Spouse of A Birthmother Asks: How Do I Tell My Children?

Long Term Affects of Adoption Relinquishment on Marriage & Relationships

Long Term Affects of Adoption Relinquishment on Marriage & Relationships

Those of us who speak Adoption Truths warn of the affects of relinquishment upon every aspect of our lives.  Many times when it has been said that even our relationships with family members, subsequent kept children and even romantically are altered, the response, feels tinged in disbelief.  Of course, my own recent foray into Kitten Adoption demonstrated how the affects of adoption trauma can quickly ruin a husband’s lovingly thought out birthday surprise, but what if the whole adoption experience  of relinquishing a baby is a secret to a husband?

I was given permission to share the following exchange between a husband who just found out that his wife of 19 years is, in fact, a birthmother who lost her first born child to adoption at age 16. As this is a common part of the Adoption Mythology that opposes the rights of Adoptees to be able to access their original birth certificates, it is most telling to note this husband’s reaction to finding out his wife’s secret.

I don’t hear him condemning her. I don’t hear judgment. I hear a quest for understanding and compassion. I hear concern for the affects upon his children and his marriage.

When Adoption Relinquishment Affects a Romantic Relationship: Trust and Intimacy

And like many of us affected by adoption, for a spouse of a birthmothers, it helps just to know that one is not alone, which is then altered with the desire to help others also feel that validation and acknowledgment.  I do infrequently run into other spouses that wish there was more public support. Perhaps one day we will have something really good for you all. Of course, we’ll have to make it ourselves. The adoption industry probably never will, as then they will have to admit that adoption has long term affects on behalf of relinquishment.

Until then, here’s one husband and father speaking of how the relinquishment of his wife’s child has changed his life and hopefully some decent advice by me! Please feel free to add any insights you have as well especially coming from any other spouses!

The Adoption Question from a Spouse, for a Father

Hi Claud,

I’ve just found out after 19 years of marriage with 3 children, 18-14, that my wife adopted out a son of a teenage pregnancy when she was 16 years old.

We’ve had a rocky marriage , and I’ve always suspected a child birth but when I asked, was shut down and lied too. I chosen not pass judgment, not being aware of the underlining circumstances.

We have struggled with our communication and openness , which has then related back to intimacy issues through these years. Often keeping so busy with life, and kids,  has distracted us from addressing it! Since I have found out about this family secret, it seems to me that I can relate many unanswered questions back to her grief. She denies this; saying it was her choice only, and she would do it all the same if given the choice over. That her growing distance between us is not related .I have seen the pain and distance in her eyes at times, not knowing the true pain behind them, whether rape/ incest/or forced parental adoption.

I’m feeling somewhat betrayed for not being told as her husband, and wonder if the future will be one of doubt, lined with questions of past and future trusts and more  emotional rollercoasters.

My Adoption Question is: how do I handle the topic with our children?

I believe they need to know the truth, but when? And by whom? I don’t want them going through their life’s thinking that the turmoil of our relationship is normal and that a truth told early can save a lot of heartache later. Or is it not my place and let my wife bury the skeleton back in the closet until ready, if ever?
I’d really like to hear any opinions of hope and advice for the future
Thank you

Adoption Advice for a Spouse of A Relinquishing Parent Holding Secrets

Hi P,

Since you just found out yourself, I would recommend that you let it this sit for a bit while you both process the information. As you already see, it’s very emotional to view a new truth and what you can see with the hindsight is reveling. I suspect those revelations will continue for some time. You are right on in your perceptions that the grief is most likely behind many issues in your relationship whether your wife is realizing it yet or not. Of course, just her harboring this huge secret for years probably took a toll on its own…then add all the other layers of adoption feelings on it… You had no idea what you were dealing with and had no tools to do so…hence rocky communication.

Did your wife tell you herself or did you find out any other way? I just wonder as if she told you then perhaps the deep smoldering volcano is waking up as many birthmothers do eventually face the reality of loss…so that would be a good thing. If you found out another way, then she might be more likely to stick with the denial of her feelings as they are her emotional survival…even if you can plainly see the affects. Either way, no matter what the past, it will be hard to undo the years of secrecy. I’m guessing that due to the ages of you other kids that she’s been living the lie for close to 25 years….so that’s a whole lot of buried emotions that have, not matter what, seeping out…now there are more holes in the walls that keep the secrets in check.

Of course, anyone would be angry and that is a natural response. You have a right to feel anger and betrayed, but I get a sense of understanding, compassion and perception there as well. 🙂 Not to throw out any guilt motivations, but if your wife ever needed you before, now is the time! I obviously see already that you are trying to understand since you wrote and I’ll assume came from my blog…so while you process your own feelings I would suggest that you keep reading! Birthmothers are one of the least studied and understood populations in the country…and then we are expected to hide away and not show our feelings. So many  ways, your wife was only following the rule book that was given to her. The problem is the rules they gave us were all wrong. Besides my own blog..there is a huge list of other birthmother blogs to read…and the I always recommend that all read Ann Fessler’s The Girls That Went Away and also, The Baby Thief. Both really show the foundation that all adoption practices are built on and the legacy of shame and secrets that we are forced to uphold. They could be great first steps to get your wife to feel like she is not alone either..and leaving them around the house could also be good for your kids to pick up!

Anyway, I would wait on the kids just yet. I think you are 100% right for telling them as they have a right to know about their sibling and to also better understand their mother. The relinquishment experience does affect the mothering of kept children too..so I bet they will have their own hind sight revelations and also feel anger for not being told. But, having you in calmer place will be better for them in the long run as the foundation of their mother is getting ripped open.  Plus, I would image that the idea of telling them is probably panic inducing for her? You know, we are told so often that no one needs to know, it’s a secret and no one will accept us for being young and pregnant. There is so much fear that we will be rejected…there is much to undo…first you..then the kids.

If you can help her examine the grief and loss that is definitely there..no matter what she says…And come to terms with her real feelings..not be afraid of them, then she be in a better place to be able to accept the reality and be truthful in all avenues in life. Best thing for you all really…As you see..secrets just hurt and adoption affects so many who never had a choice at all…!  And until now, she has been alone in it, so there is much work to do for you all.

Hope this helps some…Best of luck and let me know how it goes!


Upon reading this again, I do have a few other thoughts:

I would hope that they can work together to help mom be comfortable in telling the kids. In the best case scenario she would have some control in doing so with the support of her husband. And of course, it is important for birthmothers coming out of the closet to read or reach out at all to others who relinquished in the adoption community to further break the bonds of isolation and secrecy.

What else can we tell this husband so he can better help his wife and family?


Do you have an Question about Adoption? If there is something you would like to know and you cannot find the answer here, feel free to ask me. If you want to know, then changes are, others have the same questions. 

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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, Adopt-a-tude.com, 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.

1 Comment on "Spouse of A Birthmother Asks: How Do I Tell My Children?"

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