Numbers in Adoption Reunions; How Many People Get Told NO?

Adoption Reunion Rejection

 I Won’t Say I know the Truthful Answers, But I’m Willing to Ask the Questions

A few weeks ago I shared a link to another article talking about secondary adoption rejection from the POV of an adoptee. I didn’t think much about the link before I posted it, as I was just sharing from Adoption Voices Magazine. Being a contributor there, I try to spread the word like a good team player.  I hadn’t even done more than glance over the post before I shared it. After all, we already had a good lengthy discussion over here on Secondary Adoptee Rejection in Reunions and didn’t think I had much more insight to give to the conversation. However, the commentary and conversation based off my share on Facebook actually did give me a bunch of new things to think about.

Is Secondary Adoption Reunion Rejection “Rare”?

I am actually asking this as a valid question. I am not sure of the answer.

I have had a few people tell me that I should stop saying it because by perpetuating that reunion rejection by a birthmother is rare, then it sets up adoptees for disappointment when they are rejected. I can understand that. The same thing has been said about “all mothers want their children”. The issue in that sentence is “all”.  I feel confident saying MOST mothers do NOT wish to be separated from their children, but what that morphs into over time might be something else entirely.  Any hopeful expectation especially around something as important as meeting your family or being accepted by your long lost mothers can lead to crushing disappointment. It is certainly NOT my intention at all to EVER contribute any more pain to any adoptee.

Adoption Reunion RejectionYet, as I tried to explain, the factual research that I have available DOES really indicate that less than 1% of relinquishing mothers opt for no contact when given the choice. On top of that, The recently published research by Elizabeth J. Samuels ” Surrender and Subordination: Birth Mothers and Adoption Law” backs up that same percentage. I have a post on the report scheduled for tomorrow. In the meantime, you can download the paper here.  This number is vital to have to counteract the opposition and questions regarding OBC access. When a legislator starts saying “Well, what about the birthmothers who want no contact?” explaining that there are hard numbers that put them at 1% is a great motivating factors.

Of course, we do face the fact that any adoption research is never 100% accurate due to the fact that there is no one agency that oversees or even counts the numbers of adoptions and would enable the entire population of people affect by adoption to be counted. The numbers that are here are based on original birth certificate access and the numbers of mothers who opt out of contact when a state opens their identity records to adoptee access. There is only  handful of states and mostly less than a decade of years, but does that make the number inaccurate? I really do not know. I know that the stats from the UK, New Zealand and Australia also show the same levels of “rare” no contact a about 1%, but they are still based on the OBC request verses “no contact” preferences/ vetoes as well.

“(the state)… lies about the number of adoptees rejected – because they don’t take into account the people they never allow into their (CI) program.”

“It is quite frequent. People just so not want to talk about it, because it is devastating.”

“I think they only say it’s rare so they don’t have to admit how they have screwed people over with accessing records”

Anecdotal Evidence to the Quandary

Now if I was to base a number on what I see and hear every day, I would say that adoptee reunion rejection is MUCH more frequent. I openly said that myself in the original conversation:

“It’s funny though..( not funny haha ) as much as I use the 1%, and I have crunched the numbers myself.. I sure DO know ALL too many who ARE rejected! ( and yes, I still want to take a two by four and slap some sense into the mothers who do that to ya’ll)”

Now, is it the fault of the numbers that we have? Is it because they do not take into account all the adoptees that have managed to search anyway despite being denied their OBCs by the state? Obviously, it cannot count in the mothers that have died before a search was completed. Is it that was is collected is purposely skewed as proposed to make people think that adoption is a happily ever after story? Is there a huge difference in relinquishing mothers overall? I mean, there ARE differences in how mothers processed the experience based on so many factors and their mental health at the time of being found has a huge part of a successful or unsuccessful reunion, but is it enough to make that 1% jump up to a full 50%?

Like perhaps the 1% that opts out when a state opens does not represent an average of the population. Is there a whole new untouched level of mother in hiding that does not respond to “contact preferences” at all because they aren’t even aware that a state has opened? Are they so deep in the denial closet that they ignore all things adoption until they get that phone call from their long lost child  and THEN they scream NO?? Like, I, do NOT KNOW those mothers. I know moms who have struggled to deal with the relinquishment, who struggle to come out of the closet, who wonder how to tell folks, who still fight the stereotypes, who have had less than successful happy reunions due to many different factors, but never have I met ONE that has said to me “I do not want to be ever contacted by my child!” Though there is an interesting comment I found here on the MOTL that I will be addressing in another post! ( I might just be talking about this stuff all week!)

Yet, I DO know all too many of their children! And I really do hurt and feel for them.

“When you are rejected – it doesn’t help to hear from someone that WASN’T rejected… that you are in the “extremely rare” 1-5% of adoptees rejected.”

“I am tired of being told “oh, but this situation is rare!” Yeah, but I’m IN IT, so, not so rare for me, then.”

“I’ve always said that statistics are meaningless when you’re one of the statistics.”

I Know a LOT of Adoptees Who Have Been Rejected

A whole lot. Way, way too many. Yes, I would say that about half the adoptees I know struggle with have an nonexistent or unsatisfactory relationship with their found mothers.  So I wonder is it the numbers or is it the population?

I will first preface by saying I HATE pulling this line out here for questioning, but perhaps as I ponder, there is kernel of truth? I am sure all have heard the classic dismissal line “Well, you only hear from the unhappy people online . The stable happy ones aren’t sitting at a computer”. Does that apply here? If half the adoptees I know online are either searching, in a new reunion, or excited about a new reunion, and then half the ones I know are rejected, does that mean that ones who search, find and are Ok go off happily in the sunset and are really never heard from again? Not saying this is an all or nothing as I do some adoptees who have been in “good” reunions for decades and still stick around the interwebs to continue sharing information and advice, but is it possible? And again, I am really just asking because I do not know!

Even if I look at my own journey online, I came on “to prepare” and I did that for a few years. Once I met Max in 2007, I was over the moon with joy. I had quite enough information gathered and I really didn’t “need” to have consistent support anymore.  Our reunion has been really smooth and I could have just as easily walked away. I even remember Rye asking me after I returned from the face to face if I was “satisfied” and while I replied that all the “research” had been worth it, my time in AdoptionLand was NOT over. As I said to him, “This has a life of its own now. It’s bigger than just me”, as my commitment was then on speaking the truth and to the community. It was not about what *I* needed at all anymore, but is that common?

I can start listing all the folks I have known over the past 12 years who have disappeared  from online and that list is huge too! We do have a rather transient community with people flowing in and out over time. Can it be that among adoptees those dealing with bad reunion issues have more to work out and so they stay around longer making it seem like there are way more rejections? I don’t know. Again, just throwing thoughts out there!

Back to the Numbers, Even if They Suck

If there are somewhere around 6 to 8 million adult adoptees in the United States, we can assume that there are say at least 6 million birthmothers and  less than 1% is documented as wanting to be left alone for sure. That gives us around 40 thousand that will openly reject their relinquished child. That’s still a lot of people getting screwed over with secondary rejection.

Can we add to these known numbers so the picture gets closer to the anecdotal reality?

Let’s say that a mother does NOT initially reject her child when she is found, then she doesn’t “fit” in to the available stats. She says, yes, we can meet or talk or whatever, but then, again like too many of the stories I hear, she has self imposed boundaries and limitations, something goes wrong in the reunion.  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”.

The more I think about it, in many ways, there almost seems to be that adoptees that have had some contact, but the overall experience over time became more than they could, or should, bear. I get tons of emails and messages about the various issues in a somewhat “ongoing” reunion and ones that I have to say are not at all what anyone would consider a “healthy” relationship. I think the initial 1% numbers are again, only dealing with the documented numbers on initial contact of any sort.. phone call, email, trading medical information, but NOT a situation where things don’t work out.

Is it worth it to say there is the INITIAL secondary reunion rejection (with the first rejection being the actual relinquishment) which is where a mother says NO outright to ANY contact and then a POST-CONTACT secondary reunion rejection? Which can involve a myriad of issues common to adoption reunions that eventually lead to the adoptee feeling, and often actually being, rejected. At that point whether the contact is cut off from either party, the feelings are still the same. It hurts. Like hell, I have been told. Probably, as much as the initial loss, if not more.

Or is it that birthmothers are so skewed that we are taught that we “should” be there for adoptees and so they don’t say no outright, thus preserving that 1% number, but then the relationship is sabotaged in some way? Maybe only the truly confident birthmother can say NO directly and the rest are all wishy-washy plagued by guilt and low self worth that they just cannot emotionally handle all that their grown adoptees need and end up hurting them all over again because they are so broken and dead inside? Are some mothers unconsciously protecting the rejecting mothers truth for some reason?

What I Do Not Understand about Reunion Statistics

I don’t think that it is a case where the numbers are being covered up and propagated to screw anyone over, though I wouldn’t put much past the adoption industry.  I certainly know I am not trying to defend them or force them to be correct. If they are not, then they are not.  I wish we had better facts and research that really showed a full picture. And, as I said, I certainly do NOT desire to add more pain to anyone’s journey. And I am not, by any means, defending a mother who does reject her child in any way. I wish I could understand those mothers more, but I just don’t.

I really DO want to punch most of these rejecting mothers in the face. Not because I think it will do any good. Not because I want them to be in more pain. Not because I am a violent person, but simply because I know and often LOVE the very “children” that they refuse to see their own love for. These mothers have hurt and continue to hurt my friends. I’m loyal to the point of wanting to punch people in the face, but I am full of crap and never would.  I might consider a good tongue lashing, should I get the chance.

I am still perplexed by the conflicts between the numbers we have from available research and the numbers more visible seen form within the community. To appease my own curiosity, I made a handy dandy little survey with some questions regarding secondary adoption reunion rejection. It can be filled out by adoptees, first parents or siblings/ other family members, etc.  Of course, it won’t be a true random sample. It won’t be scientific of anything special like that. But I will leave it open as long as it seems that people care to share it and fill it in. And at one point, when there is enough samples, I will share the data.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

In any case, no matter what the outcome of research in general or any one person’s journey down the reunion road, if you do find yourself rejected at all from a family member that you had hopes for a relationship with, the fact is whether it is “rare” or common will not ease your pain and heartache. I wish I could make it better for you, but alas, I cannot. All I can say is that I am very sorry that it is not working out as you had hoped. I am so sorry that you are not getting what you need. I do believe that you deserve better, but I understand that saying it doesn’t make the feelings go away. All I have is good wishes, but I know that is not enough and I understand.


Here’s Other Posts About Adoption Reunion Issues:

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Headline for Adoption Reunions: Secondary Rejections & Why Things Go Wrong
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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

11 Comments on "Numbers in Adoption Reunions; How Many People Get Told NO?"

  1. Hi Claudia, I have been reading your blog avidly for the past few days, when I stumbled across it while awkwadly trying to “search” for my birthmother (not to be offensive, but that’s how I think of her. Maybe first/ natural mother will sink in after I’ve spent some more time here). I was relinquished at birth in Florida in 1974. I received a very nice letter from my birth mom as well as a fill-in form about she and my birth father’s heritage, height/ weight, likes/ dislikes, my original name, etc. I’ve always been very ambivalent about meeting anyone in my natural family. Even though I’m a grown up, with kids of my own, I’m more than a little afraid of trying to initiate contact. I want, NEED some medical background but I’m not sure I want any more than that. Does the fact that I haven’t been contacted mean she doesn’t want contact? She was very young when I was born, so maybe I’m a secret to a current spouse and children. I don’t want to disrupt her life, just as I’m not sure I want to leave my safe, anonymous adoptee status. On the other hand, the older I get, and the more questions my kids ask about my first family, the more curious I am. She, my birth father, and I were both high school swimmers– and now my kids are competitive swimmers too. What else on the “nature” side might we have in common? Ugh, I am rambling, trying to put a lifetime of thoughts, feelings & questions into a very small comment box. To be quite honest, I’m afraid of losing control- what if I find her and one of us wants more contact than the other? What if I find her and she tells me to f*** off? What if I spend a bunch of time searching & can’t even find her? I don’t even know how to search, although I’ve learned quite a bit here. Thanks for giving me the venue to ponder amongst folks who understand how this feels.

    • Hi Cesta,

      Welcome home! Yes, you are among those now who do understand exactly how you feel. Every bit of your “ramble” is the same jumbled mess of hopes and fears that most people go through before, during and after!

      So as far as searching now: if there was an “adoptee search bell curve” you are right at the top of the curve for when to search. Adults with kids of your own, finding the importance of medical info of them as well as you, seeing the affects of DNA on the next generation. Its’ just as normal for you not to have desired to search before and to have those feelings change now. And that’s fine for them to change.

      Everything else that you ask is, right now, unknowns as far as answers! And the only way you will have those answers is if you try. You won’t be able to control what those answers will be, but you can control how you react to them and the impact that they have on your life. And then best way I know about doing that is something you have already started to do: reading!! I suggest, as I always do.. here’s the blogs:
      Now I almost laugh because you say how you are not sure you even want contact, but then you are afraid that she tell you to get lost! Such a normal push pull! So you want to try to be prepared for anything.. hence reading the stories. Imagine your self in the reunion situations, try on those feelings. Learn from what works and what mistakes were made. And think about what your perfect situation would feel. Try to determine what it is you want.. and what it is you would be open to? What will work and what would not, but then you have to open to what you find.

      I’m actually going to be writing more about reunions this week and pulling in more resources for that as I go.. so hang in there!Rather than leaving more here, I think you ill find some better answers expanded on in posts!

  2. jan stewart | July 21, 2013 at 6:48 pm |

    You break my heart……. ‘ after I returned from the face to face ” sounds like you met an emoticon……not your mother…who I am assuming is a flesh and blood person…..that you could have easily walked away from….

    • Jan, I have to tell you, you are SO way off base here, it’s almost amusing. Except that you choose to see the negative in your interpretation and choose to have that broken heart without even bothering to do a little bit of research, so it’s actually more insulting. Where to start?
      First off, yes I used the words “after I returned from the face to face” because MY reunion happened over a long period of time.. from July 2004 when the search started to March 2007 when that first “face to face’ meeting happened. So defining that POINT in the reunion was important.
      Second, I met MY SON. As I am the mother in that story. So yes, I am a flesh and blood person as is my son.
      Third, and again this comes down to a tiny bit of research rather than jumping to wrong conclusions, I have blogged my ENTIRE reunion as it happened. And so the full reunion stories of the entire thing is already here. The day of which you are questioning is here and I think you should find enough emotions there to mend your heart.
      And NO, there was NO WAY IN HELL that I was going to walk away from my child ever again.I was talking about walking away from the ADOPTION COMMUNITY or staying online long after I had what I needed.. a successful reunion because truthfully, some days, the aggravation is a bit more than I can bear.

  3. Claud – I too was the searching mother. What I didn’t expect was to be welcomed with open arms by a son who needed the contact. But, before I searched I made sure that I was prepared to face anything. I knew if I opened that door, no way could I slam it shut. That’s just wrong. No matter what I found. I also do not understand rejecting mothers. Never have, never will.

  4. Here is a question, those who do reject is it because they have no interest in reunion or is it because they have unresolved grief that they are not prepared to confront?

    • Laurel Ehrichs | July 23, 2013 at 4:25 am |

      A lot of the reasons are unknown. There are a few examples out there of some really terrible public rejections.

      Of the not so public trainwrecks, there is a smidge of some mothers of origin not able to process the personality of their found child. Like boundaries are not established or respected. Sometimes it is a magnification of what power they didn’t have when they surrendered or relinquished, that reflection of back then having people bully or manipulate, and those feelings resurface like a sun burn being smacked. Or maybe it’s not that and the child just happens to be an ass. (which can be true of the mother of origin too… asshats run rampant in this world unfortunately.)

      Some can wade through, while others recoil.

  5. Claudia, I have to agree with your observations about secondary rejection. As an adoptee I am in contact with many other adoptees. Before I had any connection to AdoptionLand I knew a few other adoptees and they all either had long term positive relationships with their mother or their mother had already passed away by the time they searched. Many of those in AdoptionLand clearly have had negative experiences with reunions that failed or are not going well and most of the remainder are in the process of searching. My gut feeling is that secondary rejection affects a small but significant group certainly more than 1% but probably quite a bit less than 25%. A lot of very hurt people whatever the numbers.

  6. I’ve always had my birth mother’s name. I just goggled her name and found her information. I wrote her a letter and got a great response. The second letter not so nice, she does not want to ever talk to me again. Her husband knows about me, but not her family. The reason I contacted her was my mom always thought and told me that she is probably wondering about you and thinking about you on your birthday etc. She stressed not to wait until she was died to begin my search and had they blessing. I did wait until then had passed..

  7. Not important | September 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm |

    I have no idea why I even bothered. My adoptive parents don’t like me and I didn’t expect any better from any other form of parent. But I stupidly went looking anyway.
    Going through legal channels is a joke but I come from a place where if you know someone, you’re good.
    I had a friend ask a lawyer for some information and that’s all it took.
    I wrote a letter to this person asking for contact, even just a letter. I received an extremely hateful phonecall from a complete stranger who screamed at me and threatened me with death, legal action and arrest.
    The end.

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