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.
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.
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).
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.
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
- Adoptee Healing Retreat with Anne Heffron and Pam Cordano in February, 2018
- Lorraine Dusky’s Why do some first/birth mothers reject reunion?
- Triona Guidry’s Secondary Rejection In Reunion: An Adoptee Perspective
- Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy’s Secondary Adoptee Rejection in Adoption Reunions
- Anthology: Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age
- Patricia Florin’s A Life Let Go
- Sherrie Eldridge’s Facebook page, blog, and books (Christian perspective)
- Anything by Anne Heffron: Facebook (she’s on a tear with adoption-healing memes), her blog, and her book, You Don’t Look Adopted (secular perspective)
- Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away
- Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh’s Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption and Forced Surrender
- I will add in other resources as suggested by commenters.
About this Open Adoption Advice Column
- 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, 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.