' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Making the first contact with a first mother: What not to say

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Making the first contact with a first mother: What not to say

"One reason I had searched for [my birth mother] was that I wanted to tell her that she'd done the right thing. I always felt she deserved to know that" wrote Jean Strauss in Birthright. "I proudly said it now on the phone, sure this one sentence would make her feel good about her decision thirty-three years earlier to relinquish me for adoption. 'You know, you did the right thing when you gave me up.'

Her answer burst my hallucination. 'I'll never believe that. I should have never let you go. I wish I had taken you and run.'"

Strauss is not alone in her lack of understanding of the dynamics of surrender. We mothers who have ached for reunion are roiling under the long buried grief of loss, and yes, guilt, even if we don't recognize it as such. We someone thanks us for something, the usual response is something along these lines: Oh, you deserved it; I'm so glad you liked it; or, It was nothing. Anyone can see how none of the typical responses to "thank you" fit the situation. We suspect that mothers who hear the "thank you" that seems to be popular today feel a tad weird but ignore thinking about how to react because they are so glad to be found.

What does a "thank you" really imply when said to a first mother by her child? Thank you for giving me up because I've had a better life than I would have had with you. I got this great education you never would have been able to afford, I have a life that is of a higher social class than yours...I made out just fine so thank you! 

Now we suspect that adoptees who want to say "thank you" don't understand the meaning that creeps into our mind, or we hope they don't--but that attitude has spilled out some adoptee memoirs. Sarah Saffian's Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found comes to mind. (As we recollect, Saffian didn't say "thank you" because she was uncertain about being found in the first place, here we are talking about the general attitude her memoir conveys.

Here are some more clueless comments that we have heard from adoptees which make us cringe:

I want to find my my birth mother to thank her for giving me the wonderful life I have. (See above.)

I want to thank my birth mother for giving me to parents who love me. (Ditto.)

I know you gave me up because you loved me.

I'm glad I was adopted.

Jean Strauss's first memoir
I want to thank you for not having an abortion. (How do you know that it was even on her mind? And what if she had thought about it? Or couldn't have an abortion?)

It was God's decision.  (Double cringe! That means God selected me for this private hell.)

I just want to know my history. 

I only want to know why I was given up.

I just want to know who my father was.

I'm only interested in my medical history. I don't need to upset your life.

I already have a mother. I don't want another.

I have the best possible parents, I'm just asking for....

I don't hold any judgement towards you now. That was in the past. (Really, when did you stop being judgmental about me? What did your parents say about me? They must have made me out to be a slut.) --Thanks to our reader Cindy for this one.

From adoptee Kristin Chenoweth: "I count myself lucky to have a birth mother who loved me enough to know she wasn't ready to be a mom." --writing recently in the Huffington Post.

So what's wrong with these narratives? For starters, they assume incorrectly that mothers were fully informed of the ramifications of adoption, and made a well-thought out, rational decision. The truth is that many of the decisions were made by the baby's father, the mothers' parents, religious authorities, and social workers. For many, the cultural morals of the times pretty much dictated adoption as the only answer. Mothers, particular those who were teenagers, had no say at all. Zip.

Older mothers like both of us were so indoctrinated with social mores that we believed that society demanded that we give up our babies. Neither of us had men willing to assume responsibility. The two parent family was a concept drilled deep into our subconscious. We needed to suppress our basic instincts crying for us to nurture our children to give our child a father. We had to spare our families the shame of bringing a bastard home, we had to do what was "best" for everyone, blah, blah, blah.

Many mothers lacked resources; no one offered to help with medical bills or childcare. Others wanted to protect their babies from their fathers who could be violent. Some were convinced, as Jane was, that no matter how hard they tried, they could never stack up against the imaginary adoptive mother.  The one thing we all had in common was a lack of information. We believed, we trusted, we did not know.

Adoptee statements sugar-coating their abandonment are also grossly insulting to mothers. They say in effect: "Any person selected by an adoption agency or attorney would have been a better mother than you. You are inferior to my adoptive parents. Who I love dearly. They gave me a great life."

When adoptees make these insensitive statements, they want to believe, as they have been told, that adoption is a good thing, and thus their adoption had to be the right thing. They can't get their head around the harsh truth that their mother gave them away.  If your own mother doesn't want you, something must be wrong with you, or her. Much better to come up with apparently sound, even happy reasons, for her actions which were contrary to everything you've been taught about mammalian behavior--that mothers cherish and protect their offspring.

Perhaps the adoptee has been tutored by an adoption counselor--someone of the same mindset as the one who told their mother that if she loved her child, she would give him up. The adoptee believes that telling her mother she did the right thing would allay her fears. Hearing them, she won't hang up the phone when they make THE CALL.

And then there's the adoptive parents. By minimizing their reasons for searching, adoptees enhance the status of their adoptive parents. They feel less guilty--and many do--when they convince themselves that their goal is only for medical information or to know why they were adopted or to assuage grief she may have rather than admit--horrors!--that they truly care about their mothers and want to know someone who looks like them, starting with the woman who gave birth to them, hopefully find some siblings.

At best these statements splash off the minds of the first mothers who hear them. Some are quick-witted enough to reply to what the statement actually signifies and how it feels to hear it, like Strauss's mother. Some respond by slamming the door shut. It's possible that the gobbledy-gook of modern agency-think and subtle adoptive-parent indoctrination over the years has led to first conversations with, and letters to, birth parents that has harmed--rather than helped--reunions at the first stage of reconnecting. The first mother hears the possibly defiant, not-quite-buried anger from the adoptee, and not surprising her reaction is to mentally head for the hills, especially if she is facing having to tell her husband and other children about this lost child. Or if she has buried the sorrow so deep that the thought of revisiting the pain of loss throws her into shock and trepidation over what is to come if she opens the door.

While we humans all focus on our own fears and needs, adoptees who hope for good reunions, or even just a civil one, are advised to be mindful that first mothers are part of that equation. Go into a reunion defiant and angry, and your first mother is likely to pull up the welcome mat at the first opportunity. She is thinking--Why upset those who love me--my husband and your raised children--in order to meet someone who treats me like I am no more important than a resource for a school assignment?

Now having said all that, and knowing that adoptees do read FMF, we realize that some birth mothers will recoil and refuse reunion of any sort, even when adoptees come to them with the best of intentions and attitude. From our own limited experience, we hear that those fearful mothers who are contacted and counseled by other first mothers, or especially understanding social workers, are more likely to turn an initial No into a Yes. But the world is not like that. A great many confidential intermediaries--and they are the only recourse in many states--do not understand the fears and emotions of first mothers, or adoptees, when they make contact. This is why whenever possible adoptees should make contact themselves. While it is correct to say that everyone has a "right" to their medical history, and the true names of their birth parents, some mothers will feel they also have a "right" to privacy. Unfortunately, the adoptee-rights movement gave birth to language from legislators, conveniently misinterpreting the original intent of sealed-records legislation, that includes the "right of privacy" of birth mothers. Yet that is a flawed concept: you give birth, the child always has a right to know who you are.

So what should an adoptee, hoping for the best reaction, say to their first mother? Say something along these lines: "I was born at XYZ on XYZ date and I think you might be my mother. Can we talk? Is this a good time?" Saying less rather than more might be called for. Just pause. The emotions hitting her are going to be intense. Assume she's not expecting the call, and those words are hitting her like a rocket to the brain. Give her a moment to process everything. Don't tell her you only want medical information at this point, unless she asks what you want and it seems clear she's fearful and about to hang up. Tell her you don't want to hurt her, but you would like to know her and know about the circumstances of your birth. Tell her you had a good life if you did. Tell her about yourself today--and don't forget the grandkids she now has. Just don't imply in the least that your "good life" is "because you gave me up." She might even say that eventually herself, but let her be the one to come to that conclusion. Most of all, let her know that she means something to you as a person.

To first mothers we add this advice: If you want a good reunion, don't recoil if you hear words that hurt or bother you. Ignore them and simply express your joy at being found. Your child has been living in an age that has promoted various language and ideas that may be far from what you feel, but don't shut off communication because you initially don't like what you hear. In time, you can say why the words put you off at first. Lorraine's daughter eventually told her that she understood why she, Lorraine, made the decision she did. Her daughter added that because of her epilepsy, and her family's great health insurance, she couldn't see how Lorraine could have managed that. But the words were not said in smug defiance, and in fact, comforted Lorraine. Said in a different light, early in the relationship, the sentiment might have stung. Sometimes, it's all in how and when you say it.--jane and lorraine

What's with Jane's eye?  My eye was removed in 1999 because of a tumor. I make the patches myself and try to color coordinate them with my outfits. These patches work much better than pirate patches which move around and bulge out. I have an artificial eye. I do but I don't wear it because it doesn't have secure retention and doesn't look natural. It doesn't move and the eyelid does not close.

Kristin Chenoweth on 'Lion' and Adoption

From FMF
Telling your Birth Mother She Made the Right Decision is Wrong.
Thanks to all who order through FMF...just click on the book titles or jackets to get to amazon. Anything ordered through FMF sends a few cents our way.
Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A comprehensive guide, albeit a bit dated it did provide many different perspectives that one must be sensitive to 
before making/taking the leap toward looking for your birth parents. I highly recommend this book to anyone serious 
about sensitizing themselves for their search. It has comprehensive tips on where to start and how to compile your 
information as you search. Not everyone I have met has been successful even with all the modern (DNA testing) 
available today. This book focuses on the other tools in your arsenal; good old fashion detective work.
Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited
By Mama Mia on March 12, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wow! This book had me mesmerized! I finished it in six hours. I can't understand how those at the adoption agency 
could justify doing what they did (don't want to give anything away for those yet to read the book) and do it with a 
clear conscience! I feel for the sisters, the unanswered questions, their unexplained sense of loss while growing up. 
I have watched interviews of the sisters, and they are both intelligent, accomplished business women. They finish 
each other's sentences, they both talk (wildly) with their hands, lol.


  1. I'm an adoptee that has a full open mind to all those affected by adoption and whilst I find your views amendable it is a hard road to go down for anyone searching and this is important to recognise from all that are affected I dont know if there is a wrong or right when it comes to these matters just a lot of love and empathy understanding is required the adoptee has a right to answers I feel they where the unspoken voices at the time of adoption and that should be respected as much as Mothers and whatever made them give up there child so lets consider all views in order to have a healthy out look here ! Regards Kylie Masters ( Adoptee ).....

    1. i don't know if i understand what you are trying to say. While jane and lorraine feel they chose adoption and felt some guilt, more first moms like Strauss's mother, had as an only other choice was to find a time when no one was looking and grab their baby and run, hardly a real choice. most all real moms weren't told of the programs to help young moms get on their feet. and while those who agreed to surrender feel guilty, if they had fought, like some of us did, they would have been met with threats of jail, cps, financial ruin or all of the above. this tactic is still used on girls today. just trying to say a respectful thing to do is not assume she had a choice.

  2. I am 67 and time is not helping ,I cannot turn back time although if it were ever a syfy possibility ,I would have never allowed anyone but myself to hold my wanted baby.My super wall that is always a dead end as far as any search was the agency itself telling me they lost my 1sr\t letter to let him know who I am without giving out the agencies strict code of witing only what they edit .I only wrote about what others say nice things about how I am .I love helping others and I am hard working .At a certain time in my life I did have the worst devastion in my life,losing my child and searced so long ,intill the computer was invented but it only told me to get in touch with the agency.I am trying my best not to say anything that will be later blanked out as I am following their rukes the best I can,This is what I wrote to him more or less .It is not exact as it's been 18,19 ? years plus the 1st one that moved in my home town .My son was at least 21 when I tried -him being of legal age,I heard fom the 1st agency back then that the Adoptive M did not want me to ever have any connection and I did not and could not have spoke to him or wrote.The last one was a made up story and I had others to agree with me due to all the detailed written calls made to agency by me and VS .The stories told to me got worse each time with something not adding up each time.In the end the social worker told me my son could have been a lawyer ,as that's what she told me he was on the second call me to her.I will only have contact or a call from my son if my state decides to follow the rest of the ones that approve on giving out birthcertificated and all information inside the secret paper.

    1. there are fb pages that search, merely post a photo holding a poster of your search/birth information. and there's www.adopted.com hang in there

  3. First contacts are terrifying for both first mothers and adoptees. What to say, what not to say, nerves on edge. My lost son had no idea of his history and only had several decades of adoptive parent indoctrination which had shaped his image of me. It has taken much patience, gentleness, and consideration on each side to reach a point of respect and understanding. It could have gone the other way very easily, as reunion is like a powder keg of pent-up emotions for both adoptees and first mothers and full of perils and land mines even under the best of conditions.

  4. The confidential intermediary was helpful in my reunion 12 yrs. ago. My first son was 35 at the time and had 4 children. The first in person reunion was 6 months after we spoke and that was very emotional also. My two raised sons went with me on a 2nd trip to meet their half brother 2 yrs. later. It seemed then that my first son was pulling back from me. But we kept up 2-3 phone calls a year and Christmas gift exchanges. Then the phone calls were fewer and further between and then no calls. No explanation other than I'll come to see you. Now I have a much better phone reunion with my only granddaughter and her mother and hope to meet them in person in the future. My son called me last a year ago to tell me he was getting engaged. No word after this. It's been hard being shut out but I look to my husband and our raised son's for their love now.

    1. You are making the absolute right decision for yourself. Since it doesn't sound as if your son is pushing you away--just not making contact--there is no reason you can't send a present of some sort for his wedding--maybe even send some small family object. Or if that seems too much...something else. But I'm glad to hear you are taking care of yourself.

  5. A not-so-trivial note: thank you, Jane, for your matter-of-fact announcement about your eye. I already knew that you'd had one removed, but your straightforward discussion of how you choose to live with the situation day-to-day was downright bracing.

    My middle son was born in 1989 with a string of medical diagnoses that scared me (and his dad, of course) to death. Yet we all learned to live with them, and to explain what was going on. It was difficult to be put in the place of comforting (!) my mother-in-law and pediatrician, but it's worked out. Our son is radiantly alive and reasonably well, thank Maude.

    Oh, and least welcome response? "Better you than me; I couldn't handle that."

    "One learns," I replied.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. B.

      Adults never ask about my eye even though of course they notice it. So I try to bring it up. Some then tell me that Sammy Davis lost an eye but you couldn't tell because he had a false eye. Then I explain that I don't have any muscles left in my eye so my false eye can't move and look natural while Sammy lost only his eyeball so he could have a natural looking prosthetic. That tends to end the discussion.

      Small children, even children as young as a year old, notice something is wrong and they stare and stare, trying to make sense of it. Rather than waiting for their embarrassed mothers to tell them to move along, I approach them and explain that I had an owie in my eye and doctors had to take my eye out. Fortunately, I tell them people have two eyes so I do just fine.

    2. First, thank you so much for the original post.. my "first mother" was found yesterday. I am 42 years old and have been searching for 25 years. Just didn't know how to do it until I got professional help..now for that scary phone call...

      Second, I can kind of relate to the eye thing. I have a large birthmark causing my left earlobe to be large and purple, and my left jaw to appear swollen. I often see parents "shush" their children for staring and/or asking about it. I usually berate (albeit gently) parents for doing that. I remind them that questions are how a child learns. I have no problem explaining to them that it is a birth mark, and to their parents that it is actually a Veinous Malformation, and what that means. Thank you for your honesty and openness about that too.

    3. I am excited for you Ron. Let me suggest that if your mother seems unsure or frightened (not unusual), you might suggest she contact CUB for help in finding a support group, take a look at FMF, and read Lorraine's books and other first mother memoirs. When my daughter contact me, I was pretty much in the dark. Learning about CUB, AAC and the books was a life-saver.

      After you catch your breath, write us.

  6. Many times adoptees truly feel that way-grateful and happy with the family they got. If that's the way they feel, part of what the mothers who gave them up should handle hearing.
    Some adoptees did not find a good place, and to me that is the hard news to hear

    1. It's common for adoptees to link feeling happy with the family they got and feeling grateful, but these are two separate things. Mothers are glad, even over-joyed, to hear their child got a good family. However, when the adoptee says they are grateful -- often before they have even met their mother--mothers hear the adoptees say that they would have had a bad family if their mothers had kept them. It's clear to the mother that their child has bought into the cultural assumption that unmarried mothers are per se bad mothers. Of course some mothers will "handle hearing" their child's gratitude because their esteem is so shot by giving up a child. Others will turn their backs.

      In short, if adoptees want to engage their mothers, they should not start the conversation by insulting them.

  7. I just want to know my history.

    I only want to know why I was given up.

    I just want to know who my father was.

    I'm only interested in my medical history. I don't need to upset your life.

    I already have a mother. I don't want another.

    Adoptees say these things because they feel their real mother didn't want them. They feel hurt. Many of you don't seem to understand that adopted kids are never told anything growing up. Only that "she couldn't keep you", "I don't know why", "I don't know her name". Never that our mothers loved us. Or didn't want to give us away. So many adoptees feel from the beginning they were unwanted, that is why they are defensive when they talk to their real moms for the first time. I think first mothers should be more understanding about that because we got just as screwed over as you did ya know.

    1. We totally get it. That's why we wrote this post. The adoption industry and many adoptive parents have turned your original mothers into the woman that they hope she is: cold, uncaring, has another life, and doesn't want to be reminded of you. We can understand your feelings but imagine your mother is the opposite. Just asking for information and medical data makes her seem like a filing cabinet, not a person who cried for months and never got over losing you. There are mothers who have buried their feelings and not told anyone, but adoptees should go into the first call without any preconceptions. You two --mother and child--are meeting and it is a new birth for both of you, no matter how much you love your adoptive parents.

      We totally understand how screwed adoptees were. Both of us were deeply hurt and scarred. When you dig into reading what mothers say and write, you'll understand more about us.

    2. this might be a surprise to some real moms. many of us were told that our children were going to the best parents in the world who have been given tons of tests and forced to take lots of classes. that these parents know how to tell the child from the day they were born that they are adopted and that their mom deeply loved them and did the only thing they could do. so when our children are lied to and a lie when they are in their formative years and such a statement as if your mom didn't want you causes trauma, too many kids merely can't believe the truth when they are told. cheated out of our kids forever.. too cruel for words

    3. This is truly heartbreaking to me. I was blessed with wonderful adoptive parents. They ALWAYS stressed to me that my birth mother loved me more than anything, but accepted that perhaps she couldn't care for me as I deserved, therefore, she gave me up for adoption. It may not be completely true (or it may be), but I was never given any reason to harbor any resentment towards my birth-mom. I have also been told the story of my adoption and the events surrounding it (as well as my adoptive parents knew), from the time I was an infant. My adoptive parents (and now my dad, as my mom has passed), have supported me in my search since I was 16 years old..

    4. I gave up my daughter when I was 16, my doctor handled the adoption and knew everything about me. My child was given to another one of his patients that was unable to have children. Although the adoptive mother did not know my name or history she never told my daughter she was adopted. The couple actually became pregnant after trying for 13 years right after adopting my child. The two children could not be more different, it wasnt until they were older that the couple's biological child told my daughter she was adopted (during an argument). So my daughter was told nothing. Even today after reunion, my daughter has married and has children. They do not want to tell the grandchildren about me. I am the secret. Funny thing though...the adoptive mother was adopted and never wanted to meet her birthmother therefore instilling in my child there is no sense other than getting medical information to be involved with your birthmother.

    5. I am so sorry, Anon. So much brainwashing. What I think about adoptees who do shit like this is that they were brainwashed themselves, and feel "well, it was good enough for me, I survived..." and they unconsciously want to see the experiene repeated. I often think that part of this may be why the ratio of adoptees who give up children for adoption is so high; they unconsciously want to experience and understand what their mothers went through, and how it felt to give them up.

  8. Here is a post I put up on another blog a few years ago. The blog later went private and I lost track of it. I wish I could remember whose blog it was. The mother was in reunion with her daughter, who I believe was about 11 or 12 years old.

    "I've recently surmised that being a birth mother, when in a reunion, is kind of like being the class nerd. The first mother loves that child more than anything in the world. She thinks about them constantly and would give anything to shout from the roof tops that the child is her best friend in the world. But like the class nerd, who is just glad to finally have a friend, she knows better. She is terrified of scaring the child off, by coming on too strong and making the child feel like she is being asked for a level of intimacy and connection that the child cannot reciprocate.

    The difference between the two situations is that the kid who is friends with the class nerd basically knows who his friend is. He understands that this guy isn't very sociable and that their friendship is an anomaly. He probably understands that the other kid considers him to be his best friend--a feeling that is usually not shared. The adopted child, on the other hand, doesn't seem to get how important a place he or she holds in the life, heart and daily thoughts of the birth mother. They would never guess that their first mother's life revolves around them.

    Society has told them that the woman gave them up and happily moved on with her life. At best, perhaps she sees them as a new friend, one with whom she shares DNA and neat historical connection. Little do they know that she would usually give anything to turn back time and be their mom. Little do they know that coerced adoptions are the rule--not the exception."

    1. Thanks Steve. You hit the nail on the head.

    2. Yes Steve, you are so right. Thank you.

    3. yes but i think an important part is that adoption is what makes them a nerd. they are in deep mourning because their entire world abandoned them in their time of need and then with this life crushing grief, if anyone does talk about it, they say it was a good thing. i always wish i had the courage to say 'and i hope such good things happen to you too' but the tortured merely play nice to be 'allowed' to see their true love.

  9. My personal statement to my birth mother of "I'm glad I was adopted, I'm grateful for my life" was in response to her communications to me. So, while we're on the subject, let me mention what not to say to an adoptee. Continuous rumination of what a terrible mistake you made, and that your life is screwed up. Insisting to the adoptee that her life must be screwed up by adoption trauma, and that she is hurting badly, when she doesn't feel that way. It's almost like some birth mothers wish we were damaged, because it would be proof that we suffered without them. If we suffer, they feel important. If I'm fine then my first mother doesn't feel needed. There is a high need for validation.

    It was in this context that I said to my first mother "I'm glad I was adopted, I'm grateful for my life." I was trying to 1) make her feel better 2) get her to stop saying the same things over and over and over, and 3) let her know that I didn't want her pity for psychological problems she insisted I must have. I did not accomplish any of my three purposes. It ended with her being pissed at me, which led to amped-up ruminations for years. She figured she needed to try harder to convince me of my thinking errors. It was bad.

    It's better to say nothing about of feelings about being adopted, unless our feelings happen to validate our first mothers. If our feelings don't validate, then keep quite and wear your poker face. Some birth mothers are unable to accept our real feelings.

    1. In previous posts we have emphasized that mothers should not talk about what immediately comes to mind to many--how truly terrible the time was and how giving up a child destroyed their lives. This is one blog post out of more than a thousand. Thanks for reminding the mothers here but we can't put all the advice in a single blog post. Everyone should come to reunion with just a good feeling about being reunited and go from there.

    2. I can totally get understand being frustrated by hearing only the worst and wanting the adoptee to say, I had a terrible life too. But I do think that mothers really hope for the best for their children and when they meet they can say that have good parents. And you are right, if your feelings don't validate what a mother is saying, or vice versa, best to say nothing at the time. We are all different and no one can decide who is more damaged by the loss, and it may vary with every mother-and-child reunion.

  10. What could be possibly worse for a birth mother that an adult child who says: "Thank you for doing the right thing!"? Yet I have read numerous statements made by adult adoptees who expressed their gratitude for birth mothers for placing them for adoption. Because the birth mother was young/poor/single (just as if one biological parent was a worse option than an unrelated couple). For me it would be devastating to hear something like this.

    Karolina Nowicka (not affected by adoption but interested in adoption issues)

  11. I saw this post when it first went up, and I find it off-putting and somewhat disturbing. A warning to adoptees who are lucky enough to find and meet their natural mother - Be very careful what you say! You will easily further alienate that one person who represents something very precious to you, even though you are trying to be considerate and kind.

    I think this point of view is destructive and frames the idea of a birth mother even more as an unattainable, unknowable entity - and someone who it is not possible to communicate with, or reason with. Sorry, I just don't like it.

    As a birth mother, I think it is not good to "scare" adoptees who may be searching, and are already feeling the weight of fear and sadness. Why should they feel guilty about anything they say? I don't understand the thinking here. If anyone is responsible for the destruction caused by the adoption industry, it is not the adoptees.

    1. I appreciate your comment new and old as I was also disturbed and annoyed by this post. Originally, I wasn't going to comment but decided (hoped) my .02 might add something useful to the discussion.

      The post reads "What does a "thank you" really imply when said to a first mother by her child? Thank you for giving me up because I've had a better life than I would have had with you."

      The adoptee is not saying or implying that she had a better life than she would have had with you. I believe you are reading something into that "thank you" that doesn't exist. The adoptee is probably in 99% of the cases just trying to reassure the first mother that she doesn't need to feel guilty, which we assume you do, about relinquishing your child. S/he is simply saying "I was okay. I was fine. I had a good life." Not that you were worse than her APs and that she's so glad you weren't there. IMO, you are taking offense where none is intended or given.

      And then in response to a comment, Jane wrote: In short, if adoptees want to engage their mothers, they should not start the conversation by insulting them.

      Once again, you are finding insult where none exists and, I believe, are reacting unfairly. First mothers can either try to accept another possible interpretation, that this type of comment is not nefarious as you assume, or continue to be hurt. I think it's really your choice.

    2. Robin,
      You know what I think it is that kills the intent of the comment? The "thank you." Thank yous are for presents. Gifts. Favors. They put a period on obligations.

      With a "thank you," a mother is not just hearing what most of us want--to hear that your lives were not terrible, even quite good--but a "thank you" for not being raised by you because....I got a better education, more stuff, etc. Now I know from your previous posts that you do not think like this, but to me, it's the added "thank you" that would feel like a sear to the heart.

      I totally agree that mothers have to let the word fall away and simply react to the emotions of the moment, but I for one do not know how "thank you" got into the equation that has popped up via social media. It seems like something the industry would drive, or parents who want the assurance that the life they provided was better than what poor ole' mom could have. So then a "thank you" does seem appropriate.

      I am thinking of Ethel, the unfortunate maid who have her child up to his wealthy grandparents in Downton Abbey as I write this. Remember when she compares a "mother's love" to the other life he ultimately would have if she gave him up? "I understand" seems a lot less harsh, than "thank you for the gift of my wealthy family...."

      Can you understand from our point of view?

    3. Robin,
      I know adoptees don't mean to insult mothers when they thank them. Think of it this way: what if a mother said to her newly-found child, "I too had a great life, a much better life than if I had kept you. I know I made the right decision." I'm glad I gave you away. How would an adoptee feel?

      Communication in reunions is fraught with misunderstandings. I wrote the post to alert adoptees that what sounds complimentary to them, can be hurtful to mothers.

    4. I have seen mothers talk online about how their lives were great before they got pregnant or how the adoption ruined their lives. Saying that to an adoptee is like saying "my life was wonderful until you cam along" which will only make an adoptee angry because we were not the ones responsible for your getting pregnant and we are not responsible for whatever pain you experienced during the pregnancy or when the adoption occurred or after. We are not responsible for what you experienced as the result of yours and/or the father's actions before we were born. As for saying we only want medical information sometimes that is said to try to reassure the birth parent that we are not looking them up to ask for money or other favors. A great many of us grew up much worse off financially than our birth parents so the assumption should not be that we had more "stuff." Comments to that effect to an adoptee would also not sit well and could make for anger. Misunderstandings on both sides cause a lot of problems and everyone should go into it with no expectations and above all no assumptions about the other person.

  12. If my daughter had said to me when I found her, I only want medical information, I would have been devastated. Mothers want to know how not to derail a reunion, we've written about that before; adoptees might be interested in what hits mothers who are having their own emotional breakdown what's best not to say. So many adoptees insist they "only want medical information" today. Whether or not they had a good relationship with their adoptive parents, I'm hoping that attitude comes out of a defensiveness built up by what they have heard and imbued about mothers. Both sides are coming to the reunion with their own hurts and defensiveness. Adoptees feel abandoned and lord knows what they have heard about their mothers; mothers were told to forget and go forward and "put this behind them." Both sides need to try, as best they can, the possible feelings of the other person. What is to me so very sad are the numbers of women who actually do reject reunion. With stories about them circulating, who can blame adoptees for feeling skittish and putting up walls even before contact is made?

  13. While I agree that thank you is not what we birth mothers want to hear I also agree that adoptees do not mean it in a bad way. My son is 8 years old now, in an open adoption and starting to ask more questions. In my situation it was either have him taken from social services because of my history and mental health issues and lose all contact to him, or give him up for an open adoption and at least have some contact. My son has thanked me, not because his life would have been worse with me, but because by choosing adoption myself I gave him and his sister the opportunity to grow up knowing me, knowing our culture and their father's culture. There are few secrets between my children and I and they know I wanted them and hated having to give them up, but I did it because I had no other choice. For me hearing my son thank me, means I made the right choice in giving them up, rather than having them taken.

    1. @birthmumof2
      " but I did it because I had no other choice. For me hearing my son thank me, means I made the right choice"

      Sounds like you did not have a choice. There is no right choice if there is no choice. Choosing between town hanging and firing squad is not a choice.

  14. Yeah, when I was talking to my mother during my initial visit, I pointed at a piano store and told her I like to play piano.

    My mother asked me if I enjoyed it, then told me she could not have afforded money for piano lessons. She said the mom who raised me had money.

    It's been six years, and that particular moment stands out above all else. Maybe it was just a matter-of-fact to her, that another woman had more money and could afford to give her child a chance at living? I don't know.

    Whatever the case, it made me feel awful for wishing my adoption hadn't needed to occur.


  15. [The post reads "What does a "thank you" really imply when said to a first mother by her child? Thank you for giving me up because I've had a better life than I would have had with you."]

    Even with mothers who are resigned to the adoption aftermath, and those who really absolutely wanted their children to have a better life and did not *want* to parent...

    Isn't that the point of adoption? To transfer the child to a more advantaged economic situation (ie. an adoptive family)?


  16. I think that the hardest part is realizing that sometimes they simply don't care. While it is great that you can give medical information, etc., I have found that if an adoptee has had a horrible life, the odds of a positive reunion (meaning no totally insane drama that seems neverending) are pretty slim. For me, my daughter didn't say thank you, she said "f" you, you should have died and I am NOT your daughter and never was.... more than once and in between the "positive" times.

    I think this makes it hard for me to consider that she is hurting too... after all, we aren't babies - she is almost 40 and I am way past 50.

    1. I'm sorry this happened to you Lori. I have read your story and it is very sad. My child still has issues and she did not have a really horrible life. She suffers from depression and doesn't get help for it which makes dealing with adoption related issues that much more difficult if not impossible. Perhaps your daughter has mental health issues as well.

    2. Sarah, My daughter also has mental health issues. When she is seeing someone and getting help, she admits this and usually she is more reasonable. Most of the time, nothing or ugliness. I used to think it was me. I am, after all, a difficult person. But after she came to my home and helped herself to some things she had no right to, and then denied it, I realized that no matter what, I can love her, just not be around her. Not while she only takes care of her mental health sporadically.

  17. Hello everyone!
    Long time no see. I've had a rough end/middle of 2016. My beautiful husband and soulmate died in June of prostate cancer that metastasized to his bone marrow. I moved half way across the world in November. I love my "new" country! Homeland of my parents.

    I've missed reading here since last May and finally caught up in reading all the threads!

    I still have had no contact from my "lost" daughter; and she doesn't know that I have moved, but I still have the same email address if she ever decides to want contact. I was thinking of writing to her and letting her know of my life changes, but did not.

    On this topic here - "What not to say"

    It was God's decision. (Double cringe! That means God selected me for this private hell.)
    I already have a mother. I don't want another.

    This is exactly what she said! Double cringe is right! I should say she wrote this to me, as we have never actually spoken to each other.

    She will be 48 this year, and STILL have hope she will contact me one of these days; and I'll be able to meet my grandson! I do look at her Facebook page! Boy, she sure looks like me!

    Glad you still have this blog Lorraine and Jane! It's nice being back here!

  18. I found my first mom through unredacted birth records, ancestry DNA and as much search as possible to gain as much info as I could before initiating contact. Understand the person you are going to speak to prior to speaking to them, treat it like a formal interview and try to avoid the pitfall of emotions that could ruin it. Remember, you are strangers only sharing common DNA, not shared history. Instead of saying your life had been wonderful, just detail what you have done. Try not compare and contrast adopted to your perception of what could have been.



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