' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The awful legacy of adoption

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The awful legacy of adoption

"The world is wrong. You can't put the past behind you. It's buried in you; it's turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful, but it all comes from the world to be stored in you."--Claudia Rankine wrote in her book of poetry, Citizen.

Rankine, who is black and was born in Jamaica, was talking about race, but when I read her words I thought how they applied to mothers who relinquished children and the children who so relinquished. We trail our history behind us like a veil that never leaves us, and instead becomes part of us.

I was thinking about this in terms of my daughter, whom I had relinquished to adoption, giving up a daughter herself in a closed adoption. The year was 1986, 20 years after I gave my daughter up, and I could not convince my daughter to do otherwise. We had not spoken for a while--she was angry at me for a reason I cannot remember--but we spoke a few days after her baby was born, early in April. I had called her on her birthday, April 5. She would not let the natural father and his mother raise the girl, as they wanted; she would respond with silence when I talked about an "open adoption." Ultimately I had to shut up if I wanted to continue talking to my daughter at all, because she would shut down with the slightest provocation. All I could think was: she has to repeat history.

How very sad. She needed to understand what I felt.              

By then, I knew that a great many adoptees do the same thing. I'd met such women at conferences and retreats; I'd come across my first when I was testifying for four adult women in New Jersey who wanted to open their records. At least one of them was a double: adoptee and a natural mother. This I discovered when I came across her crying her eyes out in the ladies room after I was on the stand. Adoptee Jean Strauss was the second adoptee in her maternal chain: when she found her birth mother Jean discovered that she too had been adopted. If I had a magic wand I would wish that not one more single adoptee would ever relinquish a child. I would wish they would all learn from, instead of repeat, our tragedy.

Fortunately my social worker did not tell me that I would forget my baby. That I would make a new life without her. She did not tell me, as a priest told a friend of mine, that she had to think of her daughter as dead. In fact my social worker said, you will never forget but you will go on.

We mothers are often weary with the troubles that giving up a child vested upon us. It appears that some of us suffer more than others. But ache we do. We ache in our hearts, we ache in our bones, we ache and long for the missing child. No matter what relationship we forge after reunion, the past--the missed years not shared--is always a part of the present, whether one is the mother or the adoptee. The best we--both mothers who relinquished and the children we bore--can do is live on, move forward, and let the past be a part of our strength today.  We overcame the worst. And we survived.--lorraine
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
"... bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship." --Amazon

Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents,and Adoptive...
by Jean Strauss
"Anticipating my own reunion as an adoptee, I devoured this book in about 2 days. It confirmed many of my personal feelings and gave voice to my own experience as an adoptee. It has also taught me to understand and be sensitive to issues my birth parents are/might be dealing with that I could not have anticipated. Two things about this book for which I am most grateful to the author: 1) the conglomeration of experiences of 70 different people representing all three sides of the adoption triad. This helped me to understand what issues are common to the adoption/adoption reunion process and to feel better prepared to (hopefully) handle my own reunion with "informed" grace. 2) a very clear, easy to understand outline of the five emotional stages of the adoption reunion process.

I didn't realize it would be a process or how involved this could be emotionally for all concerned, but how much sense it makes! I have learned from this book that all parties concerned should allow themselves and each other the time they need to heal and adjust to each other. That the process will hurt but bring healing to all involved. That there will be a blessing through the pain. I am grateful for the way this book has equipped me to begin to handle this process. I am buying copies for all involved in my reunion. Thank you, Ms. Strauss, for you labor of love!"--Amazon reviewer



  1. now that i know she's alive, and that she has children of her own, i feel some reassurence. the natural order of things has been restored but what about the nearly 40 years she's spent in ignorance? i am surplus to requirements now, my entitlement ended when she was taken and the filip afforded to me was to meet her and my grandchildren in the present.
    i found her, she did not look for me and i have to respect her decision not to be in "reunion". but adoption will continue to affect her life, her children's lives, her kept sibling's lives - and the lives of all our families. so obc access? certainly...so our children can know who they are and who they want to be, whether mothers like it or not children grow into adults and have to make their own decisions, sometimes without us, sadly.

  2. The neverending hell that seems to be my life... my daughter was a blessing. A gift when I thought I would not have any children. Then I fought, lost and it was and is like walking in hell, and everyone around me seems to think that it is okay to just ignore it and that I am a baby because I hurt, deep in my soul.

    1. Lori, adoption does so much damage to both mother and child. I know what it was like when the adult child aims to hurt, and does it repeatedly. I am so sorry. The only thing you can do is protect yourself, even if that means not being in contact, a choice I am respecting in regards to my granddaughter who was adopted. I understand the place where your statement was coming from. But adoptees do have the absolute right to know whence they came.

      Did I make a mistake in locating my granddaughter? I don't know, but after being told in words to the effect that she's "in a good place--I don't want to hear you" I took my leave and have chosen to stay away. I feel that trying to have a relationship would involve repeated rejections. I lived with that with my daughter; I will not do it again with a granddaughter who I tried to prevent being adopted.

      We cannot undo what has happened; we can only do the best for our own sanity going forward. Stay well, stay healthy, stay strong.

    2. I'm thinking of you Lori. I'm so sorry that you are in such pain.

    3. I am fine. I have survived for 53 years. I love, laugh and live. But adoption is a nightmare and pretending that I am not entitled to my feelings makes me want to scream...... I need to stop being any part of this community.

    4. Lori, I just wanted to say that I find a lot of value in what you have to say, but honestly, that is so besides the point of this forum. This should be a place where you are most entitled to your feelings. If adoption has been a nightmare for you, then you should be able to find the support and safe place that you need to vent.

      We are never the sum of a single event, or even series of events, that happens to us. But they stay with us, shaping who we are and impacting our lives, to greater and lesser degrees. Talking about it with people who share our experiences is one way to find release for that part of your life, and allow all the other parts that make up you to continue to thrive and grow.

      I do sincerely hope you don't leave here because you feel you are not entitled to your feelings in this place because everyone is entitled to their feelings, always. They are feelings, not logic, not laws, not reason. They just are.

    5. Tiffany, I like Jane and Lorraine and the value of this blog is immeasurable. While I am still considering, many of my friends that are mothers have stopped reading and coming here because of the personal attacks by adoptees and one of the first mothers. I feel trapped because I was raised to be a mother, then not allowed to be one and then the balance is gone because she hates/loves me and goes out of her way to hurt me, but if I say it I get hammered..... if that makes any sense at all.

      I am just so done with all of it. The lies, the stress, the insane beliefs about how I am supposed to behave. It isn't right.

    6. I'm so sorry, Lori. And I'm sorry if I have ever said anything personally to contribute to those feelings.

      I don't know how it feels to be a first mother, and nothing I have been through could begin to compare to it. But I do know how it feels to be told you aren't entitled to your feelings, and it sucks and hurts and always makes me so filled with anger to be told how I should feel. As if any of us have any control over how something makes us feel!

      You are entitled to feel any way that you do. Your experience is valid. And you don't have to apologize to anyone. Agree or disagree with you regarding opinions and such, I truly believe you have a right to your feelings and this is the place you are supposed to be able to express them.

    7. Lori, I completely get you. I have not had the longed for reunion - not even a chance to meet once. I know where my daughter is and she knows where I am, but she is showing no interest at all in meeting with me. And although I have 4 years of this knowledge and have put myself on hold and have let others I care about seen me crumble - I too am done - fed up with the destructive hope that has governed my life. As Hyacynth has mentioned I also know that my daughter is happy with children of her own. I am finally in a good place and am happy in myself. Time to live!!

    8. Clare Henry--I know there are many stories like yours, and conversely there are many mothers who refuse to meet their children. Adoption can never be undone, nor the harm that it wreaks upon so many. As I have said many times: The people who want to be in your life will be. You don't have to go chasing after them.

      Glad to hear that you are well and healthy.

    9. Clare Henry - I too did a search for my daughter, found her right after her 37th birthday. I know where she is, she knows where I am, but no contact per her request, now going on 7 years...
      I too am in a "good" place and living my life. I know she is happy with her life and married with a child. I am glad!

  3. ...'But ache we do. We ache in our hearts, we ache in our bones, we ache and long for the missing child. '

    Your writing is astonishing Lorraine, the way it names that feeling which is so hard to name. Somehow you have captured the depth of it in your essay.

    Thank you for all your writing. Thank you for writing at all. The immense committment you've made to those of us who lost in adoption is so appreciated.



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