' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: To First Mothers: When your adopted 'child' calls out of the blue

Sunday, February 5, 2017

To First Mothers: When your adopted 'child' calls out of the blue

This is for the mothers (first, birth, natural, biological) who search on the web for how to react to a phone call they are either waiting for or fearful of--that from their child lost to adoption. Years ago I would have assumed that every mother on earth who gave up a child would be overwhelmed with joy and say something like: Oh my god, you found me! I have been waiting for you to find me! 

Today I know that is not true. Not only have I heard of so many birth mothers rejecting reunion that it makes my head spin in sorrow, but I also had a long-time neighbor and friend who did not admit that she had a child that her other children did not know about--until she was on her deathbed. For years we managed to maintain a friendship while we argued about what I fought for, mystifying me and her children. One of them figured out the truth before she came clean, only weeks before she slipped away. If such a mother was that close to me in real life, there are many others out here.

Reads like a novel; the writer is
an admirable survivor
Years ago, before adoption reform was still emerging from the underground, adopted individuals had less schooling about how to go about reunion. They let their emotions rule and so without having to say all the words, feelings overtook any caution they might have felt in their heart once they made connection. In the early days, I never heard an adopted person say: I only want my medical history. I don't want a relationship. I already have a mother. All of that seems to have come out of the sad but true fact that a good many mothers so thoroughly accepted the dictum of the past to "forget and move on" after relinquishment, and that led to rejecting reunion. Some have never told their husbands, even after decades; others have never told their other children. So breaking this kind of news now is not just about the secret itself, but IS as much about fear of admitting this long lie by omission. The fact of the secret is as big an emotional hurdle as the secret itself--if not more so.

Fellow-blogger Jane had to do tell her three grown daughters about the first, after her eldest daughter found her. To Jane's credit, she became an outspoken advocate and reformer herself. I found my daughter, and, with the support of my family, wrote about the situation before and after so this was not an issue for me.

Digressing here, so back to the main point: If you want a relationship with your adopted (out) son or daughter--how should you react?
A great book for understanding
the adopted individual
Let your feelings take over. Even if you haven't told your family but do want a relationship, just go with the feeling of re-connection and let your other fears abate. Ultimately those fears will take care of themselves. I know writing this makes it sound unreasonably simple, but hang on. Just be glad to be found. Let the person on the other end of the phone or email know right off the bat that you feel something other than fear of being found out. Do not say: What do you want? That puts the other person--your own child--immediately on the defensive, and you are likely to get a cold answer in response. Even if you feel the impulse to say that, stifle it because these first few moments may set the tone for whatever relationship you have later on, and you may want one even if your first reaction is fear.

Fear is understandable. Change is hard, and if you are living in secret, or semi-secret, your first physiological reaction may be flight. But understand that the person on the phone is the child you had in your body for nine months, whom you gave birth to, who carries your genes, the extension of your family lineage going back centuries, and in an inimitable way is connected to you in the most intimate way possible. Do you really want to screw this up? Also understand that even if they had terrific adoptive parents and a good life, they are coming to you because the pull of DNA was not squelched in them, and they are the grownup version of that baby you bore. No matter what they say--they are on the other end of the phone because they need you now. Do you really want to refuse your son or daughter, now all grown up? You may think they had had a good life--and they may tell you that--but they are calling now to fill that missing link in their circle of life. And they need you. Turning them away is incredibly hurtful. This is a moment to focus on wanting to love and protect your baby, but only now, years later, that grown up, yet they may still have the same need for your love and connection.

So if you hear words that put your immediately on the defensive, ignore them. If the person says...I only want to know who you are, medical records, why you gave me up, who my father is...accept what they say, but let your heart, not your head rule. Don't think about tomorrow, or what you have to do to make this work. Answer their questions, but let your attitude show you are open to more. Even if the words hurt, they may be saying them only to protect themselves. They've heard stories about mothers who reject reunion, and they at best are hoping to put you at ease that they are not going to barge in and destroy your life. Remember, they have no idea how you are going to react to that phone call seemingly out of the blue, and actually making that call to you has been extremely difficult and scary.

The memoir before the movie
I repeat: I don't care what the first words are--unless they are threatening--react with your heart. Because I was finding a 15-year-old daughter, I went through her adoptive mother. After I made it clear who I was, she was asking me my name, address and phone number. She was afraid that I was going to hang up when they already had been trying to find me; I was thinking that she was doing this to call the police and sue me. Talk about opposite assumptions! In the middle of answering her I couldn't hold back the tears, then neither could she, and we both relaxed and ten minutes later, our daughter was on the phone with me.

Last night I finally saw Lion. The reunion scene between son and found mother is brilliant. The camera focuses up close on the mother's face as she embraces her son who has been gone for more than two decades. Love and relief suffuses her and she hugs her son tightly. The camera lingers. It is an overwhelmingly beautiful, realistic scene. Out of all the different reactions that the three members of the adoption triad (biological mother, son, adoptive mother) have with the scene, it might do the most good for fearful first mothers. Perhaps it will awaken buried feelings and lost hopes for reunion. The scene shows that simple human emotion is enough. Words hardly matter. Yes, the reason for a separation in Lion is vastly different than adoption--there is no guilt involved in Lion--but the intensity of the reunion is what I hope reaches mothers in the closest and the public at large. Including some of those legislators who oppose unsealing birth certificates.

As more states, such as New Jersey, are releasing original birth certificates, there will be more phone calls and letters from the adopted to their birth mothers. DNA is also finding connections and leading to biological parents--mothers and fathers. The internet and social media also finds people. Searchers are sometimes successful with seemingly slim clues. The times they are a'changin (to quote Dylan), and biological mothers will be contacted by their lost daughters and sons. No matter what you think now, your family most likely will accept you when the truth is out (though some other of your children may be miffed), and it's always better to be prepared than not.

To first mothers when your lost son or daughter calls: Open your heart. Don't worry about the first words you hear. Don't say anything hurtful. There's more to say about this, but that's all for today.--lorraine 

Related from FMF

Let's put to rest the myth that mothers were promised confidentiality

Why did my mother keep me a secret?

Ten Thousand Sorrows
By Elizabeth Kim
on June 13, 2015
My heart broke for this child, now woman, on nearly ever page. It is hard to believe there are people who can treat 
children in this way. And so many people caused this child pain. While we read about it in the paper all the time, 
seeing it up close, with all the detail and emotion, is heart-rendering beyond description.The manner in which Ms. 
Kim wrote is profound. She does not employ self-pity (though she certainly had the right to be) and instead, recited
the facts and her emotions in a very real manner. One is right there beside her in her pain, her torture, her suffering
and her joy. What a marvelous person she managed to be, notwithstanding all her hardships. Her story also proves
never dies, and it can provide the fortitude for anything. Namely, the love her mother provided her before she died
was always with her and enabled her to love her own daughter in a fierce way. Bravo! A great tribute to a mother's

Apparently the paperback omits two chapters and one reviewer objected. 

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self 
5.0 out of 5 starsWonderfully written book
on April 10, 2014
This book has been a blessing for me that I can hardly begin to convey. Having been adopted at seven months old and being raised an only child, never feeling able to question the circumstances around my birth Mothers departure, this left many open and un-answered questions. This book has given me so much insight into myself and the complexities of adoption.

A Long Way Home: A Memoir
By Saroo Brierly
on January 7, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase


  1. I am still hoping my child will get back to me. I've been threatened by two different family members. There is something deeply unnatural and wrong with separating mother and infant just to go fit in with some artificial and generally patriarchy rooted pattern. The result of that primal rupture of THE primary familial relationship for everyone builds up emotional pressure no less volatile than the seismic pressure that causes earthquakes.

  2. I'm an adult adoptee that found my mother after 48 years. We have had a great reunion, but something that she said stuck with me. She told me that she "never forgave" herself for what she had done to me. My response was an honest "I forgave you a long time ago" because I had - probably back when I was a kid that just longed for my "real" parents to come back for me someday. It's probably pretty common that as children adoptees wish for their parents to come back (I asked Santa, I wished with my birthday candles, everything that a kid knows how to do) but once we become adults the fantasy life of a child changes. We get busy, we get angry, we stuff the feelings of hurt and we rationalize what has happened to us. Deep down, though, that little kid really just wants their mom and dad to want them, though, but we have the "protection" that adulthood has given us to shield our hearts from any additional hurt. The day I met the dad who had looked for me for 46 years I "protected" myself before walking into his house by turning to my husband and saying "well, here goes nothing". It wasn't "nothing" because I had wished for this for a lifetime but I didn't want more hurt and tried to minimize things as much as possible. I think this may be what first mom's are running into when they meet their children. If you can look at us and see through the 30, 40, 50+ years of "insulation" that we have put up, you'll see a little kid that just wants to be loved. It just may take some time for that child to open up to you. Thank you for this post, I know other adoptees who do not have the great relationship that I have with my parents, and I wish their parents could see what might be possible for them in reunion.

    1. Thanks for writing Anon, because you sum up eloquently what I understand, even though I have heard so many negative things from the adopted over the years about their OBCs. I understand saying that the right to one's own OBC should be separate from reunion, but I'm too soft-hearted to believe that the two aren't connected, though adopted individuals have every right to be as you say, Here goes nothing, trying to convince themselves of that at the same time they deep down want love and acceptance. In the early days of search and reunion, it was different. Feelings were raw and more on the surface.

      I wrote this post hoping that it might reach some of those mothers (and fathers) who might be found but are in the closet. But of course they are probably not googling "when your adopted x calls." They are simply hiding in plain sight. It's a pity.

  3. Lorraine,
    I am always so moved by your posts. My husband's brother found us 23 years ago. My mother in laws' reactions were all over the place, but relief and pleasure were the two primary emotions she conveyed. My father in law, by contrast, felt sheepish and embarrassed in private but, nonetheless, welcomed his son warmly into our family. My husband and his older brother were beside themselves to discover they had a brother ten years older, they all look and behave so much alike, their mannerisms, their interests, their politics! Their story was part of my inspiration for writing "Eden: A Novel" which will be released May 2.

  4. I was sent a very nice story about reunion...but before we got to the reunion, I read this sentence: "She also discovered that she was much more interested in her adoption and in finding out her own story of birth, so that she could get medical information as well as find and thank the woman who gave her life." (It added)

    With stories in the media touting reunion as only a source of birth information, medical data, and the suggestion that a "thank you" is a good idea (which ends up being heard as: Thank you for not aborting me, or I had a better life, thank you for that), it's no wonder that adopted people approach reunion with these words or idea on their mind. But those words remove any idea that the mother might be longing to know the adoptee, suggesting that only information and a thank you is coming her way. The mother is thinking: Forgive me for giving you up, and the adopted person is saying: Thank you for doing so....I'm not going to bash the media, but this kind of writing that includes phrases like this one does represents the adoptive parent and industry trope that reunion is only about information and a thanks. I hate this.

    In fact, the reunion in this story went very well, as soon as the mother was contacted. They lived on the same street.


  5. My son found me in December 2016. I tried to leave my records open so he would find me but it didnt happen because the adoption agency was not a good one. He found my ex father in law through DNA and ancestry.com. My father in law didn't know about him but did put him in touch with my ex husband who led him to me. Son had a rough time with his father's family, not a glad reunion but thankfully he kept on until he found me, his brother and sister and the rest of the family. We have a happy reunion. We met in January and it was amazing to see him and his brother who are so alike in looks and in just about every other way. I never told the children or anyone else besides my current husband who I told before we were married. My kids took the news very well because they know and love me and realize what they grew up through until I was divorced their dad. My mom has been hard to deal with. Several friends have been critical but what everyone else says is nothing compared to how I have beat myself up. I handled things well in the beginning and through the meeting but I have been dealing with the emotional breakdown of holding this in for 30 years and all my regrets and grief erupted. My son says to let it go, he forgave me years ago. I have trouble forgiving myself but I'm working to move forward and leave the past behind. The emotions are raw and they hurt but they are necessary to healing. As a birth mom, I did what I thought was best. Whether if was best or not I still do the know but now it is good. Life is good. My best advice is honesty and make sure your DNA is available for them to search for you. It will be best for you and them.

    1. Anonymous, Thanks for your honest story of how it has been. Upon reunion, mothers are usually caught unaware of all the raw emotions from the past that come tumbling out like an overturned jelly jar. We've been stuffing them so long that we don't realize how they will be overturned, and we go through a period of mourning, just as we did when we first lost our children to adoption. I didn't even realize what was happening when I found my daughter, and as you say the guilt comes out in many ways and everybody says, forgive yourself. Only others can forgive us, we must come to a place of acceptance of our relinquishment that we thought was best at the time. Even after all these years--I relinquished my daughter in 1966--I was discovering new things emotionally when I wrote h♥le in my heart. When you wrote "Whether if was best or not I still do the know but now it is good," I remember coming to that feeling eventually.

      You are doing the right thing, so just hang in there. Since you have the support of your family, you'll be all right.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. My first reaction when I saw this was: Why is CHILD put in quotes? Because they are adults? It's tricky.... calling adopted adults adoption "children" is hurtful, but to a mother her child is always her child even if they are 65!!

    I think we need to move to saying our relinquished sons and daughters.

    1. Mirah, I know you understand...I was writing a headline and thinking about what a mother might search for on the internet. As you say, we are always our mother's child.

  7. I searched for " the pain of giving your child away" Years later you finally give yourself the freedom to feel that pain for what it is and it can tear you up and know one knows...



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