' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: First mother reappears after 12 years--after a 'happy' reunion

Sunday, September 28, 2014

First mother reappears after 12 years--after a 'happy' reunion

When a first mother wants to resume contact--after cutting off the relationship 12 years earlier following reunion, how can an adoptee protect herself from rejection again? One of our readers, Nicole, wrote us saying she found her mother in 2002. But after several visits, including meeting her extended family, Nicole's mother asked "that we not continue having contact." Nicole's email went on:

"She wrote to me this July hoping to start a 'conversation' and we've exchanged a couple of letters. We've both lifted burdens of guilt and shame for each other and on balance, finding each other benefited us greatly....My dilemma is making sense of her recent contact and protecting myself from feeling rejected a third time....I've done a lot of therapy and healing, and realize I can't be hurt unless I allow it. But therapy is one thing. and her writing is reality and bewildering."

I'm a lawyer, not a therapist but I don't buy the "can't be hurt unless you allow it" line. Maybe that works for relationships outside of the mother-and-child relationship, but the mother-and-child bond, broken or whole, is one that is beyond emotional control. It is too deep, too intrinsic, too fundamental to respond to other kinds of emotional guards that we might be able to construct. Nicole can walk away, but will that truly protect her from being hurt? And in doing so, she possibly cuts herself off from a nurturing relationship that will be balm for her own soul. By constructing barriers Nicole may find that they extend to other parts of her life she doesn't want to isolate. She may end up walling herself in when a part of her doesn't want that isolationist policy at all.

It's possible that Nicole's mother cut off communication because that she had doubts about Nicole's commitment to the relationship. She did not give her a reason for cutting off contact. Perhaps her mother's fears, coupled with the welling up of all the painful emotions that had been dormant, made her want to return to a life where she wasn't confronted with them. Nicole may have told her mother "you made the right decision in giving me up" or "I don't want another mother" -- both statements intended to reassure her mother -- that Nicole was not angry at being given up and didn't intend to intrude into her mothers life. Nicole's mother may have taken these statements to demean her; that Nicole was happy her mother hadn't raised her. We've found miscommunication, especially early in a reunion, is sadly common.

Reunions for first/birth mothers--even when anxiously desired--cause the memories of what may be the worst time of our lives to bubble up and they feel as new as yesterday. It's likely that this happened and Nicole's first mother felt she couldn't go through them again. Better to follow the advice of the all-knowing social workers, resume her before reunion life and pretend it never  happened. Perhaps she feared, however irrationally that Nicole was going to cut her off and wanted to do it first, to give herself control sort of like breaking up with your boyfriend before he breaks up with you..

Or perhaps the day-to-day family of Nicole's mother felt alienated by all the attention that she was showering on this returned, first daughter. It's not uncommon for siblings of the reunited son or daughter to feel cast aside and diminished when the new child in the mother's life emerges. How come she is getting so much special attention? How come she is being treated like visiting royalty? How come I'm not being given a "special" dinner like this one? (Conveniently forgetting all the "special" occasions in the past, such as birthdays and bat mitvahs.)

Initially after my first meeting with my 31 year old daughter Rebecca in 1997, I thought we could somehow pick up where we left off; without much thought, I mentally discarded her other--adoptive--family. Her long search surely meant I was important. Additionally, I believed our shared separation would bring us together, if not as mother and daughter then as friends, even soul mates. Rebecca was a fine person and we shared many values and interests.

However, after several meetings and many emails--and learning that indeed Rebecca's other family was family--I began to question Rebecca's commitment to me as well as our relationship. Her telling me she searched for me because she needed to know answers led me think that I was simply a source of information that she needed to feel complete. I could answer the burning question--why was I given up, as well as provide medical information. Then she could go on her merry way, leaving me in the dust and worse off then when I didn't know who she was.

Other mothers who had little or no contact with their lost children told me to be happy with what I had but I couldn't be as long as uncertainty was my constant companion. Cutting off contact seemed attractive; at least it would provide certainty. Yet I could not bring myself to do it.

Lorraine here: My situation was different in that I found my daughter when she was 15, and with the acceptance other parents, immediately became a part of my daughter's life. However, as the years went on, her adoptive mother came to dislike me intensely. Her adoptive mother made her feelings about me abundantly clear, as I would eventually learn. If Jane (also my daughter's name) so much as mentioned me, her adoptive mother made a snarky comment--or walked out of the room. Obviously, this complicated Jane's relationship with me, and was often the reason that she pushed me out of her life, for months--up to a year one time. I was devastated each time. Over the course of the 26 years we knew each other (she died in 2007), Jane came and went willy-nilly and left me sad and speechless. Sometimes the reason seemed so silly that I came to see that it wasn't a real reason but an handy excuse.

I always welcomed her back--she was my daughter and I felt enough damage had been done with the initial relinquishment--but as the years went on, I could not help but be more guarded. I was very careful in anything I might say--lest she find some reason to walk out again--but I don't really know how "guarded" and protective I was of my heart. After a couple of weeks or months of an easy, breezy relationship via phone and email, who's careful with someone you love? I do think I had cried less after the third or fourth leaving. They had become expected, almost routine. In my case, it was Jane's adoptive mother who had much to do about whether we kept in close contact, as we sometimes had, or if she simply walked away. In the case of the birth mother who walks away, it is likely someone else is pulling the strings.

Jane returned to my life on a day to day basis (emails every day, phone calls at least once a week) after such a hiatus in the months before she died, but when I picked up the phone that time I said: No more leaving me, okay? She readily agreed, didn't want to talk about what she had been doing, and I let it go. But she knew exactly what I was talking about.*

Perhaps Nicole's first/birth mother cut off contact largely for the reasons we considered doing the same. She was protecting herself from rejection. There may have also been issues in her marriage, her job, problems with her other children or family members. Now after all these years, for whatever reason, Nicole's mother has steeled up her courage to try again; clearly she has never forgotten her first child. The woman is now treading lightly, only asking to start a conversation, yet undoubtedly worried about being hurt herself--and rejected after a 12 year absence!

While we don't know the particulars of Nicole's first mother's story; it's possible she had therapy and worked through her fears. It's possible that her husband, not Nicole's father, was instrumental in the decision to cut off contact, and he is no longer an issue. Perhaps he died. Perhaps they are divorced. We hear from searchers that husbands--whether the biological father or not--are often the issue that contact is denied or cut off. Perhaps the other "eldest" child--who thought he or she was first--has come to terms with how his position has changed, or perhaps Nicole's mother is going to let that individual come to terms with reality--and simply wants you back in her life, as her message indicates. Or perhaps her other children are grown and out of the home, giving her mother a sense of freedom to do what she wants.

Clearly with a relationship where both parties feel the need to protect themselves from rejection contains the seeds of a self-fulling prophecy. We urge Nicole to respond to her first mother's plea, but begin with asking her mother why it was cut off 12 years ago, and be open about her concerns that she be let down again. Explain clearly and fully exactly how you feel, and how her cutting off contact affected you. Let your mother know that you want a relationship not only to "lift burdens of guilt and shame"--but because you want to be a part of her life in a way that is mutually agreeable. No one can promise with total certainty how life turns out in the future, but airing your concerns at the onset of talking to her is a first step to a healthy, affirming, rewarding relationship. We hope you'll let us know how it goes--jane and lorraine
*As regular readers know, my daughter, seemingly happily married and settled, suffered from a variety of physical and mental problems. She committed suicide.

Why birth/natural mother-adoptee reunions go awry
Is the Adoptee/(birth) mother reunion ever (re)solved?
How shame keeps birth mothers from embracing reunion
Whatever happened to Carlina White? 
When birth/natural mother-adoptee reunions go awry, Part 2

Found: A Memoir by Jennifer Luack
"Expanding on her previous titles (Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and FoundStill Watersin which she related the traumatizing experiences of being adopted twice before reaching her teen years, Lauck begins her story a decade later. After years of therapy, Buddhist practice, her brother's suicide, two failed marriages and motherhood, she rejects her old vision of comparing the past to "radioactive waste" that must be buried. Despite early indifference to finding her birth mother, Lauck comes to see the woman as key to releasing deep pain, sadness, and rage. Lauck's spare narrative concentrates on emotion, occasionally expanded with clinical explanations of mother-child bonding and Buddhist perspectives on inner growth. But she shines when she allows the abandoned child to peek out. Lauck searches out her birth mother and finds her deceased birth father's family, completes the circle, then moves on. People who have struggled for a sense of belonging or with anger and grief will find wisdom, comfort, and guidance in Lauck's discoveries."--Publisher's Weekly

We haven't read this ourselves yet, but am ordering a copy today! Thank you for ordering anything through the portals of FMF. A special thank you to those who do! 


  1. This is another excellent post. Since coming to FMF, I have tried, and am still trying, to see how the first mother feels about relinquishment, and reunion. I am not a first mother, but I am trying my best to rid myself of the brainwashing that always surrounded my first mother, and see the other side. You can't imagine how difficult this is.

    The adoptee's side is different. These are extremely treacherous waters to navigate. I am still pursuing my online search, but that is all I can do. It is all I can handle at this time.

    We all know how insecure my AP's are and have been all my life. They would ruin any chance of me having any kind of relationship with my first mother. That is not their right, but that is how they feel. I am tired of hearing it, tired of caring for them, tired of the whole thing. I do not have the strength to fight with them or defend myself to them at this stage of the game.

    If I were to secretly search, and meet my first mother, I could not run right into her arms. Remember....I do not know her. She may consider herself my mother, but I was raised by someone else and feel like someone else's daughter. It would take me a tremendous amount of time to feel comfortable with her. I am sorry to say so, but I'm afraid it is the truth.

    There is a wall around me, as there is with many adoptees. There has to be....I have been listening to remarks and ignorant comments all my life. I find it extremely difficult to get close to anyone, and even harder to trust. My first mother may have given birth to me, which I understand, but it would take me time to accept her as my mother. I have a mother. I heard about a girl who gave me up. I have gone almost 60 years without knowing her....I can not form a close bond now.

    I am not happy writing this, but I'm trying to explain how the adoptee feels. These are not feelings I am happy to have, but they are my feelings all the same.

    1. Julia Emily, my adoptive mother was much more open when we met my first mother than I was -- but then, I'm a "naturally" more guarded person, emotionally and otherwise, than either of my mothers is. I'm going to say that after a ton of picking through all parts of my self in the past 4 years, that's part nature and part adoption. It's certainly not at all nurture.

      Things have changed over the course of my reunion, yes, but more with my adoptive mother than with my first mother. My first mother is much more cognizant of my boundaries and of respecting them and me than my adoptive mother is -- SHE raised me! She assumes she knows, rather than listening. In the years of getting to know my first mother, we are temperamentally so much alike that it makes things that are complicated with other people quite simple.

      My reunion has thrown my entire world into upheaval, repeatedly, though more than anything else in my own head. But it's forced me to learn things about myself that I need to know, about my own strength and perseverance. I didn't feel an instant connection and bond, or a "coming home" or anything. But I now have answers to questions I didn't know were questions because they've been there, as a part of my life, for so long. Even if eventually things break down, I don't regret it in the least. My family is just more complicated than most people's.

    2. Yan, Your story brings into high relief all that I know about adoption and reunion. When my daughter was around, it was as if we could speak in shorthand all the time. I have written here it about her comings and goings in my life, but when things were good, they were very very good. As an added bonus, her parents were middle class (and had a more stable life monetarily than I ever did) had liberal political leanings, and were the Catholic parents that I stated I preferred. They were ...as strictly Catholic as my mother--though by the time I met Jane, I wasn't. Yet all of these things made our reunion go more smoothly than it might have otherwise. Yes, we were temperamentally alike (and I could see her father's traits too). You would never have doubted how we were related. The same is true when my granddaughter visits. Stores clerks say--Grandmother and granddaughter? to us.

      Yet all of the complications that you speak of were in Jane's heart and mind too. I know you speak for many adoptees. Thank you for leaving your comment.

  2. I must admit I had some trepidation when I saw the subject of this post. I have felt in the past that FMF's position has erred too much on the side of encouraging adoptees to be understanding and compassionate of their first mothers even when our own needs aren't being met and are even being repeatedly hurt. I mean, I realize this is a blog for first mothers and of course your focus will be on her feelings, concerns, pov, etc.

    So I must say I was pleasantly surprised by your advice. While you outlined the many reasons that a first mother might decide to discontinue a reunion, I did not sense any underlying message that the adoptee should just keep putting up with whatever her fm dishes out. I think your advice was perfect; that Nicole should be open to another chance with her first mother but that she also needs to be assertive and say that this on again/off again relationship will not work for her. Nicole has the right to know why her mother terminated the relationship and her mother needs to know that barring something truly awful happening both she and Nicole need to be committed to the relationship for the long haul.

    Great job, Ladies. I think the adoptee pov is getting through. lol

    1. Robin! High praise from an astute critic and reader. (Of course, we think you are astute--you are a frequent visitor.)

  3. Actually, I really don't know what do think. First, I have tried to be there for my daughter and accept the limits that she set. Second, I have completely disconnected from her. I don't want to know anymore... or be connected to the insanity that seems to ensue with every attempt at reconnecting. Not just the emotional jumble that happens inside me, but the drama and bizarre behaviors that come from her.

    I truly wonder, at times, why anyone believes that reunion is good. I have yet to see one that is truly amicable..... more and more of them are simply a way to punish the abandoner.

  4. There is too much hurt in adoption. Every single reunion that I know of personally has gone south. And it is not always the adoptee who goes haywire....my adoptee friend is experiencing rejection right now from her half-sister. This is a half sister matched and confirmed through DNA testing....yet the woman does not want to believe it. The pain my friend is experiencing right now is unbelievable. And there is no reason for it.

    Sometimes the first mother causes problems in the reunion, sometimes the adoptee, sometimes the AP's stick their noses where they don't belong, but I am beginning to feel that it can work only in rare circumstances. People have to act like adults and approach this subject without laying blame, without getting defensive, without lies and secrets. Adoption is built upon lies and secrets, so I think a lot of reunions may be doomed before they even happen.

    In my previous post I tried to outline how I feel about reunion, and everything I wrote was true. I wish I could feel like hugging and kissing my first mother, but I don't. I have been conditioned to feel this way. I would be cordial and open to communication, but the wall around me is too high. I am not demonstrative with anyone.....to be so with a person I really don't know would be impossible for me.

    It doesn't matter. I am convinced she is gone. All I would like now is to know what happened to her, and I would be satisfied. Hopefully this adoption did not damage her as much as it did me.

  5. Yet again you are spot on with your comments and echoing my feelings - "Cutting off contact seemed attractive; at least it would provide certainty. I thought acting first would give me control, sort of like breaking up with your boyfriend before he breaks up with you. Yet I could not bring myself to do it." - this is how I feel already and we have not had the reunion yet. I do feel I am being punished by my my daughter and I do punish myself. I have written a letter which is yet to be delivered, where I give up! But I can't quite bring myself to send it. If there is one little chance of contact I have to hold on to it. But hope can also be negative - every time it amounts to nothing I sink further. How much longer can I hold onto this and risk my relationships (my emotions are not healthy) and my physical health? Should I just free all of us from the pressure/stress of thinking about contact? As I said I can't quite do that yet.......

    1. Clare, since you have not made contact yet--you have no idea what your daughter will do. She may indeed reject you, but you have no idea what she will do. She may be waiting for you to reach out to her. I have heard many adoptees say, if my mother was interested in knowing me, she would have searched.

      I was scared, Of yes I was, but I felt that moving forward and making the call would always be better than simply wondering.

      I think of it in a feng shui way--if every time you pass a patch of weeds in your garden that need to be pulled, and you tell yourself, Oh those weeds need to be pulled up! I must get to it! You keep pulling yourself down with negative energy. How much better to see that same plot of ground and feel happy that it looks the way you want it to.

  6. I think that Julia is spot on! People have to act like adults, not lie or be secretive. Sadly, I have always been adult and honest with my daughter.... about everything. Unfortunately, it is all one sided. I should have believed her when she said she hated me and that I should give her things rather than try to know her or connect with her. Sigh..... Every relationship is two-sided.... except relationships that aren't relationships.

  7. @Clare - if you feel like you're being punished by your daughter, chances are that punishment is exactly what is occurring. Most first mothers, at least the ones I know, did not abandon their babies but rather surrendered to the forces of the industry. Yes, adoptees, and understandably so, feel abandoned and thus express their feelings firsthand by punishing the real mother. This punishment can cause a reunion to collapse. My advice to anyone contemplating a reunion would be to not enter into one with feelings of anger.

    1. Thank you Trina. I am not angry about the situation - I have been but now I'm just confused and frustrated, and I guess becoming more resigned to the fact that this is never going to happen.

    2. Clare Henry, I am confused--you have a letter and know where your daughter is but have not sent it? If that is the case, how is she punishing you if you have not made contact?

      I certainly felt "punished" at various times by my daughter. Eventually, I came to realize that probably it was always going to be like that. She couldn't help it. As another first mother said to me: We lost them when we gave them up.

      And her adoptive mother's condemnation of me certainly exacerbated the situation and increased her willingness to punish me. I think it would have been different if she had not lived nearby her adoptive parents after she married,and for years, her daughter from a first marriage mostly lived with the adoptive parents. The resentment of me--a "New York career woman" (which is what she called me)--just grew and grew, no matter how friendly she might be when we met. There is nothing in that description--New York career woman--that is a compliment to a nurse and adoptive mother in the Midwest. Nothing.

    3. Sorry Lorraine - I do tend to ramble a bit. The letter I am talking about is the final cut off letter. I have sent an original letter and Lucy replied briefly. She knows where I am and how to contact me. As I have mentioned before my partner Dave (Lucys bfather) has been in contact with her for about 9 years now. She is happy to meet and speak with him regularly but is not ready to meet me. I feel that she is punishing me for making the decision. This is probably only my view of it but without any other reasons, that is all I have. Her amother has absolutely no issue with any of this. Hope that clears it up a little bit - a very confusing situation anyway.

    4. Oh! Of course I remember this story but I there are so many story lines going here I lose track of the names. Your story just breaks my heart. I know another case where the daughter is in good and frequent contact with the father but denies the mother anything, always has. And the father was a jerk at the time she was born.

      As for me, I wouldn't send another letter or do anything drastic. Her father (your partner) may be able to help her, or not. It seems to me there isn't a damn thing you can do. I am so sorry.

    5. That would have been my next question Lorraine - what can I do??? I guess you have just answered that!!! I feel like screaming sometimes!!!!

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  9. My birth mother and birth father both had and continue to have informative and supportive relationships with me as an adult at mid-life when we met, now moving up in my 50's. Between both of my birthparents, I have four half brothers and two half sisters. We have become close family including my adoptive family. All these relationships were supported and encouraged by my Mom (adoptive) who was delighted that my two birthparents and their families welcomed me any my children. Some reunions work out exceptionally well. I know I am blessed. As my Mom (adoptive) once said, "adoptive relationships need to be handled like all other relationships. Cherish and nurture the good parts. Let the rest take care of itself." If only adoptive parents could let go of negativity toward birthparents. It can and should be done for the sake of your child. Life is too short and to precious to be wasted living in the negative.

    1. What a wise mama you have. :)

      "If only adoptive parents could let go of negativity toward birthparents. It can and should be done for the sake of your child. Life is too short and to precious to be wasted living in the negative." Amen to this! My husband and I were just talking about this the other night in relation to another adoption story I was telling him about. He said that he will never understand why any parent wouldn't want their child to be happy and feel complete- isn't that one of our biggest desires as parents, to see our children leading fulfilled lives?

    2. Barbara, you are a lucky woman. You have had, it seems, what we all wanted for our children. To be loved, respected and nurtured.

  10. Barbara: would that you could convince my adoptive parents of this. They could not be more negative and nothing will change them now. I am glad you had a decent experience. And I am jealous.



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