adoptee rejected by birth mother

Her Letter Hurts! When a Birth Mom Rejects Her Daughter

Question: I was adopted back in the day and I finally tracked down my birth mother, now 85. My worst fears were realized when she rejected me a second time. I was so hopeful to finally hear from her, but her letter has put me in such pain.

Do you mind reading this and giving me your perspective? Everyone I have shared it with, my family and close friends, have their opinions but none of them have any experience with adoption. I would love to read comments from your readers as I am sure it would be therapeutic.

One more thing. I requested a picture of my mother when she was young and one now, plus medical and ancestry information. She sent me one recent picture with my half brother. I certainly would have appreciated answers to my specific health questions.

— Jill

adoptee rejected by birth mother

Dear Jill,

I am feeling somewhat violated by your two letters. I thought no one would be able to dig up that chapter of my life, but I guess I was wrong.

I was happy to hear that you had a good family and a happy life. I must say that even though I gave birth to you, I was never your mother. I put all that behind me years ago. I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted. I just needed to get on with my life. That’s just the way things were back then.

I don’t wish to get into personal details about me or my family. Please understand that I want them left out of this completely. I am asking you not to do anything rash. I am old and do not need any complications.

I do wish you and your family all the best. I don’t mean to sound unkind, but please respect my wishes as there are others to consider.


The Baby Scoop Era Really Did a Number on Unwed Mothers

I certainly understand that you feel so hurt from this letter, Jill. And how disappointed you must be that Dolores didn’t answer your health-related questions.

I’ve known and interviewed other women who were in the same situation as your mother in the same time period. During the Baby Scoop Era (BSE), the utter shame and choicelessness of an unintended pregnancy were enormous. Purely as a self-preserving mechanism, some women did what the social workers or nuns or whomever brokered the adoption said to do: forget and move on. Walling off the entire experience was how they would move on, maybe even move forward.

For some, it worked. They did move on, they did put the birth and placement out of their minds, they did as instructed and told no one. Decades later, then, is it any wonder that such a woman would not be able to lift the lid on such a tightly-sealed memory? It would shake everything she’s staked her forward-moving life on.

Walled Off

The letter also reveals the separation of Dolores’ two lives: before your birth and placement, and after. Not until you contacted her has she had to consider reconciling the long-fractured whole. The wall she placed around The Event has served her over the decades; she DID move on, she DID build a life, and she never had to grieve her loss because she’d contained it. How could she now face the prospect of removing the wall that has kept that horrid experience from seeping into her life?

The protective mechanism your mother is using matches what I’ve seen from others who moved on in the BSE. So I wonder if this helps you, in a small way, to depersonalize her words. Of course, though it feels like it’s all about you — it was about your conception and existence and birth and relinquishment, for crying out loud — perhaps for her it’s not about you as much as it was about the times, the practices, the promises (of moving on).

Medical Info

If you were to respond (I acknowledge that Dolores sounds unreceptive to further contact) you might inquire about your health background one more time. I will abide by your wish to not to disturb you or your family, but I do want to know the answers to the health-related questions I asked. That’s a fair trade, don’t you think?

[Edited: Based on a comment below, I have modified that statement. As Renee and others point out, Dolores has no right to expect that Jill stay away from any other adult other than Dolores, and Jill has the right to initiate contact with any other adult she wishes to. Instead: I will abide by your wish to not to disturb you, but I do want to know the answers to the health-related questions I asked. That’s a fair trade, don’t you think?]

Beyond that, focus your efforts on healing your own hurts without Dolores. Can it be done? Yes, it can. Consider the work of renowned author Sherrie Eldridge, who explores how to do rejection well. And Anne Heffron, who is teaching us all as she seeks ways to heal herself without any help from her birth mother. You can find her on Facebook, on her blog (I never miss a post) and you could read her book, You Don’t Look Adopted.

You Deserve

Even though we are mostly strangers, if I could give you a hug, Jill, I would. I’m sorry that your mother isn’t able to validate you in the ways you deserve. You deserve to be acknowledged, known, and loved.

Readers, do you have anything to offer Jill in her healing journey?

Resources About Birth Mother Rejection

About this Open Adoption Advice Column

open adoption advice

  • I am not trained as a therapist. Please do not rely on words in this space to make your own major or minor decisions.
  • Readers, please weigh in thoughtfully and respectfully. Remember that this is a teaching endeavor rather than a shaming endeavor. We we aim to bring light rather than heat. It’s my belief that people do the best they can with what they have to work with, and our goal is to give folks more to work with.
  • Send in your own open adoption question for consideration.


Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

28 thoughts on “Her Letter Hurts! When a Birth Mom Rejects Her Daughter”

  1. Oh my, I’m so sorry, I also experienced that to a lesser degree when I contacted my father and asked for FHH. That angst took a while to dissipate, even though I knew he was the reason why I needed adoption. Time will reduce the level of angst you’re feeling, but it will always sting.

    Based on my mothers story, if she had lived, I probably would have been welcomed by her, but it is likely any deep level relationship would have been hard for her based on what happened when she found out she was pregnant. I’ll never know, but I do understand how trauma so big, combined by actions of the father can create a wall so high in your heart and that survival requires rigid maintenance of that wall.

    I’d urge you to get the book “The Girls Who Went Away” by Ann Fessler and to delve into what they went through back then. There’s a new book on the BSE researched and written by moms of era that should give you an in-depth look at the treatment – you can find it on Amazon. “The Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption and Forced Surrender” by Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh. Understanding the then, helps understand the different reactions we get today.

    You could consider sending her a response saying you won’t contact her again (if that is true) and include a FHH form asking her to please fill it out to benefit not only yourself, but your children (if you have any) and include a self-addressed stamped envelope. It’s a final step though, so think about it, mull for a bit first. Whatever you do, if you agree to not contacting her, don’t include other family members, be specific in your wording. You may one day do dna testing, and find relatives – so don’t make promises you can’t keep.

    I have found it immensely helpful to create both my maternal and paternal family trees. It has filled some of the holes and answered questions I needed answering.

    I wish you peace.

  2. Jill,
    I am so sorry you received this reply from your birth mother. I can’t even begin to imagine the hurt & rejection of receiving a response like this. I myself am a birth mother of a 26 year old son who reached out to me in January 2017.

    Even though I am a birth mother, I feel strongly that adoptees have the right to search out their medical history & family. You deserve answers and to have relationships with other family members.

    I couldn’t imagine responding to my son in this manner. It would be so heartbreaking.

    1. Rejected a 2nd time – those words are firstly very sad – if one has not heard their truth from their mother – who is the only first hand witness to what occurred – so then to feel rejected a 2nd time – is also very sad – very sad – mothers pain can be too deep for some to go back and experience the pain again – the words rejected twice concern me – it is sad – very sad – but does the mother not have rights too – I do not know the answer – there are many other family members involved as well – and there are many mothers who would love to hear from their sons/daughters who will not have anything to do with their natural mothers – the destruction of human lives – through the brutal era – continues even today – one can only pray for forgiveness and take care of one self – hugs

  3. First and most importantly, Jill’s mother is not entitled to prohibit Jill from contacting other family members. She can demand that Jill not contact her, but that’s where her rights end. We don’t get to tell other adult people which of their own family members they may know and which they may not. And that IS the reality of the situation: Jill’s mother’s family is also Jill’s family (something far too many people seem to forget). Jill’s siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., may very much wish to know Jill, and Jill’s mother has zero say in that.

    Secondly, how to handle the pain caused by a letter like this? Time and tears and therapy. Lots and lots of hard, expensive therapy.

    My heart breaks for you, Jill, but please know this rejection is no reflection on you. You are the only innocent in this–you’ve done nothing wrong. It’s totally normal and right that you should want to know your family. BIG HUGS, MUCH LOVE.

    1. That’s a really good point, Renee, that I completely missed. Dolores has no right to demand/expect that Jill stay away from any other adult other than Dolores.

      And Jill does have the right to initiate contact with any other adult she wishes to.

      1. I have three half-siblings, two paternal and one maternal. Both my brothers welcomed me, and we have good relationships. My sister, while polite and kind, isn’t open to knowing me at this time.

        I have close relationships with some of my aunts and some of my cousins. Some have not been at all welcoming.

        I think that’s how it works for most of us. Some welcome, some reject. And frankly, I’ve done a little rejecting myself. Some of the bio relatives I’ve found are not people I want in my life. So it works both ways.

        For me, the days of putting everyone else’s feelings and “needs” ahead of my own are over. I’m not obligated to keep anyone else’s secrets, and I believe I have a right to know who I am and where I came from.

        We just have to be as understanding as we can be–as kind as we can be–accept what comes and do our best to carry on.

        Adoption does so much damage–and not just to adoptees.

  4. I searched and found my daughter I lost to adoption in 1968. I wanted to find her so much. When I did find her I went through a very emotional time. I had to relive my feeling from when I was pregnant and forced to place my daughter. I was basically shut down for a couple of weeks. I could barely function during that period of time. I think that for some mothers who placed their child just don’t feel that they can go through that kind of emotional time. The shame was so very great back then that people really worry what their family would think of them.

    1. So true for many mothers the pain is too deep and too scary to address and mothers wishes should be respected and understood and no adoptee has the right to destroy a family after a natural mother makes a request – she and her other family members do have human rights

  5. As an adoptee, I completely agree that this adoptee should absolutely reach out to siblings and other family members. She should not internalize her birthmother’s shame.

  6. Just know that the birth mother’s family members likely don’t know about you, and contacting them may result in similar rejection. I’m the 42-year old daughter of a birth mother (that makes me a birth sister?) who didn’t know I had a half-brother until I was 25. My mom is not able to have a relationship with the son she gave up for adoption; she was one of those women who was “sent away” to have her baby in the 60s. She shuts down when she talks about it (fear, shame, denial), though she did provide medical information and family history to him. I’ve spoken to him directly (she doesn’t know this) and tried to offer him peace and closure. He was persistent about wanting to meet me (I live in another state), however he has severe emotional/anger issues and has been very destructive in his personal relationships with his adoptive siblings, wife and daughter. He is not a person I would feel safe bringing into my family’s life. He does not know who his father is, and my mother insists she told him the identity (though a DNA test proved otherwise). I am at a loss. I feel for this man and I know that her behavior has contributed to his troubles, but I don’t think I am the answer to his troubles.

  7. I would write again. I would be very compassionate and assure her that I understand. But I would let her know that while I will respect her wishes not to contact her again, however:

    “I cannot be asked to make the same promise for any other of MY family members.

    “You may have wiped nine months of your life out as if they do not exist, but I exist. I was not aborted. I am a human being. I exist and I have the same rights as any other human being to contact and speak with whomever I want.

    “I thus would encourage you to gather your courage and tell your family and trust that they will not judge you poorly.

    “You see, Doris, it is true that ‘that’s just the way things were back then’ but times have changed and people are far more accepting today. “

  8. I am realizing more and more that people truly believe a baby that is adopted into a “good family” has absolutely no idea of the pain that little baby is experiencing. The brainwashing that was done to get those babies. No mother can have and rehome their child and truly believe documents won’t be dug up. We adoptees are pretty stubborn once we’ve got our minds made up. Ive

  9. For me personally I do not understand how a birth mother could reject her child a first time much less a second time.

    It speaks to a narcissistic quality to not be able to answer questions openly for a child that went through hell to find you.

    Irregardless of how this mother feels she should answer the specific questions her birth child has without trying to make the daughter feel guilty for contacting her!

    Allow this child to process and heal for Christ’s sake! So she can go on with her life!

    Why should your daughter make special regard for YOUR feelings when you just got done smashing her feelings into the dirt.


    1. Yes, Dolores should do all sorts of things, but she isn’t doing them (can’t? won’t?). The question Jill poses here is: what is within her power to do about the situation, given Dolores’ stance?

      Jill can’t change Dolores. She can only manage Jill.

  10. I would also tell Doris is a compassionate follow-up letter that you have read books like Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away” and you understand the shame back in the day but….

    1. Because you understand what it was like for mothers back then, you know they were told that it was “for the best” and the loving thing to do. You know she made a huge sacrifice to do what was best for you, so why turn your back on me now? People today not only understand that sacrifice but applaud you for doing so!

    2. Tell her that there are support groups to help to help her deal with having been found. Assure her she is far from the only one who put it all behind her and then was found. With DNA testing more and more adoption-separated kin are finding one another. CUB, Concerned United Birthparents is the oldest and largest support group for mothers who lost children to adoption. Facebook has many more.

    Let her know that you understand this is difficult and scary and something she was unprepared for. But so was being pregnant with you and she got through that! Dealing with this instead of trying to go back into hiding, in the end, will be a good thing for her. It can be a relief to end decades of secret keeping and living in fear of being found out once she embraces it.

  11. My mother denies I am hers. It is OK, she has been damaged by adoption and life.

    I have five older full siblings. I am in reunion with one. I don’t really care if that bothers my mother. She is making her choice and I am making mine. My other siblings know where I am and aren’t interested in a relationship either. Also OK. Their loss.

    I’m glad you amended your post. I think mothers and fathers of adoption loss want to control reunion because in the BSE they had so little control, which really isn’t that different from today honestly. It is just painted differently, but I digress. However, that lack of control then, doesn’t give them carte blanche over control now. We had traumatic decisions made for us and now making ourselves whole as adopted adults should be allowed to come first.

  12. I received almost exactly the same letter from my first mom. I decided to write short little cards and sent them registered mail so that she had to sign ( and choose) each time. She accepted them… but hasnt written again. I guess its the best she could do. The trauma is so complete and its complicated. Nobody deserves this. I guess in a way that mom that would have been and that child essentially psychologicically died. Grieve it all… its complicated grief and my heart extends to anyone that experiences this. It is NOT a rejection of YOU. You are loveable and priceless. Self care… expressing the grief is helpful.

  13. As a mother who lost her daughter to adoption in 1972, I was the one who decided to search and find my daughter in 1998. But having immersed myself in the adoption change movement, I have now met many adoptees who have had mothers who have chosen not to reunite. I do not like the word “reject” because I do not believe these mothers are rejecting their lost children as much as they are “protecting” themselves. Reuniting with your child after 25, 30, 40 years is extremely difficult. Not only must the mother relive the pain of the loss and the shame of the event, but there is very real fear that the family you now have will reject you! No parent wants their children to judge their actions from things in their past. Please keep in mind the extraordinary shame we endured and know that some women just cannot let their friends or co-workers know. In their minds, it could ruin a career. It could ruin a husband’s career. Now I know that society is not that judgmental anymore, but for Dolores’ era, her friends just might still be that judgmental.

    I would respond to Dolores as some have suggested, with kindness and love, requesting the medical information. Sending her a medical history form may be easier for her to fill out and return. At 85, writing is becoming difficult. I would also reassure her that you understand her position and your relationship with her need not be public knowledge. It can only be between the two of you for now. I would not threaten to contact your siblings or other relatives. I would not even mention it. At 85, it is critical that you focus on only her before she is gone forever. Siblings can wait awhile.

    Finally, please know she is writing from fear. It is not about you. She is deathly afraid that the thing she did, which was the absolute WORST thing a daughter could do, short of murder, will be revealed. We were all good girls that got caught. We were naive and yes, stupid. I’m sure your mother is a good woman. We believed the lies that we could go on and no one would ever know. It didn’t happen that way. How could it? You are our children.

  14. Jill, hugs! Relinquishing a child is such an unnatural experience, as is the advice we were given: Move on, you’ll forget. Long ago one woman (I wish I could remember her name) described relinquishing and “moving on” as burying herself in ice so thick that it would take a major event to begin to even chip away at it. Dolores sounds iced-over; she cannot feel what she is missing—you! When my daughter found me, even though I wanted to know her, I was not prepared for the emotional chaos or for answering for the lies I had told. It is world-smashing to go from: your child will be hidden from you forever so cope with it, to: here she is, now what? At 85, she probably figured she’d never have to switch her thinking.

    Even if she never agrees to contact, it is your right to know the rest of your relatives and develop the relationships you wish. That is not Dolores’s call. She may not realize it, but she cannot stop this from coming out anyway, whether she’s around to see it or not. I am so sorry she cannot open up. And I don’t want to hold out false hope that she will in the future. We can’t know that. But do know it is not about you; it’s about the cultural brainwashing we fell under the spell of.

    Feel free to find me on Facebook if you want to talk (or Lori can put us in touch).

  15. Everyone else has the good advice covered, but I wanted to let Jill know that my heart goes out to her and I hope she gets the answers she’s seeking.

  16. Dear Gill
    As a birth mother myself I would say find the answers you
    need. There is no perfect in this world of adoption and I believe either way there will be some joy and sadness.

    Wishing you well

  17. Dear Jill- I am so sorry that you are going through a difficult and painful time.

    I am a birthmom in an open adoption. My child is a teenager. Even though I am able to tell my child that I love them, and even though I am able to hear them tell me that they love me, and even though we are able to spend precious time with each other, my heart still hurts every single day. Every single day I think about my child, and every single day I miss them.

    When I hear adoptees talking about feeling the emotion of rejection, it makes me feel sad and frustrated. Sometimes I wish that an adoptee could get a tiny glimpse into a birthmother’s heart, and they would see the deep love that we have for our child. They would also see the anguish and pain that we carry over relinquishing our sweet child.

    Making the decision to place my child wasn’t a rejection, it was a decision that was made with the most tender of care. It was a very, very difficult decision.

    “I can only imagine how your birthmother must have felt back then because adoption was so different. I had so much support from friends, family, and a counselor.

    You don’t know why your birthmother placed you. Perhaps she was forced to, that was not uncommon during that time. Perhaps your birthfather was not a kind man, and she wanted to protect you.
    It must have been so hard for her. I totally agree with what Lori wrote about walling off her pain. I was so supported through my decision and placement, but some days it felt like my heart was going to break into little, tiny pieces. Some days, I too, had to wall off my pain.

    When your birthmother wrote “I was happy to hear that you had a good family and a happy life”. . . as a birthmom. . I read love in that sentence. From my perspective, I would say, please don’t take your birthmother’s letter as a rejection. She took time to write to you, even though it may have been really hard for her.

    I absolutely understand that you would like to have a medical history. That is a very valid request. It would be so helpful for you. Writing and saying “that is a fair trade, don’t you think?”, sounds a little unkind to me. Maybe you could write one more time and tell her why the medical history is important to you, and that she wouldn’t have to give you any names, but just the family member’s position and any medical conditions, and how they passed away, like “great grandfather-died of cancer”, etc.

    If she decides not to, unlike others who have written, I do think you should respect her wishes. This is only my opinion. You don’t know the “why” behind her decisions. There may be a very valid reason why she is reluctant to share other family member’s identities with you. Maybe it would tear her family apart. It could be a delicate situation.

    There are different screening tests that are available now for different diseases, like screening for the gene that increases the risk for breast cancer. You could take advantage of that.

    Again, this is only how I feel, just a perspective from one person. I hope you will take away from it what is helpful to you, and leave the rest. 🙂 I wish you healing as you continue on your journey.

    1. I wish that others could come to fully understand just exactly how horrible and destructive forced adoption was for mothers. I wish others could come to see and feel fully, exactly what that was like and how it felt and continues to feel in the decades after. I would that others knew of the gargantuan strength it takes, often daily, to get up and put that one foot in front of the other. Some days I could say it feels like trying to lift a dead body up and animate it! Then maybe there could be a little more understanding in that direction.

      I think many just don’t understand the depth of the damage done. It seems like many don’t want to understand either.

      It’s the grief that’s the killer. It’s the trying to walk through an impossible loss with no acknowledgement or support. Add to it, condemnation and (seems like) worse than murder (murderer’s are allowed to know their children!) damnation of who and what we were and are, mothers. Only we are not because everyone says so –until– our sons and daughters come searching. Try that on for size.

      Reunion /contact is hard, with society, and by association our children being told and believing things like, “we made a plan”, “we had a choice”. It’s being called and told we are only “birth” mothers. That word for some (many?) of us is like certain other words that are used to belittle and denigrate other human beings. It’s hearing things like, “I want to thank my bm for giving me life, as if we even thought about an abortion!

      We are supposed to give up our children, to accept that it’s “god’s will”, told that we have made a “noble” sacrifice….. ____! It’s being told that it’s all our fault/we are the reason that OBC access is denied when in fact we are the only ones who are FORBIDDEN any access in many states, to any information. I could not even learn the color of my son’s eyes or hair or even something as benign/non-identifying as his adoptive parent’s hobbies. Do not tell me that it’s to protect our “privacy”. We get stomped at every turn, by every side, except for those few, and comparatively it IS very few, who “get it” such as Lori. Is it any wonder why more and more mothers seem to be saying NO?

      If the lies were stopped. If there was widespread acknowledgement of forced adoptions and even the severe coercion that often takes place in this age, if there was an apology and a changing of adoption practices to a more ethical form, such as many other nations have done, then maybe, just maybe, there could be some incredible healing for these mothers *and* their children.

      I do believe that adoptees should be given the answers to their questions. I understand the desperation, the longing for a knowing and for a connection, for truth.

      Jill, I truly hope you can tenderly approach your mother. She is a very strong lady to have made it this far but I would say very fragile in spirit. I can just imagine the thoughts to your saying, “that is a fair trade, don’t you think?” What fair “trade”, you mean like me losing you so I could be “forgiven” but not really? Like having to lose you so I could be considered “respectable or worthy”? There is no such thing as a “fair trade” when it comes to the losses in adoption. She lost the most precious one a mother could lose to “gain” her life now. To have that most precious one come back when we were told we would never ever be able to know you again and we were not your mother and then to go on and try to build a new if not a false life (i.e. one that is forced by law and society to deny your existence as our child)…. I can’t even call it cognitive dissonance. It’s worse.

      I hope your mother can somehow bring herself to open her heart to fully embrace you and answer all your questions because a mother’s love does those things no matter how much it hurts.

      Even three years into reunion and it still hurts. I don’t know how some can say 2 weeks of non-functioning and all is well now. I think that’s great ..but I just don’t see how.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *