' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What babies learn before birth

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What babies learn before birth

Lorraine, Jane and "Britt" in the early 90s. We are all so happy.
What do babies learn from their mothers in utero? Apparently quite a bit. Scientists are finding that even the inflection of a baby's cry correlates to the sounds of their native tongue and that food preferences are instilled in the womb.

While the debate at an earlier blog post over whether giving up a child for adoption imparts an initial shock that psychologist and author Nancy Verrier has called a Primal Wound raged on, I heard the end of a TED talk on NPR. What I learned was that biologists continue to collect information proving how much a mother's diet, her voice, her speech, her mental health and general well-being influences the fetus, and thus--her baby!

Annie Murphy Paul, a scientist and a mother, said that food likes and dislikes are imparted to babies before they are born because the taste of what the pregnant woman eats ultimately goes through the amniotic sac and reaches the baby, influencing the taste of what he will like later. In one study, a group of pregnant women drank a lot of carrot juice, while another group had water. After their babies were born, the group that had been "fed" the taste of carrots preferred carrot juice mixed with their cereal, and from the looks on their faces, they seemed to enjoy it more than the plain cereal. The water-fed babies showed no added preference for the carrot cereal.

But, I said to myself, carrots have a high sugar content, maybe the carrot babies were responding to that. The next sentence countered that objection to the study swiftly. Babies in Dijon, France whose mothers consumed a lot of food and drink flavored with anise--think of licorice--discovered that those babies on the first day of birth preferred that flavor. Anise is a strong, odd flavor that even adults have to get used to. Yet the babies were given anise a second time, four days later and still showed the same marked preference. 

But babies whose mothers had no anise-flavored food or drink during pregnancy responded with a reaction that can be roughly translated as yuck. As Annie Murphy Paul says in her TED talk: 
"What this means is that fetuses are effectively being taught by their mothers about what is safe and good to eat. Fetuses are also being taught about the particular culture that they'll be joining through one of culture's most powerful expressions, which is food. They're being introduced to the characteristic flavors and spices even before birth."
When I heard this, I was reminded of the many Facebook postings of some Korean adoptees about their beloved kimchi, a fermented cabbage. I've never had kimchi, and clearly a lot of Korean adoptees love it. I however did grow up liking sauerkraut (a fermented cabbage also) and Polish sausage, and it's a fair bet that my mother, whose parents came from Poland, ate a lot of that when I was in utero. Today I have a marked preference for all things cabbage: stuffed cabbage or golumpki as they are known in Polishsauerkraut or kapusta, coleslaw, even a more modern version of a cabbage dish, purple cabbage sauteed with orange juice.

My husband whose mother was of old American stock (he is descended from one of the witches hanged at Salem) and ate bland food as he tells it. He barely tolerates coleslaw unless it is slathered in mayo, and even then in limited quantities. As for kapusta, forget it! He's likely to pass me his coleslaw when we're out having burgers--as well as his pickle--which I am happy to eat. Need I add that Poles eat a lot of pickles? I remember one of my relatives brining their own cucumbers.

And as for the anise, we have one friend whose parents were both French. He is the only person I know who goes into a bar and asks for Pernod on ice. For those who don't know, Pernod is flavored with anise. I find the taste unpleasant, medicinal.  

I'm going off on a tangent here, my comments are not in the least scientific, but they do back up this point about food preferences. What about your own experience?

As for voices, newborns who heard a recording of their own mother's voice responded with interest--but did not respond to a female stranger's voice. This was determined by extrapolating from the fact that babies slow down their sucking when something else interests them, and resume their fast sucking when they are bored. Their own mother's voice was paid attention to; they ignored a strange woman's voice. Researchers discovered this when the newborns whose mothers who read Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat repeatedly out loud when they were pregnant recognized it. One of the more amusing examples of sound familiarity was that newborns responded to the theme music of the soap operas their mothers watched regularly during pregnancy.

Another startling finding was that babies cries mimic the inflection of a native tongue of the mother, and a difference can actually be heard in their cries--whether they end on an up note or down note. So we do not come into the world as tabula rasas, far from it. We come out shrieking in our mother's native tongue, prepared to eat the kind of food she has acclimated us to. To suddenly be with a stranger whose voice is odd to the baby's ears has to be some kind of shock.

None of of this means that Mozart for the fetus makes a classical pianist make or a mathematician, but it does mean that the total environment of the mother for the nine months of gestation does directly affect how the baby comes into the world. Murphy Paul says:
"Much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life--the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she's exposed to, even the emotions she feels--are shared in some fashion with her fetus. They make up a mix of influences as individual and are as idiosyncratic as the woman herself. The fetus incorporates these offerings into its own body, makes them part of its flesh and blood. And often it does something more. It treats these maternal contributions as information, as what I like to call biological postcards from the world outside."
Those of us who gave up our children after a stressful pregnancy won't find this data comforting. I was told I wasn't pregnant (when I was), had a lousy diet, and then after I learned I was indeed pregnant at nearly five months, was wracked with sadness, suicidal thoughts, guilt, remorse, and a feeling of utter hopelessness. I can't help but think about my daughter, whose myriad problems, including epilepsy and depression, probably started with me.

Knowing what we do now, it's not reassuring to hear that we did the "right thing" in giving up our children. I didn't give my daughter a better life; she had a different life. In truth, I don't see how to excuse myself from recognizing that my baby was pierced to the heart of her existence by making "an adoption plan," three words strung together to make the reality seem much smoother, to whitewash that reality. Acceptance with equanimity is the best I can hope for even after all these years. Frequent readers know that my daughter, after many years of emotional ups and downs, committed suicide in 2007.

I am writing about it here today because it may reach some woman wrestling with the idea of whether or not to give up here baby.

Though the problems after giving up a child have been known for years, knowledge of them has been drowned out by the relentless call and celebration of adoption as a win-win. It is not a win-win for the natural mother, nor the child: it is making the best of a bad situation. But often adoption is seen as a panacea for mothers caught with untimely pregnancies and no help. Instead of figuring out where the help might come from, social workers offer hard questions about how are you going to do this, do that? drowning out the bonding that has occurred between mother and child. So today I get emails from people who gave up their babies in the recent past, or friends who are trying to help these sad women. Many want to know why they didn't know the aftermath would be as bad as it is turning out to be.

If you carry a baby to term, unless you are a junkie, incarcerated or about to be a danger to yourself or your baby, keep that baby. What seems impossible today may not be so tomorrow. Know that the child you give to others to raise may be the only child you will ever have. The percentage of "birth mothers" who do not have another child after surrendering one to be adopted is around 30 percent. Apparently for some the trauma of giving one up makes it impossible to consider having another, even to keep. Apparently the aftereffect--some consider it having all the hallmarks of PTSD--for some is great.

As for the babies, the data above alone informs us that being handed over to a stranger--no matter how well meaning--causes distress in their first days. What was familiar is now gone. Some will be less bothered than others. Some will be troubled a great deal.

For mother, for child, the old adage, time heals all wounds, does not apply here.

You outta see the scar.--lorraine
Let's be civil with the comments, and let us also try not to be thin-skinned. When someone is truly open about their feelings, let us consider where they are coming from before we respond negatively.

How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

What we learn before we're born
Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
by Lorraine Dusky
"Lorraine Dusky's riveting memoir about her journey to find her birth daughter was both inspiring and heartbreaking. With passion and a sense of righteous indignation she gives us a concise history of adoption and its practices and the fight for reform by birth mothers, adoptees and others in the past few decades. With no small risk to herself Ms. Dusky put herself at the forefront of this political battle and met her birth daughter at a time when this was rarely done. As an adoptive mother I have learned so much about adoption in general, from this book and also from the political movement that has arisen from the pain of birth mothers and their children and am grateful to them. 

"I enjoyed reading about the mother-daughter relationship and seeing how similar they were to each other; both strong, stubborn, fragile and of course, their differences. The relationship was fraught with its ups and downs which is not unusual given that many mother-daughters relationships can be rocky and given their own particular circumstances. Sometimes I felt concern for each of them; empathy for Ms. Dusky when her Jane, daughter would willy-nilly stop speaking to her and concern for Jane when Ms. Dusky sometime had a hard time listening to who Jane was and what she needed if it didn't fit her agenda (the adoption of her grandchild). Yet, overall I was overwhelmed by their connection and love and fierceness. I will make sure to recommend this unforgettable book."--Adoptive mother at Amazon.


Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity
by Catana Tully

"This is the compelling life story of a young Carib child, torn from her roots in an obscure coastal town and raised by wealthy German expatriates in Guatemala City, who struggles throughout a lifetime to reconcile her European upbringing and white identity with her dark skin. Her story takes us on a multi-cultural journey from Central America and the Caribbean through Europe and then the United States, offering profound insight into the relativity of racial identity and cultural assumptions. The style of this autobiography is vivid, dramatic, and moving."--Reviewer at Amazon 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I was so deeply disassociated when pregnant and giving birth to my son. This breaks my heart...

  3. Mine too.

    It's the kind of information that women of any age need to know before they make the decision finally to relinquish a child.

  4. That's great, Mrs. Tarquin, must be the garlic:-) I do not see where any of my food preferences or music preferences were passed on to my kids, 4 guys and 4 different tastes in food and music. The one time I ever got sick when pregnant was from eating chili, and my kids all love it, also could not drink coffee when pregnant and kids all drink it. I love calamari and shrimp, one son won't touch it. One will eat anything, two meat and taters guys, two fruit lovers, one only eats selected fruits, everyone loves peanut butter and I hate it. But I can see how this can be true for some people, interesting idea. Everyone in my family loves Italian food, but doesn't everyone in the world?

  5. I had such a lousy diet during my pregnancy--lots of BLTs for dinner with a drink night after night when I didn't know I was pregnant. It certainly got better once I knew I was pregnant but I can't say that it was a good diet by any means. I saw no food preferences that related to that in my daughter; she loved potatoes, especially baked potatoes, and corn, both foods that elicit a high glucose reading in the blood. And my daughter did enjoy having a couple of drinks--no question about that.

    It's more likely that we natural mothers might find more correlation with our own food preferences and what our mothers ate--in a supposedly non-stressful pregnancy, at least compared to ours.

  6. My daughter would never admit it, but I loved coffee (strong and black) and deep dish cherry pie with Real Vanilla Ice Cream. I talked to her all the time and played music of all kinds. I walked a great deal and was very happy to be having a baby. The only stress was when her father realized I was pregnant and flipped (she still has issues with black men) and when my foster parents put pressure on me the month before she was born (she was over 3 weeks late).

    I have been told, by my daughter, that she hates talking to me because the moment she hears my voice she becomes calm and relaxed. It scares her. She hates that my voice means anything at all to her - this she has also said.

    I think that is why we will never actually have a relationship. She is terrified by the "insanity" of responding to someone she barely knows.... I know why - since she spent the first three years of her life with me - and I planned her and wanted her.

    This may be why - she drinks coffee all the time. Loves cherry pie. Eats vanilla ice cream. And she can't stop listening to my voice if she bothers with me at all....

    That, in my world is ironic and makes me laugh.

  7. Lori, your comment rings many, many bells with me, as I think I'm in a similar boat.

    My son searched for and found me, but it could be that any communications from me are, for the most part, making him sad and bringing on pain. And my older son (who was over 4 when I placed my children for adoption) has many memories of me and a lot of buried pain, which he does not want to revisit. He wants nothing to do with me, and I am not allowed any contact info for him. It's just too painful for him.

    I write just once a week these days to my younger son. I am an artist, and at first was sending samples of my artwork to him; now I feel that sharing my work with my son will just make him hurt. That's the impression I have gotten. I know it’s wrong to be afraid to talk/write, or share positive things about me with him. But sounds like his feelings are similar to that of your daughter, although he is not able to express it in words (yet). FYI, we haven't completed our first year of reunion.

    I'm still on the fence about whether I should write the weekly email (short and chatty) (for consistency, to be supportive), or whether it's not a good idea. It has been said to me that EVERY email from me to my son will bring on stress and pressure - Yet another e-mail from "Mom". I understand, but it makes me sad. And my son doesn't seem interested in talking on the phone.

    Yet I think of my sons all the time. I think it's normal, given the situation. My therapist said that my sons must always set the pace. I understand that most of the time, but it is sometimes hard to understand. I love them and want to know them. As for what they like to eat, we haven't even gotten that far in discussions yet :) in terms of the original post.

    Lorraine and Jane, would you like to make a post along the lines of how to deal with the uncertainty and worry of whether we are helping or hurting our relinquished children by encouraging them to know us, and trying to know them? Or have you already? I guess there's no "correct" answer, it must be up to the individual instinct of each mother, the situation and what she thinks would be the best. But sometimes I can't tell!
    Am I making my child by staying in touch, or am I helping him to gain peace of mind and happiness? Or a little of both at the same time?

    Adoptees, anything you would like to say, I would like to hear.

    Lori, I'm so sorry that things haven't gone the greatest in your reunion. You have had a long and difficult journey, mine is just starting. Your love for your daughter is unquestionable, and you have endured a tremendous amount of hurt for the sake of being a good mother. There is no other choice for a mother who loves their child. I wish you the best (I know it's not much help, but for what it's worth).

    1. New and Old,

      I have had enough. Being a "good mother" doesn't include being a punching bag - emotionally or physically. After the last 13 years (yep, it has been that long), and having been her emotional punching bag for that long - I am done. This last time I requested that she never contact me again. I already battle depression on a daily basis - suicide is never "not an option" for me - I don't need her crap too! She threatens me, lies, steals from me, and then she thinks I am just supposed "be the good mother" - yeah, no.

      Thank you for your kind words. I wish you well on your journey.

    2. New and Old,

      I would have to say that while I should, as a good mother, take responsibility for my "failed" reunion, I won't. I wish others well in their journeys, and I belief that is enough in life.

    3. Lori, manipulation and more importantly, opportunism, are not acceptable and not attractive qualities in an adult person, no matter their background, or childhood - at the end of the day, there is no excuse.

      At least on your end, you have done the best you can think of, and have been the best person you can be - and followed your conscience, besides your heart. Often people don't, and cannot seem to. I'm sorry that it's been such a disappointment. I have seen this happen in families, however, where all members are natural - it is an ugly side of human nature that we see far too often. So never think that it stems only from adoption. Adoption is a "reason", but it should not be posited as an "excuse".

      My family (birth parents and siblings) also treated me badly (as did yours). As many years went on, I noticed they were saying the same things in different forms - never accompanied by an apology or acknowledgment that anything unusual had occurred. The word "excuse" occurred to me, many times as we went over the same territory again and again - and the stories kept changing, lying was part of it too - and they would not budge, change their behavior or allow a two-way discussion at all. It is not acceptable, whether it is from parents, or your own child.
      Best wishes to you.

    4. New and Old,

      Thank you. I spent a long time coming to terms with my feelings. The truth is, my daughter likes to hurt me. A friend of hers once emailed me to apologize for her behavior. She said that my daughter would laugh about how she got me to send money, or how she would get big holiday packages from me... One of her ex husband's told me that she had taken pinking sheers to an afghan that I worked very hard on and shipped specifically so that she would have a birthday gift. She said it was the ugliest thing she had ever seen and that it needed to be put out of its misery.

      So, a thousand plus dollars and many tears and ruined dreams later, I realized that when my daughter said that she would get all the "gifts I owed her from all the years apart" that she totally meant that I had no value other than that.

      This last time she took her son with her....

      I am done.

      Thank you.

  8. New and Old, have you asked your sons what they want? Are you willing to abide by their answers, even if what they want is to be left alone? There is no guideline for all first mothers, and all our circumstances were so different. Only each of our kids can tell us what they really want us to do or not do. Instinct is not reliable, it is too colored by what we want, not necessarily the same thing our kids want. It is hard place to be, there are no easy answers and no magic formula that works for all.

    1. Of course if an adoptee says flat out, they want no contact, you should abide by that. Other adoptees, though, may not tell you what contact they want because they do not know. If you press them, they will just get uncomfortable. Better to maintain contact and let them take the lead.

      I heard Marlou Russell, an adoptee and author of "Adoption Wisdom" speak some years ago. She said if the adoptee (or the natural mother) is non-communicative--silent but has not demanded no contact--you should not let more than a year go by without making contact by sending a note or a card.

    2. I think it would help first mothers to be aware that their reunited child might sometimes need space and to allow for "pull-backs. It's hard, but they need to be patient if that happens. They also have an obligation to accept, respect and deal with their adult child for who they are now, not some fantasy person who never existed.

    3. Anonymous, I think adopted people need to know that mothers often need space for "pull-backs" as well..

    4. Also, adopted people need to know that we are not the fantasy person that never existed either. It is, after all, a two sided coin.

    5. I agree Lori, and I am sorry I didn't include that. I was responding to the first part of Jane's comment, and missed the rest. My bad.
      But unless there are is actual serious abuse from the reunited adult child, I tend to think the greater onus to try to make things work is always on the mother.

    6. Anonymous,

      We are all human. No true relationship is one sided. We all need to work at it to make it work.

      I was married for 28 years to an amazing human being. I am difficult, he was difficult. When he was dying, he told me to remember that no one has more value than anyone else.... He didn't like my daughter because he is the one that had to hold me as I cried and the one that had to keep me from coming apart every time she played the game. He didn't like her because he knew that she was playing on my emotional need to "fix" what I was supposed to take the blame for (my daughter's adoption was not even legal and it was state forced)... He told me over and over - let her go, honey, she is not your baby. He was right.

      The only way a relationship works if it is equal - both in good and bad.... nothing a mother can do will make it work if the adopted person doesn't want it to.

      Just saying.

    7. you know when someone tells you to fuck off they need space, i tend to follow those instructions. otherwise you just get beat up. repeatedly.

    8. Thanks to everyone for your comments. It has taken me awhile as it seems very painful to write.

      Maryanne, I feel that instinct must be used, above all - what else have we got? My first instinct is to not say or do anything that will make my child hurt. It's not easy, as this kind of relationship is just the oddest - we should know each other well, but we don't at all what the other's thoughts are. I think on both sides there is a mixture of pure joy, plus dread. That's the only way I can describe it. Joy, and dread.

      So my younger son says that he has my personality. As it happens, I am not very dynamic (aggressive) in relationships and neither is he. So we have 2 people standing there, both afraid to hurt the other's feelings. As my husband said to me though, this thing is not going along as fast as i would like it to - but it is going. No telling where it will end up, but it is going somewhere and that's good.

      At first, I sent many emails and called my son with his OK, and we talked on the phone. We also had a personal visit, and will have another early next year.

      As for my older son, he doesn't want to hear anything about me. I wrote a letter to him, which was not answered. Yes, I can honor his wishes, I think every birth parent should. To do otherwise would be cruel, I think. Common sense and conscience are the main leads in instinct, are they not? Fear is the one instinctual element here that should be considered, but must be overcome. I'm so glad that I was able to do that.

      Jane, your comment I think summed it up better than I could. My younger son might not know what kind of relationship he would like, it is too soon - and I overwhelmed him with too much contact, too much information. All I can say is I was so excited, and I love my son. But it was suggested to me that I might be sending a message that I think everything is just fine and don't care about what happened. I do care vary much. It seems the only way to proceed is to take the twists and turns, and sometimes - "twist" in the wind.

  9. i disagree with the idea of letting the 'kids' take the lead. it is unfortunate that there is no standard plan from which to customize or deviate, at least as a starting point. all other relationships in any society start with such a template, and families or lovers or business people - whatever the relationship consists of - all relationships start by accepting in part a common template and agreeing or modifying or fighting over that starting template... by blending two templates sometimes...

    it is a huge burden, daunting and sometimes insurmountable burden to ask, expect, by default or design, that the 'kid' - the adoptee - to create this common template that will speak to both parties and serve their needs as a starting point. additionally, additionally, additionally, to add to that the loneliness of having to do that completely alone. to add to that to have to in many cases start that, unbeknownst inexperienced, at a young age, add to that, maybe the first reunion was unexpected - and yes - maybe the adoptive parents were there and they hold some sway but much much less than you think. an adoptees dna can be from a birth mother, but it can be changed by the new family, the new culture, and to ask to go against one's own reprogrammed dna is asking a rejection of the self to boot (if so much is asked.)

    if indeed a first mother wants to trust and believe so strongly that her baby recognizes and is instinctively influenced during those 9 months, and after birth, why would she not continue the strength of that belief, that faith, after the day of intial contact and throughout the reunion, for life? why wouldnt she ***act*** on it - not in pursuit not in posession but in constructive desire to learn about this person's history and who they really are now (not imagined) and gain a true empathy? self-work may be needed to be able to do this. not an accusation. suppose it is a fact. are you willing to do it? are you willing to try? if yes, then saying that is important. saying, completely humbly, what can i do? is important, and, unfortunately, it cannot always be said in a way that is understandable but the trying is more important. yes, as we are aware, there is no template.

    as always just my take for what its worth

    1. Kaisa, but sometimes the separation creates more boundaries and differences, and the adoptee constantly rejects and fells put upon. After birth, the influences of being raised by others makes it impossible for the adoptee to accept or feel the bond, often out of fear of being disloyal and hurting their adoptive parents. With my daughter, as I've written, it was so incredibly obvious that her adoptive mother's hatred of me got in the way of our relationship. Repeatedly. I didn't ask her to disavow her adoptive mother but just being close to me caused her problems--problems that overrode any bonding we actually had.

      When someone has their phone number changed, how can you "act" on it?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Just a thought about strategy in reunion, something very difficult to even think about with such an emotional issue; nothing makes the other person more wary than coming across as needy or demanding that the other person fill your expectations or fantasies of mother or child. Some may draw back and away out of fear that the other wants too much or wants something they cannot give or restore no matter how hard they try. Of course everyone in a reunion does have their own wishes and needs, and it is hard not to let it all hang out to the person you find. Sometimes strategy just is not possible, you just have to be yourself while trying to take into account that the other is herself too, and hope for the best. Sometimes understanding allows people to come to a common meeting place, but not always. Every reunion that works involves some compromise and some giving up unrealistic dreams.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. Kaisa, I read your first post above, about not letting it all be up to the adoptee. What you had to say helped me a great deal and I appreciate your writing and sentiments.

      It has been under a year for me and my younger son in reunion. I don't think he is able to express his feelings or wishes yet, and part of that is the Midwestern politeness you mention :), or maybe not. He has a tendency to understate things, and I just can't tell most of the time where we are at or what he feels about our situation. I am planning to ask, as we near the 1-year mark, but not sure yet.

      My other son is very angry at me for placing him for adoption (they were placed together, with the same parents). My understanding is that he is very outspoken. If he ever talks to me, it's possible he may "tear me a new one" - but I welcome anything he has to say, good or bad, it is important and I want to hear it. I said that to him in a letter (which he did not answer. It's just too painful for him at this point).

      I can't react with fear to anything that is said or take it personally, as this is a situation I have created, and their feelings are normal, whatever they are.
      It is too late for me to be a mother - but I can be a mother figure - someone who they would be comfortable to know. My job now is to help both of my sons if I can, to reassure them they are/were loved and help them feel better about their origins (their birth parents). It would actually be better, I think, to hear a lot of comments, even if they are nasty or rage-filled, than to wonder (as is the case with my younger son) if he is hurting or angry, but just reluctant to say anything or worried that it would not be appropriate, or that I will bolt.
      Adoptees, I think if there is something you would like to get off your chest, go for it - at least it is honest and that's the best thing.

      Kaisa, I am new to FMF and so don't understand, sorry - Have you been in reunion with your mother for 20+ years? I assumed that you are still in the early phase of your reunion, but no? I'm sorry that it has been so painful for you.

      You're a good writer, and please know your input is appreciated and considered, seriously. I have thought about your comments often, the last several days. You are helping people out there, more than you can know. I am one of them.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. OK Kaisa,
      I'm glad that things are once again going along, and hope that it goes well for you.

      It's just too easy for me to recommend "going into therapy", but I can say, if it helps, that it certainly enabled me in terms of my own family (birth family) to decide whether a relationship is worth continuing, if the other party in the long-term, causes more pain than happiness.

      A therapist is just a neutral sounding board, to help gain independence as to what your thoughts and feelings mean, and how you are treated - how should that be perceived? Maybe not the way it seems?

      I mention it only as therapy really turned my life around, with my own family, and I ultimately decided to end it with them. They always treated me as if I had no right to my own feelings. I was not adopted out, but they all disappeared for good (father and siblings) when I was 6. My mother was mentally ill and violent, and they left me alone with her to placate her, keeping her out of their lives. I did not know my father or siblings at all, until I was an adult. Therapy allowed me to shore up my own point of view, as opposed to "their" point of view - that nothing unusual had occurred, they didn't have to explain anything to me at all, and my feelings of loss and anger were not acceptable.

      Only after a few years in therapy, I decided that the way they were treating me, on a long-term ongoing basis (as a skeleton in the closet), was hurting and not helping me. I note the absence of family and feel sad about that, but feel more like a whole person now and finally - at last - have peace of mind.

      I hope this does not sound like an oversimplification of other people's experiences, that's not my intention. Just for what it's worth. And it's also important to note - in an adoption reunion, things could be very sad today, and turn happy tomorrow (in the long term), or the other way around. It's just that therapy is so neutral, it's refreshing to talk to someone who does not try to influence you one way or the other, just to help you understand the meaning of what is going on.

      I think that there is an instinct behind everything. And it's quite therapeutic to unload, even if on a blog, even if it is later deleted. It's good to just say what you think, I'm all for that. What we do think can change, day by day. I admire your ability to be reflective and analytical of circumstances which are extremely difficult and confusing, at best.

      Here's hoping that things continue to go well for you and your mother; best wishes.

  10. Kaisa, I never had and do not have any belief that my kids were so influenced by me before birth, except that obviously they share part of my genetic inheritance, so I could not act on something I did not believe, and which as it turns out, my son does not believe either. I have learned that I cannot read his mind, I have to ask, not assume. Sometimes it is hard to ask, as for you it hard to be asked, but all any of us can do is try not to hurt or burden the other person, or in cases where there is much hostility and anger, allow ourselves to be hurt. The only solution is to be able to communicate, so where one party is utterly silent, the other is left in the dark. Those of us commenting here come from so many different situations, two of the women did try to raise their children past toddlerhood, and the children retain real memories of them, not pre-verbal or prenatal impressions, and that has to lend an extra layer to the difficulty of reconnecting. There is not a formula or "right" way to go about reunion relationships; we each have to find our own way through that maze, and some never make it out the other side.

  11. Obviously our children are influenced by the atmosphere of the womb. Does anybody remember what happens to children born after their mothers took thalidomide ? Major birth defects such as severely atrophied limbs--no arms, legs, or extremely small limbs. And mothers who took DES during the 50s and early 60s gave birth to daughters who largely cannot conceive themselves; a high incidence of testicular cysts as well as genital abnormalities is recognized in males.

    How about fetal alcohol syndrome?

    A lack of folic acid in the mother's system--even immediately after conception--leads to spina bifida. That is what ordinary bread has added folic acid. For pregnant women, there are special vitamins with those ingredients whose lack leads to irreversible physical problems. This is hard biological science, not some mumbo-jumbo. So it not at all surprising that subtle things like food preferences and tonal recognition of a voice can be shown.

    For anyone to say that children are children are not influenced by the mother before birth is putting on blinkers to their own end and ignoring the science of the last half century.

  12. Lorraine, I am well aware of the science and yes, remember thalidomide, FAS, and took my vitamins when pregnant, was afraid of eating or drinking the wrong things once I knew what those were. I would never deny any of that, did you really think I would? Things like food preferences may well be influenced too, and tone of voice etc. What I do not think happens is a mystical mind-reading link between mother and child forever that allows a mother to correctly intuit what her child needs or wants years later. I don't have that. Perhaps I am defective as a mother, but my kids do not seem to have that either, although we all get along well enough.

    1. maryanne, I was responding to this: "I never had and do not have any belief that my kids were so influenced by me before birth,..."

      It appears to me and others that in your determination to disavow any connection between mother and child given up you may said more than you actually believe. But you do seem to deny the science that the original piece was about, and though you say it is only about you and your sons, it reads to the people who are emailing forumfirstmother that you are denying everything other than pure genetics and won't let others opinions be stated without your continual denial.

    2. I am not denying anyone else's experiences by stating my own, which happen to be different. I did not mean to deny the science in the original posting, just said I had not experienced my children liking or not liking foods based on what I ate when pregnant. Other people said that they did see a direct correlation their kids. I don't think they are wrong, just that we had different experiences, both true. I am one person, and perhaps I am abnormal. I do not rule that out. Certainly I am the exception to the rule here. I can't help if some people read things into what I write that are not there. I could be mistaken, just as anyone else could be. I have never prevented anyone's opinions from being stated here; only you as blog owners have that capacity. I am all too aware of things that can have a negative impact during pregnancy, having just heard that my youngest son's wife is expecting and being prone to worry.

    3. Heh heh-you don't think you put down others who have different experiences all the time? or that your constant putdown of anyone who finds Primal Wound a good theory is hurtful to others? Amusing. you imply they are weak and not sensible like you. yet you are only talking bout yourself. you weren't adopted so what do you know about the other side? lots of adoptees love the idea of primal wound, it makes sense to us and is actually comforting. it doesn't put us down, it clarifies things. I will be anon, sorry Lorraine and Jane

    4. Anon, I understand you're sincere in wanting to use Anonymous, but please use a name. It's confusing for readers commenting to respond to a Anonymous at 11:53 AM or Anonymous at xxx. It also helps us get a sense of our readers if you use the same name each time you comment. So pick a name, any name. Thanks.

    5. Anon wrote on Sept 21 at 11:53 am: "lots of adoptees love the idea of primal wound, it makes sense to us and is actually comforting. it doesn't put us down, it clarifies things."

      For many adoptees, the PW theory validates our feelings and experiences. This type of validation can be pretty hard to come by in this adoption loving culture of ours.

    6. As a metaphor, the primal wound works fine for me. But beyond that, not so much.

    7. While I personally do not believe in the primal wound theory, I'm not bothered by those who do. If it comforts someone to think they have it, then it works for them. The adoptees I know don't have it.

    8. Really? What do they have? Eczema? A mild rash? What exactly do you mean "don't have it?" So they are not bothered at all by the experience of being given up and adopteed?

    9. It means the primal wound. It's a pronoun referring back to primal wound.

  13. Lorraine, I am a DES baby - my daughter was a miracle to begin with. So, yeah, my mother wanted a boy, never wanted me and made sure I knew it from the beginning. It does affect the baby - from before birth.

  14. As an AP, I would agree the gestating mom has a big impact. Many PAP would ask what food they should feed their new child from China. Many children loved the tofu from hot and sour soup, though this was opposite to the bland Congee they were fed in the orphanages.
    My daughter has an impressive sense of smell and taste that can only come from her DNA.

  15. Your comment reminded me that an acquaintance adopted a baby girl from China, and went there to live when the girl was an adolescent to her late teens. The girl adopted almost immediately to the Chinese breakfast that included pickles, her mother said, while she herself did not. Again, not scientific, but in line with what the researchers are finding.

  16. new and old, thanks for the kind wishes :) since you brought it up, i have tried therapy. i am soon 47 but i feel that means i have been an adult for 27 years, i start count at 20... 15 of those years i have had therapy of one kind or another for anxiety, depression, agoraphobia. in college i took amitriptyline that put me in a coma for 3 days, i never told any of my parents because at the time i was not close enough with any of them to do so. the latest and longest therapy was a 9 year stint with a psych who misdiagnosed me as bipolar based on my reported emotions and not my actions, at first i believed him and was scared to death i might do something crazy. he never would admit to the misdiagnosis because the drug he gave me, depakote, provided some benefit to me which im sure was a numbing of my pain and some relief to my chronic migraines. he has decided that im not biploar 2 but that i am somewhere on the bipolar spectrum and have mixed episodes of depression and anxiety. meanwhile my best friend told me just last week that i have it together better than anyone else he knows - unsolicited. of course my best friend was overlooking the agoraphobia but he was meaning mentally. anyway i havent seen that shrink now for 7 years and am off depakote completely, my mormon doctor was horrified that i was taking it all this time for migraines. now i take melatonin.

    im glad that you have had better luck with therapy. i have noticed that reading science fiction is healing - families in sci fi stories suffer all sorts of separation throughout space, time, and other dimensions yet prevail. hahaha

    one thing about my therapy that i have realized is not for me is that the focus seemed to be on evaluating whether or not to stay in a relationship rather than how to work on it.
    although therapists seemed quick to point out what i might have been doing wrong, which now that im older im sure never was any great offense, therapists never gave me any clue as to how do something right.

    i hope things go well for you, too, i read your page and you have had a lot to deal with. i would like to suggest to you the idea that although things may be awkward, silent(?), between you and your younger son, maybe being together is still enough (for him.) it is better than not being together. also what has very recently helpful to me - within the past 2 weeks - has been the intervening of my mom's husband to get us together. i dunno how that might translate to your situation but maybe there will present a third person, intermediary of some sort who can help the process along in a comfortable way? just sharing with you my new thoughts in case they might be of help i really dont know. good luck to you :) <3

  17. Kaisa, thank you. I'm glad that things are going along well for you, and hope they continue to. What you said, it turns out, is so correct - My son and his wife want to come to see me this fall. So they are coming in a few weeks. It will be rather an expensive trip for them, and my husband has asked, is her company paying for it? etc, etc. I said well, I didn't ask as it is none of my business. It looks like my son wants to see his mother! And so it will happen. He doesn't seem to want to write emails or call, but he does want to see me again, in person. I guess it is something that cannot be expressed verbally, he may not have come to that stage yet. I am so happy, and yet am filled with fear also, about it. Comes with the territory. I am taking a few days off before they come. It will be good if I'm nervous, but on the other hand, not sure I want to be alone with my own thoughts. But you were so right, and I thank you for your comments and advice.

    I do have someone comparable to your mother's husband, who is not in the center of this situation, and gives me very good advice - that's my husband. He keeps me from going over the top or doing something that may upset my son. And my son has a wife who does the same thing also. Between the 2 of them, we are moving along, not as fast as I'd like, but it's going somewhere and that's good.

    I have more to say, and hope to soon. Tendonitis keeps me from typing a lot. I hope to dictate and add further comments.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.