' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The enduring pain of adoption loss

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The enduring pain of adoption loss

"Does the pain ever end?" asked a newly reunited natural mother.

"It's always there somewhere," I answered, "but it moves into the background as your relationship evolves."

I thought of this as I was having lunch with Anne, a natural mother friend, the other day. I had known Anne since the early 70's through Oregon politics and the feminist movement. It was only after my reunion 18 years ago that I learned we had something else in common.
Both of us had given up a daughter in San Francisco in the 60's. We went on to marry and have three more daughters. We celebrated our 47th wedding anniversaries in December.

Shortly after my reunion, when I learned through a mutual friend that Anne had also lost a child, I called her, desperate to talk to others who could understand the pain of separation and the anxiety of connection.

 Chelsea's Wedding--Jane (in purple) over the bridegroom's shoulder
Now though our talk was of our children and grandchildren, Anne had recently become a great-grandmother. Her relinquished daughter's daughter came with her new son for a visit over Christmas. I told Anne of attending my the wedding of the daughter of my relinquished daughter in November. We went on about the doings of all our progeny--their jobs, family, where they were living. One of her daughters is an attorney, as is one of my daughters. Two of her daughters live in San Francisco, as does one of my daughters,

Though there was no difference in our commitment to the children we raised and grandchildren we knew from birth and the children we met as adults and the grandchildren we met as children, adoption could not be ignored. "Did you meet members of your granddaughter's adoptive family?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered. "It was not awkward. Everyone was friendly and seemed comfortable meeting me."

"Is you daughter still in contact with her adoptive family," I asked Anne.

"She has a great connection to her adoptive mother given that they live in different towns. She also treasures her closeness to her siblings and thank goodness she loves her three additional sisters that I raised.  We did not express any resentment that one of our daughters had another family. It was just a fact.

And of course we also talked about what first brought us together--politics and women's rights. We were pleased that Bernie Sanders was in the race, but ambivalent whether to vote for him.

Other mothers are still struggling with the overreaching pain of separation. Some are searching for their lost child. Others have found someone who wants no contact. Or they have been found themselves by someone who later cuts off contact--usually with no explanation. Or they have grandchildren whose faces they can only imagine, because they have never even received a picture. Some are in deep hiding, holding onto the secret so tightly they have never told their husbands, or any children they later had. 

What I would tell these mothers is that while you cannot make someone else behave as you wish they would,  but you can accept the things you cannot change. While you suffered trauma in your young life--irrational trauma caused not by natural forces like hurricanes or earthquakes, but by human failures--this loss paves the way for deeper understanding and compassion,  It can give you the strength to work for a more just world--in my case for women's rights and adoption reform. The last of life for which the first is made. --jane  
"This was one of the first books I read as a newly discovered Late Discovery Adoptee and Lorraine Dusky's fearless candor gave me invaluable insight into the hard realities of the baby scoop era. In turns heartbreaking and joyful, the book hardened my resolve to connect with my birth mother. It is not only a beautifully written memoir but is also a strident call to action, laying bare the gross injustices practiced on the victims of the BSE that continue to echo and ripple through the individuals involved and society at large in both attitudes and legislation. Thank you so much for this book. Highly recommended."--Alyssa S. on Amazon

BE A FMF SUPPORTER!  When you order from Amazon (anything!) please do so through First Mother Forum. Just click on the links for the books to get to Amazon, and we will be credited. Thank you all who have supported us this simple way. 


  1. Thank you for this, Jane. I have to make these words sink in: “you cannot make someone else behave as you wish they would, but you can accept the things you cannot change”.

    I have participated in copious amounts of therapy, as it pertains to relinquishing my daughter 27 years ago, but I still cannot fully employ the ‘accepting what I cannot change’ philosophy. I can and have applied it to everything and everyone else, just not my daughter or her parents. Their poor behavior feels criminal to me.

    I have been writing and re-writing two letters I will never send: one to her and one to her adoptive parents. I have always found writing to be a terrific coping mechanism, especially in dealing with grief, anger and frustration. I issue a challenge to myself every time I feel compelled to draft a new version of these letters, to be softer and more understanding, but I can’t. I’m still mad and it’s been over three years since I’ve heard a word from any of them.

    I’ve considered every contrasting perspective (being adopted or adopting a child), but I still can’t grasp how this situation exists. Life is ever-changing and can be perilously fleeting. I love my life and I don’t take it for granted (likely due to losing my own mother when I was 15). If I had done something wrong, inappropriate, inconsiderate, intrusive, mean-spirited – they would be validated. However, my reunion approach was so ridiculously considerate and earnest. I entrusted them with the most important part of me and they’ve viciously turned on me and then psychologically manipulated her until she turned on me. Inexplicably, three years ago, the curtain fell and has not as much as fluttered since.

    My daughter is 27 now, and while I realize I was a different kind of 27 year old (having been on my own for 10 years by then), I don’t understand how she’s allowed this ‘no contact order’ to persist. This makes me equally as angry with her.
    Clearly, I am still very angry.

    As soon as the ‘fog’ lifted, I excised myself from the self-imposed bottom of the adoption triad. I feel entitled to these feelings and I believe we are all obligated to behave respectfully to one another. I didn’t give my daughter away. I gave her what I thought was better than me.

    My goal is to let them all go. If a magic-lantern holding genie showed up today and told me I could wish them away, I would do it without hesitation. I’m tired of this weight and I’m tired of paying the price for making a decision I thought was better for everyone but me. I put myself last and I’m still last. That’s what I call establishing a precedence.

  2. Adoption loss for mothers is hard to describe to people who aren't directly effected by it. There's this idea that at some point it stops and a mother moves on (more like the grief of death), but this is different. I've slowly accepted that adoption will always be a part of my life. My friends who are 'mothers of loss' are what has kept my sanity, because no one understands this kind of pain. I like what you said, "that it can give you a strength to work for a more just world".

  3. Losing my womb-wet baby off the delivery table to adoption was in many ways a death sentence. (And I wasn't allowed to see, touch, hold my baby or know the gender). Four decades later, it is still hard to accept that another family's survival depended on and still depends on my forever silence, demise, and disappearance. It is still hard for me to accept that THEIR award, reward, or prize was MY child in creating their cute, perfect little family, while my reward (or was it punishment?) was the erasure, destruction, and obliteration of my family. It's still hard to accept 40+ years later that THEIR happiness came at the expense of my loss and pain. It's still hard to accept that society approved of taking a baby from a "bad" young unmarried teen and giving him to a "good" married couple with money and a big house. It's hard to accept that the adopters thought their exclusive ownership of him would magically erase his original identity, heritage, history, name, and genealogy. It's still hard to accept that adoptive parents can be oblivious to the emotional needs of their adult adopted child who wants to know about the girl who gave him life. SO, for me, acceptance was and continues to be the hardest thing to live with in the false and unnatural world of adoption. For many first mothers such as I, it is difficult to find closure, peace, or acceptance even decades later. Time does not heal all wounds. I will grieve my loss until my last earthly breath. It's a travesty more money, resources, effort, and time aren't put into keeping families as are put into tearing families apart. What an evil exchange the adoption monster is. My pain will never end.

    1. Persona-I am really sorry for the pain you have. I am an adoptee and trust me my pain is equal to yours. But what I have learned is that what needs to change is our expectations. I agree that the pain of separation, the ego destruction of both real moms and we adoptees can never be forgotten(or forgiven) but all of us need to get real. You know how I look at adoption? Like we are animals in a testing lab. Even if we got saved, got out, we are not as healthy as we were before we were forced to be there. Adoptees, so many of us are psychologically numb because of closed adoption. I know I am. The years and years of having to put adopters feelings first, and the abuse of being told we can't know who are mothers are, it effects us. Not to mention that many adoptees are abused by adopters and by systems they employ to abuse us with further like psychiatry, AT and drugs. So by the time many of you find us, we are quite bluntly train wreaks. I remember a teacher saying once in school never to expect an A on a test. Assume you will get a C so if you do you won't be disappointed and you will try harder next time. Okay, maybe that is a stupid thing for an educator to say to his students but the point he made is valid concerning other situations including adoption I think. None of us can expect after all the emotional trauma we've been through and the baggage we carry to have the healthy relationship we would have if we weren't taken from each other to begin with. So I think the best thing for those about to be reunited to do is expect some problems. Don't think everything is going to be all rosy when there will most likely be thorns. Because those thorns that pierce our hearts when the relationship doesn't always go the way we want it to will dishearten us. It makes us less motivated and give up when we shouldn't. We are wounded soldiers in a war, we adoptees and first moms. And if we accept that from the get go, take a deep breath and not expect finding each other again to be the cure all then all of us have a better chance of getting to the point where we can be close. When you give birth to us, we ARE clean slates, but when you see us again we have decades of adopter and adoption industry insanity scribbled all over us and we need time to erase it like you need time to erase the bullshit they scribbled all over your sense of being a mother. I really wish women like you could sue the asses off of those you took your child, because that would help somewhat because I agree adoption is evil and it needs to end. I hope you do find your child someday and if so, please remember my words.

    2. I am sorry your words are so true. We are all liked wounded soldiers, adoptees and first moms.

  4. I searched for my daughter for many years before I finally hired a private investigator to find her. He found her within 2 weeks and because she was out of the country, talked to her brother, who was also adopted. Turns out, her adoptive parents never told her she was adopted until she asked when in her mid-twenties. She realized she didn't look or act like them so she asked. Their response to her was that I was a terrible person (they don't know me so don't know why they told her that). Anyway, we connected thru the PI and talked on the phone and emailed. She did not tell her adoptive parents we had contact because she said they would be very hurt and finally decided not to have contact with me anymore. I still email her on her birthday and Christmas and she has since apologized for wanting me to "just go away". I believe she lives with guilt for "betraying" her adoptive parents and I will always live with guilt for giving her up. The pain never goes away and I never had and never will have a normal life.

    1. What bothers me in your story...is that though your daughter was told you are a "terrible" person and somehow that became ingrained. My relationship with my daughter was accepting, but full of comings and goings as she continued to be engulfed in guilt and the desire to make "Mom" like her more. But that was a losing game. And by "Mom" I do not mean myself; I was mostly, Lorraine. When she did write and sign off as "Love, your daughter," there was PS the first time that said: Please don't tell Mom I wrote that....

      You never know what will happen. I don't encourage false hope, but it is true, you never know what might happen. People change, attitudes soften. And yet, not always. As for myself, I always think it is better to know who the individual is, rather than just wondering if they are still alive.

  5. I feel profound sadness for birth mothers. I pray that their pain can be soothed by the love and support from close friends and forums like this one. My sister and I were both adopted in Montreal around 1950. She then relinquished an infant son in the late 1960s. Recently reunited for the second time, she is grateful to be seeing him again - and his beautiful daughter. She accepts what happened. After all, it cannot be changed. But the heartache and decades of suffering will never be forgotten. My own birthmother, Joan, is a different story. I try to make sense of it given the time and culture from the late 1940s in Verdun, a borough of Montreal. Joan had 4 babies out of wedlock. She never married. I am the oldest. Joan was required to take care of me for 6 weeks at the Catherine Booth Hospital, then I went into foster care and was adopted at 8 months. I know she visited me in foster care and didn't sign for my adoption until I was 6 months old. Four years later she had a son, two years after another daughter, then around 1969, another daughter. She died from breast cancer at 54. I searched and found Joan's family and visited her grave on Mount Royal on the 5th anniversary of her death. I met her brother and asked him how Joan would feel about meeting me if she were alive. "She'd be the happiest girl in the world." I can't imagine relinquishing 4 babies. I also don't believe she was cold hearted or shallow. Her mom lost 5 babies following 4 healthy births due to her rh negative blood disease. Joan was the oldest and old enough to understand what her mother was going through. For Joan, did these tragedies somehow numb her? I am sure the pain never ended.

    1. Today my husband and I were talking about how his cousin's life turned out after she gave up a child after having to drop out of high school. She ended up giving up a second child at the end of a bad marriage. I think her tragedies without question destroyed her life and her happiness. Her name was: Joan.

    2. Lorraine, Your thoughtfulness and kindness mean more to me than you know.

      I placed an ad in the Montreal Gazette a couple of times in the mid-80s. I received a letter on one occasion telling me the paper had printed my ad under "Movers." She contacted the paper and had my ad reprinted in "Personals." Said she was a birth mother searching for her daughter and happened to see my misplaced ad, signed -Joan! No return address.

  6. It seems there are so many types of sadness connected to adoption, and yes there's no happy ending in sight. If there are little bits of happiness at all, along with the sadness, that helps. But if not, I agree, it is very hard to accept what we cannot change.

    Carlisle, I'm so sorry to hear your story, but am glad that your daughter is responding to you now, albeit in a small way. Her situation is one that we have heard of over and over again. Perhaps she will reach out to you a little more. I hope so.

    I can tell you that my younger son (I gave my two children up for adoption when they were 3 and 4) found me after 35 years, and we have been in reunion for over a year. It's friendly but distant and rather formal, and is going along slowly, but it is coming along and that's good.

    His wife found me (somehow - not easy - I admire her searching skills). His first email to me said things like "I'm glad you are not alone," "I hope you're happy" and expressed concern that I am "in pain." I thought it sounded odd - but figured, well he's being a thoughtful son and is trying to say things to put his mother at ease, if she is skittish about being contacted. OK so we exchanged emails back and forth, and a couple of weeks later his wife asked if my husband is "the lawyer" who I left the kids for - their adoptive parents told them I left to marry a lawyer who didn't want any kids! I was shocked and just couldn't believe it.

    This was a private placement, they were a nice couple who I knew (the husband) from high school, and why would they say that? The truth is there was no man involved, I was becoming more abusive and unable to control myself, and was very worried that I would harm my kids. I talked to this couple about it before the adoption and even wrote a letter thanking them, and explaining that I was abusive, and I was so glad my children would grow up without this element in their lives. They said (to a mutual friend) that they would show this letter to the kids when they were older. That never happened, and neither of my children have any memories of abuse - but grew up thinking there was a nasty man involved who didn't like kids, and Mom just "ran off." I straightened this out with both of them, as much as I was able.

    Some adoptive parents do lie, perhaps to keep small children from running away, looking for their mother. I think that was the case with my childrens' aparents, although the "lawyer who didn't want kids" part seems unnecessarily cruel. But when a child turns 18, they deserve to know the truth, I think, and not have the birth mother painted as a bad woman. It does not help her aparents and makes them seem manipulative. All you can do is be as honest as you can with her, and let her come around in her own time, if possible. She knows that you are there if she is interested in any kind of relationship, whether it is surface (superficial) or deep.

    I wish you and your daughter the best, I will keep my fingers crossed for you.

    My experience is that people lie, people lie. This has been true of my own family, my ex-husband (the father of my 2 children). It is very lucky for me that my son found him first. It didn't take long for him to hang himself with his own rope, and my son was not impressed with him.

    I just have to keep going and try not to lie to make things easier for myself. It is very tempting to do so, but my family were reverse role models - examples of how NOT to solve problems or treat people to make it easier for yourself. It's very unfortunate, but it helps me at this crossroads of my life, which is full of fear and dread, as well as joy.

    1. That is some story. My daughter's adoptive parents knew nothing about me at all, except my nationality (but not the father's and the agency certifiably knew who the father was--he was in the hospital, ect.) but...since they adoptive parents had a different social worker than I did, perhaps she did not believe ...he was the father? Who knows.

      But to make up a fake story to paint the mother as feckless just compounds the lack of integrity--when it would not have been necessary to say anything!

      I am glad to see that you added the word "joy" to your comment. Life is a combination of pain--and joy.

    2. There is joy, which is much more intense than happiness. I have found that it's possible to be happy without feeling real joy. Pure joy has come to me through the reunion with my younger son. I just wish the percentages of fear, dread and joy could shift. Perhaps with time they will, and the highs and lows will not be as pronounced.

      What bothered me about the aparents' story, was that it made me sound as if I had low morals, bad character and poor judgment. I never thought of myself as being that way. It also tended to oversimplify the situation, which is quite complex, for me, or or any mother who places her child for adoption. It waa an easy way to discourage young children from desiring to have their mother back, but - it could also instill in them a hatred of women from an early age.

      Thank goodness I can say that my sons don't have a blanket hatred of women. I always worried about that. There is some anger and resentment toward me, but not directed at all women. Of course having been an abusive mother does not make me sound much better. But right away I straightened this issue out with my sons, as much as was possible. I's important to know, I think, for whatever peace of mind it can provide - I wasn't a very good mother, but I didn't desert them for a man, never mind a man who didn't want kids. I took steps to ensure their safety, which I felt I could not preserve.

      One poor woman online (not at FMF) - her daughter's aparents told her daughter that she was BOTH a drug addict and a prostitute, AND she left the baby in a dumpster. She was none of those 3 things, but simply another teenager who felt her daughter would be better off without her. She met her daughter as an adult, who felt SO SORRY for her and can't seem to shake the idea that she was such a desperate character - as related by the aparents. I know this is an outrageous example, but it makes me very sad when aparents feel they must make up a water-proof story, or they will lose their child's loyalty and love. I just don't believe it will happen, from my perspective.

  7. The pain of not holding my first born son, of not nursing him, of not smelling his infant small. of not being there for his first steps, first words...every first he had I will never know. The grief of those losses almost made me lose my mind. I had to focus on HE SEARCHED AND FOUND ME. We have a new beginning, Feb. 18, 2000. He is in my life. He calls me "Mother." He refers to himself as "YOUR Boy." We have to cherish today and not look back. Concentrate on the joy.

    1. That is so wonderful to hear! We often hear of stories that do not have such a sweet ending and so I am glad to know yours. Thank you for telling your story here.

    2. Good advice, Anonymous. My husband often says that I should focus on the positive, and not dwell so much on the negative (sad) aspects. He says he notices that I am having a difficult time, and doesn't understand why I would have so much difficulty. Although he admits he can't imagine what it would be like to be in the situation my sons and I are in. Thank you for your comments, maybe someday the whole thing will feel better.

  8. Does the pain ever end? Yes, it does for some of us, but it takes a combination of luck, patience, and attitude. For me it ended when years of rejection turned around and I finally had a relationship with my son, and especially when he said he loved me, and started calling me Ma. Like all my sons he is not given to empty flattery or bullshit, so I have to believe him.

    I was in terrible pain for many years, first when I did not know where my son was and thought I would never see him again in this life, then when I contacted him as a teenager and he had no interest in a relationship, and persisted in that lack of interest for 18 years. All I ever wanted was a relationship with him, and without that little else mattered. It seemed that life had played a mean trick on me, especially as I was so active in adoption reform and helping others search and reunite.

    I think I was lucky that I got over picturing him as the mythical "lost baby" and was able to see and rejoice in him as a grown man with a life of his own. Maybe finding him young helped him to grow up in my mind, which may be one of the few benefits to those who now have open adoptions. Now in my art and poetry he is no longer the baby in the basket set adrift on stormy seas, but Michael the Archangel with sword, scourge of Demons and Dragons. Also, unlike some surrendering mothers I never had an aversion to babies, had another right away and then two more, and am now delighted to have a newborn grandson with one of my other sons, and my surrendered son's adopted kids as my new grandkids as well, all within a few month's time. I am so blessed.

    I am no longer grief-stricken as there is no longer anything to grieve in the present. I will always regret giving him up, and I still have to fight negative thoughts that he will disappear again, that I do not deserve to know him, but I have gotten more vigilant not to let those thoughts dominate or ruin a good thing.

    If my son had never come around, I fear I would still be bitter and grief-stricken, so I would never tell anyone else living with rejection to just cheer up, nor that it will get better, because I do not know that for anyone else, and never believed it for myself. All I can say is that I have known your pain, and it sucks.

    Jane, your granddaughter's wedding looks lovely, you all look happy and I am so glad your reunion has turned around too. I would wish that for all of us, but as they say, "if wishes were horses then beggars would ride..."

  9. Jane, you and your daughter both look very cute, and the resemblance between you is unmistakable :-)

  10. Prrsonally, I feel the grief never goes away. As a young woman I lost a piece of me. No one should have to endure that type of loss. He didn't need to lose me his mother at birth. So that some other woman could be a mother.



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.