' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Dear World: Acknowledge the loss of a child to adoption

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Dear World: Acknowledge the loss of a child to adoption

The widow can open cry for a partner who is lost.

The parent of a child who dies receives sympathy and understanding.

A mother who loses a child to war in some country on the other side of the world is acknowledged and honored.

In the natural order of life when our parents predecease us, or a sibling dies, we are allowed to grieve in public.

Airlines offer lower fares to those flying to funerals. Printed cards can be found for the above. Friends and family send condolences, flowers, perhaps even a casserole. If one openly cries in public, no one will tell her that she has to "get it together" and stop her bawling, for it's all right to be sad. In fact, it is appropriate and even expected. Sympathy for the loss abounds.

Yet not for us. Not for birth mothers, first mothers, biological mothers who give up their children.

Today when adoption is not a dirty little secret, women may find empathy and love and the freedom to talk openly of their loss, but for women of my generation--Jane and I both gave up our daughters in 1966--and for decades forward, that was not to be for mothers of loss. We were told--society basically insisted--that we "sinners" stop up our heartache and move forward as if nothing happened. And yet, everything happened. We lost a child when in the natural order of life, we shouldn't have.

Other than the actual deed itself the hardest part comes after when the freedom to openly acknowledge that we are suffering deep, pervasive, life-changing grief is closed off, the way one turns off a spigot when it is gushing water. The havoc this blockage plays in our bodies is undoubtedly enormous. The loneliness of unacknowledged grief is a horror unlike no other.

Jane and I both had our children secretly and went on with our lives. My parents did not know, nor did her mother. I moved to another city, found another job, and was supposed to date, as if I were normal, when I was anything but. After keeping my body slim so I wouldn't show--and possibly damaging my daughter's health--within months after she was born I began eating voraciously at night and put on twenty pounds, which I didn't lose for two years--after I met someone I could marry to make my life feel better. To feel less like the horrible awful person I felt inside. To get over wallowing in grief. To have, yes, to have Mrs. in front of my name, for that somehow made me more acceptable to myself--since no one else knew. (I told my husband-to-be when he asked me to marry him.) I knew pretty much from the beginning that our marriage was not one for all time, but it showed someone loved me, and I think for him, it certainly got him out from under his father's overbearing, smothering shell.

But from what I have learned since, my lonely path was preferable to being a woman whose parents pushed the adoption, when what she wanted was support to be able to keep her baby. The correspondence from women in this position talk of never having healed their relationship with their mothers and fathers to any sense of normalcy. Familial feeling was replaced with cold civility from daughter to mother, or father, who then would never ever talk about the lost child, as if the the pregnancy, birth and loss had never occurred.

I am writing this blog not only to acknowledge that pain that we know, but in the hope that those who surround the lives of first mothers might find this blog and think for a moment of what it would be to walk in our shoes.

Don't tell a young woman who lost a child to adoption that she will surely have another. For so many of us never will--approximately a third. The trauma of the loss kills the desire to endure pregnancy and childbirth again. It is just too much to handle.

Don't tell us that we will "forget" this child and go on to have a good life without her. We might have a good life, but it is always with an asterisk that mentally reminds: lost child to adoption.

Don't tell us we are wrong to search, that it is best to let the child have his or her own life without interference; no one knows what the life of that child might be, how much they might need or want us, how they may be waiting and hoping to be "found" and acknowledged.

If we do have other children, don't point out that we have other children with the implication that we should "forget" the one we gave up, and be glad for the children we have. Don't tell us we are "brave" and "did the right thing." We don't feel brave, we feel sad and bereft; we love the children we have, but continually mourn the one we do not. Until we find that child we won't know if we "did the right thing." They may be in trouble, they may have terrible parents who beat them, they may have a mother or a father who didn't want to adopt and who never really loved them. They may have been the replacement child for one lost, or for a pregnancy that did not come...and then surprise! did. They may have always grown up too acutely aware of the difference between "natural" and "adopted."

Do say, I am sorry for your loss--plain and simple, the way you would with any death in the family--and let us grieve. Openly, fully, for as long as we need. Let us talk about the missing part of our being--the child--without being embarrassed or think that talking makes it worse. Let us vent our sorrow. If the first mother wishes, let that child be acknowledged as part of the family history; let him be mentioned when appropriate.

To the children, now grown, who search and wish to reunite, remember that many of us have been in hiding so long we can't imagine life on the other side; our other children (if we have them) or even husbands may not know about you. That does not mean you have to stay in the closet yourself from your siblings if that is not your wish; you have rights to your heritage, whether or not your mother or father wishes that. You can take control here in a way that you could not before. You can pick up that phone and say, I am your daughter who was born on XYZ, I am your sister, I am your brother. But do tread gingerly and gently on a heart that has been so trampled on in all the years up to the moment she responds.

Yet as I write, I know that some birth mothers lack the courage to respond in kind. I am so sorry. I am so very sorry. I don't fully understand these women, but I understand how it happened. And there are found children--and to us mothers, our children are always our "children," no matter their age--who don't want a relationship or any recognition. Again, I am so sorry. For some, reunion will come with the passage of time; for others, this broken relationship will never be fixed. I have a granddaughter that my daughter also gave up for adoption. After my daughter died and I found her, we had a relationship with a couple of years. It ended. Her choice. I was sad for a while.

For all of us, I can only offer this truism: The people who want to be in your life will be; you don't have to go chasing after them.--lorraine dusky

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
"Dusky's courageous, honest book puts a human face on the emotional minefield of adoption while navigating an often-hidden truth--that at the heart of every adoption, there are issues of loss, guilt, emptiness, abandonment and an incomplete sense of identity. Much more than a good read, Hole In My Heart integrates many important research findings that support the universality and truth of Dusky's personal experience."--David Kirschner, PhD, psychoanalyst, author of Adoption: Uncharted Waters


  1. So sad I am adopted and my mom died at 48 I believe she never got over the loss of me and turned to drugs

  2. Lorraine, your checklist for Christmas for anyone who knows a first mother. January 29, will be here soon enough, and my body will return to memories of Joanna's pregnancy and birth. It was a grave mistake to let her go. What remains is gratitude for having a reunion albeit unsuccessful to date, but with, at least, knowledge of her "well being." This is what I am left with. Thank you for sharing your intimate thoughts with your sisters and brothers.

  3. Im going to print this out and keep it close as a reminder that it's ok to grieve my loss. There are certainly times that I feel guilty at the depth of my grief; knowing that I am the one that made the decision to relinquish my son.

    I feel this loss every time I say goodbye to him. Every. Time. Our reunion is at times difficult but I believe the underlying cause is due to loss... his and mine.

    To all first mothers and their children, I'm sorry for your loss...hugs.

  4. My son found my daughter and we met once. I was so relieved to finally meet her and possibly build a relationship. But is was not to be. It is still something I long for but she has chosen not to. Thats her business but I will never stop hoping she will change her mind.

  5. There is very little acknowledgement of the losses an adoptee faces either. We are continuously told to be grateful that our mothers did not raise us! It's torture on both ends of this equation.

  6. Thank you Lorraine. I know the pain too.

  7. I highly recommend Evelyn Burns Robinson's excellent book about the sorrow integral to adoption, "Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief". Robinson is a first mother and adoption reform activist in Australia. She has recently updated the book. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adoption-Loss-Hidden-Evelyn-Robinson/dp/0987193104/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1543098354&sr=1-1&keywords=adoption+and+loss+-+the+hidden+grief

  8. Whatever situation we were in when pregnant is what we had to deal with at the time. I was still a minor in those days,a teenager in college, dependent on my parents. I also wanted to keep my child, and so I asked my parents to help me raise him. Like other grandparents of the BSE, they refused.I have documented the other "refusals" I got when I sought help from other sources, so won't go into the whole story again...gets a bit tiresome, I imagine!!
    But, generally, not all of us ended up with a life-long silence from their parents who would never speak of their child with them, again.My son and I reunited and my parents, brothers and sisters were all very interested. My parents even met my son and tried to reunite with him. (I searched for him/he was also searching for me at the time)

    The problem was that my parents insisted that adoption was "great" and they had a hard time seeing any pain in it...especially my son's pain. They didn't see my pain, either.

    They admitted to him what they did, but they couldn't see that it caused any pain. My father even admitted,to me later on, that he "probably could have helped me raise my son." He said that years later. He had a successful business and had the means.My uncle, who worked with him, had 3 out of wedlock grandkids a few years later and embraced them all.
    My mother would never admit to me that she did anything wrong. She wanted my son to visit her( not going to happen!) and she just didn't understand how he felt. My son told me, "they didn't want me then, why do they want me now."
    My parents were really big on "sin" and "shame" and they never really changed that attitude. My son picked up on that. If they were ashamed of the baby , what had changed 20 years later, when he was a grown man??? I couldn't answer him...to me, he was always wonderful, a miracle. I couldn't believe I was getting to know him again. I had always hoped/prayed for it, but it seemed so impossible.
    We had a mostly good relationship for 18 years until his death from cancer.

  9. My experience of life is that I lost a child and no-one can see that.

  10. We adoptees grieve as well and no one gives a damn about our pain either. We mourn the loss of our mothers, the loss of the right to even know who they are. To love them, hug them, make Mother's Day gifts for them in school and to make them proud of us, all taken away. We are manipulated into silence by crybaby adopters who won't even acknowledge how hard the un-natural situation we are forced into is because they only care about themselves. We are called ungrateful and unstable. A child whose real mother dies who was never adopted is given all the sympathy in the world. No one would ever tell her to stop crying, shut up or get over it. Yet we adoptees...we are looked at as insane, troublemakers or rebels if we shed a tear at all for the death of the most important relationship a child can have. And when we are adults if we find out she has died before we could even know who she was.

    1. We first mothers need to recognize the grief adoptees suffer. Perhaps more acute than our own.

    2. There isn't a "thumbs up" button, but if there was, I would for this comment. Not because I like it but because it is so very, very true.

      (I don't think it's a competition between first parents and adoptees... I think both sides get the short end of the stick and are put through a lot and not expected to ever make a peep about their pain.)

  11. Hi Lorraine: off topic but I'm sure you've heard about an event that would be meaningful for you to post: 88 year old mother reunited with baby she was told died.


    Peace to you for Christmas.

  12. I just relinquished my rights (bio mom) to my sister. Thank you for validating my pain.

  13. If the first mother wishes, let that child be acknowledged as part of the family history

    Lorraine you should know better than to allow a first mother to decide whether or not the rest of the family knows and decide whether or not that child is a member of the family.

  14. But do tread gingerly and gently on a heart that has been so trampled on in all the years up to the moment she responds.

    True but let us remember too that us adoptees suffered great damage and can only handle so much cruelty in an email.

  15. Something more than an I'm sorry needs to be said. We must push for people to see how much counselling is needed in adoption. The number one thing in adoption reform needs to be the acknowledgement of counselling being needed.

  16. I was only 17 when I got my child, I wanted support and help from people who are close to me..above it all somebody I trusted the most came to me and promised to help me. I was raped when I got that child I had no hope for anything cause even in my family we are very poor and I was still young and in grade 10.the rapust wanted to take over my child..then because I wanted what's best for this child,the lady told me that if she adopt my child as her child the perpetrator won't have any access to the child and I will still be allowed to see my child and still have the right as a birth mother. After 2 years of that everything has changed I no longer get to see the child anymore this hunt me day and night.
    I'll advise y'all to keep your children to avoid being in the same situation as me, I would ask for help but I don't know where to cry to! I'm just here all alone with my regression

    1. Dear Anon:
      Your sorrow is perfectly natural, and legally there may be nothing you can do, but you might try to talk to someone who would write a letter to the lady who has your child and explain how she is going back on her promise, how knowing you all along is best for the health and well-being of that child, and how she is breaking your heart. Who knows if it might work? Stranger things have happened. As for your grief, find someone to talk to, someone who will listen and be sympathetic. They aren't likely to be able to "fix" anything, but finding a sympathetic soul, or another first mother, could be balm for your aching heart. And reading here at the blog may allow you to feel less alone.



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