at me to begin with.

    The hard part for me to figure out is how much of this behavior is due to being surrendered at birth and raised by people other than myself or his natural father versus how much of it is caused by his bipolar disorder. Of course, the scary part for me is the possibility that he's using drugs again. I pray every day that he's not strung out again, but his current behavior reminds me a lot of the early days of his addiction back when he was a teenager. He gets really cold and fairly obnoxious.

    This boundary thing drives me up the wall. It's all the popular rage right now within the adoption community...set your boundaries and stick to them. From what I've seen, the boundaries often turn into walls and give people an excuse to treat others badly. I don't appreciate being manipulated by anybody, and that includes my son.

  45. Part Two:

    I cannot change what I did 39 years ago. I cannot continue to punish the 16-year-old girl who was hidden away in her bedroom for the crime of falling head-over-heels in love and ending up pregnant. I cannot tear up the surrender papers or wave my magic wand and go back in time and reclaim my baby. I'm tired of always feeling I'm on trial. I'd rather go to prison and serve my time than constantly sit in the courtroom of judgment every single day of my life.

    What is the definition of a "successful" reunion? Life isn't some fairytale where you live happily ever after. Relationships are what we make of them...notice I use the word "we," meaning it takes two people to relate to each other. One person just can't carry the load alone. And I have yet to discover a way to force people to open up the lines of communication if they don't want to communicate.

    The vast majority of the past 21 years in reunion has been good for both my son and myself. We had some bumps during his druggie years, but we both survived. I love him with every fiber of my being, and I think he loves me too, at least I hope he does. I would do anything for him, but I won't force myself on him when he wants his space. It is what it is. The one thing I've learned in the past 39 years is patience. I'll be here for him when he decides to come back...my door will always be open for him, but he has to be the one to walk through it -- I can't drag him inside, even though I want to.

  46. Are Issycat and I the only people horrified that the woman said "boys are easier to raise" to her female relinquished child (now adult).

    WHAT WAS SHE THINKING? How can that not be hurtful?

    How can you just brush it off with an oh well of course it had no relation to her relinquishing her daughter?

    If I was adopted and my natural mother said that to me about her kept baby I would be very upset.

    It's ok for us mothers to post about our feelings about how WE feel about reunion and adoption BUT

    I can't help but feel that we also need to take more responsibility for the words we say and how they affect our sons and daughters.

    Even the most innocent comment can wound because of what we did. Regardless of whose fault it is that is not the point. We let people talk us into giving our children away and most of us had the very best of intentions. Most of us were teenagers who just didn't know any better. Many of us still have to stand by this and say that it was for the best. Most of us say no it was a crime.

    Whatever our reasons, whatever our circumstances we must be respectful and sensitive to our sons and daughters.

    I really cringe sometimes and the things that get said here.

    I'm ashamed of the things I have said too.

  47. @Kristi - I found a lot to ponder in your comment, thanks for your perspective. (I did not find it offensive).

    @SameOld - Your list of elements that help a reunion to succeed (maybe "carry on" is a better term) sounds reasonable to me. I particularly like the idea of mother/child taking time to be together without interfernce from APs, extended family, etc. If they ever feel comfortable expanding this circle they should do so at their own pace. I really believe outside influence has the potential to do great harm to the initial stages of reunion. Keeping others at arms length for as long as necessary may help the relationship gel before the other peeps have a chance to exert their negative attitudes - not that this always happens, but we have all heard about issues coming up when someone outside the mother/child dyad starts to make waves. (And sadly, this can include bad advice given by counselors who have little understanding of adoption issues).

  48. Thank you to those who reported on positive reunions. They can't all be great, but I take comfort in those that have made it through the ups and downs.

    I too didn't think the mother who said "boys are easier" to her female relinquished daughter was all that forgivable. She should have realized, even if after the words left her lips, that it was wrong. And apologized.

    My mother (the one I was born to and raised by) said some horrible things to me during and after my pregnancy. She never apologized, held firm. I had to forgive her in my own heart, without her knowing that I did. That adjustment made all the difference in my ability to be with her. And then she died. I was glad I went through that before she did. Otherwise, I think I would have felt tortured by unfinished business.

    Sorry... I realize that isn't relevant to mother/child relationships where they've been separated for most of their lives. We are like strangers... huge birth bond, but no history. And sometimes we just can't work it out.

    That's the part that makes me sad. I lay the blame on adoption, not the people involved. We're all just doing the best we can with the situation we are faced with. Reunion doesn't always work out. It's a rough road for all involved.

    I don't think we can generalize and say it's the fault of mothers or adult adoptees.

    I may never see my son again. I don't like that. But I can't say whether it's my doing or his. It just sucks.

  49. Denise: As far as I know--and I've only heard the mother's side of the story--the woman did apologize immediately and tried to years to talk to her daughter, but she would not respond.

    Yes, my mother and I had some terrible fights, we both sad hurtful things--but we made up. I'm saying here that for that one comment to be the cause of a decade-long silence, while the birth mother tried to apologize, was not what would be considered normal behavior--if relinquishment had not been part of the package.

  50. I'm reunited 12 yrs now. I searched and found my daughter 34 yrs after my surrender...with no expectations. The first 5-6 years in reunion was no walk in the park...and yes, I was constantly walking on egg-shells, because I was so AFRAID of saying the wrong thing. In my *normal* very adult life..."afraid" was not part of my personality make-up. I so wanted to just act my normal self around my daughter. By not acting my normal self, I felt like a phony...thus cheating my daughter and myself. Finally an episode in our reunion occurred that tipped the scales...I was furious!! And I let her know it in no uncertain terms...no more or less than I would have been with one of my raised adult children. I did not speak to her like a 'friend' or an 'acquaintance'...I spoke directly to her as a mother to her small child who was acting out, fully engaged in a temper tantrum. You know what?!..it helped, not only my daughter...but myself as well and positive changes occurred over the ensuing years...still some crap occurred, but a whole lot less of it. How awful, no matter the years of separation..that I as a mother and my adult child, were so afraid of each other. After we let go of some of our fears, our relationship actually got better and stronger. And I can honestly say today..that just recently she literally saved my life.
    In my reunion...I finally got 'real' and so did my daughter...it helped us both immensely...we're on solid ground today. Maybe months/years from now..who knows. All I know is that I and my daughter only have today. I no longer anticipate, fret over the future of our reunion. And we do Honestly love and respect each other. I gained her respect the day I acted and spoke to her...like her mother. It worked for her and I...I will never assume that would work for anyone else in reunion. But, hey..maybe it's worth a try...but you have to be willing to gamble..you may win or totally lose the relationship..and I was fully prepared to lose. I took that gamble...because I could no longer act and talk like a phony to my daughter. I had to be me...the REAL me..even in reunion.
    As a side note...I really detest the constant use of 'us' and 'we' in these conversations.Mothers cannot speak for all mothers and adoptees cannot speak for all adoptees. Each of 'us' are unique human beings in our own ways..and so are our reunions..warts and all. There may be many similarities, but there are also many differences, as well.
    I wish everyone well...whether in their search and/or in reunion. Be REAL...with a huge measure of Respect...from BOTH sides. And be willing to think and act outside of 'the box'. Reunions come in all shapes and sizes...ONE SIZE Does NOT Fit All!!

  51. There is much more to the story of the mother who said "Boys are easier to raise" to her surrendered daughter than one comment. I know the parties involved, but would leave it to them to comment on a very complex situation.

  52. Chris Gypsywinter said:

    "As a side note...I really detest the constant use of 'us' and 'we' in these conversations.Mothers cannot speak for all mothers and adoptees cannot speak for all adoptees. Each of 'us' are unique human beings in our own ways..and so are our reunions..warts and all. There may be many similarities, but there are also many differences, as well."

    Amen!! And if we could all remember to just speak for ourselves with no generalizations, these conversations would be much smoother with less hurt feelings and irrational anger on all sides.
    The worst advice I got about my reunion was people telling me how "all" adoptees behave and why. Turned out most of it was not true for my particular situation.

  53. @gypsywinter - I,too, detest the use of "all, and us" etc., in the conversations so thanks for bringing this up. No two situations are alike. In adddition to creating inaccurate statements, using such words can also be insulting to some (e.g., most or all adoptees can never achieve normalcy and adoptees are damaged).

  54. I disagree with those who think that using "we" and "us" is inappropriate. Actually, I think these terms are very beneficial for social change. For example, we adoptees should have unfettered access to our OBCs. Or we first mothers during the BSE were under enormous pressure to relinquish our children for adoption. I believe that without this type of group think, so to speak, that there wouldn't have been a civil rights movement or a women's movement either.

    Also, sometimes it is appropriate to speak more in generalities if one doesn't wish to put their personal experience on a worldwide forum such as FMF.

  55. Thank you Robin. I agree completely.

    good night!~

  56. I think "we" and "us" are appropriate when educating the public or trying to reform adoption. Here, where we are sharing our experiences, I think it's more appropriate to use "I." Since every adoption/reunion experience is different. There's no way they can be the same. Likewise, with readers assuming that their reunion will be bad or good, based on what happened to others. I encourage all to search, but be prepared for whatever comes as a result. Also, to allow for time to change things, since it almost always does.

  57. "Group think" may be helpful when addressing politicians about legislation, but it is poisonous to free discussion of highly emotional personal issues like reunion.

    Look at the fascinating range of personal stories on this issue that have been told here. There is no group think way to deal with reunion or relationships without leaving out, silencing, and alienating a number of people whose experiences do not fit the mold.

  58. This has happened between myself and my birth mom, for about 27 years since we met in 1984.

    However, there are better reasons why I have stayed away, different than the reasons your daughter has retreated.

    I have to say, that I had such a big fantasy built up about my birth mom, that I lived that fantasy, even though it really was not happening. So, birth mom was this woman, since day one, and I had her built up in my mind as someone else. I think after time, and therapy, and soul searching, that fantasy broke away and I saw the real birth mom.

    Anyhow, she was not who I thought she was. But during the fantasy, I was not honest with myself, about my expectations. I just reacted, to whatever it was I was thinking, or had built up in my mind about who I wanted her to be.

    So confusing. I have found this "Fantasy" issue is a big problem for me. Not only with birth mom, but with my mom as well, yes my adoptive mom. I wanted a certain mom, so I made her up, in my own mind. I somehow ignored both mom's real personality, and made them both into someone they are not.

    Wow, I'm seriously not that much of a nut, I'm an average person, no mental illness. I still cant believe its taken me until age 46 to break this.

    Like your post, its so true.

  59. I'm surprised by the assumption/premise of this post ("where are the good reunions?"). I've been struck by how positive reunion is portrayed in the media... that only the amazing coincidence, happy ending stories make it to Oprah or get made into books or movies.

    I found my birth mother, but she rejected contact, despite several attempts on my part, returning my letters unopened. She did send one card, telling me to kiss off, basically.

    For this reason, I bristled when I read: "We natural mothers long for a kind of normalcy with our reunited daughters and sons that we cannot have."

    I know you are speaking for a majority of natural mothers, but the use of the all-inclusive "we" just feels false to an adoptee who has experienced the most painful rejection, twice.

  60. Carrie: I know you are right...though I am not personally in contact with any of the mothers who reject a full, living breathing reunion and relationship, I do hear about them from a friend who is a Confidential Intermediary in a semi-open state. I cringe when I hear about mothers and or fathers who reject contact and reunion; it must be the worst of all feelings possible. I can't even imagine how it must feel.

    So I do speak for the other women--those who long for reunion and a relationship--and it is in our name that I use the plural "we."

    I can only say that my heart breaks for you and all the others like you. I wish I could reach your mother and the others like her, and knock some sense and humanity into their hearts and heads. They were co-opted by the enemy that is the closed adoption system long ago, and are too fearful to cross over to the other side. Doing so requires courage, and it can be painful. We get rejected also and in great number. Relationships after reunion appears to be in most cases rocky, but we do the best we can.

    Your situation and those of the others like you is one in which these words, however trite they sound, do carry meaning: Give me the grace and wisdom to accept what I cannot change.

  61. Thanks, Lorraine. I really appreciate the empathy. It just sucks, no two ways about it.

    Hmmm... I'd love for you to "knock some sense and humanity" into my birthmother's heart... How could we arrange that? ;)

    Actually, that's an interesting thought for a blog post: perhaps you'd consider an open letter to all the closed birthparents out there?

    I'd love to hear your perspective on that one...

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective here. It's helpful for me to understand some of the feelings that my own birthmother might have stuffed away, so long ago.

  62. Carrie:

    Great idea. I'll do it, give me a some time.




COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.