Reclaiming Our Motherhood After Adoption Relinquishment

 When the Only Song is a Dance of Fear

Over the years, I have seen and heard of many post  adoption reunion “issues” that have come up on the various forums and groups. Sometimes it is in private messages or through conversations or emails. Sometimes it is bit coming form an adoptee, and sometimes it is coming from a birthmother about her relationship with an adoptee. Lately, I have found myself giving the same answer, over and over again, and it goes like this: BE her Mother.

Of course, that is much simpler than it sounds and it will take a ridiculous number of words before I feel I have explained it enough. And I certainly don’t live it. ( Gah, honestly hurts)

Now, of course, an adoption reunion is often complicated and usually difficult. Even under the best of circumstances, we do not have a roadmap, there isn’t much to guide us, and no one knows what the heck they are doing. Add in hearty does of shame and fear of rejection, plus some often raw trauma induced wounds; no wonder we are all confused.

Yet, I am beginning to wonder if we don’t somehow manage to hold ourselves back (and, in return, screw things up) because we are so damn scared to death of overstepping the bounds and getting it wrong. I include myself in this category.

The Birth Mother Rule Book Says

How much of the adoption mythology that we fight is still so strongly internalized?

For instance, I always believed that my “job” as a birthmother was to “be there” for my son when “he was ready”. Hence, I never ever said I was going to search for him, even while I was actually searching.  Hell, I found him before I could even admit to myself that I was trying to find him.  Luckily I got over myself, but how many mothers do I now know who are passively, yet impatiently, hoping and waiting that the mysterious “ready” might come one day to their relinquished child? No one is ever ready for an adoption reunion. It’s not natural, it’s scary and adoptees don’t come with pop up buttons like Butterball turkeys. Too many mothers are gonna die while waiting for the “ready”.

But that’s not the piece of mythology that I feel the need to question today. I am now going to paraphrase a line that I am sure you, a fellow resident of AdoptionLand, has heard more times than you could count:

“She’s not my mother, really. I already have a mother. My adoptive mom is great, so “Sally” and I are more like good friends, but related.”

Whether these words are uttered in kindness, or in anger, or in some version of “why I don’t need to search” or even if it truly and honestly is the way the adoptee feels (as is their right… needed disclaimer here; not calling out the adoptee who says such things); these words continue to erode the very slippery, if not downright crumbling path, to our child.  And it doesn’t even have to be said by the actual adoptee in question.  It’s like an adoption mantra; it’s the needed adoptee disclaimer, it’s written in the mythological adoptee rulebook as “proper things an adoptee should say.”  It’s DRILLED into the culture of adoption. I know I have heard it said or read it written out in its various forms thousands of times, and I can tell you; it rings in my ears. It causes my to hesitate every time I feel the desire to reach out to Max. Every time I feel the urge to DO something.. well.. like a mother, I hear it, the whisper of deep fear.

“He has another Mother. He doesn’t me.”

So what do I do? I worry. I second guess my next move as if reunion is a life or death chess match and I am doing all that can to avoid the  dreaded check mate. I am just extending this timetable though eternity with the tiniest of carefully calculated baby steps and long, down out pauses in between.  It’s the slowest game played in history as if I am only allotted certain number of moves to clear the jellies and I want to make it last.

I cannot be accused of overstepping my boundaries this way. I can never be though to overwhelming him.  My expectations are so carefully kept in check.  I can never push away or have reason to be pushed.

But I cannot never embrace anything either. I cannot ever truly rejoice in the confidence that I have claimed my space as I am constantly trying to avoid a probably-half-imagined eviction. My place is taken up by a ghost of myself who can never have the strength to materialize.

And I see this same fear, this same dance, in the stories and questions of my not mothers sisters too.  We live in this fear of finding our place, never feeling right in it, never comfortable and waiting to be told; ” You are not my mother. I don’t need you. GO AWAY!”

So, every word  is carefully  constructed, every feeling dissected and examined, even carefree Facebook status updates are deconstructed and picked through thoroughly for hidden meanings and insults. What did this song lyric mean? Is it for me? Should I tag this photo? Can I share it and tell people it’s my daughter?

And then, there is the adoptee who wonders.. why did she send me this birthday card and sign her first name? How do I introduce her? What do I call her? I don’t know if I should call her or not. Sometimes she seems so afraid; I don’t want to get her more upset. Why did she DO this? What does she MEAN?

Sometimes it seems what we are so damn busy wringing our hands and tying ourselves up in emotional knots that we don’t realize that our kids; they just want us to BE the Mother we should have been!

And what if this hesitation that keeps me in check on my side, is seen as a resistance or an inability to embrace on his side? What if the same fear that keeps me frozen in place only feeds the deep set feelings of rejection and cements that no, he doesn’t need me because I can’t do the damn job anyway! It’s like we are sabotaging ourselves.

And I am not sure at all how one goes about rectifying this. I’m not even completely sure that it is something that is widespread enough or just a small obsession on my part.  I know I spend way more time thinking about calling Max or how to reach out and why I can reach out  rather than just doing it. Like a serious 400 to 1 ratio. So if nothing else, I guess I need to call myself on my own shit.  It’s just not healthy.

I mean what happens if I let myself FORGET that I relinquished my son? What happens if I just try to act like a normal mother? What if I just call when I want to without worrying that I might “bother him” ( of course I am going to bother him.. I’m his mother and isn’t that a stereotype of a mother bugging her son?)  What if I just come right out and say “Hey, you know it would be really nice if you came for a visit? We haven’t seen you in a while?”  Why should I feel BAD about saying the truth? We WOULD love to see him and in many ways to is easier for one kid to come home rather than make us all go to him again. Why do I have to worry about whether or not “home” isn’t “home”? Haven’t I paid enough already?  What if I just go ahead and tag him on Facebook when I want to and not give a damn who else sees it because he really is a big boy and can untag himself if he wants to  or.. OMG tell me if it is a problem? Why do I have to spend the rest of my days in this invisible self imposed Plexiglas box that keeps me from acting like a mother to my own damn child because I am worried about offending him? I can tell you; I do NOT worry about bothering embarrassing offending or annoying ANY of my other children EVER.

Learning to Dance Again

Because I do worry. And that’s the thing. We all worry. We all fear so much that we will lose what precious little we have managed to obtain, that we are frozen solid in fear. Adoptees, birthmother, fathers, siblings.. all dancing  to a song that we don’t known the melody to but desperately tying to sing along hoping we don’t step on another’s toes.

OK. So what if we DO step on a few toes while we learn the tune together? I mean, isn’t that what happens when we learn something new? We mess it up? We make fools of ourselves? But we keep on trying because we really want to be able to dance! Does it mean that the music must always stop? Of sure, we have all heard the stories where someone in a reunion did NOTHING wrong and the door got slammed in their face. So yeah, sometimes the music doesn’t just stop, the radio catches fire, the musicians get hauled out and executed and maybe even some legs get chopped off in the process, but I am beginning to wonder if the maybe the hope of dancing outweighs the fear. How long do we make ourselves sit out on the sidelines of motherhood wishing for our turn?

And again, I don’t know the answers, but I would love to have the discussion. What thoughts hold you back from doing what you want to do, being who you want to be? What would you do, how would you act if the “adoption rules” didn’t hold you back. What are you afraid of?

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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.

8 Comments on "Reclaiming Our Motherhood After Adoption Relinquishment"

  1. I am very blessed to have a “good” reunion with my son. That is not to say that it hasn’t been fraught with emotions, but we have listened to each other express our fears, talked things out, and grown closer because of it. I am “mom”. But, if I could change one thing about myself in all of this, it would be to trust him more. Quite simply, he is a lovely individual who has embraced me and this relationship from day one. But, I still hear that “your baby doesn’t need you” and I still fight the old “you’ll forget all of this”. He did need me and you don’t forget and I still feel like I’m defective because I couldn’t follow the “norm” (which isn’t normal at all, but when it took 35 years to figure that out, it’s tough to change the way you think). I often wonder if my attitude during questioning times is a defense mechanism against anything that “might” happen. He hasn’t given one indication of ever walking out or turning his back on the relationship. Why can’t I just follow his lead? Why question every move? I wish I could just chill out, know that the authority figures were wrong, and enjoy the rest of my life with my son. But that is so much easier said than done.

  2. No truer words were spoken!
    You belong on stage reading this at a “Listen to Your Mother” event! Please!

  3. Wow, this hit just about every nerve and then JackieD put a finger on why. I’m just about a year into a reunion with my son (who is 41 years old). It has been totally wonderful and he and his family (including his adoptive mother) have been nothing short of extraordinary but . . . it’s me. It’s all the guilt and shame that was drilled into my head over the past four decades. “Move on with your life, never contact him ever, there is no information available to you, he has parents that love and provide for him, never, ever speak of this again.” Suppression of everything surrounding his loss was the only way I could survive in many respects and with him contacting me I now have so much crap I never dealt with. But – it’s been liberating even though it has been slow going. I wonder everything you do Claudia – and fear is a factor. I understand at the deepest level the love and acceptance that has grown over the past year but I still fear messing it up – because I “wasn’t good enough”. It’s all about me having to work on my issues of self esteem that were taken away from me along with him so many years ago. So I continue to work on myself and tell myself how great this truly is for how new a relationship it is and hope that I can heal and be present, open and honest with him as this relationship progresses. I’m try not to let my fear overwhelm me to the point of no contact and let this relationship unfold in its own way and time.

  4. Great post, as usual. No surprise to you I am sure I have pondered the same thoughts. Think I wrote about them once as well.

    I am inclined to agree with Robin. I reflect on something Mia said years ago that a reunion, a true reunion, requires two willing parties. That is rarely the case.

    It is hard work to admit all the wrongs that adoption caused. Hard work for an adoptee to admit there is nothing wrong with them or their mother but much wrong with the world they were born into. Same for mothers. We are beat with that whore scum of the earth stick for so long we pick it up and carry it with pride. If not, with pride, it still rummages around in the bottom of our overly large satchel weighing us down.

    Approaching ten years since I found my daughter, and one of those moms that was told to go away-i-dont-need-you-you-dont-exist-adoption-is-not-an-issue-for-me, I pretty much did just that – again. Bowed my head, curtsied, so sorry to have bothered you and went away as she told me, just like the agency told me, my parents told me, her father told me.

    HOWEVER, I do reach out to her twice a year (birthday and Xmas) to wish greetings and happy thoughts. My way of keeping door open should she change her mind. I want her to be assured she is always welcome. This boundary is hers to cross.

    And YET, I wonder daily, hourly sometimes, if I did the right thing, am doing the right thing, should have tried harder, should have fought with her, showed up on her doorstep, called her cell that she inadvertently (or purposely?) shared with me.

    I have no answers. Just the same daily anxiety. And perhaps more hope than I should have.

    Here is my old post along the same lines Mothers Behaving Badly

  5. I realize every reunion is unique. But I am an adoptee who does desparately want my mom to just BE my mom. She has done just about everything you could possibily do wrong, both past and present, to destroy me as a person.

    You say about adoptees saying “you’re not really my mother”… well I got “you’re not really my daughter”. Yes it hurts like hell and I feel for every mother who has had that kind of response.

    I’m an adult. I don’t need her to take care of me per se… but oh how I would love to have her as someone to share with. Where she would ask me how my day went. Where I could excitedly tell her when things are going good and her be happy with me and for me, and her be my safe and soft place to cry when things are going terribly wrong, and know that she’s there and that I can trust her with my most personal things.

    And I would want her to share back. And yes, as her child I’m younger than her, but still as an adult have her know that I am there for her too.

    She has made a point of making sure I’m fully aware I’m basically something she scraped off the bottom of her shoe.. but I still love her and want her to be my Mom.

  6. One of the deepest heartaches in adoption is the absolute denial that biology is important. I am not my son’s mother, I am a stranger to him. He is fine, he is loved, he got some new parents and they are the real parents. I love him as my son but he won’t feel anything for me.

  7. Very nice post, I haven’t seen such a great contents before. The description of topic and the beauty of writing skills are amazing, awesome. Keep up the great work. Thank you so much.

  8. Barbara norquest | November 14, 2015 at 2:34 am |

    I did find my birthdaughter Not a bed of roses in the beginning. In the end. ALL WORTH IT.

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