' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: First Mother's Truth Shines in her Obit

Monday, January 22, 2018

First Mother's Truth Shines in her Obit

I was saddened to read about the death of a friend and fellow first mother, Jan Schmidt.  Her obituary in large print in the Salem (Ore) Statesman Journal included these words:

"Jan had a son, Thomas Gibbons, whom she gave up for adoption. This always weighed on her. Tom and Jan were reunited many years later on an amazing day with the whole family present."

I met Jan about 19 years ago when I was a newly reunited first mother living in Salem. A leader of a first mother group called and asked if I could give Jan a ride to their meeting in Portland, 50 miles away. Still in the angst of reunion, elated one minute, angry another, needing all the support I could get, I was happy to say "yes."

Jan had been contacted recently by her 34-year-old son, Tom. She was sensitive, loving, someone who never should have been treated the way life treated her. Anxious to do something with her life, she joined the Air Force fresh out of high school. She became pregnant while stationed in Texas; I don't know the details-- date-rape perhaps, anyway, not a long term relationship. Abandoned by her son's father and not wanting to upset her family, she faced the pregnancy alone. After the birth, she came to Salem where she met her husband. They had three sons.

Jan grieved over the loss of her first son. Like many of us, she had disclosed his existence to only a few people. Now he was in her life, sort of. He lived in another state. She visited him and anxiously awaited his calls. Like many of us, she struggled with what kind of relationship he wanted, what was to be her role in his life.
Jan Schmidt 1942-2018

In 2001, I moved to Portland. I last saw Jan for lunch at a P.F. Chang's in suburban Portland a year or two later.  We didn't have the kind of excited, tense conversation we had had earlier. Things were going well and we chatted as two old friends about what our children were doing, trips we had taken, every day stuff. Adoption was in the background, but of course it never left Jan's consciousness, as it never leaves any of us.

The simple lines in her obituary are a message to first mothers who have not sought their lost child, or have refused contact. Have courage. It will be difficult to step out of the shadows, but the rewards are great. Her words are a warning to pregnant women in difficult circumstances; If you give up your baby, you will regret it the rest of your life. Reunions and open adoption may ease the pain but they do not make up for the years of loss. Her openness are a beacon of hope to adoptees everywhere; your mother will never forget you. -- jane

September 17, 2018 I thought of this piece as I happened to read an obituary for Donna LeAnn Andre Havlicek in the Newport, Oregon News-Times. I did not know Donna but I was struck with these lines: "It fulfilled her heart to be able to reconnect with her first son, Patrick, in his adulthood." Newport is on the Oregon coast, over a 100 miles from Portland. I was there with my husband who was attending a continuing legal education class. Adoption loss and reunion joy are  everywhere.   
Jan's obituary, Salem Statesman Journal, 1-20-18

An Affair with My Mother: A Story of Adoption, Secrecy and Love
on December 3, 2016
The book is an interesting view of adoption in Catholic Ireland in the 1970s when having a child out of wedlock was 
so unacceptable to the church that women hid their pregnancies and gave up their children. Even now they are so 
traumatized by the treatment they got from the church and family, they still have trouble being open about children 
they gave up for adoption. The author's emotional roller coaster, along with that of her birth mother, offers a 
fascinating look at the huge impact of conservative social mores on birth mothers' and adoptees lives.


  1. When my daughter died I was in her obituary in her home town, put in by her adoptive parents, at the end of a long list of her adopted family which included a brother's fiance; brothers- and sisters-in-laws and all their spouses, and finally: "...of Lyndon Station; birth mother: Lorraine (Tony Brandt) Dusky of Sag Harbor, New York."

    So it was. Their home town, not mine.

    Tony and I were at the wake, the funeral, the reception. My nephew from Florida came; his father, my brother, my daughter's uncle, would have been there too but he was sick and could not make the trip. Most people were nice; a few I could feel coolness from. Her friends and acquaintances from Toastmasters made an effort to speak to me and were not only friendly, but also told me how much Jane talked about me in a positive light. Their reaching out to me is a warm memory. At the reception following the funeral Mass, I noticed her adopted brother, standing alone, staring at me across the room. He had not arrived in time for the wake at the funeral parlor the night before, and I was not surprised. It was clear he did not feel connected to the people in the room. I nodded; he acknowledged. He had not wanted to search when I found Jane; later when he did, the Searcher has disappeared and being born in New York State as Jane was, he had no luck. I have no idea if this ever changed. My daughter died in 2007, shortly before Christmas.

    1. That "look" - reflecting his disconnectedness from not only his adoptive family but yours and Jane's as well. An island in the midst of so many people. It makes my heart ache for him and for you in your inability to push any magic buttons for him. Damn the adoption system!

  2. Thanks, Jane. A touching tribute to your friend. My parents put the correct number of great-grandchildren in my grandparent's obituaries, and Michael was named as a grandson in my mom and dad's.

  3. When my older brother Sam's ex-wife remarried, her new husband adopted by brother's two daughters from the first marriage. They were about 4 and 6 at the time. My (adoptive) mother tried hard to maintain a relationship with the children over the years. Decades later, I volunteered to write the Obit for my (adoptive) father and I listed the two girls as grandchildren.

    Got a very angry text from my younger brother Dale, who is also adopted. "Who put THEM in the obituary? They were adopted out, and they're not in Dad's will anymore." I ignored the text. I owed him no explanation. I saw no need to waste energy convincing him that the definition of family can extend beyond estate divisions.

    No matter what I do, I offend someone every time I try to navigate these adoptive relationships. Inclusion pisses some people off. Exclusion pisses other people off.

  4. I was very happy to be included in my mother's obituary. It meant so much to me to be included. I haven't seen nor spoken to my half brother since Mom's death, but I'm still glad he included me.

  5. A sweet tribute to Jane’s friend, who clearly was a lovely person of wide interests and accomplishments. I found it most heartening that her obituary was honest and complete in naming ALL of her sons, and in stating that her eldest had been adopted.

    Sweeping relatives under the rug due to periodic estrangement, for all kinds of reasons, also shows up in non-adoptive families, of course. Forgive me for venting, but I am still smarting that when my own father died in 2016, his lengthy obituary included the names of all nine of the hospice workers who’d cared for him, as well as the full names of seven of his ten grandchildren who’d supplied fulsome plaudits for “Grandpa C—.”

    I was included (he and I share a rare surname), but my husband was not, and our three sons ended a sentence in the obit unnamed, as “3 additional grandchildren.” Ouch. And he’d MET them!

    1. How hurtful and pointless. Who wrote the obituary?

    2. Ditto to Jane. I know some of your story, and it seems that families can find ways to continue the hurt.

  6. Thanks for your kind reception: I hesitated before posting the remark above, but I did want to make a point about how obituaries not only can perpetuate wrongheaded statements, but also may serve as a final summary of an individual’s life. Fortunately, Jan’s obit told the truth about her sons: all of them.

    I believe my sisters and the other grandchildren collaborated on my father’s obituary, which appeared on a family Facebook page—pause for some unnerving music—three minutes before I had a premonition, and logged on to discover that our father had died. Nobody told me.

    Lorraine has given me a generous ear and some wonderfully useful advice in recent years on how to cope with family dynamics. Thanks, dear. I’m still trying to figure it all out, and to model positive (but not saccharin) behavior for my own offspring and friends.

    I am certain that my sisters would like for me to reappear in their lives and—ta-dahhh! Entertain them! Without ever asking for a thing!!! Which is what my family role was for three decades. But back then I had to stop; it was just too demeaning. So we never fixed what had gone wrong, and here we are.

  7. I was the result of my mothers first marrage which ended in divorce shortly after my birth for he had another woman pregnant and need to wed second wife. My mother went back to her family in Maine and he was from Michigan. My mother later remarried when I was about two years old and he was all I ever knew as a father in my life. They moved out of state for his work and in doing so my step father persued adoption. My biological father signed the adoption papers for that relieved him of the small child support my mother recieved. I just found out my biological father died due believe of some sort of cancer and in his obituary I was not mentioned. I struggled with knowing I was abandoned at birth and excluded at death. I processed to the whys and realize he may now know the damage of abondoning me and exculding me how that has effected my being. I always wondered how could you live a life not caring what so ever. I pray that God has embrassed him to give him comfort of his earthly choices that have empacted others... I forgive but it still would have been nice to be included at death possibly knowing that I may have crossed his mind at sometime in his life...



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