' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: How the daughter I gave up forever changed my life

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How the daughter I gave up forever changed my life

When did I decide that I was never going to have another child, or more correctly, when I did I know that I never would?

As soon as my daughter was born.

I knew this in my bones. I didn't voice this to anyone, and at the time my daughter's father, Patrick, kept saying that we would be together. Later. After she was given up is what he meant.

Let me explain myself. From the time I could imagine what my life would be like--and I'm talking the age of reason here--it did not include children. I always wanted a career--I always knew I would have one--and I grew up in a time when women who had careers did not have children. It is as simple as that. There were no thoughts of "having it all," which became the mantra of the feminist movement in the Seventies and Eighties.

But life doesn't always follow the plan you think you have for yourself. If I'd married the boy from home after college--who fully accepted that fulltime motherhood was not even a blip on my personal radar--we would have had children, or at least a child. I remember the first time he mentioned it--we were college freshmen then--and I thought, Yeah, with him, I could have a baby. I could be a mother. We'll make it work. He wants children, he is great with his little brother (who was four at the time and we sometimes took him to the movies), I love him and want only to spend the rest of my life with him...ergo, there will be a family. 

But after graduation we did not marry. I became pregnant in my next relationship a year later. Not very good planning for someone hell bent on having a career first. And while I had thought as a young woman determined to have a career that children were not part of the scenario, love that I never knew I could have poured into that baby I was carrying, once I accepted that I would indeed give birth to her. Every fiber of my being wanted to keep her, to love her, to raise her, to be a mother to her. Not being a mother in general was a quite different concept than not being a mother to my baby

And since I couldn't keep her, how could I ever have another? That would be unfair to her, an act of betrayal so inimical that I could not fathom it. There are no good words in English to describe the depth of feeling that screamed out to me: You can't give one child away and keep another. That's wrong, deeply, profoundly wrong in a way that violates the love you felt for this child you gave up. You cannot do it. You must not do it. It would be a sin against that maternal love.

Jane and Lorraine, 1982
The very thought of being pregnant again totally and completely freaked me out. No way would I have ever let myself be pregnant again. After I had my daughter, I was manic about birth control. If my period was a few days late, I was at the doctor getting a shot to bring it on, which only works if you are not pregnant. But I was never pregnant again.

Does this fear of another child make logical sense? Maybe not. Certainly not to the women who went on to have other children they kept. Fellow blogger Jane just wrote about how relinquishing her first daughter colored her relationships with the three others that followed. But the heart knows things that reason never understands, and that was my reality. Before I married Tony, I had three other serious relationships. I married the first one; he was five years younger than I. When he asked me to marry him, I told him about my daughter whom I had given up, and followed that up with the edict that I would never have another child. He insisted that he did not want children either, and had a vasectomy. We  never, or rarely, talked about the daughter that I had but didn't have. As more and more thoughts of her could not be beaten down, as I was beginning to write about my daughter, in poetry and magazine pieces, we divorced. Was this the reason? I don't know. I only know the two coincided.

In the next serious relationship, children were never mentioned. I began working on my memoir, Birthmark, but having trouble. That relationship came to an end for lots of reasons, but I remember the moment I knew it was over. "You'll never write that book," he said. I walked out and emotionally never went back. She was beginning to intrude on that relationship. As for the next one, when he mentioned in the third of the fourth year we were together, "our grandchildren," I mentally recoiled. I remember exactly where I was when he said that. What is he talking about, I said to myself. There will be no children from this union. There is my daughter. I can't have another. Doesn't he understand? He did understand a great deal, as he was with me through the final writing and publication of Birthmark and the maelstrom of criticism that followed. But he did not understand my scar tissue that meant there would be no children, no grandchildren, from our union.

With Tony, my husband of three decades, there was never a thought of another child. He had two, one in high school, one in college, when we met, and he was adamant about not wanting another. He openly says that when he heard that I'd had a child, he was relieved, because he was only meeting women whose biological clocks were ticking and they wanted children--soon. He instinctively knew that would not be the case with me. I was 37 when we met. I could have still tried, couldn't I? Not me. I could not, would not, ever have another child.

It turns out I am not alone. In 1984 when Concerned United Birthparents did a survey of 334 birth mothers, over 30 percent said that they had not had another children either because they chose not to (17 percent, that would include me), or could not (14 percent). Other later studies published in sociological journals found the same increased incidence of what is called "secondary infertility."

Obviously, it wasn't just in an inability to even imagine having another child that the one I relinquished colored my life. She colored every single relationship with nearly anyone I've ever had, male and female. Before Birthmark and a public coming out of the closet, I had to think: do I tell this individual about my daughter? Do I keep it secret? Can I trust her/him? Even today that part of me is still very much on my mind--do I tell new acquaintances who do not already know? Do I want to go through the long conversation that will invariably follow? Is this person adopted? Or, more likely in my life, an adoptive parent? Didn't I hear that this woman's daughter had a child by artificial insemination? Dare I ask if she knows who the father is, will the child be ever able to learn who his father is? Adoption was always part of my baggage; you can't leave it behind.

Even after I relinquished my daughter, Patrick and I continued on a long and bumpy road of a relationship for years. By the time he was truly available, I was married and chose not to leave my first husband. Then when I was divorced, he was married again. It seemed tragic at the times, but perhaps it was better that we never married.

The Evan B. Donaldson report on birth mothers found that birth parents who marry have higher risks of ongoing adjustment problems and marital difficulty; mothers who are with the fathers of the lost children are at greater risk for prolonged grieving. A confidential intermediary told me that when she finds a birth mother who is married to the father, the likelihood of refusing contact with the child goes up. Perhaps the couple has never spoken of their relinquished child, and buried their grief and guilt to a place where they do not have the strength to open that wound. I met one couple who did welcome their daughter; in fact they were in Albany with us one year lobbying for repealing the law that sealed original birth records. The father said that before their daughter came back, they never ever talked about her, never mentioned anything about adoption, and when it was on television, they changed the channel without saying why. They were such a lovely couple, and their daughter was so charming; I found his comments astonishing at the time. Now I know they represent the usual, not the rare.

As for Patrick? He did have another child, a girl. Her name is Meghan. My first husband remarried, had his vasectomy reversed, and had a child, a girl. Her name is Kate, the same as Tony's daughter. Yes, I know the names are not that unusual, but some of you reading understand this is a double header. Life is full of coincidence that is impossible to explain rationally.

I don't want to leave the impression that we first mothers who do not go on to have others are always bereft. We aren't. It is true that adoption colored our lives to a degree greater than any social worker we first mothers dealt with could have dreamed of. Yet we do go on to have other loving relationships. Many of us marry, have friends, and lead full, satisfying lives. We pursue other dreams and interests. We become lawyers and legislators and judges and folk singers and writers and journalists. But the child who got away? She's always there. Always.--lorraine 

Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process
See also:
A second child doesn't replace the one lost to adoption


  1. I have 3 subsequent raised children. My "lost son" was born 12/18/59. I married and had my daughter 12/20/62. My second son and only "planned" child was conceived in December and born early at the end of August, 8/26/65.My last son was born 12/21/72.In therapy after reunion I realized I was subconsciously trying to "replace" the baby I lost. My children welcomed their older brother with open arms.

  2. After my relinquished son, I believed I wouldn't have more children. Somewhere around 30 that changed, but I still held the secret suspicion in my heart that I wouldn't be able to conceive/carry another baby. Over the years since my son's birth, I've had a couple of miscarriages and one daughter, whose birth feels miraculous for all the other troubles. Parenting after relinquishing her brother, though, has been a complicated thing. Adoption does, indeed, color everything.

  3. I asked an ob/gyn doctor for the definition of "secondary infertility" and was told that it is defined as the " physical inability to conceive and /or carry a child to term, after having given birth to a child."

    Women who choose not to try to become pregnant are not included in this definition. Many women are emotionally traumatized by relinquishment....to the point where they fear ever becoming pregnant again. This information should be part of the "counseling" that is provided to pregnant women who are "considering adoption".

    Although women may not actually be physically infertile, they may be emotionally unable to consider ever having another child.Some have had their "tubes tied." Others have even avoided relationships with men.

  4. Sorry,but since the topic of secondary infertility came up: the historical phenomenon of secondary infertility as a result of the more or less deliberate neglect of the child surrendering post-partum patient by medical personel, allowing fertility reducing complications to develop, is not known in the USA?

  5. I agree that surrendering mothers should be counseled that the child they are giving up might be their only child, not told as many of us were, "you can have others". Nobody knows that for sure.

    It is also true that giving up a child impacts on future childbearing choices. There are many of us who went the opposite route from never having another, to having a second child right away, or like anon5:56 had many children in an attempt to fill the void left by the first. No child replaces another, another thing that should be included in counseling for crisis pregnancies.

    I do not think the medical term "secondary infertility" should be used for mothers who, for whatever reason, chose not to have another child and took active steps to prevent pregnancy like having their tubes tied. They are not infertile, even if their choice was motivated by trauma or fear. Not wanting another child is not the same as being unable to have another, no matter how sad the reason.

    Mothers considering surrender should be made aware of the many problems others have encountered around childbearing choices in the future, not just the one of "secondary infertility" which I think is a fairly rare problem when strictly defined.

  6. "I do not think the medical term "secondary infertility" should be used for mothers who, for whatever reason, chose not to have another child and took active steps to prevent pregnancy like having their tubes tied"

    @Maryanne, I totally agree. Women may choose to avoid pregancy for many reasons. This is not "secondary infertility."

  7. Being unmarried was the reason I lost my son. It took me 19 years to fix that and nothing was getting in my way of becoming a mother once I bagged the man. He was an alcoholic mentally abusive man but hey, he made me a MRS.
    Adoption Sucks!

  8. Like Anonymous 9:45 I lost my son because I was not married. I too finally married 18 yrs. later my best friend of 14 yrs. That's when I found out he had/has PTSD from 1967 Marine Corp. Purple Heart along with it's accompanying alcoholism, etc. We are quite the pair and the only thing that has saved us as a couple was that we were and can still be best friends when we work at it.

  9. Since we're "letting it all hang out" here, I'll say a few things, too. I hope it doesn't come back at me in the night or in cyberspace I've been told I'm "emotionally fragile" Ha After living with this for more than 30 years I'm as tough as nails. So, I was always immature for my age physically and emotionally I had maybe 3 or 4 periods by the time I was almost 19 When my mother picked me up from college one year she got worried when there were no pads in my college room and she started a conversation I don't need them So she took me to a doctor who's nurse yelled at me because "you look like you're 12" and I was almost 19(wish I had that problem now!) So he gave me some pills to jump-start my pituitary or hypothalamus or something in my brain. They were supposed to work in a few weeks. They didn't so back I went to college- and a year later they worked(I was almost 20) So, a few years later when I met my daughter's father and got pregnant I can still remember the way I felt-different. It's to painful to talk about surrendering her any more Fast forward a few years I met a wonderful man and we were together for 21 years but I never got pregnant again-I think in my case I'm just not that fertile and that was the only time in my life that I had the"window" Wel,I'm starting to feel like I said too much so I'll be back later. I'm going into witness protection for awhile.

  10. Lorraine, I'm another mother of loss who I am convinced suffered from secondary infertility. My ex-husband and I tried for years - he had 2 children from a previous marriage but it was suggested that since he had a varicosity in one testicle, he might have it corrected - just in case that was causing our inability to conceive. He did - that didn't work either. I read the Harvard Study back in the 1980's of characteristics of women who had lost a child to adoption where it was suggested that as many as 1/3 of mothers were unable even after trying to have another child. I would have loved having more and while I don't obsess about, is certainly a cause of regret in my life.

  11. Giving up a child leaves an indelible mark. For 16 years, while the birth of my relinquished son remained a secret, I told everyone I knew that I never wanted children. Then a magical couple of years ensued when everyone I knew was having babies. The coat of armor I'd grown over my heart revealed a small chink, and my 2 daughters were born. Even so, I too, am forever changed by the child I gave away.

  12. "When did I decide that I was never going to have another child, or more correctly, when I did I know that I never would?

    As soon as my daughter was born.

    I knew this in my bones. I didn't voice this to anyone,"

    I can definitely understand this thought. I went through that in the hospital - that moment when I knew I was never having another child......

    That is so hard for others to understand.

  13. I still sometimes catch Catelynn and Tyler of MTV adoption fame. I saw an episode where they were arguing and Catelynn made a comment about the adoption of Carly but Tyler countered that the issue they were fighting about had nothing to do with that. Little do they know that this will be an ongoing problem.

    Us older mothers are now aware of how adoption colored so much of our lives. Catelynn and Tyler are just starting to see how adoption will forever stalk them.

  14. Secondary infertility is real. I went though menopause at 38 after relinquishing my child for adoption. Can you imagine going though menopause at this age? I know in my heart that this was because of the adoption. I am lucky to have the opportunity to mother my eldest daughter and stepson who were born before the adoption. At the time I thought God was punishing me for the adoption, but in reality it was me punishing myself.



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