' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: First/birth mothers: Letting out the secret of the child no one knows about; telling the family about my first child, relinquished to adoption

Saturday, January 18, 2020

First/birth mothers: Letting out the secret of the child no one knows about; telling the family about my first child, relinquished to adoption

Jane and Lorraine, 1982
New York's Gov. Cuomo announced yesterday that more than 3,600 people applied for their original birth certificates within 48 hours of the new law that allowed adoptees to obtain a copy of their original or "pre-adoption" birth certificates. He noted the numbers of people indicated how "valuable" this "policy change" was.

Damn straight!

All this interest does mean that a great many mothers and fathers whose children were relinquished for adoption will be eventually contacted. Not every adoptee will search, but many will. Many mothers and some fathers who have been in denial about this possibility may be fearful of being contacted. Worried about "what the neighbors will think." Or, what our (kept) children think? Will I have to tell him/her who the father is? Or they may start remembering the awful time of pregnancy and relinquishment, the shame of the past, the fear of being "found out" that they were "knocked up." My god, even the language of previous times sounds judgmental, indicative of the shame of that era.

What it was like from
conception to reunion
to relationship
I can remember the cold-stone fear I had when I told my mother about my daughter six years after she was born, adopted, gone. It was 1972 or early 1973.  I took my mother to lunch, we ordered drinks, we ordered food and before it came, I found the words that went something like this: Mom, remember that time when I said I had mono and was out of work for a while and you found out about it?  Well, I had a daughter, Mom, and gave her up for adoption. And I'm writing about it because I want to find her one day, and I've already testified in court for an adopted person who wants to find out who her parents are....

Sometimes the right words are the direct ones. No twaddling about with language. Just start, and let the words come out. I'm pretty sure I said the whole shebang fast, without comma stops or ahems to get the words out without faltering. And then, there, the story was on the table before the food arrived.

Many of you won't be telling your parents, but your other children instead of all ages, or even perhaps your husband/partner. No matter how frightening it seems at the outset--and it is likely to--telling the truth about yourself will lift a huge burden of hidden emotions you have been sheltering alone. But once you release the secret you've been stuffing down your heart, you can share your feelings. You will be free to be your complete self. Over the years, there must have been times when something reminded you of her/him--a child in the street, a movie scene, a cousin's pregnancy, talk of adoption--when you had a pang of guilt and sorrow and couldn't share it with anyone. That can't be good for anyone's health. I'd love to see a study of the health of women who have, say, cancer, and if there is a relationship between keeping grief and a secret hidden and rate of disease. Research has shown for years that stress is directly related to disease.
Revolutionary and still
relevant today 

But as you face telling your family, remember that times have changed! The era in which you relinquished--even if only two decades ago--is past. Think how quickly the public went from not talking about anyone being gay to where one's sexual preference in many places is no longer a whispered scandal, just a simple fact. When I relinquished in the Sixties, unmarried people of opposite sex couldn't live together--or "shack up," as it was called--without a marriage certificate. My mother would have turned purple at the very thought! Now it's common; so is having a child without marriage. So while you remember that era, remind yourself that was the past, that was when we were so different then.

Not only are the times different, you are a different person today. You are not the scared, lonely, screwed up, teenager, or yes, addicted person you may have been once. You are stronger, older, wiser, more able to see the world and consequences differently.

No one is going to stone you, put you in the penalty box, or send you to a nunnery. Yes, there will be some initial shock: How come you never told me? How did you do it without us knowing? Is that why you went to Spain and decided to stay for a year? (I actually knew someone whose sister went to Russia--and stayed and had a child there.)

Richard Hill's search and
reunion due to DNA
The hurdle now is less the act than admitting you kept it secret. But people are pretty self-absorbed, and once they get over the initial shock, they will go about their lives concerned, not with you, but themselves. There's more to say about this, and we'll revisit this again soon.

As for New York, 3,600 number refers only to those adoptees 18 and over who applied for their true/original/pre-adoption birth certificates and applied online at the state Department of Health, the venue for people born outside of New York City. People born in New York City apply at the New York City Department of Health.  (Hot links to the sites) Direct descendants of adoptees who have passed may also apply, such as a child, grandchild, or great-grandchild. There are an estimated 600,000 adoptees in New York State, but this provision opens the records up to many more people, should they so choose.

To adoptees: This is your record, your right, your heritage. To birth parents: think of your baby, only now grown up. Had circumstances not intervened, he/she would have always known you. Be a part of undoing the ill effects of bad social engineering. Don't let the wake trailing behind you determine your future.--lorraine 
To read:

hole in ny heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
"In this brilliantly crafted and compelling memoir, Dusky covers all perspectives: her own grief and pain as a first mother, her daughter's anger and longing, and the adoptive parents' fears...I was equally astounded by her ability to flawlessly weave in facts about adoption practices over the years, the impact of adoption on both adoptees and birth mothers, and the lack of progress to unseal records."
--Denise Roessle, author of Second-Chance Mother, Adoption Today Magazine

The Adoption Triangle

Randolph Severson   November 12, 2019

There are few books that qualify as Essentials for comprehending the protean nature of adoption experience — this one does and it very well may top the list. The co-authors Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor, who collaborated as well on another classic in the field, Lethal Secrets, here together with the psychiatrist Sorosky present adoption not as it is often represented in the media, as a picture perfect solution to a threefold problem — the problem of infertility or child loss, a crisis pregnancy, and a child in need of a home — but as a complex, at times conflicted and deeply troubling human experience, a conflict heightened by the secrecy that prevailed in adoption at the time of the writing of the book. The author’s revolutionary argument, ratified and reinforced here with research and stories, was simply that you cannot build families, much less enduring trust and love, on lies and secrecy, no matter how well-intentioned. The Adoption Triangle truly changed the field of adoption and uplifted countless hearts with the possibilities of finding their roots and knowing their stories. Written with concision, heart and fluency it is both irreplaceable and indispensable. A True Classic.

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA
5.0 out of 5 stars Page turner
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 10, 2013
At the age of 18, Richard Hill discovered he was an adoptee when his family doctor, assuming he must know the truth about his birth, asked him, "How do you feel about being adopted?" His subsequent search for the truth about his birth parents which is detailed in this book occupied him on and off for the next 40 years and contains more twists and turns, false dawns and red herrings than most detective novels. This is a compelling read which I would recommend to anyone, not just those interested in genealogy.


  1. I'm a NYC adoptee, and I mailed my notarized form Wednesday morning. I figure it'll take 3 months, bringing me to April. My first granddaughter is due in April, so it should be an eventful month for me.
    I can't help but wonder what would have happened if this law had passed when I was 18, instead of 57. I really think I would have found my family sooner, and would have known my mother for more than 4 years before she died. Maybe with all that time, our relationship could have been different.

    I know there's no way to know what would have been, but this wonderful law came a little late for me.

  2. Thank you Lorraine for posting this. I'm a birth mother and have experienced the shame remorse and that hole in my sole. The feelings have eased over the years after revealing to family and recently to friends my story of giving up my son in 1969 Sept 30th in Fla. (The adoptive parents from NY). I have put all my information out there and pray my son will find me! My four Children (9 grandchildren) are supportive and would love to meet their brother! I know not all reunions have a happy ending...I know to this birth mother its everything. The last piece to fill the hole in my sole. Have you had a good life? I have loved and missed you every day.

  3. "To adoptees: This is your record, your right, your heritage. To birth parents: think of your baby, only now grown up."
    this is very true and I applaud you for saying this however some birth mothers mine included do not see it this way.I have been faced with the situation of my birth mother telling me that it is her heritage and not mine, and will not introduce me to either my brother sister,grandmother or uncle.I am told that because she didn`t want me (her words) it is therefore her family and her place within the family that matters and her position that she needs to protect,as she is the boss (again her words)and it is a matter for them and the family and not me.Interestingly she also doesn`t call me by my name but calls me the baby girl.
    faced with this of course I have no argument.Sometimes reunions don`t work because people don`t want them to work but also don`t want the responsibility of having to reject a person to their face .

  4. Anonymous, what your mother has said sounds very cruel and selfish; I hope you don't take to heart her claiming heritage only for herself, and she's the boss. Ridiculous and pathetic! But I guess she is scared, and feeling guilty - unfortunately that doesn't go very far to help her, as a reason or as an excuse. It's really sad, as in denying you, she is still having to keep this secret . . . worrying and feeling overwhelmed or threatened . . . As they say - only she has the key to let herself out of jail. Or as Ghandi said: Fear has its use, but cowardice has none. It seems like she has let her fears override any sound decisions she could otherwise make.

    As far as your siblings or any other relatives go, you are under NO obligation to leave them alone or stay away from them, based on the statements your mother has made. They are your relatives, too. It might lead to more disappointment - but you never know. I hope not. Everyone does not respond the same way, and often more family is welcomed, as a happy thing.

  5. I have been following your page for a few months now. It has been useful helpful as well as enlightening!
    My son found me this past March because NY FINALLY opened BC to adoptees. I do have a question, are there any books on reunions for parent/adoptee? I feel as if I am floundering in this reunion. I have searched to find something. I have been told to read primal wound, to educate myself. I get that, but I have yet found anything to have a successful reunion. I feel like a floundering fish.
    Thank you for all you do!

    1. I can relate to what you write. I was a floundering fish for several years after my daughter found me but now we have a great relationhip.

      For a book which includes a positive reunions, I recommend Carol Schaefer's "Searching."

      The American Adoption Congress has a long list of books written by first parents, adoptees, adoptive parent, and adoption "professionals". Not all are positive but they do articulate the struggles and their causes that adoptees and their first parents face. https://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/rec_read.php

      I'd be happy to talk to you about reunion. Email me at forumfirstmother@gmail.com.


    2. My book, hole in my heart, is about my search and complicated relationship with my daughter over more than two decades. It was up and down and up and down, but I never regretted a moment of it. It was life. It was the continuing story of our lives. The emotions unleashed are complicated because the relationship was cut off for so many years. We mothers tend to forget that even without adoption, some mother and child relationships as adults are complicated. I hope you'll give it a read. You can read more about it at the amazon page, just click on the link on the side.

  6. My mother died when I was 17, I gave birth to my daughter at 18, almost 19, in 1969, in the mid west. I felt so much shame and could not tell my father and had a private, closed adoption in another state. Finding out I was pregnant at nearly 4 months...only one time of intercourse, I would have thanked my lucky stars if I could have had an abortion. Instead I felt like I went figuratively kicking and screaming into the slavery of being forced into having a baby for people who wanted a girl. If my Mom had been alive I would have likely asked her for help. I was so alone and by my 19th birthday had lost my whole female lineage from my mother to my daughter. After the birth, I was frightened out of my wits and felt that I had ruined my life. I figured no one would want to marry me now. I briefly fell into promiscuity and drug use and figured I should at least learn to enjoy sex, since Id already had a baby. Fast forward 21 years, I was married, had a three year old son, sought counseling and attended a triad adoption support group for a couple of years, which was predominantly comprised of birth mothers and a surrogate. The surrogate had already had three children that she was raising by herself due to a divorce. She thought she'd help an infertile couple and get some money for her family....after time in a psychiatric facility she said she couldn't believe she had been so naive as to think things would be okay, but society gives us rosy messages.
    My reunion with my daughter is now 30 years and I am at a point where I feel stuck and unclear about my boundaries with her and her family. She has huge mental health issues and has been often a poor mother to my now adult, grandchildren. The oldest grandchild is independent, but the younger two are dependent upon the tax payers. She babies them so much and I believe she honestly cannot bring herself to want for their independence.
    My daughter is so psychically connected with me despite the repeated unhealthy choices she continues to make. I have struggled with my boundaries and her manipulation. I now feel protective of her influence upon her half siblings, my other two grown children. Also, being a typical adoptee, she spends money quite freely...only the best for her. I was too poor to care for her, did not even have $50 to my name when she was born, and I have always lived within my means. Just wonder if there are others who are long term into a reunion to talk with. I have been actively involved in the Motherless Daughters Community since Covid and have uncovered much of the unresolved grief of losing my mother and reframing the narrative more positively. I wish there was something similar for older birthmothers who were from the dark ages of secrecy, shame and illegal reunions. I know every story is unique. Lately I've been listening to Joni Mitchell and can hear the loss of her daughter in all of her songs..."And the dream of a baby like a promise to be free." "I bore her, but I could not raise her" . This is my life's greatest failing and the gift that keeps burning me. Love to all of you in your journey <3

    1. I encourage you to read memoirs by mothers from this time of secrecy and shame. Start with Lorraine's books, Birthmark written before her reunion and Hole in My Heart written after her reunion

      I also encourage you to contact CUB, Concerned United Birthparents. Many of its members gave up their children in the dark ages of secrecy and shame. There may be a local chapter in your area. CUB will have a retreat in the fall of 2021 which will give you a chance to meet mothers from all over the country.

      A note: I was surprised at your comment that spending money freely is typical for an adoptee. This is the first the I've heard this. The daughter I gave away manages her money very carefully as does one of my kept daughters.

  7. I have recently connected with my son, given up for adoption 30 years ago. Its a wonderful feeling to get a second chance. I have kept the reunion to myself for the past year - enjoying the proceas of getting to know him and yes repairing that hole. We have not met in person yet due to covid -19 but we have had a couple of video calls. But now I am ready to share him with the rest of my family, there is a snag.. my husband does not want me to talk to/tell my other children aged 17/12/8. I am not sure what to do next. I do not want the secrets to continue.

    1. Living with secrets creates chronic stress. And as a practical matter, your children will eventually learn of their older brother. An interrupted phone call or letter, a chatty relative, it will come out. Better to be honest with them from the start. It's also unfair to your surrendered son to keep him a secret. It makes him less than a full-fledged human.

      My raised children were 25, 23, and 20 when their relinquished sister and I connected. It wasn't easy telling them and they didn't take it well but I could not have dealt with the secrecy. I wanted an honest relationship with my oldest daughter which would be impossible if I kept her a secret.

      Although this was not my experience, many first mothers report that their children are delighted to learn of the other sibling. Perhaps you could go to counseling with a therapist who understands adoption. Perhaps an adoptee friend could explain to your husband why full disclosure is best.

      Here's the posts I wrote about telling my daughters. https://www.firstmotherforum.com/2009/07/telling-my-family-about-my-birth-child.html



      Take care and let us know how things go.

  8. I have a question. Do you have an email I can privately message you at?


  10. FYI to anyone, our email address is posted on the right side of the blog.



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