' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Telling your child about her/his conception

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Telling your child about her/his conception

Mothers often feel it necessary to explain the circumstances of pregnancy to the child lost to adoption. In our attempts to cast ourselves in a positive light (or absolve ourselves: it was not my fault!), we  may unwittingly send a negative message to our child. Not only were they to too unimportant to keep but they owe their beginnings to coercion, carelessness, or ignorance. They were a big mistake from day one!

We're about our defensive unplanned pregnancy. We know the questions presented from outsiders when we tell them about our child asked or not. "How could you let yourself get pregnant?" "Why did not you use birth control?" Why did not you have an abortion. "Or less kindly," How could you have been so dumb? " Conservative Christian listeners may send the implicit message" How could you do that knowing it was a sin? "

We are quick to volunteer answers. In their memoirs Sheila Ganz and Evelyn Robinson tell of being raped. Carol Schaefer's pregnancy was due to a broken condom. Meredith Hall was "a scared and lonely girl who wanted to be loved," Margaret Moorman admits "I forgot one counted from the first day of a menstrual cycle, I counted from the last. " (That was my excuse too.) Co-blogger Lorraine thought it might be time when she could get pregnant but he  pressured her. 

Other explanations: "It was my first time and I heard you could not get pregnant the first time." "He told me he would take it out." (Uh huh, adds Lorraine.) "I was raised Catholic and no one ever talked about sex." "Birth control was illegal in my state." "My Doctors would not prescribe birth control pills because I was unmarried."

The follow-up question, "Why didn't you have an abortion?" like the first, may not be asked but you feel  compelled to have a reason. "Abortion was against my religion." "Abortion was illegal." "I tried to get one but it was too late." "It was too scary." I thought he would come around and marry me. " 

A recent reader's comment got me thinking how offensive our defensive explanations can sound to our children. The reader wrote: "Probably the statement was most damaging was that she [my natural mother] did not have 'full sex' with my Father and did not know how she became pregnant--she claimed it was some kind of 'contact pregnancy.''' Part of the reader's anger was because her mother denied having sex, which the reader assumed was an outright lie. (Actually it may have been the truth; sperm are persistent little swimmers and not having 'full sex' can lead to conception.) The other part, though, is how defensive her mother was, implying that her pregnancy was the result of an act of which she was not "guilty."

I recommend not volunteering to your child the circumstances of his conception. While you may think the raw truth makes you look better--I was not promiscuous or stupid--just unlucky or betrayed--it reinforces to your child he was unwanted, the result of a regrettable error or a criminal act. It can make you look weak, unable to manage your life, and unwilling to accept responsibility.

If your child asks how he came to be, you should tell him, of course. Do it in a way that's sensitive to his feelings. "This was not something I planned but good came out of it and that's you." If asked about abortion, admit you sought an abortion (if you did) but tell him you do not regret not having one. If he wants to know more, tell him, but do it to satisfy his need to know, not to clear your conscience .-- Jane

NEXT: Telling your child he was conceived by rape

We were hacked last night somehow with comments in Vietnamese advertising surrogacy. When the comments (in Vietnamese) were translated into English, it messed up the blog, and inadvertently the blog went from American English to Vietnamese and back to English--and whoa!--what a mess. Now fixed.  

Note: This an incredibly busy month and that's why you have not seen anything from me. I'm having my kitchen remodeled and had to shop for new appliances, emptying my bank account as the contractor discovers what bad shape the old ones are in. We were also out of town for 10 days. Since I've been back, I'v had to eat at our daughter's or go out. I've been at my volunteering at my condominium. I'm back at the blog now and hope to be more productive.  
Birthmothers: Women Who Have Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories
 by Merry Bloch Jones
Ms. Jones apparently has no personal connection to natural mothers, but I read it as one of course, and found the her telling of our story to be understanding and sensitive. She did a great job of talking about the depth of grief all birth mothers endure. I was quite bowled over and ending up quoting from her in mine, Hole In My Heart: Memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
~ lorraine

Adoption and Recovery - Solving the mystery of reunion
by Evelyn Robinson
"This qualitative study arises out of the author's interactions with a variety of natural parents, persons adopted and others in her homeland and on her travels. It includes a statement by her son about what adoption meant to him and how adoption and reunion have affected his life. He describes his surprise and disappointment that his mother had tried to contact him two years before their reunion, and that his adoptive parents had warned her never to contact him again. There's a message in this for all adoptive parents."~S. F. Pace at Amazon

Writing the First Letter

Thank you for ordering any book or anything from Amazon from First Mother Forum's portals. Click on the book links to get to AMAZON. 


  1. (Adoptee). Although I imagine it would be tough to hear, I'd love to hear the truth. I'm tough; I can take it. The not knowing just plain sucks, and it's almost worse because I'm left to imagine the worst.

  2. I am an adoptee. The information came to me without my asking from many family members that were around during the time. It was a happy reunion and I maintain a relationship with my siblings 5 years after reunion.

  3. "We at FMF recommend not volunteering to your child the circumstances of his conception. While you may think the raw truth makes you look better--I was not promiscuous or stupid--just unlucky or betrayed--it reinforces to your child that he was unwanted, the result of a regrettable error or a criminal act. It can make you look weak, unable to manage your life, and unwilling to accept responsibility."

    How so? How many adoptees have screamed for the truth? I think the very fact they were adopted in the first place shows they were "unwanted" by somebody - society, the parents of the girls, the father, etc. Just because the pregnancy was unplanned doesn't mean we mothers didn't want our children. My story is I became pregnant by a man twice my age. It was a one night stand. He wanted nothing to do with it. How in the world could I pretty that up? I accept full responsibility for my actions. But that doesn't mean I didn't want my son. I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, Jane.

    1. I agree with Jane. My mother's story was eerily similar to the example about "not really having sex" at a party and then later it changed to "date rape". Family and friends have a different version. All I asked her was, "could she tell me who my father was" and she replied, "I wish I could help but I just don't know." Then the stories of my conception evolved into making her a victim. I lost all respect for her based on her unwillingness to tell the truth. Telling the truth is not the same as sharing every gory detail. A little tact is always appreciated even when being honest. My mother also said giving me up was one of the hardest things she ever did; however, she just couldn't make the leap to empathize with my feelings over her ever-changing stories and unwillingness to help me figure out who my father is. We no longer have a relationship because of this.

    2. This is very similar to my story as well. For a long time my mother offered no explanation of who my father is/was. Out of respect, I left her alone, realizing that this is an emotional minefield for her and I was content to know at least half of my background. It took her a long, long time to relate the story of my conception and when she did there were ever-changing stories and half-truths, she changed bits and pieces of her own story multiple times, evidently unable to remember what story she had told me the last time.The common thread running through the stories around my conception always revolved around her being a victim, but then she would double back and say no, she was no victim-she enjoyed it?!? As Lynn says, a little tact is always appreciated.
      I cannot say with certainty that the man she named was/is my father. The man she named is dead, the brief contact I made with other family members denied his paternity, strangely I think that they are telling me the truth due to other information I have been able to collect through various means and cross-examine. My mother and I no longer have a relationship due to this. It is sad.

    3. I guess many of us mothers knew that walking through the reunion door required full and absolute disclosure. I'm sorry for Lynn and anonymous - the wishy washiness of the stories must have made your heads spin. I was honest. I felt that at least I owed my son that much. I told him who his father was in the first e-mail I sent. Thinking he might not want anything to do with me, I wanted him to have information. The choice to accept the truth or not was then up to him.

  4. Jane was saying that how you present the information to the child may reinforce any feelings of abandonment or sense that we the mothers didn't "want" them. There are so many reasons why we gave up our babies, gave up fighting against the tide, gave up against the will of the societal norm, gave up because we couldn't fight our parents, the father of the child, gave up because we were supposed to do the "right thing" and that was giving up our babies. Jane never meant that despite everything, we didn't "want" our children.

  5. Part of the problem in some instances seems to be that we ( adoptees and FMs) tip toe around each other trying desperately not to hurt the feelings of the other. In my situation, I have begged for some truth from my FM, but she is paralyzed for whatever reason... Unable to tell me who my father is or the circumstances of my birth. I have tried to let her know as best I can that I have no judgement. I only seek the truth. I can empathize whole heartedly with whatever she can share with me, but still she is unable. Unwanted? No shit! That's a given, isn't it? But what was a 16 year old Catholic girl in the 70's to do? I get that... As best I can. Really! Oh, how I wish she could understand that I just need to know. But you get it; hopefully someday she will. Until then, I wait.


  7. The words are all Vietnamese. You could run the comments through a translating program online and will see what they said in their comments in response to the post. Looks like a hack by an unhappy reader, maybe?

    I also was not happy with this post when I read it last night, but upon reading it again, I think I understand it. Don't "volunteer" information that may be hurtful, without being asked - but do provide the truth if your child asks, and is interested. Don't be afraid to tell the truth, even it makes you look bad! But don't hit your child on the head with bad and sad stuff if it is not necessary! Jane, is this what you meant, actually? I think the post is worded in a way that could be easily misunderstood, on first read.

    I am having some of these issues right now. There are a couple of truths I would like to tell my sons, I think it would help them to understand why I placed them for adoption - which was for their safety and protection. But my therapist and husband say not to, and my son has a limited capacity to process information that is "intense" (his word). It is the truth, it may be freeing, or it may make me look much worse to my children, and might be too hurtful for them to consider. I'm on the fence about it, and on the fence about Jane's post. But it's all about my sons right now, not about me any more. So I don't want to hurt them, even unintentionally. I guess my reasons for wanting to share the info are selfish.

    But good luck with the fixing. Hope that all will stay well.

  8. Fixed.

    Jane and I have some disagreement on talking about stuff to our reunited children (that's what makes a horse race!) and I will be posting soon about this issue. Stay tuned.

  9. I asked.

    The first time we met, I asked my mother for my story. She told me about her time in the hospital, with some omissions meant, I think, to make the story less harsh (I gather the nurses were, at best, very cold to her). I asked again later, and she told me that she would tell me everything, but needed some time. I appreciated her honesty, and as she's said once since, if she wanted to lie about it, she would have made up a story that was more flattering to herself.

    She told the story kindly, acknowledging her youth factored in to the "decision-making" that took place. I wanted honesty, but I also needed her to acknowledge me, the person that came out of all those decisions so many years ago, and she did.

    The other side of my family has been much less kind, but there's no relationship to worry about when you're rejecting someone, I guess.

    And I think you can't entirely go wrong following the adoptee's lead on this, within reason. It is hard to ask the questions we want answers to -- we know we're bringing up things that our first mothers may prefer to forget. But at least for me, when I was finally ready to ask, I was also ready (as ready as I could be) to hear the answers.

  10. Adoptee here. Reunited with my mother when I was 21. She told me at the first meeting that theirs was "not a love relationship" so I would not get my hopes up. She was tactful and honest, but did not overwhelm me with details.

    A few years later, she got word that I had a false impression about *where* the conception took place, so called and asked, "Do you want to know what happened?" Wincing, I held the phone away from my ear and gamely said, "Sure." She told me without TMI that he got her drunk and alone and took advantage in his car. This was in a small town in the early 1960s: No birth control.

    I was the one who told her this would be considered "date rape." She never thought of it that way. I'm sure he didn't either. But when she is inebriated, does not give consent (actually says 'no'), and he gets her out in the middle of nowhere with literally no escape....yeah, I'd call that rape.

    I always appreciated how my mother never claimed to be a victim even when she could have, and always took responsibility for her own actions. She's a wonderful person and I know I'm lucky to have her as my mother.

    1. Elle, my guess is that it is likely your mother told you maybe more than you wanted to know at the time, but my guess is that she wanted merely to correct your impression of what had happened, and felt you could hear the story without jeopardizing your relationship. It sounds that you two have a good relationship today.

      As I wrote myself in an earlier post about rape, it wasn't until I saw the movie, The Accused, that I realized how I felt about what happened to me when I broke up someone I had been seeing. When I read the short comments about some of the Cosby victims, I learned some of them felt the same way about what he did to them.

  11. I think this post is slightly mistitled; there is no need to tell any child about their conception, as long as they know how that is usually accomplished:-)What is wanted by most adoptees is the truth of their background, which includes the father's name and where he is now, if you know, anything you can tell to help find him if they want to. If you were in a relationship and knew him well, anything nice you remember about him is good, or about his family if you knew them.

    Certainly answer honestly any question the adoptee asks, but always keep in mind your side of the story is only your take on events, and the father and others involved at the time may see it very differently. That does mean anyone is lying, just that a long-ago traumatic event can be remembered different ways by those affected.

    If it was a brief relationship, one night stand, or you did not really like the guy, you need to be honest but need not elaborate. If the child was the product of a rape, I have no idea what to say, that just seems so traumatic for both mother and child. It should be enough to just say it happened, I do not think you have to hold back about how you feel about a man who raped you. There was no relationship, there was just abuse, and ugly as that is, it is your son or daughter's truth, something they will have to live with just as you have.

    For myself, there is nothing about my child's father I want to forget or would not tell my son, but that is many years into a relationship that developed with glacial slowness, and that began in profound love. Every reunion is different, and we all have to play it by ear to some extent, there are no experts or fool-proof guidelines on what to say or not say.

  12. As with so much, the devil is in the details. My son wanted to know the circumstances surrounding his conception. I told him. He never asked for the details so I didn't give them.

  13. I'm an adoptee and a hurting one at that as today is supposed to be the happiest day - anniversary of my reunion (after a second rejection).. one that is now in ruins. I spent most of yesterday in tears. I realize this is perhaps a little bit off topic, but it is where it is because my mother has been abusive since before I was even born and although in a different way, continues to be - which is why I finally had to close the door.

    While I'm sure the majority of mothers were caring and were maybe caught in various compromising situations with men, mine was not. She was the instigator. She treated my father like crap. Then she proceeded to treat me like crap.

    My point is.. she told me my conception story with details I didn't want and didn't ask for. Everything about it is now affiliated with her hatred for me - and yes it hurts like hell. She even went so far as to tell me where it happened and what song was playing. She has conveniently moved halfway across the continent to an area with no physical reminders, while I'm left living in the same city where all of this happened. I go to great lengths to circumvent areas where I know things happened. I dread listening to the radio or any other situation where I'm not in control of the music for fear of "that song" playing as well as some others she's mentioned that are part of the abuse.

    The adoption is one thing. But her behaviour outside of that (but related to it) has been atrocious and I say without exaggeration that she has ruined my life. I have had to go for help and I feel paralyzed in my own life by her actions because I'm no longer free to just be. That awfulness is like a poison that has seeped into every aspect of my life.

    I've been reading here for a few years now and I believe that most of the mothers who post are genuinely loving and caring people who have been badly hurt. I know the children in these circumstances aren't always perfect either. But I'm one who just hoped my mother cared even just a little bit. And she didn't and still doesn't. Please just be kind to each other - on both sides and have compassion. It sucks no matter which side you're on.

  14. Mothers come in all sizes and shapes and personalities and I'm sorry yours has been so difficult and hurt your further. Perhaps others mothers reading here who haven't gone into reunion yet will take your story as a warning. Some people have no idea how much damage they can do with intemperate words.

    The one time that I spoke negatively of my daughter's father, she immediately asked me to stop. I hadn't even said much, and my anger was directed at the fact that he was avoiding meeting her--yet she didn't want to hear anything bad about him. He's my father, she said. I learned my lesson and never again said anything in the least negative about him. Mothers should take heed, and use their heads about what they say about the father to the child.

    Children of divorce have the same issue. My husband's exwife did all that she could to poison their two children against their father. Consequently there was a major hiccup with one of them due to the ex's rants, but that's over and now he has a great relationship with both of them. In fact, in one case the attempt to poison them against him led to a stronger relationship--so the angry words completely backfired.

    The same could happen in an adoption situation and cause the same pulling away from the mother down the road.

  15. Lorraine, you mention how your daughter could not tolerate it when you spoke negatively about her father. I and other adoptees feel that same way when our first parents speak negatively about our adoptive parents, or vice versa. Comments, observations and criticisms should be reserved for the adoptee, and for no one else.

    Back to the subject at hand, first mothers might want to be aware that the first father might volunteer information about the conception even if the mother won't. Or other family members may tell. So, you may not be able to shield the adopted person from anything.. I have a letter from my father that tells me a lot of unnecessary details about the day I was conceived. What my first mother was wearing, the time of day, the number of minutes he was in her apartment on that occasion. It was almost like he was boasting. Women may be squeamish about talking about the details, the men may have no qualms.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean when you say comments and observations and criticisms should be reserved for the adoptee and no one else. do you mean that only the adoptee should be able to pass an opinion, even If it is mild? Please clarify.

  16. Rebecca, I'm glad you spoke up about natural mothers speaking badly about adoptive parents because we hear about that happening with some regularity. While I eventually heard from my daughter (and in time with nodding agreement from her daughter about how my name could not be mentioned without "Ann" (the adoptive mother) making a snide comment or getting up and walking out of the room. I would go visit and she would be mostly friendly, but in time she really grew to hate me, I heard. I knew I had to say nothing about Ann, always maintain neutrality, no matter what. I knew that if I said something about Ann, it would put my daughter in the position of defending her and distance my daughter from me. Not saying anything meant that Jane, my daughter, Ann's daughter, would feel comfortable in confiding in me and feel that I was her support, not someone she had to navigate around.

    What I remembered was my mother saying at some point when I was in college and she knew someone in her family was trashing the boyfriend of a cousin, she said--What if they end up getting married? Then you--now the mother-in-law--have created a problem with your daughter (or son) that you don't need to have and it will never be set right. I thought, Smart advice, Mom! I never imagined that I would end up remembering it and applying it in such a different situation.

    Your father's behavior is nothing short of bizarre. But yes it's true, other people adoptees might meet who know something of the relationship/encounter may be only too happy to volunteer information or say something that they assume you already know. Think how may adoptees--especially in times past--learned of their adoption from cousins, neighbor's kids, aunts, etc., often who thought the individual knew. Everybody has to use their head and decide what to tell, what's too private. Maybe he thought telling you more made it a nice memory? That he remembered his involvement in your life--and your mother--fondly?

    Rebecca, how did that letter make you feel? About him, about your mother?

    1. I think behavior was too bizarre. It was the best explanation of why I was conceived and why I was adopted that I ever have received. The details he gave were meant to help me understand that the encounter was an impulsive act of passion. He and my mother had been in a long term relationship but were already broken up. This final sexual encounter was done out of familiarity and to scratch an itch. Adoption was the logical outcome of the pregnancy. They weren't going to raise a child together, they no longer had that kind of relationship.

    2. Have you ever asked your mother about this? About what happened "that night?"

      It sounds like you have your father's side of the story, designed to make him look good, probably, but haven't heard what your mother thought or expected when they met. Unless you asked for more information, she probably thought you didn't want to know more. Silence is a killer here. If you didn't feel free to talk to your adoptive mother about say, being adopted, you may have felt you shouldn't ask this other mother all that you wanted to know either.

      "Already broken up" doesn't square with making love. Your mother may have had entirely different expectations than your father did and men, well, men are mammals and the drive to procreate as widely as possible...is quite different in men than it is in women.

      Whether we like it or not, whether the details of the sexual encounter are not what we as thinking beings would like it to be--that is how the human race survives. In places like Kyrgyzstan, brides are still claimed by rape. That may seem off point, but it does show how deep the instinct to spread one's seed goes. I grew in understanding about the human drive to procreate after I read Frans De Waal's book, Our Inner Ape. We are supposed to be more sophisticated because we "think," but we much of our instinctual behavior is mirrored throughout the animal kingdom.

    3. Well, it was "that morning," not night. I shared my birth father's version of the day I was conceived, and my birth mother agreed with it. So, I'm going to believe that story. I suspect there is more on her side though. I've pieced together enough information to postulate that I was a "breakup baby," i.e., my mother did not use protection on that occasion because she subconsciously wanted to stay with my father. This she has denied when I asked her, so I don't push it. If it were true, why would she need to admit it? It does not really matter, the outcome was the same.



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