' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why did my mother keep me a secret?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why did my mother keep me a secret?

“My mother kept me a secret; she betrayed me; she dishonored me with her silence,” cried an adoptee who found her mother in her 30’s .

The truth is that we mothers betrayed ourselves as well as our children.

Lorraine and I gave up our infant daughters in 1966. We and the other single mothers at that time were programmed by our families, religious authorities, social workers, advice columnists--indeed the entire culture, through and through--to try to forget and go one with our lives, to pretend our children did not exist. The message was crystal clear: Spare yourself and your family the SHAME that you had sex out of wedlock, SHAME that you opened up your body to a man who did not respect you (and in my case ignored the signs of his flawed character), SHAME that you were dumb enough not to take precautions or demand that he did.

There are a few mothers like Lorraine who did step forward--in a big way with the publication of her controversial memoir Birthmark in 1979--while secrecy was still very much a part of the adoption experience. She was roundly criticized and attacked in print, on television, to her face and behind her back. For those like myself who did not speak out then, I offer only reasons, not excuses.

In mid-century America, pretense colored everything. “Does she or doesn’t she” asked the Miss Clairol ad and only her hairdresser knew for sure if the model in the ad did the racy thing of coloring her hair, with a wink to the sexual question implied in the ad.

Adoption agencies tried to match babies with their adoptive parents in coloring and heritage if possible so the children were "as if" born to them, keeping their adoptive status and their adoptive parents’ infertility a secret from everyone but close friends and  family members. Many didn't tell their kids they were adopted. Some times couples even moved to a new neighborhood so they could act as if the child was born to them, not adopted, and no one would ask questions or know the truth.

When actress Loretta Young became pregnant in 1935 from a brief affair with Clark Gable, she split town, gave birth in secret, and left her baby daughter with caretakers. When the baby was 19 months old, she brought the baby home and announced she had adopted her. The public went along with this fiction.

Those who broke the rules openly paid a price. Actress Ingrid Berman was denounced on the floor of the US Senate and hounded out of the country with negative press in 1950--after she became pregnant by director Roberto Rossellini when they were both married to others. After their son, Renato, was born, they married and had twin daughters, one of whom is the actress and philanthropist, Isabella Rossellini; the other Isotta, a professor of Italian literature.  

Born to Be Bad Poster
Movies from the Forties and Fifties, such as the tearjerkers To Each His Own and Three Secrets, reinforced the message, unwed pregnancies were to be kept secret at all costs. If not the movies took the tone of Born to Be Bad, (1934). In it Loretta Young is a high-class call girl with a seven-year-old son. The back story is that she was on the streets at fifteen, pregnant and unmarried. Now Young is determined that her child not grow up to be taken advantage of, and she is teaching him shady street smarts. There's almost a chance at love with childless Cary Grant, a rich but already married man with a big house in the burbs. But in the end Young "does the right thing," allowing her son to stay with the Grant and his wife, who have a pool and a pony, and have taught the boy in the few months he lived with them better values than she had, or would. Young goes back, presumably, to her dissolute life.

Sit coms featuring married couples shied away from the idea that they might actually be doing it: Bedrooms had twin beds. Ozzie and Harriet, a sitcom staple of Fifties television, slept in twin beds. My older sister, a drama major, explained to me when I was a teenager how to tell if a movie storyline included sex: if a scene closed while a couple was kissing, it meant they went all the way. Today, couples have sex on screen; in the recent film, Savages, the lead female character has sex with two different men in the space of a few minutes before the opening credits. Today women give their out of wedlock babies to genetic strangers while TV cameras are rolling, or brag about it on their blogs.

It wasn’t just sexual behavior but anything remotely connected with body parts that was hushed up in polite society. First Lady Betty Ford bravely broke new ground in 1974 when she discussed her breast cancer and mastectomy publicly. Misguided modesty kept many mothers from breastfeeding. Those who did breastfeed were shunted off to backrooms or closets.

Many mothers in the past were afraid of their husband's reaction once they learned of their indiscretions. After all, one of the reasons for giving up a baby was because no decent man would marry you if they knew about your bastard. It was a very big deal for both me and Lorraine to tell our husbands that we had had a child, and given her up for adoption.

Besides the shame factor, mothers of my generation feared how the knowledge of their lost child would affect the children they raised. Would they fear being given away? Would they be ashamed if their classmates found out? What would they think about their mother having sex with someone other than their father? Would they be anxious that this missing sibling might show up one day, or perhaps was perhaps lurking in the neighborhood?

Since my reunion with my daughter Rebecca in 1997, I have met mothers who did tell their other children about their lost child, often when the mothers began searching for that child. I have to admit I was surprised when these mothers told me that their children took it well; often the only grumblings were about no longer being the oldest child in the family. Frequently, the response was “let’s go find our brother or sister.”*

We worried how disclosing our past would affect our careers. When I told my three raised daughters about my lost daughter Rebecca, my middle daughter, aware of my interest in politics said, "Oh, so that's why you never considered running for political office." She was absolutely right. I was afraid that having given up a daughter would be discovered and I would be disgraced as "unfit" for office. If it were known that a woman had relinquished a child, she would have not been able to hold a job such as a teacher, who are supposed to be role models.

Lorraine was so terrified her new bosses at a newspaper would find out what had happened at her last job--she had to quit because she got pregnant!--that she lied to a doctor during a routine physical exam for health insurance. If she told the truth--yes, she had been pregnant, yes, she had given birth--would she be a hiring risk? Might she be let go during the initial trial period before union rules demanded she be fired for cause? Would having an affair at her last job be "good cause?" That is what haunted her in 1966, at a supposedly loosey-goosey place such as a newspaper where lots of people were having affairs, just not getting caught. 

In 1952, eighteen-year-old Jeanette, one of the first mothers featured in Ann Fessler's The Girls Who Went Away, sought a job with General Electric at the Hanford Project in eastern Washington which extracted radio-active plutonium, necessary to make atomic bombs. On her application she said she had never lived out of the area. About four months afters after landing her low level job, her supervisor told her to go to the nearby office of the Atomic Energy Commission. There an officious young man accused her of lying on her application, "'You went to San Francisco for five months and had a baby, didn't you?'' Sobbing, she confessed. The young man continued: "'Have you ever considered that if the Communists found that out, in order for you to keep your secret you would have to give them secrets about your job?'" Apparently satisfied that the Communists would not be able to blackmail Jeanette, she was allowed to keep her job. She soon left to attend college.

Like many mothers, I never felt right about denying my lost child altogether, although I did not think that acknowledging her would matter to her since, as adoptees, advice columnists, and others often reminded us, her adoptive parents were her real parents. I hardly counted. Yet when people asked me how many children I had, I responded with “my husband and I have three daughters.” Factually, this was true since my lost child was not my husband’s daughter. Until she went public, it was assumed Lorraine had no children, and when directly asked if she did said, no. After all, she wasn't raising her, now was she? But of course she was anxious whenever asked the question and immediately changed the subject.

Former CUB president Karen Vedder, who had given up a daughter but raised four sons, told me she responded with “I have four sons.” That almost always brought the heart-wrenching response, “what a shame you never had a daughter.” Women like Lorraine who are assumed to be childless, or have no other children have no way to be clever abut their answers, but I don’t think that I have ever met a first mother who had other children who hadn’t come up with a clever way to answer the “Do you have any children?” or "How many children do you have?” question with an answer which neither admitted to nor denied the lost one.

Mothers in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties for the most part were isolated. While groups like Adoptees’ Liberty Movement Association (ALMA), Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), and the American Adoption Congress (AAC) promoted searching and gave first mothers the opportunity to share their experiences, few first mothers knew of them until access to the Internet became common. Although I had known many couples who had “formed their family through adoption,” I didn’t know a single first mother. Or so I thought. Once I came out of the closet, I learned that several of my friends and acquaintances had given up children.

Even though the entertainment industry has turned unwed pregnancy into a money-making enterprise with programs like 16 and Pregnant and I’m Having Their Baby, and the dreadful movie, Juno, silence and secrecy are still with us. Prominent organizations still claim that first mothers have a moral, if not a constitutional, right to hide their shame. The powerful lobby organization, The National Council for Adoption, and its member agencies including LDS Family Services, Bethany Christian Services, and Gladney Center for Adoptions, as well as the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union all have lobbied aggressively against unsealing birth certificates which might allow adoptees to find their biological  families.

Legislators who vote down bills to unseal original birth records agree in great enough numbers that moving bills to unseal birth records to passage is proving to be extremely difficult. To date, only seven states allow adoptees the absolute right to obtain a copy of their original birth certificates. Rhode Island was the last to join that group when it opened its records in July. In New Jersey, where a bill with a noxious birth parent-contact veto passed the legislature, Gov. Chris Christie, the keynote speaker at the Republican convention this week, refused to sign it. By doing nothing--except releasing a preachy press release--Christie single handedly killed reform in New Jersey.

We at FMF encourage those mothers still burdened by secrecy to step forward and begin by telling their families. Mothers in hiding, mothers who have not spoken of this to their families since the birth, are a huge stumbling block to changing hearts and minds. We know of legislators with sisters who have never spoken of their relinquished children, and thus the legislators feel the need to "protect" their kin from being outed, and found, and thus say they will never vote to unseal the birth records.

To those who are still keeping this secret we say: We know telling someone about having relinquished a child is not easy, particularly if you have been keeping it a secret for years, decades, but once done, you will feel as if the heavy weight on your soul has lifted. The truth shall set you free.

*Carol Schaefer described telling her two raised sons, Brett, twelve, and Kip, nine, about their older, relinquished brother, Phillip, in her 1991 memoir, The Other Mother: A True Story:

“It was obvious from [Brett’s] expression that his first reaction was shock. And then he looked at me and said, ‘Mom, that must have been so awful for you.’
‘I looked over at Kip, whose eyes were wide, and watched as the news sank in. I knew as I saw the love and compassion on their faces that this was my finest, most thrilling and rewarding moment as a mother. Nothing would ever make me so proud as their spontaneous reaction just had. Their first question was, ‘Do you think he could be John Elway?’”
 [Brett wanted to find their brother.] ‘It was difficult to explain to him with his child’s open heart  that the laws would not allow us to …find him. I was embarrassed to tell my sons that some people thought it was wrong for them to meet their brother.’…Kip turned to Brett, bursting with a little brother’s mischief. ‘You are not Mom’s oldest!’ Brett said he had already realized it. I saw his hurt and my heart went out to him.”

From FMF:
ACLU Tramples Adoptee Rights & First Mother Protections

 The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade
Author and adoptee Ann Fessler brings out into the open the history of the million and a half women who surrendered children for adoption due to enormous family and social pressure in the decades before Roe v. Wade. If you haven't read this book, you don't understand the past of the women who are now mothers, and grandmothers who felt coerced into surrendering their children to the adoption system and keeping that child a secret.

When Everything Changed Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition
"Among the impressive features of Ms. Collins's book is her genial, fair-minded sympathy, her refusal to smirk at the excesses of the most radical '70s feminists or at the stance of women, among them Phyllis Schlafly, who counseled their sisters to stay home where they belonged." (New York Times Francine Prose )

"'The past is a foreign country' is the kind of hallowed quotation that's resolutely opaque until you stumble on something that drives home its emotional truth. The uncanny feeling it references is that one that recurs frequently as you read When Everything Changed, the absorbing history of feminism and American women's lives by Gail Collins, the resident editorial fount of wry Midwestern common sense at The New York Times.... What Collins does, which so pitiably few pop-history writers do, is bring the stories, the anecdotes that come to life and pull you in." (Elle Ben Dickinson ) Order by clicking on the icon. Please.


  1. Thanks for this post, Jane. My 89-year old b-mother is one of those who prefers that I remain a secret. Although we talked on the phone, and she said she loved me, she had never told her other daughter about me and asked me to please "not make trouble." Her decision disappoints me, but your post helps me to understand.

  2. Great post. I can really relate to keeping my daughter put up for adoption a secret. I did what I was told to do by many people and didn't talk about. When I started trying to come out sometimes I would have a caring person other times I went running back under the rug. Its a double life living with adoption loss. Even with reunion and I do tell people about her but I rather not say much. When asked how many kids I have it varies on the day. Sometimes, I just say two sons and I get oh you never had a daughter and I just want to run. A lot of times I just say my husband and I have 5 kids together. Its easier than saying I gave birth to 3 but only raised 2 and 2 of them are step children. Hope someday it gets eaiser but I doubt it.

  3. Reading this post made me reflect on why I was one of the rare first mothers who never kept it a secret that I had given up a child. Partially this was because I had no capacity to deny or block it out, something I would have dearly loved to be able to do in the early years. The grief and pain were right there, in severe post-partum depression and then acting out as if I only deserved a gutter-style life.

    I went from being a stereotypical nice Catholic girl who fully expected to be married in a white gown in the chapel where my parents were married, to my one and only true love and first boyfriend, to someone who drank too much, dabbled in drugs, and would go to bed with any guy who wanted me, whether I liked him or not. As ruined goods, who was I to say no?

    I did not care much if I lived or died and engaged in much risky, stupid behavior, and hung out with a bunch of hippie bums, people I would have crossed the street to avoid before. I told everyone about my lost son, especially every guy I met.

    I was very lucky to meet one decent guy, still my husband today, and when I inevitably got pregnant again, which saved my life, he stuck by me and we eventually married when my second son was two. As a two-time unwed mother and welfare mom for a short time as my man was out of work, I felt I was utterly outside polite society and had no reputation left to protect, hence was not afraid to tell the world about my surrendered child. That was the least of it!

    I got involved in adoption reform as soon as I heard of it, in the early 70s,and told my kids, eventually I had three that I raised, right away. I was surprised that Lee Campbell who founded CUB did her first TV appearance in shadow and with a fake name, but did understand that as the proper suburban wife of a conservative banker, she had a reputation to defend, while I, the wife of a long-haired hippy computer genius who defiantly breast-fed my babies anywhere, did not.

    "When you aint got nothin' you got nothin' to lose" as the song says, so it did not take great courage for me to be early out as a birthmother. But for much of life I did feel on the fringe of the world I lived in, as my kids got older and I was involved in PTA, CUB scouts, soccer and swim team etc, as well as going back to Church and volunteering there as well. My parents' God Bless them, accepted me, my husband, my kids, our different lifestyle, and I honestly could not have raised the kids I did without their help.

    Some small part of me always wanted the "respectable" life I felt I had lost the right to with my first son, but now in later years I see that all turned out well after all, and in some ways it was easier than defending a reputation built on deceit and fear.


  4. Aww the "good" old days! "free" love as hippies would say although I was never a hippy!

    Make love not war!! Another saying in 60's.

    I made love and was allowed to keep baby. Second time I got pregnant my step thing forced me to give my son
    up. My kids were full siblings. Their dad was killed in 67 in Viet Nam.
    My son wanted so much to have his father in his life. He to this day misses his father. Sadly, he grieves that loss and is proud of his father. My daughter has his picture
    displayed in her home. Her feelings are different being

  5. lorraine posner zapinAugust 29, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    indeed the truth shall set you free. but, the road traveled to the truthand freedom extracts it's price in blood and tears.

  6. I am a first mother searching for my son who was born 4-13-1964 at booth Salvation Army Hospital in St. Louis.No emotional support from counselor. Had him baptised but I couldn't be present. I worked there as an RN so I did have special attention from other employees. The hurt is as bad today as it was then. I just want to know my son is okay.

  7. I have been reading this blog and several of the other great blogs for several years now as well as the books and getting information on the times from my own mother. So I feel I have a pretty good idea (or at least as much as is possible for someone who didn't actually live it) of what the mentality was that led to so many relinquishments.

    But to me this blog post begs the question, "Where do the adoptee's rights and needs come into play here?" Adopted people cannot be continually expected to be understanding while our own needs go unmet. We have also dealt with a great loss and for some of us have also been shamed/stigmatized for our adopted status (i.e. hearing things such as... even your own parents didn't want you).

    I am so much like my blood relatives. Our speech patterns and our intonation are so similar (despite having completely different regional accents), we have the same sense of humor. It is like talking to myself. OTOH it is comforting because it gives me such a feeling of belonging and that I am normal. But OTOH, the sense of loss is so overwhelming that after contact I can be down for days. This is why I advocate so strongly against any UNNECESSARY adoptions. I belonged with these people, MY PEOPLE. I should never have had to wait till adulthood to find them and to have lost so much time being where I belonged.

    My .02

  8. Ingrid Bergman's son's name is Robertino Rossellini not Renato.

    P.S. Word verification is getting hard to read.

  9. I placed my daughter for adoption in 1969, and she found me in 1995. Just as is mentioned in this forum, my immediate family and one girlfriend knew about my baby, but we didn't mention her again for 25+ years. The only advice I was given by the social worker was to go on with my life like this didn't happen. I thought she knew best. I did go on with my life but I didn't forget; I just didn't share anything about my daughter until she found me. My book I Choose This Day - Mournings and Miracles of Adoption covers our lives before and after we found each other. I cofounded the Adoption Triad of the Ozarks nine years ago which is a support group for all members of the Triad. To Anonymous: Have you registered with the agency and/or state to be sure your information is current? I would like to know more about what actions you have made to find your son.




  11. Robin, my granddaughter was just here and I had not seen her for 5 years. It was fun for me, but I could not help noticing the stuff that came up in which we were similar--from a tendency to get hives when nervous (she thought she ws allergic to dyes in soap, I said, nope!)to hair and makeup to feet etc. Adoptive parents do love their children, but they cannot comprehend, in most cases, the immense loss their children have. And there is no way really to make up for that.

    as usual, Namaste.

  12. If you would like to comment and cannot, send thm to us at:

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  13. Robin, and all: My daughter had two daughters. The second one visited, not the one who was adopted.

  14. I have recently been reunited with my mother. The only other people who knew about me at the time were her parents and my father. The only other person who has ever been told about me is her current husband.

    I accept that I am a secret. I am not going to force her to out herself.

    But, it's the talk about shame that starts to eat away at me. Doesn't she realize that I am the personification of that shame? It makes me feel as though she is ashamed of me, which I know intellectually that she probably is not. And, it makes me feel like I should be ashamed, which again I know intellectually that I shouldn't be. But, it does make me want to pull away.

    Keeping me a secret is bad enough. But, taking on the shame? I will not do it.

  15. Robin, this is a post explaining what it was like back in the good old days and asking for understanding for the difficulties mothers face talking about what they did. Why this post is now lacking because it doesn't talk about adoptees' needs? Jane and Loraine write about that all the time. This post even ends with urging mothers in the closet to come out. What more do you want this to say? I usually agree with you and find you understanding, but your comment puzzles me.

    Maryanne, great comment. I was skinny all through the pregnancy and immediately after but then six months later I put on weight like i was going into hibernation. I was a mess. I didn't deserve to treat myself well because I was such a horrible person for what I had done. Thirty years later I am still getting over it. Never will.

  16. Robin,
    Like you, I thought that Bergman's son's name was Roberto. Wikipedia, however, gives his name as this: Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe ("Robin") Rossellini.

  17. Too many adoptees are still being rejected and thus being denied knowledge and a relationship with their bio-families because of the issues that Jane outlined in this post. My point is that first mothers (and fathers) need to work through these issues for their own sakes as well as their relinquished childs. I know that Jane and Lorraine and others posting her encourage FPs to come out of the closet.

    My comments are from the adoptee POV (and will always advocate for the child) and are colored by the fact that I was a BSE baby.

  18. Robin,
    I think the way adoptees often describe their reunions to the media discourages other mothers from coming out. Typically it's something like the adoptee saying "I had a wonderful childhood and I wouldn't change a thing. But at age XX, I decided I needed to know my origins. I'm really happy to have met YY but my adoptive parents are my real parents."

    Their first mother is left hanging, demoted to a reference tool, not important enough that the adoptee cares to know her as a human being.

    Media reports about adoptees searching often quote adoptees as saying "I'm not looking for new parents; I just want to find my birth mother to thank her for giving me this wonderful life." The first mother hears "wonderful because I wasn't in it."

    It's not surprising, then, that first mothers might think, "why come out? I won't have my child back and I'll just have more pain."

    It would be helpful if adoptees would say something that embraces both families and makes both feel worthwhile.

  19. I agree that first mothers deserve understanding for what they went through and how it is affecting them now. I was also asking for understanding of how adoptees are affected by losing both of our families and losing the type of connections that I mentioned in my first comment and that Lorraine mentioned in reference to her granddaughter.

    "It would be helpful if adoptees would say something that embraces both families and makes both feel worthwhile."

    I can only speak for myself but I think I have done so in spades.

  20. I think adoptees feel the need to reinforce their insecure adopter parents. Reassuring them that they are the only parents while knowing that's the lie they have lived with all their life.

    In order to even get to a chance to reunite they must reconfirm this to their adopters.

    I know this because my son had to do that till he could not live the lie anymore.

    Telling adopter she knew HER mom. After adopter once again asked him why he needed to know me.

  21. I was born in 1990, and it really baffles me to hear how different things were for you in 1966 than they are for people now. It's such a short time but WOW is it different.

    I've had plenty of friends and family members who are single, unwed mothers. It's something I've always seen to be celebrated and embraced. It can't be argued that the moral compass of the world has changed and sexuality is more prominent. There's good and bad things about that. I think it's certainly a GOOD thing that we can now realize that people are people who have sex without being married and not judge them for that. It really hurts me to think that only a short time ago it was the complete opposite. It hurts even more to know that you and many other women are still affected by it. Just know that there is a whole generation of people that are much more understanding. More than that even because like I said, I was really surprised to learn how different it was.

  22. Robin,
    You've definitely said more than enough to let both your mothers know you find them worthwhile. Lorraine and I really appreciate your standing up for your first mother and all first mothers.

    We just need to get the word out to those adoptees who are so afraid of offending their adoptive parents, that they toss their first mothers under the bus. An extreme statement but it's how many first mothers feel.

  23. I grew up with my first mom in my life and it never was easy trying to balance who was who when I was in their company. I resorted to calling both by their names when they were both around and calling whoever I was alone with mom while referring to the other one by their name.

    Even now I feel like I am betraying my second mom with my posts lately about how my life with her never fulfilled the promise that everyone thought it had when I was 3 years old. It's the main reason I haven't gotten back to this blog about my and my husband's story. I fear my second mom finding out.


  24. "It would be helpful if adoptees would say something that embraces both families and makes both feel worthwhile."

    Why? Why should the adoptee need to deny their own reality? What if they really feel this way? That they had happy childhoods? That they enjoy their lives?
    Many honestly do.

    Do you think adoptees are lying when they say they have had a good life?
    Wasn't that supposed to be the entire point?

    It seems the only answer first mothers want to hear is that their adopted child has been miserable and sad their entire lives when for many this is just not true.

    Many of us have lived happy productive lives and we search because despite these lives, we needed answers. And we find women who cling to us and beg us to define them. They ask us to lie about or omit our own experiences. We are expected to deny that we love the people who raise us. And when adoptees find ourselves unable to comply with these codependent rules, our mothers once again turn on us and hit the road. Or worse, they lash out at us.
    Basically, you are saying that the only way adoptees can hope for a harmonious reunion is to deny their adoptive parents, deny their normal and often happy childhoods and conform to their first mother's demands.
    I don't know many people willing to do that. Do you?

  25. I just felt sad when I read your comment, Samantha.

  26. Anon,
    You apparently think that reunions are a one way street; you take what you need from your first mother and then ditch her. This sounds like the way your father may have treated your mother and makes a good argument for abortion.

    I did not say the only way adoptees can hope for a harmonious relationship is to deny their adoptive parents. I said adoptees should try to have a harmonious relationship with both sets of parents. To avoid getting in the middle, adoptees should try to bring them together which would help them get over their fear of each other.

    If adoptees disrespect their first parents, they should not be surprised when their first parents walk away in order to protect themselves.

    In disrespecting their first parents, adoptees may prevent other adoptees from having reunions. First mothers will be unwilling to leave the closet if they believe their child's goal is to prove what losers they are.

    I have never met or heard of a first mother who clung on to her child and begged him to define her, whatever that means. Common decency suggests, however, that even if this were the case, adoptees should show some empathy for their mothers.

  27. When we hear about the shame of the first mother and the shame of the first family what does anyone expect us to feel?? WE ARE THE SHAME..a bundle of cellls and DNA that is nothing but shame! I felt that as a very young child whithout the tools of a more mature person that can rationalize the real deal...as a very young one all you do is soak it up and feel not good enough. Its life changeing, and devasting for such little brain to have to deal with such a pounding of ones self esteem That is the first feeling we feel...then we are suppose to tip toe around the shame to bring the 2 families together..make it easier for the first family to get over the shame and the 2nd family to feel like the realmommy...real family.

    I am really tired of hearing how the adoptee needs to gain a larger presceptive( yes, told to another adoptee) and to understand more the the others feelings...just stop and look at what this person has actually dealt with on a very personal level...when a child is figuring out where they belong in the world(hmmm...could just go anywhere depending on the whims the adults), has grown up feeling 2nd best and not quite good enough..not for any other reason but because we were born...

    I so try to understand the shame and my empathy, when reading some of the stories is sky high...UNTIL it becomes clear that its up to the adoptee to cure it. thats when i and many others shut down...we are trying to cure ourselves. Trying to help the other adoptees see that they really are worth it..just living that is....never mind anything to do with motherhood or having children..just being who they were born to be and who they were raised to be.

  28. Yes. It is sick, this adoption business. Mothers who relinquished feel shame, the adopted feel themselves to be the shameful people, some adoptive parents, especially from the time frame that Jane wrote about, feel shameful for not being able to produce their "own" children. Yet despite all this, loving family units were created and exist to this day. I know that to be true.

    Reunions happen and all too often go south. The hurt is too deep to mend.

    How do we ever get out of this mess?

    Unlike Jane, I don't see that having the two parents/mothers (first and adoptive) meet one another as a solution. It might make it easier for some, but everybody has to be willing to make it work, and willing to try to understand the hopes and fears of the other.

    I can understand the sense that some adoptees carry the sense of shame around with them that they feel they are imbued with just by being born--my god, how awful that must be. To be able to rise above that is a tremendous undertaking, and why I admire, say, Elaine Penn and Amanda, to name two who have, so much.

    Jane is not offering excuses for the mothers in the closet still smothered by their shame, she is just offering reasons why they are still there. Look, if we could convince all first/birth mothers to speak up, we would. If we could set a bomb of some sort off under them, we would. If we could reach those mothers who marry the birth fathers and for reasons unknown, stay in the closet in greater number than the rest, we would. We need more birth mothers to demand that their children obtain their original birth certificates; we need the Catholic bishops and the Mormon stake presidents and social workers en mass and especially hoards of adoptive parents to speak out in favor of adoptee rights allowing every single adopted person to have the name of his orignal parents. It should be an inherent right for all mankind. Furthermore, I would like to see birth mothers who wish to be able to obtain the names of the individuals who adopted their children. A great many of us only agreed to sealed records because we did not have a choice!

    We need, in short, a revolution.

  29. I agree that all members of the adoption triad need to speak out for adoptee rights. It is only when the triad members can fully understand and empathize with each other's viewpoints that they will be able to stand up for each other.

    I have had long conversations with my birthmother (now in her 70s) and my adoptive brother's birthmother about their experiences. My feelings about it now are that birthmothers never heal either. The wound they experience is 95-99% as deep as the adoptee's.

    If you have ever seen a birthmother sob -- heaving, wracking sobs -- where there is nothing showing in her bulging, reddened eyes but a primal, raw pain that extends down to her soul, then you will have a new understanding and you will support all triad members' personal decisions because the pain is so deep it *can* be more than someone can deal with in a lifetime.

    We have to be understanding and patient so we can support each other, and help to effect change.

    Now in my mid-40's, I understand why some birthmother's cannot "go there" with reunion and open-ness. I can also understand why some adoptees won't/don't search, and why some are so angry.

    Yes, the shame of being a closed adoption, BSE adoptee takes *years* of effort to overcome, but so does overcoming being a coerced birthmother. It can be a psycho-spiritual trauma that causes a soul-deep wound. The adoptee and birthmother wounds are two sides of the same coin. And they are maybe the deepest wound both will ever have.

  30. Maybe we need to stop comparing relative pain, especially of entire groups of people like adoptees and first mothers. People feel what they feel, individually. There is no team sport Pain Olympics and no winners for the most pain. We are all human and must face our own loss and sorrow in our own way. We can respect and listen to each other without thinking we really feel what the other feels or understand all their motivations, hopes and fears.

    I can't say that I know how it feels to be adopted, or why some adoptees do what they do. I can have empathy and sympathy, but cannot get inside another person's skin. I can't know how it feels to be a mother who is afraid of contact either, because it was all I desired from the start. Jane did a good job of speaking from her own experience as a mother who feared exposure and contact for many years,then turned around, but if I tried to do that it would just be conjecture and speculation.

    As to healing, so many people say they will never heal no matter what happens. Perhaps that depends on how we define the word as well as our individual circumstances of reunion, rejection,or tragedy like finding a death. To me, healing does not mean going back to how I was before the surrender, or feeling as if it never happened or had no impact on my life. A cracked vase can be mended and work again, but the cracks and repairs will show. Some serious injuries, physical and emotional, heal enough that one can function, have a good healthy life, and feel joy again, but they leave scars. Scars do not mean they are festering and actively infected forever, though.

    I feel I am forever scarred by my surrender experience and the impact it had on my life, but I also feel that acceptance by my son and knowing what a good life he has in spite of a difficult childhood has indeed healed a great deal of the depression, grief, and pain. Time and the support of friends, in and out of adoption reform, and family has also helped a great deal. I would describe myself today as truly healed from that old injury, but with life-long visible and permanent scars. As always, I am speaking only of myself, not making a blanket statement about anyone else's experience.

  31. Jane, I do not see first mothers being "thrown under the bus" when their adoptee is not interested in a relationship or has conflicts with the adoptive family and loyalty issues. It hurts, yes, but it is not cruel or deliberate in most cases, just their own attempt to deal with a difficult situation to which there are no easy solutions. My son was not interested for many years. I never blamed him for that. If he withdrew now, I would be very sad but still not blame him, because it is his life and his choice.

    I wish my son had had a wonderful life and felt close to his adoptive family as that is what I wanted for him, but that was not to be. I am not happy about the fact that his adoptive mother was mentally ill, and he felt so estranged from her he did not attend her funeral. I did not "win" in that instance, although some would see it that way. My son lost, and that breaks my heart.

    My son owes me absolutely nothing, so anything he does give is pure gift and blessing to me, not something I "deserve" or can demand nor be angry if it is not forthcoming. His relationship with his adoptive family is his own to work out, just like his relationship with me. I was never supposed to see him again, so every word and picture from him is a miracle to me. I do try to count my blessings, not stew over my losses.

  32. I want to have compassion and appreciate that every experience is unique; I understand the rationale for sharing these reasons why a birth mother might choose to remain silent and thus not acknowledge her child.

    However, I too stop short of feeling its my duty to validate my birth mother. We have met and it simply didn't go well. I don't feel the kinship others sometimes have nor did I appreciate her lifestyle, attempts at exorting money from me or expectations that I should be grateful for her.

    In fact, the more blogs such as this I read ( comments included) the more I recognize some similiarities between some birthmothers and some adoptive mothers, with insecurity topping the list. Sadly I think both groups remain such, due to external factors and third person judgements.

    I won't work to support the myth that both of my families are equally important to me. It simply isn't so. I also don't publically criticize my birth family, so perhaps that's the best that can hoped for in certain situations.


  33. maryanne,
    I don't sugest that when an adoptee refuses contact or, like your son, keeps his distance, he is throwing his mother under the bus. The adoptees I'm describing are those who search for their mothers, get the information they want, and then dismiss them.

    I understand why adoptees would back away if their mothers are like Beth's with poor life styles or attempt to extract money.

    I've been to many first mother support groups, as I'm sure you have, when mothers talk of being found, excited to have a relationship, only to have their children distance themselves once their children obtained the information they sought. These mothers are good people, have sound marriages, good jobs, productive members of their communities, and so on.

    These stories break my heart.

  34. "These stories break my heart."

    I'm sure they do, Jane. But what I don't understand is the assumption that no person should ever want information only, not a relationship. Not all adoptees think of their first mothers as their "mothers" and not all mothers are ready to be "mom" to the adult adoptee who find them. These are legitimate feelings, even if they are difficult ones for others to bear. Saying "I only want information--not more family, thank you" is not throwing someone under the bus. It may be heartbreaking, it may feel unfair, but no surrendering parent and no adoptee should be forced into a relationship they don't want to be in. I know several adoptees who wanted infomation only and in both cases, that was fine with their original mothers. (Both adoptees also said that having to deal with yet another family and yet another set of expectations and obligations was not appealing to them.) The problem arises when the two parties do not feel the same way--as it does in *any* relationship. This is really the crux of it.

    Somebody said recently on some blog that there was no single adoption story, although the story she was criticizing was the happy-dappy one. Well, there is no single adoption or surrendering story, I'm betting. We just need to let people have their feelings.

  35. The stories of either adoptees or natural mothers who search and are rejected break my heart too, but I feel adoptees do have the right to search just for information and then withdraw. Nobody owes anyone a relationship. As the song says, "I can't make you love me if you don't/ I can't make your heart feel something it won't." Heartbreaking yes, but I still do not see anyone thrown under the bus.

    When it works out well for all that is plus, but it is nor an obligation for either side to provide more than information and common courtesy to a stranger. Because we are related strangers when we meet for the most part, the relationship comes later and must be built by mutual consent, if it is to be at all.

  36. What about those relationships between birth mother and reunited child that start out fantastic--visits emails, conversations that are warm and open--and then...nothing. You can't blame some of us for feeling duped and let down when we are sought out and six months, a year later, the adoptee drops off the face of the earth without a word.

    It's heart breaking for a lot of mothers, and yes before adoptees get all worked up, I know it happens both ways. But adoptees act like birth mothers are not supposed to react when treated like a bouncing rubber ball, or worse. What do we expect, right? This is what we deserve, right?

  37. @Anonymous 7:51's comment is the very reason I had no problem walking away from my "reunion" and did not look back. This sounds like it could have been written by my own son,(very much coached by his adopters, that is). He worships the ground they walk on, while making sure I was always regulated to 'birth thing' who was only there to provide him his 'identity'.

    That's right. "Why" treat a mother who lost their child to adoption; many times via coercion, fraud and lies "worthwhile". After all, the loser deserved everything she got, right? Those saintly, perfect adopters are the only one's who are deserving of anything "worthwhile".

    I know, it would be so hard to treat birth thing to a human being, with feelings who is deserving of the same respect and love that is shown the people who think they own him/ her and their lives (e.g. adopters and their families.)

    My son sure didn't have a "better" life; unless of course you count being brainwashed into a religious robot with no thought process of his own to be "better". I beg to differ. This mother sure would not and will not "cling" to that to "define me". I am defined by my experiences and my particular adoption experience has shown me the worst in humanity, even by my own flesh and blood. The hypocrisy he and his "family" show is sickening. They preach about "love and god" on a daily basis while treating me and my family with malice and disdain because we dared to even exist. How dare we. These people, every single one of them whom he calls "family" said not one word to me, not one hello, not one word of encouragement when I found him, yet claim to be such "loving Christians". Yeah, whatever. Thanks to this experience I have turned away from religion altogether. That is one positive thing that came from this experience. The only one. The rest has been a nightmare of epic proportions.

    Anonymous even threw in the "conform to demands" bit. Wow. How many natural mothers have to "conform" to demands by insecure, jealous adopters; and then their own children by being held at arms length and treated as an unwelcome intruders (when many of us were made bogus promises by lying adopters that enabled them to procure our children in the first place.)

    My second child is not living some "horrible life" with his mother. Actually, is is quite the opposite.

    Please, anonymous, get over yourself and your adopters can too. If not for the woman you so relish in kicking in the teeth you would not be here for your adopters to covet. Not "worthwhile" at all, is she? Just some incubator who's sole purpose in life was to provide your adopters and their families with HER flesh and blood, right? I think not.

  38. Viktoria said:

    "What about those relationships between birth mother and reunited child that start out fantastic--visits emails, conversations that are warm and open--and then...nothing."

    I agree, that's a total heart crusher. One can understand totally why so many are angry, feel cheated and abused--twice. It sucks.

    Anon 5:12pm, try not to take what Anon 7:51 said as any attack on you. Your stories seem totally different. You are justifiably hurt and angry; she is justifiably distancing herself from her first mother.

  39. Beehive (odd name unless you are a Mormon, yes?) how do you know as you state that some earlier anonymous person is "justifiably distancing herself from her first mother?" You don't know that.

    This is a blog for first mothers and Jane and Loraine have a lot of readers who were adopted, yet the adoptees are often intolerant of hearing about birth mothers' pain, on a blog for first mothers. From reading the comments, one learns that mothers are almost always the ones who are to blame for everything if a relatioship ends. I am sure it is hard for some adoptees to find mothers who want them in their lives, but who have adoptive mothers who cant stand the thought of that. Instead of telling that to the mother, the adoptee finds her natural mother to be "lacking" in some major way. And of course then the adoptee can treat her like dirt.

    Do adoptees ever examine how they act towards their natural mothers? All too often it feels as if they do not. Maybe they can't. Another reason to hate adoption.

  40. Viktoria, I said she was "justifiably distancing herself from her first mother" because that was her view of the situation--and I think the person's view should be honoured and not second-guessed. But I apologize--I thought she was talking about Beth. I read back and realized she wasn't. My mistake. I am not a Mormon.

  41. Viktoria said..
    "What about those relationships between birth mother and reunited child that start out fantastic--visits emails, conversations that are warm and open--and then...nothing."

    This happened to me after meeting my son and his wife in person for dinner. The meeting went very well, I thought, but then I did not hear from him again for two years. Our relationship before then had been on email, and I just kept calmly emailing him every few months, with the latest news, no drama, no demands, no "what's wrong"? That was very hard to do and I was ready to give up again, even attended the rejected mothers workshop at the CUB retreat, but eventually he started emailing me again and all was well. I never asked "why" and he never said. I was just glad to hear from him again.

    I never felt "duped", but concerned
    that there was something my son could not deal with about seeing me in person. I was worried about him, more than sad for me. I was disappointed, but not angry and I never doubted my son was doing what he had to do for his own mental health.

    He had a terrible mentally ill adoptive mother, and the whole concept of "mother" as a person one could trust was alien to him. and of course I had given him up in the first place. But his wife did stay in touch a bit and assure me he was ok, and when he did come around he shared much about his life that I did not know that made his actions make sense to me.

    There is a lot to be said about mothers being mothers in these situations and focusing on their child rather than their own needs and hurts. Attitude is important.

    Of course this does not apply when the adoptee is actively abusive, says or does awful things to the mother or others in her family, goes out of his way to be cruel. Silence is not cruel, it is a sign that the adoptee cannot deal with things at that time the way the mom would prefer. It may be too hard to explain the withdrawal, and the adoptee may not have the words or strength to do so. Patience is the hard virtue that carries one through those times.

  42. Viktoria said, "Do adoptees ever examine how they act towards their natural mothers? All too often it feels as if they do not. Maybe they can't. Another reason to hate adoption."

    Yep, I do. I go over every email several times before sending it to her. (I want to make sure that nothing can be taken the wrong way. It's exhausting because obviously in written communication a lot can be misinterpreted.) I give her the utmost respect. She's my mom, and even though I don't know her, I love her.

    The sad truth is that my needs bump up against her needs. I want to see our similarities. I loved learning that my interest in a certain sport wasn't coincidence. She was also talented at it. But, I think it is really difficult for her to hear those things. It makes her loss even more real, especially since she cannot fully accept me into her life now.

    She's a closeted birth mother who is torn between knowing her daughter and hiding her from everyone else in her life.

    I empathize with her as much as I possibly can. (It just becomes difficult when I have to read about her shame in every email, and I am that shame.)

  43. HDW said: "I empathize with her as much as I possibly can. (It just becomes difficult when I have to read about her shame in every email, and I am that shame.)"

    That is exactly the kind of hard truth that surrendering mothers, all of us but especially those in the closet, need to hear from adoptees. It is difficult to hear that an adoptee feels she IS her mother's shame, but if mother acts that way, how else can she feel? Easy enough for us to say "you should not feel that way, I am not ashamed of you" but much harder for adoptees to believe when they have been told they are and treated as shameful.

    This the kind of thing we need to keep communicating to each other, and to take without defensiveness or excuses as how the other really feels. Thanks HDW and wishing your mother would open her eyes and heart to you.

  44. Jane said in her OP:
    Lorraine and I gave up our infant daughters in 1966. We and the other single mothers at that time were programmed by our families, religious authorities, social workers, advice columnists--indeed the entire culture, through and through--to try to forget and go one with our lives, to pretend our children did not exist. The message was crystal clear: Spare yourself and your family the SHAME that you had sex out of wedlock, SHAME that you opened up your body to a man who did not respect you (and in my case ignored the signs of his flawed character), SHAME that you were dumb enough not to take precautions or demand that he did.

    Boy - that sure was TRUE when I had my daughter in 1969... Such a shame too... from what I know now things would have been VERY different; but we couldn't have society thinking of you as a "bad" girl and also not being to get a job with a child to take care...

    If wishes were horses, than beggars would ride!

    And unfortunately, I am one of those that contacted my "lost" child/adult and did not get a good response - no reunion for me! I've tried that method that was programed into me back then: to try to forget and go one with our lives, to pretend our children did not exist. But ya know - it IS hard to try and forget - HOW can you!! LOL! At least I know that she has a GREAT family, had a great education, is happy and healthly and does not "need" another mother (according to her), and it was God's plan... At least I have seen pictures of her (looking at her FB) and my God - she is spitting imagine of me and my sister!!! Like Lorraine said about her and Jane - you KNOW we are mother and daughter! And I know I am a grandmother!!! LOL! Cute little guy, going on two this December. HOW can I forget ALL this... not going to be easy, I tell ya!!

    Thanks Lorraine and Jane for this great forum, where I can vent a little - don't we all need that sometimes!

    Carry on...

  45. Oh - I have to add - I "sort of" kept her a secret - parent's friends, of course! LOL! But all my family know. I take that back my little brother at the time, maybe 8 years old, was never told until I found out I could actually search for her! Well, not legally anyway! LOL! For only $75 I found out her "new" name! And my bestest friend knew, so yeah maybe I was in the closet for quite a while. 1969 to 2006... Yikes!! Now most of my close friends know and it hasn't changed our relationship in anyway. They were all thrilled that I had found her.

  46. Lee, good friends only want the best for us; those who don't aren't "good friends."

    Sorry she is not open to a relationship, but knowing is better than not knowing, isn't it? She is the one who is too afraid to open her heart to you, and her parents have programmed her to think that she must not, or she is being disloyal to them.

    You sound good and healthy.

  47. HDW said:
    The sad truth is that my needs bump up against her needs. I want to see our similarities. I loved learning that my interest in a certain sport wasn't coincidence. She was also talented at it. But, I think it is really difficult for her to hear those things. It makes her loss even more real, especially since she cannot fully accept me into her life now.

    Oh, I know how you feel HDW! I too would like to "see" the similiarities we share! You want to trade places with my daughter, and I with your mother?? Oh, if it was only so simple?

  48. Lorraine said:
    Lee, good friends only want the best for us; those who don't aren't "good friends."

    Oh don't I know it!

    Sorry she is not open to a relationship, but knowing is better than not knowing, isn't it? She is the one who is too afraid to open her heart to you, and her parents have programmed her to think that she must not, or she is being disloyal to them.

    Yes, knowing is a LOT better and healthier for me! Just that wondering - is she alive? is she okay? I'm very satisfied that I did search, I can sort of carry on with my life. And yes, her amother defintely had a 'say' in this, at least I believe that! You know - this was a "closed" adoption and you weren't EVER supposed to search... blah... blah.. At least she has all her medical information from my side of the family also!

    You sound good and healthy.

    Oh Good! I'm glad to hear that! You know, when I first started searching I lost 55 pounds - from about (LOL!) 150 to 95 pounds... This searching and waiting to hear ANYTHING took a toll on my health! It turned out to be my thyroid due to stress according to my doctor, and he didn't even know about my search! So, yes I believe him on that!

    I am back to 130 pounds after taking my medicine and my thyroid getting back to normal! Healthly and happy at 65!! LOL!

  49. Very interesting, Lee, that you mentioned your Thyroid problem, post reunion. I have encountered the same problem over the past couple of years. I was in the best shape of my life upon reunion and since, I have developed panic attacks, anxiety and diagnosed over a year ago Hypothyroidism. This has been hard for me to accept, as I have taken great care of myself over the last several years. I wonder if it will be the end of me sincerely, at times, it has been so painful and emotionally taxing.

    As someone said on another topic, comment thread... Adoption, the gift that keeps on giving.

  50. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/sep/01/three-sisters-adopted-and-reunited?INTCMP=SRCH

    An article relevant to this topic; three sisters reunited whose mother had not told them that she gave up all three individually. They found each other thanks to Britain's open records law.

  51. Lee said:
    Oh, I know how you feel HDW! I too would like to "see" the similiarities we share! You want to trade places with my daughter, and I with your mother?? Oh, if it was only so simple?

    Sadly, nothing about the after effects of adoption is simple. Each of us has layers upon layers of emotions, often conflicting, that we need to excavate.

  52. I am a mother who relinquished her only child. When discussing kids, I typically say "I never raised any children." This doesn't feel like such a lie because, although I am omitting the fact that I gave birth to a child, it is true that I didn't raise him. When I used to say "I don't have any children" I always cringed inside.

    My family and friends and coworkers knew about my pregnancy and relinquishment. But shortly thereafter, I learned to shut up about it, because when I tried to talk about my son, I was either given the silent treatment or lambasted for not raising him.

    I am now reunited with my son and my good friends know, but I'm still in the closet at work. It's just hard to open up about it when people have known you for over a decade and believe that you don't have kids. I was the brunt of office gossip when I was pregnant, and don't wish to re-live that experience. I hope someday to not give a shit about that, and just out myself and let the chips fall where they may, but I'm not there yet.

  53. Peachy, something has happened in Belgium. The baby scoop era in Belgium was bad, really bad. In April of this year a researcher still stated that none of the mothers could be published about without guaranteeing the most strict anonimity. Now there is a new movie about girls like them, and suddenly a whole group, OK not more than a handful of individuals, so far, is giving up that secrecy.

  54. I relinquished my only child, a son, 29 years ago. I recently found him and after a flurry of email exchanges we finally met face to face and have visited a handful of times since. We have similar personalities and resemble each other quite a bit.We are also both artists as was my mother who passed away four years ago. We have visited a few times, though contact is diminishing.
    I am in the closet except with partner and sister. I told my sister soon after meeting him and showed her many of the pictures he had sent me online. She couldnt handle it emotionally and just broke down. We have not discussed him since. I do not know if she ever told her husband or her 2 teenage sons.
    While I am happy that I had him and that we met each other, the excitement of finding him has been replaced with feelings of loss and sorrow. I can't help but feel that our lives ( and my parents ) would have been better had I thought it through and kept him.

  55. OH, Maureen, I am so sad to read your post. Just deal with what you have in your son, and enjoy what you can.

    I sincerely hope your sister, if you are close, will able to be a real friend to yo--and tell her husband and children, so that your son, if he chooses might meet them. Ask her to do it for him, and you. Tell her you hate the secret you have had to life with and it is hurting you. Ask for her help to get through the feelings that have been unleashed inside you--the sense of immense loss that you are now experiencing. Sadly, this is part of the process, but remind yourself that this is better than never knowing, always wondering. There are on line groups where you might find women you can email freely and talk through your feelings. If I can remember an address, I'll let you know, and leave a message here.

  56. Thanks Lorraine.I take your words to heart. I agree that this is all better than not knowing. I have to remind myself of how great it is that we established a relationship at all ! However awkward and uncertain it may be.

    As sidenote: A while back I asked my partner what it was like for him when his son was born and without hesitation , he said it was the best day of his life.
    Happy for him, but I felt ripped off. I couldnt tell you what the best day of my life was but it sure wasnt the day my son was born.

    Months later I met my son for the first time. I can now say, without hesitation, that was the best day of my life. I can say it to myself anyways.

  57. I was given up also in 1966. The following year, my bio mom attempted suicide. When I tried to get in touch with her in 1996, I was blocked by her current husband. My three half-sibs don't know I exist.

  58. Undercover: So sorry to hear that story. If you have not been able to talk directly to your first mother I would keep trying. Be prepared for the worst, hope for the best. As for contacting your sibs directly, they may be protective of their (your) mother; or they may...be interested in you. Hard to know with a husband blocking the door.

    I am sorry for your pain.



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