The Birthmother Do’s and Don’ts Edition
I have been listening to many adoptees talk about painful reunions. Sometimes, it is through blog posts and sometimes it is through conversations on social media. Often, I get messages and emails asking me for insight and advice. I always tell people that I am just guessing the best I can, so take what resonates and feel free to throw the rest away! Really, sometimes, I feel I am talking out my ass with the rest of anyone who calls themselves an “expert.” I do NOT consider myself an expert on even my own adoption reunion. Just an imperfect human being doing the best I can. I am constantly learning, listening and questioning.
Breaking Down the Reunion Rejection Conversations
This post was originally part and parcel of “Numbers in Adoption Reunions; How Many People Get Told NO?” but then it seemed like this needed to live on its own. Partly quotes from people struggling with reunion to illustrate the very real emotions, and partly a conglomeration of what I have seen and heard over the years, these are various instances that I know have emotionally hurt various adopted persons. I wanted to share for other moms what pain they are can contribute and how they are affecting their adopted children.
An adoption reunion, like any relationship between people is hard and takes work. An adoption reunion is especially hard as there is already loss, and pain, and mistrust, and expectations, and survival skills and fear built in before anyone even starts searching! In a perfect world all parties want and expect the same thing and they miraculously know how to give the other party what they want and expect. While some reunions are a joyful mesh, most are not that easy breezy. That doesn’t’ mean that they are “bad” but it means that they need work, can ebb and flow and hopefully progress over time to be what all parties need.
In the end, it can be very well worth all the effort. As it was said: “The saddest thing about a rejecting mother in reunion is that their son/daughter is the only other person in the world who can share their pain of separation – and they reject that one and only person in the universe who has the ability to make them feel complete again.”
So why do people completely fuck it up?
Wrong Moves for Birthmothers in Adoption Reunions that Can make an Adoptee Feel Rejected
Again, from many conversations, it often seems like a birthmother does not come out directly and say NO during a reunion. Of course, there are too many that do, but then there are a whole slew that just seem to fail miserably in the process of an active reunion. Meaning, on the outside, birthmother and adoptee have some contact, but due to her own damage, or expectation, or limitations, or personal boundaries and fears, over years and sometimes decades, the adoptee finds that the whole relationship feels unsatisfying. I completely understand that what one part might find “acceptable” in a reunion, the other party might really be left wanting way more. Let this go on for too long and what was an initial “yes” can turn into a ” I can’t take this anymore”.
For example, all of these are hurtful and often detrimental to a successful adoption reunion:
1. DON’T Create the Adoptee Closet and Make your Adoptee live there:
Refusing to tell other siblings, extended family, or spouse about the contact with your newly found child or that you have been found not going to work out in the long run. Expecting that your child will be happy being a secret from the rest of your family for any extended length of time is not healthy, makes them feel ashamed, and feels like a really bad place to be. I would say a few months are OK while a newly found mother begins to process her emotions and finds the best ways to tell the rest of her world about the found adoptee, but after that, keeping your adopted child in the closet is bad news.
“When I found my family 20 years ago everyone was told about me. That’s the way it should be. My siblings were little, but I was still given the chance to be their sister; a chance I deserved (so did they). I realize it must have been very difficult to have to explain to everyone there are now 3 children, not 2…but that’s life. It’s messy. People understood. It’s been a long, hard, road with many ups and downs. But I have the utmost respect for my (birth)mother and father for telling everyone and not keeping me a secret. That would have been completely devastating.”
Plus, in my opinion, and I tell people this all the time, you might get to say whether YOU want to have a relationship with your child or not, but you don’t get to say whether they have a relationship with their siblings or extended families or not. I tell adoptees to ignore the closet and make contact with whomever they can find after a certain time frame. IE: “I am going to contact my sister in 6 weeks time. I just wanted you to know that ahead of time.”
DO understand that the shame and judgment that was put upon you during the birth of your child does not have to control your whole life. You are not the same girl that you were 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago and this is not the same world. People LOVE reunion stories and there is no law that says you have to give everyone the gory details.
2. DON’T Keep Drinking the Kool-Aid!
Insisting that the adoption relinquishment was “best” when your adoptee is telling you about their pain from being separated from you is invalidating and bound to be hurtful over time. If you tell your adoptee that you “have no regrets” then those very words can be heard to mean “I didn’t care about being separated form you.” Ouch, right? By continuing to parrot the same coercive adoption industry propaganda that got you there in the first place, you are rejecting your grown child’s very reality. It’s going to hurt. No matter what the pain is still there. You are being unhealthy. Face your loss and deal. You have avoided it long enough.
” I think my mother can’t deal. I think she believed the Kool Aid that told her I would be happy and better off. .. She “believed she gave up the rights *and entitlements* of being my mother” (emphasis hers). I think she told no one and is so freaked out she absolutely cannot deal with a universe in which I exist. So, therefore, I don’t exist . AND I HATE IT. I have no choice but to be adopted. I can never escape it”
“I think the parents who were shamed into placing children, even after that many years, probably carry around a TON of shame and STILL believe they are unworthy of their child..even if and when that same child comes seeking them out. I know a woman who …was afraid she was poisonous to this child even after 30 years of not seeing or knowing him. She truly believed she wasn’t deserving of his love too.”
“I wish the moms refusing contact/relationship could know that “the truth shall set you free” is so very true. Living an authentic life as a mom of four, not three, has changed my life. It was so very worth all the hard work of coming out of the closet and denial. If only it was possible to get all the rejecting mothers to know that…”
DO some research and find out the history and factual information about the adoption industry before you just repeat everything you were told. They adoption professionals did not know what they were talking about in the best case scenario, and in the worst case, they out right lied to you. They lied to all of us. You don’t feel like they said it would because they were wrong. Your child found you because you have value and worth to them. You ARE still a mother.
3. DON’T be Cold and Dead Inside
There is NO getting around it. Adoption is hard. A reunion, which is a relationship, is even harder and takes work. No matter what you want to believe about adoption, you did not really escape anything. If you buried the pain, it’s still there. If you tried to “forget your child”, they are back and very real. If you tried to “be positive”, there is still ugly stuff. If you attempted to “not bond” or “move on” or whatever, MAKE BELIEVE. So again, deal with whatever it is and do NOT make you child suffer for your issues! They are the ones who had no choice.
“Mine cares not at all about me. She has said that she does not know why she doesn’t love me, or feel bonded to me, just doesn’t. And that, is that. My karmic lesson in this life is to figure out how to live with that and be a good person anyway.”
“If they admit love they realize the loss.. their mind is gone”
On the same token..
4. DON’T be a Massive Emotional Wreck
If you are aware of just how traumatic and horrible the relinquishment was for you, you do not want your adoptee to feel like they are the “worst thing” that happened in your life. It very well could be, but again, that’s not their fault.
“And I wish my very existence wasn’t her worst nightmare. That is… really hard to live with.”
DO allow yourself to actually FEEL the loss of your child. Grieve. Let in the hurt. Embrace it. Find a support group for mothers. Read “The Girls That Went Away”. Read Birthmother Blogs. Know you are not alone. Find a good therapist that understands adoption, grieving and trauma. And thy to keep it together and healthy for your adoptee. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be honest, as you should< but calling them up crazy hysterical in the middle of a trigger? They are NOT here to take care of you and they can’t make it better for you. Only you can. Find support and process it. It’s human nature to avoid things that make us feel bad, so watch the guilt levels that you might be projecting.
5. DON’T Keep Kids Separated
Treating your relinquished child differently than your other kids is often a continuation of making the adoptee feel that they have no place. This is a hard one because they ARE often different; you have lost years of bonding, shared memories and everything else that adoption took away. But, in my opinion, one must TRY. Don’t go telling your adopted child about a great “family vacation” that you just got back from with the other three siblings and didn’t mention it to them.
“I wouldn’t hear from her and she would be posting about how she loved her daughters and grandkids, how she had lunch with her girls and how they were all best friends. I’d see them all in pictures going to a weekend together. I saw pictures of my sisters kids weddings that I wasn’t invited to, baby showers I wasn’t invited to….and so on.”
DO include your adopted child as one of your brood as best possible. They might not feel they have the right to be included or they might not really want to, but IMO, you should talk about what is comfortable and realistic.
6. DO NOT Lie in ANY Form or Fashion
I’m sorry but you don’t get to pull the “that’s private card.” You don’t get to avoid speaking about an adoptees biological father because it’s “between us” and you don’t get to try to control that relationship either. ‘Fess up what you know and then leave it alone. I have heard the “father conversations” challenge more good reunions than anything else, even ones that went on for decades. The truth might not be the most pleasant thing in the world, but the adoptee deserves the right to KNOW the truth. It’s THEIR story too and you cannot be the gatekeeper.
“All I want are some answers. She is the only one who can provide them. I wish I could have just one hour with her to TALK, face to face…..I’m not expecting her to suddenly be my best friend, but could answering some questions directly….. be so much to ask?”
DO tell your child what they want to know. It can be simple, you don’t have to dredge up every single detail, but truthful honest conversations are a must. Especially when it comes to THEIR part of the story and questions about fathers. For dads, you might need to dredge up more is they are still searching.
7. DON’T Keep Reunions Remote For Too Long
I have no problem with people wanting to take things slow, but both parties should try to keep the other abreast on their personal comfort level. Making the other party wait years for a face to face meeting is cruel especially if you don’t give a time frame to go by. Again, there is nothing wrong with saying something like “I have too much going on right now with school/ my huge project/my sick mothers/ my husband’s cancer/ the move across country and I just don’t think I can handle another important thing right now”, but say, “Let’s talk about this in 6 months and come up with a plan that works when I can give you the full attention that you deserve.” or something. Open ended waiting is going to kill anyone’s good will.
”I just want to see her once,”
and then copy this quote about more 30 times.
DO be aware that the one who is found often needs more time to prepare. The one who did the searching had time to get ready. Again, it’s about being open and honest. See the trend here.
8. DON’T Make up Stupid Reunion Rules
Aside from the unhealthy adoptee closets, I have heard other moms say things to adoptees like “don’t tag me on Facebook because I don’t want to deal” or “your kids can’t call me grandma because then people will know” or “call me Sally because I am not your mother, I gave that up” or whatever. Get a hold of your shame, deal with the whispers, shut the hell up and be thankful that your child wants to actually be your child!!
“She told me my nephew shouldn’t call me Aunt Michele because I’m not really his aunt. That’s only for family.”
DO set healthy boundaries that both parties can live with. See below.
9. DON’T Dismiss The Adoptee Experience
Just like it’s bad for an adoptive parent to shut out a birthmother because she is “too sad” it is also wrong for a birthmother to shut out her adopted child because they are “too negative” or “angry” or whatever. I’m not saying that anyone has the right to be nasty or abusive, and sometimes, one must create boundaries to keep a relationship healthy, but I have heard some real zingers. I know it’s really hard, but we must face the fact that the adoption industry lied and our children were often not “better” off. Yes, mothers feel guilty. Yes, sometimes it is not our fault, but sometimes it can be seen as we have some fault. You don’t have to take the blame, but understand that your child hurts and has a right to their feelings. And if you do own some of it, take responsibility. No matter what you can say “I’m so sorry” and listen.
On the same token, if they tell you how great it all ways, how much their adoptive parents rock, etc, don’t get angry at them for having the experience that they should have had. Be happy that they were not screwed over and damaged more deeply.
“Mine told me that I should reconcile with my adoptive mother… whom I hadn’t spoken to for 20 years, at that point, and who disowned me for searching.”
“At every turn she’d justify something. Always telling me I’m not entitled to feel as I do. Or, that if I feel as I do it’s because there is something intrinsically wrong with me.”
DO try to separate what is your truth and our adoptees and also to examine how what you learn about your adoptee’s life and feelings affect to you. Just don’t make it about YOU. Sometimes we can be hurt by the adoptees says even if their intentions are good and they are parroting the script. It’s OK to explain how you feel differently, but you cannot expect them to immediately change their tune either. Yes, mothers can often feel guilty. Yes, sometimes it is not our fault, but sometimes it can be seen as we have some fault. You don’t have to take the whole blame, but understand that your child hurts and has a right to their feelings. And if you do own some of it, take responsibility. No matter what you can say “I’m so sorry” and listen.
10. DON’T be Un-accepting and Judgmental
So your found child is gay, has married out of their race, didn’t finish college, has a drug problem, has tattoos, and makes other “poor choices;’ that you do not approve of? Get over it. Deal with your issues and do NOT make your prejudice or expectations their problem. Guess what? You are still a mother and mothers are supposed to love unconditionally. And for the moms that find fault with stupid stuff? Really? I have NO words for horrible behavior like this.
“I bought my momma a pretty tote for mother’s day. I chose it with love, My 16 yr old daughter helped me pick it out. I wrapped and shipped it to her at her son’s house. She told me she thought I had purposely chosen the ugliest bag possible just to offend her.”
Do accept your child for whatever they are. Find something to love and then do it. Accept what they have for you. Accept their love, friendship, whatever. Just ACCEPT!
11. Don’t Be Shallow
If you think reunion contact is initial contact, one face to face meeting, transfer of medical information and then a yearly Christmas card, then you might be forcing your adopted child to feel rejected. If you think the occasional email of “Hi, how are you? The weather is hot here but we re-carpeted the living room” is enough, then think again. Make it real.
” I will not give her that superficial email and chit chat to make her feel like we have some sort of relationship”
DO be real, honest and take the chance to go as deep as your adopted child feels comfortable with. Maybe even push them deeper here and there.
12. Don’t Expect the Adoptee to Choose Sides or be Critical of the Adoptive Parents
Even if they suck. Even if you have a right to. Don’t put your child in that place. Stick with what you know as your truth and accept the information that the adoptee gives you as valid and real to them.
13. DON’T Treat The Adoptee Like a Bad Boyfriend
Reunions take on this weird special status that I liken to the “bad boyfriend syndrome”. The first meeting is much like a first date, but more important than any potential suitor since this is your child. It’s like KNOWING you are going to have one chance to impress the love of your life, the guy you will marry, but if you screw up this date, or wear the wrong shoes, you will be alone and miserable forever. It’s pretty much unavoidable in the beginning, but after some time, you have got to relax!
With a bad boyfriend we worry about what to do all the time.”Should I call him? What if I call him and he’s not home? Should I leave a message? I left a message yesterday and he didn’t call back. What if he didn’t get it. Ok I’ll call, but I won’t leave another message, Or wait, I’ll call later I’ll call at 9:17″ Not only is it the way we act when immature and 16, but it’s also exhausting!
DO treat the adoptee as you would any NORMAL close family member. If you call your sister and she doesn’t call back, what do you do? DO you assume that she hates you and is avoiding you or do you wait a few days and call again assuming she was busy. If you have a urge to call, CALL.
I am sure there are other ways that that an adoption reunion can turn completely sour. If you got a good one, please leave it in the comments and I have no problem editing more in! In fact, I rather like it when the AdoptionLand Hivemind helps!!
Here’s Other Posts About Adoption Reunion Issues:
please free free to add you own or other links you found helpful:Adoption Reunions: Secondary Rejections & Why Things Go Wrong
1) Find appropriate outlets for your "adoption crazy." Adoption reunions can bring out the nutty in the best of us. Adoptees and first parents may both enter the reunion process with wounds and scars created by their separation from each other.
Hearing the Rejected Adoptee's Pain I hate this conversation. In my opinion, I have it all too often. I hate it when one of my adoptee friends have come out of their adoption fog, gone through an adoption search, found their personal Holy Grail- their very own long lost mother- only to have her send that adoptee away, denied.
Ask yourself, honestly and truthfully, are you thinking ” I will be happy when my birthmother/ adopted child/Bio sibling accepts me?”
Can you be happy even if that never happens?
What do playing Angry Birds and struggling with adoption reunion have in common?
Truthfully? I have no idea. What works for one reunion might not work for another. The measure of what makes an adoption reunion successful really does depend on the parties involved and how they measure that success. Are they both satisfied with the measure of contact?
When the media has asked me about reunion outcomes I always tell them that just like all other interpersonal relationships, they run the gamut from great to awful and everything in between and many - as we all know - can go back and forth and back again.
If you find yourself rejected during an adoption reunion, the facts and numbers of whether it is "rare" or common will not ease your pain and heartache.
What does an adoption reunion look like when it works? What works in an Adoption Reunion and makes it successful? How come a good reunion relationship is so hard?
A birthmother in adoption reunions can make some wrong moves that make an adoptee feel rejected. Avoid these common reunion pitfalls that can emotionally hurt an adoptee in reunion.
In an adoption reunions,an adoptee can make some wrong moves that make their birthmothers feel like crap. Avoid these common reunion pitfalls that can emotionally hurt an a birthmother in reunion.