' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why Mothers Reject Reunion

Monday, February 20, 2023

Why Mothers Reject Reunion


Besides the debatable differences on the grief scale for those involved in open or closed adoptions, there is a second issue: What happens later. And that requires looking at the impact of shame, humiliation, grief, and gossip—and the subsequent secrecy—that surrounded the mothers who relinquished their children decades ago. For months, the pregnant women, some of them high school teenagers, hid their growing bellies from the outside world. They were forced to drop out of school and go into seclusion, possibly with faraway relatives or in a maternity home—some even committed to psychiatric institutions—all to shelter their families from the ignominy of the unwed and unwanted pregnancy. Every day was a reminder of how disgraceful it was to get pregnant outside marriage. Knowing that they were going to relinquish their babies to adoption, birth itself was sad, harrowing in the present and haunting in the future. 
A great many of these teenagers received little or no emotional support from their families, and instead endured their scorn before and after the birth. For these teens and women, it was a hellish time. Then these young mothers, still aching for their babies with the “love hormone” oxytocin running rampant in their bodies, were told to “forget” the whole experience! Social workers said it. So did priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis, and doctors. Some women were told their babies died, while others were told they were supposed to think of their child as dead. The mantra women in closed adoptions heard was forget, forget, forget. They were supposed to move on with their lives and not grieve openly, the way one is allowed to grieve in any other catastrophic loss. Some dropped out of high school. Those in college often switched schools, having to integrate themselves into a world of coeds whose greatest problem was getting into the sorority of their choice. Like many others, I quit my job and moved to another town. 

I was fortunate in that my social worker did not tell me I would forget. She said I would never forget, but that in time, my awareness of loss would be easier to bear. There would be scar tissue, but the wound would heal somewhat. And in truth, it did. It took a long time, but life—and acceptance of my life—did get better. 

Perhaps writing has been a way of expiating my own sorrow and guilt, but since writing about my life is as natural as riding a bicycle, I don’t experience it that way. I do know those honest words from my social worker and adoption confidante, as I sat weeping in her office, have always been a lodestar on my life’s journey. She understood as well as anyone who has not gone through this herself. 

But others had the primacy of secrecy drilled into them too deep to dig themselves out. Many were left an absolute emotional mess, without a shoulder to cry on, and once they managed to squelch their pain and sorrow and get their lives back together, they had constructed a suit of emotional armor that left them unwilling ever to go there again. Opening themselves up once more to the pounding grief, embarrassment, and disgrace of that time in their lives became unthinkable. And so, they reject reunion. Even when their grown sons and daughters return, however discreetly, asking for information and hoping for connection.--Excerpt from Hole In My Heart: Love and Loss in the Fault Lines of Adoption 


  1. Feeling sorrow about the many women and young girls who were subjected to being shunned and scorned and coerced into making choices and living lives they did not want to. Growing up in India in the 1970s, I remember when a teenager in my neighborhood, just one year older than me, someone I saw often who went to the same school as me, committed suicide by jumping off her third floor balcony. I remember being overcome with shock and sadness. Then I remember the hush-hush talk: "she went and got herself pregnant, stupid girl." And I thought, "how horrible, that this was the only solution that presented itself to her, that we as a community felt this was the best way for her to rid her family of the so-called shame." The support back then and, indeed, to this day, I think was and is non-existent.

  2. Lorraine, once again your words ring so true. As a first mother, I was never whole after I lost my son to adoption when I was 16. Of course, my son has his own set of relinquishment trauma. Reunion has helped, but it comes with so many complications. I’m looking forward to your new edition of “Hole in my Heart”. I know there will be nuggets of wisdom that will help those of us along our heartbreaking journeys.

  3. Lorraine, thank you so much for posting this!

  4. I almost gave my baby up for adoption. The couple told me they wanted a semi open adoption. They wanted to send me pictures for the first year. I changed my mind, and they were really upset. Your forum gave me a lot of information about adoption. Thank you.


  5. There has been an organization called Alma who has reunited many families and or given them the information they were seeking about their “ biological family “. They are retiring and I wish someone would write about them and all they have done. There is a Facebook group under Alma. Thank you.



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