Flowers Can Bloom Amidst Pricks of Adoptee Rejection

Adoptees Can Grow Amidst Birth Family Rejection

Rejection.  Just the sound of the word sends chills up my spine! 

Rejection is the dark side of the search and reunion process. The agonizing side. The side that is rarely, if ever, gets talked about, the side media never covers. 

It is also part of our adoptee “rite of passage” into a healthier, more fulfilling life. So, don’t despair, my friends, if you are experiencing this right now. You will get through it.

How many of us are rejected? Statistics, like most aspects of adoption, are sadly non-existent, but many claim that only a minority of adoptees are rejected by a birth relative at reunion. During the years I have been researching and talking with other adoptees, however, I have found rejection to be rampant and common. 

Why do birth relatives reject some of us? Does our physical appearance remind our birth mothers of our fathers, whom they have no positive feelings for? Does seeing us trigger issues in them that they have never dealt with? Are they emotionally and mentally unbalanced? Or are they just downright mean? 

What does it mean to be rejected and how does it feel? Webster’s gives us a good start on understanding its basic message. “Refusing to have, take, or act upon. To refuse to accept a person. To rebuff. To throw away or discard as useless or unsatisfactory. To cast out or eject. Something rejected as an imperfect article.”1 

Ron Nydam, Ph.D., gives a vivid illustration from a client’s encounter with his birth mother. She told her son: “If you want answers, see a psychiatrist; if you want a companion, get a dog.”2 

I will never forget when I was reeling from my birth mother’s rejection. While attending my first American Adoption Congress, a man at one of the book tables asked me to tell him my story. I got to the part where I was going to say, “All I wanted was for her to say the words ‘I love you,’” and I lost it. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “It really hurts, doesn’t it?” I knew by the tone of his voice that this wasn’t some platitude—it came from his heart. This dear man took me into the lobby of the hotel and told me how he had experienced the same rejection from his birth mother years ago. Still, after all that time, he wept. 

Karen says that her birth mother rejected her “right out of the gate.” She didn’t even give Karen the dignity of getting to know her first before making up her mind. Karen was her dirty secret and she couldn’t stand the thought of others knowing. She told her that her mother (Karen’s grandmother) would also reject her. 

As Karen reflects on the rejection, she says, “She didn’t just reject me—she wanted nothing to do with my son, her own grandson! When I found her, my son wasn’t even one year old, a beautiful baby. How could she reject him? The only time I met her she reviewed pictures I had brought of him with detachment and terse comments.” 

When birth siblings learn that a parent conceived an unknown child, their reaction may be to reject us as well. 

Laurie’s birth half-sister found it difficult to speak with her since she was told that Laurie was her half-sister. Laurie, like Karen, was her birth mother’s secret. Laurie has tried to make contact, but her birth mother wants nothing to do with her. She is hoping that one day she will speak to her, or that at least she will eventually develop a relationship with her half-sister. 

Richard Curtis says, “Even though I have not been overtly rejected by birth relatives, I have the feeling that I’m being ignored or at least overlooked by family members who just don’t know what to do with me. Both of my birth parents were deceased when I finally conducted my search and so my ‘reunions’ have been with siblings and cousins. That being the case, after the initial shock and curiosity of discovering a secret birth relative, most members of both families have relegated me to receiving a card at Christmas or an occasional e-mail. At first I tried to take the initiative and keep in contact, especially with my siblings; but I’ve gotten little response.” 

Okay, that’s enough. We know the realities of rejection. Let’s not stay there unless we are currently experiencing it. Then, fellow adoptee hurt words are validating. But for the rest of us, let’s move on, okay?

If we’ve received hostile responses from birth relatives, how do we usually react? 

WE ISOLATE OURSELVES. 

Isolation and rejection partner to silence us. We are frozen in fear and don’t want another soul to know our experience. We feel we have been branded for life. 

We do need isolation from the rejecting birth relatives, but not from fellow adoptees who have had similar experiences. In their company we can find a good kind of isolation, where we experience protection, comfort, strength, validation, and healing. 

As I personally became aware of this fear of being forgotten and shared it with the adoptees in my support group, eyes welled with tears and you could have heard a pin drop. I thought about it a lot in the days to come. Aren’t we as rejected adoptees a little like prisoners of war? Aren’t we missing in action in many ways? 

While studying the subject of being forgotten, I saw a poster-sized reproduction of a U.S. commemorative stamp. Two words grabbed my attention—NEVER FORGOTTEN. The poster depicted an army dog tag on a chain, inscribed with the words, “MIA and POW—NEVER FORGOTTEN.” 

My sweet husband purchased a gold ID bracelet with a chain like a dog tag. On one side I had the jeweler inscribe “Baby X.” On the other side were the words “Never forgotten.” 

THE MESSAGE BEHIND THEIR WORDS

Again, here is it so helpful for us to take a deep breath and think about the psychological dynamic of projection. All the rejecting person can see is themselves. So, when they are saying rotten things about us, what are they really doing? They’re telling us how they feel about themselves. How freeing this is!

Let’s take some examples:

  • “I can tell you are in therapy.” (I need to be in therapy.)
  • “I knew I couldn’t trust you.” (I can’t trust myself.)
  • “You are a secret in the family.” (I have a secret I’ve kept from my family.)
  • “You remind me of your rapist birth father.” (I can’t get my rapist out of my mind.)
  • “You aren’t important to me.” (I am not important.)
  • “You are disposable.” (I am disposable.)

OUR RITE OF PASSAGE INTO A BALANCED, HEALTHY LIFE

Of all the things I’ve learned lately about our adoptee journey, the concept of the adoptee’s rite of passage is the most exciting. Listen to this story and then we’ll draw parallels to our own experiences. 

I am reminded of a story about a young American Indian man who was about to go through “the rite of passage into manhood.” Prior to this event, he was prepared to defend himself in every way. On the day of the rite, he was blindfolded and led, gun in hand, into a dark forest and left alone overnight. The blindfold remained all night. 

During the night, whenever the wind blew a leaf or an animal scurried through the underbrush, he was sure it was a wild animal seeking to devour him. He was terrified. When morning dawned he removed his blindfold and saw a path leading off to his right. He thought he saw someone at the end of the path. As he contemplated the figure, he realized that it was his father, aimed and ready to shoot anything or anyone that would hurt his son.13 

LIES AND TRUTH ABOUT REJECTION

There is always an end to the dark night of our experience. Many of us might have believed that we’ll always be in the darkness and shame of rejection. Like our anger issues, we may easily believe:

  • “There must be something wrong with me or he/she wouldn’t reject me. This is shame.”

 I bet you anything, my friend, after you’ve done all your searching and reunion “work,” that you’ll find it’s not about you. It’s about the dysfunction of the person who rejected you. 

  • “Something I did or said, ‘made’ him/her/them reject me.’
      We don’t have that kind of power! No one does. We all make choices. The rejecting person’s choice was totally his/hers.
  • “I’ll never get over this hurt.”

There’s our black and white thinking. We will always have memories of the hurt, but the shame, the stinging shame, will fade in time. I promise you. Like the Indian teen, there will come a day when the sun rises and you realize you were never alone…that’s why we need one another. Those fellow-adoptee friendships are vital!

ONE THING NEEDFUL

I believe as a fellow adoptee friend to you that I can speak frankly, more so than anyone else. Okay, here we go!

We Need to Get Over Ourselves

Yes, we need to quit throwing pity parties, focusing on past hurts, licking our wounds and accept a “new template” for our future life.

Rejection does NOT define us, friends.

We are amazing people. We have survived pre-adoption trauma that’s unbelievable. We are survivors…now we need to step into that role with confidence.

Think back to the Cherokee teen. Of course, there are many sounds, movements around him, darkness and all kinds of scary stuff. But, he trusted in his inner strength, already built into him through his training by his dad, that he would come through night…strong!

That’s you, friend.

Stand strong. Stand tall. You are amazing.

OUR CHOICE

We can reject our rejection and not let it define us.

HOW TO BEGIN

  • Journal, journal, journal. Journaling provides a place for you to pour out your innermost thoughts and feelings.
  • Describe your “adoptee rite of passage.” Where are you in the process? Draw a timeline.
  • Check out this online group: all-adoptees@yahoogroups.com. We are there for you and there is no reason for isolation.
  • Get a momento, like my ID bracelet, to remind you of the day you rejected the rejection(s).

The biggest “take away” for this chapter is—don’t do it alone! If you don’t know fellow-adoptee friends, contact me. I know adoptees from all over the world that support one another through this “rite of passage.”

(This is chapter 18 from 20 LIFE-TRANSFORMING CHOICES ADOPTEES MUST MAKE, Copyright)


This picture of a young woman with stunning pearls illustrates how I feel as an adopted person. I didn't have my pearls early in life, but gained them with every passing decade. I hope they now are like a steady hand in the world of adoption.

An Adoptee’s Pearls from The Oyster of Adoption

1. Anyone can make love, but only God can create a life. (credit: Lee Ezell)

2. Even though my birth parents didn’t plan my life, God did. My life is not a mistake.

3. Every day of my life was planned before any one of them ever came to be—no coincidences!

4. I was removed me from the care of my birth parents for their good and mine.

5. Even though hospital workers called me “Baby X” after birth, my mom and dad had already picked out a name for me.

6. I am not a reject or second class–I am a jewel among jewels.

7. I have a unique place in human history that no one else can fill.

8.  Even though my birth mother experienced a painful conception, good came out of evil–me!

9. The desire in my heart for a reunion with my birth family is innate. I need not feel guilty for wanting to meet them.

10. Searching and reunion bring growth, no matter what the outcome, for I have faced my greatest fear.

11. There is a time to search for answers to adoption questions and a time to give up as lost.

12. Some of my adoption questions will never be answered this side of heaven. 

© Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge 2006, 2021. All rights reserved.


I Want My Adoptive Parents to Addreess my Birth Family Curiosities

Many Adopted Kids Want Parents to Address Their Curiosities About Birth Family

Imagine a tortoise–the kind you see in the zoo. With a huge, rough shell for a home and a head that rarely sees the full light of day, he waddles a few steps closer to his desired destination.

With all due respect, many of us adoptees are a lot like the tortoise. Our heads pop out only occasionally to see if it’s okay to assert ourselves, to ask questions and express feelings about our past. Is it okay to ask the hospital where I was born for my medical records? Is it okay to ask for non-identifying information about my birth mother and birth father? Is it okay to say that I’m curious about them and might like to meet them some day? Is it okay to be angry about my birth mother’s decision to relinquish? Is it okay to search for my birth family? Is it okay to seek out other birth relatives if my birth mother rejects me at our reunion?

These are a few of the questions that haunt many adoptees. Remember the story in chapter one about the young adoptee, who after hearing her mother make a casual reference to her birth mother, sheepishly asked, “Is it all right to talk about that?” That’s a good example of a tortoise-like remark! In spite of all the advantages this young adoptee had, her hesitancy and fear remained.

Why is that? you may be wondering. Why is it so difficult for most adoptees to believe that it is permissible to talk about the birth family? Why is it that they hold back, frozen in fear, curious, yet ambivalent at the same time about knowing more?

I believe the main reason many adoptees hold back is that they perceive themselves as victims, unable to assert themselves effectively. Consider these comments and behaviors from Talking with Young Children About Adoption by Drs. Susan Fisher and Mary Watkins:

  • A three-year-old pretends that she is a nursing baby piglet. She has her adoptive mother ask pig-mother if piglet can live at her house. Pig-mother says yes. When at adoptive mother’s pretend house, child has adoptive mother “squish” her. Child runs back to pig-mother, who protects her.
  • A six-year-old asks, “What did she (the birth mother) say when she saw me? Did she kiss me? Only you should have kissed me because you’re my parents.”

It’s important for parents to be aware of the adoptee’s unconscious tendency toward this victimy mindset, but also her need for compassion, for the adopted child literally was a victim. 

Nancy Verrier, in The Primal Wound, says, “The feeling of being a victim is not just a fantasy, but a reality. Being abandoned often leaves one with a permanent feeling of being at the mercy of others.”

Understanding a Victim’s Mindset

There are three aspects to a victim’s mindset: innocence, defenselessness, and helplessness. They are evident in the adoptee’s perceptions after birth and onward, before healing has occurred.

Innocence 

It wasn’t the adoptee’s fault that her birth mother got pregnant. It wasn’t her fault that the birth mother, for whatever reason, couldn’t parent. The child didn’t deserve losing a family at birth. She was the innocent party in it all. 

In spite of their innocence, however, many adoptees carry a false burden of guilt, much like children of divorce. They may silently wonder:

  • Did I do something to make my other mommy mad at me and give me away?  
  • I think she (the birth mother) didn’t like me.
  • Was there something bad about my birth daddy?

Defenselessness 

The adoptee was powerless at relinquishment. She had no way of protecting herself from further wounding. She may reenact those feelings of defenselessness through play from a young age. Fishers and Wakins, in Talking with Young Children About Adoption observed:

  • A three-year-old enacts someone trying to take a baby kitten away from its mother and the mother objects.
  • A little girl plays out a scene in which a wicked woman takes a child away from her good mother. She has the girl say to the wicked lady, whom she has her mother play, “If it hadn’t been for you, I would be with my real mother.” The child then confides to her adoptive mother, “Yeah, if it hadn’t been for you, I would still be with her. You came and took me away.”
  • A child asks, “Where is my real dad? Why don’t you know where he is? I don’t want him to find me…he’d take me away…I’d get kidnapped by him.”

Helplessness 

Even though there were probably people there to tend to your child when she was born, even though you may have been in the delivery room to welcome her, the transfer away from the birth mother and into your arms was traumatic for her to some degree.

In order to get some idea of the helplessness your child may experience, imagine yourself boarding a plane for Europe. When  you finally arrive, your excitement level is at an all-time high. How wonderful it is going to be! As the days pass by, it is wonderful…just about every aspect of it.  The food. The hotels. The dusty country backroads.

But in the midst of it all,  there is something wrenching in your gut. You can’t really describe it except to say that the very things that are so wonderful are producing a peculiar sense of helplessness within you. Everything around you is so different. The people. The food. The language. Your body is beginning to feel the effects of the time change. The people speak another language. You struggle to connect…to speak with the foreigners, to read the menus, but you can’t.  What is so wonderful is producing feelings of helplessness.

This subconscious sense of helplessness may continue for many adoptees throughout life.

I am aware of the fact that these are pretty hard words to digest, but if you are to be in tune with the unspoken needs of your child to talk about his birth family, then you must be aware of some of the complex and even scary thoughts and feelings he may keep hidden.

You see, there is a mixture of feelings about the birth mother in your adoptee’s heart. Fantasy. Anger. Victimization. Love. You can be a powerful resource in helping him identify and process these conflicting feelings–or you can be a major obstacle. What determines your role as a facilitator or a hurdle is your willingness and skill in drawing your child into productive conversation about her birth family and her complex feelings about them. Let’s take a look at how you can equip yourself for this crucial task.

Getting Ready to Talk

What comes to mind when you think about initiating a conversation with your child about his birth family? Do you feel defensive, like the birth family is the enemy to be avoided at all  costs? Do you feel sad, and does your lip begin to quiver at the thought of their possible presence in your child’s life? Do you fear your child will love them more than he loves you?

If so, this section is especially for you.Kids are experts at reading body language. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. If you are upset about something and trying to hide it, they will sense it.

In order to converse with your child productively about the issues closest to his heart, you must first develop a healthy attitude about the impact of adoption on the family system. Sociologist and author H. David Kirk, in Shared Fate,  suggests five common attitudes adoptive parents tend to hold about how adoption impacts the family:

1) Insistence: All problems are due to adoption. There is a great deal of emphasis between biological and adopted children: the “bad seed.”

2) Assumption: Parents have a romanticized view of adoption and expect the adoptee to have only positive feelings about adoption.

3) Acknowledgment: Adoption is seen as one of the factors in family problems. Family members have special sensitivities about adoption.

4) Rejection: Parents admit, “Yes, there’s a difference, but…” (want to forget it). They forget that the child feels the difference and needs permission to voice his feelings.

5) Denial: Parents have not told children about adoption. There is a big secret in the family.

Of course, acknowledgment is the most healthy attitude. We can’t blame all family problems on adoption, but it is important to help the adoptee see what part adoption plays in the fabric of his life.  

There are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for drawing your child into a productive conversation about his birth family.

Face Your Greatest Fear

The first thing you as an adoptive parent must do is face your greatest fear, which is being rejected by your child. You may envision your child reuniting with his birth parents someday and then wanting nothing more to do with you. If so, you would return to that lonely place of barrenness once again. 

The truth is, what is likely to happen at reunion is just the opposite of what you fear. (We will discuss this in detail in the last chapter of the book.) Nevertheless, you may feel flooded with a torrent of emotions you never knew existed. Jealously and envy.  Anger…even rage.  A sense of betrayal by the one you held closest to your heart over the years. 

The empathetic ear of a friend, professional counselor, or an adoption support group can help you through these tough times. That person should be someone who has already faced and worked through her own pain and is not afraid of yours. When you have come through to the other side, you will be able to be truly in tune emotionally with your child.

Give Permission for Open Dialogue

Parents must remember that adoptees need permission repeatedly to talk about the birth family. It is like their “permission button” is broken; your words can go in one ear and out the other.

Adoptive mom Kathy Giles believes that this continual permission-giving is a signal to the adoptee that her myriad questions and feelings are okay. She says, “I find adoptees sense the ‘okay-ness’ of wanting to know about their birth parents from their adoptive parents. The parents must signal that they understand, empathize, and will, in fact, help make it possible for their children to connect with their first set of parents. To adoptive parents, I say, don’t kid yourself, saying ‘I wouldn’t want to know.’ Ask instead, ‘What would/will my child want and need?'”

Foster a Non-Competitive Spirit

The third pre-requisite is that there be a non-competitive spirit between the adoptive and birth parents. This may be the most difficult task for adoptive parents, for they must accept without reservation that they are not the child’s only parents. 

I know these are painful words. Many adoptive parents would like a clean slate…a new beginning. However, your child does have two sets of parents–biological and adoptive. This is her reality, whether you choose to accept or acknowledge it. There is a special place within the adoptee’s heart reserved just for the birth mother and birth father. If adoptive parents try to fill both roles, the adoptee may erect a tall barrier of resentment to keep her fantasies and thoughts of them alive.

Let your child know that you think about his or her birth parents also. This brings her out of her secret fantasy world into reality: She does have birth parents, and you acknowledge that fact. Allow the birth family, if they desire, to send gifts to the child, and keep them updated on the child’s progress. 

Be Confident in Your Role

One of the most important things you as adoptive parents can do for your child is to be comfortable and non-defensive when he talks about his birth family. Your child needs a settled confidence emanating from you when the topic of the birth family is brought up. 

Step into your role with confidence, knowing that you have a unique and vital position and influence in this child’s life. No, you didn’t give him birth. You don’t share the same blood. But you are giving him something that no one else can. You are a gift to your child, just as he is a gift to you.

I expressed my gratitude for my adoptive parents in a letter I imagined God writing to them. 

Dear Retha and Mike,

One of my children needs a home–a mother and father who will love her and provide for her.

I know how much you wanted to have children. I know the tears and anguish you have experienced. But the only way I could make a place for this child in your home was through the open door of your infertility. 

I am loaning her to you for while to take care of. Do the best you know how to do, for she is precious to me.

Someday, when you are gone, I will be her mother and father. She will  learn to trust me and depend on me as she did on you.

Thank you for being willing to love my daughter and give her a home on earth.

Love,

God

Fisher and Watkins describe how a four-year-old child verbalized his feelings about both sets of parents: He said to a friend, “The way I see adoption is like this. Somebody has the baby but can’t keep the baby and goes ‘Wah, wah, wah, good-bye, baby,’ and somebody who can’t get a baby in her tummy says, ‘Goody goody…hello, baby.”

I would challenge you to help your child find a way to express her feelings for both her birth and adoptive parents. Perhaps she could draw a picture or compose a poem. Or she could write a play about adoption and then perform it for you. If she has access to a photograph of her birth parents, consider buying her a photo frame with two openings–one for the adoptive family and one for the birth family. Encourage your child to take on one of these projects and set aside special time when she can share it with you.

In open adoptions, the birth parents are graciously invited by the adoptive parents to share in this nurturing role, thus, the support and love base for the child is doubled. This is ideal. Adoptive mother Kathy Giles, experiencing an open adoption, said, “As their mother, why would I ever want to keep ‘good things’ from their lives? Why would I want to ‘protect’ them from people who had selflessly planned a life for them in another family and relinquished the right to parent them? I wouldn’t! Who among us says, ‘Sorry, I don’t need any additional people in my life who love me.” Or, ‘No more love needed here.’ 

“Furthermore, the golden rule applies. If I were the one adopted, how would I feel? Would I want to know my first mother and father? Would I want to know who I look like? Would I want to know where my talents, gifts, and inclinations came from? Would I want to know why they relinquished me? Would I want to understand that relinquishment of ‘parental rights’ was not the relinquishment of love, concern and interest. YES! All of that would be important to me if I were the adopted child.”

What Parents Can Do

When you understand the fears and ambivalence your child may have when it comes to discussing his birth family, you will be much more effective in drawing out his hidden thoughts at strategic times.I believe that conversations about the birth family should be initiated at times of pleasure and celebration and at times of stress or vulnerability. 

Positive times for initiating might include the following.

  • The child’s birthday. “I wonder if your birth mom/dad are thinking about you.”
  • Mothers’ Day/Fathers’ Day. “I wonder what your birth mom/dad is doing today.”
  • Nighttime prayers. “Let’s remember your birth family in our prayers.”
  • Child’s accomplishments. “Your birth parents would be proud of you just like we are.”
  • Physical features. “I wonder if your birth mom has curly hair like you.”
  • Spontaneously. Whenever your heart wells with gratitude to the birth family. “I’m so glad they gave you to us!”

Conversations about the birth family might also be initiated during vulnerable times like these.

  • Physical exam. “It must be a bummer not knowing your full birth history.”
  • Beginning college. “I’ll bet your adoption issues make saying good-bye extra difficult.”
  • After an acting-out episode. “Have you been thinking about your birth family lately?”
  • Family tree assignments in school. (The adoptee’s family tree is very complex and will not conform to the usual configuration.) You might say to the child, “With your permission and approval, I will talk to your teacher and ask if you (or we) can make a special family tree that will include both sides of your family.”
  • After the child has been teased by a peer because he’s adopted. “I know it’s hard to be singled out because of your adoption, but remember we love you and so does your birth family.”

Part of the reason that your child wants you to take the initiative in opening conversations about the birth family is that he has a need to know the truth about his conception, birth and family history, no matter how painful the details may be. The next chapter will prepare you for the challenge of sharing the whole truth in a healing way.


Why Do I Think About My First Mom?

An Adoptee’s Thoughts about First Parents Are Innate

I have yet to meet an adoptee who can honestly claim to have never thought about his or her birth mother, especially on birthdays. In fact, a survey of more than 100 adoptees from the All-Adoptee Online group (all-adoptees@yahoogroups.com) confirm that many think of their birth mothers daily.

It’s no wonder. Just think about how intimately we were united with the woman who gave us birth! What a connection we had for at least nine months. An inseparable bond. As inseparable as tea from hot water. As inseparable as a bud from the stem of a flower. As inseparable as the ocean from the sand. 

Renowned author John Bowlby says that the mother is the hub of life. The way our bodies work is molded and solidified during our time in the womb and that there are critical periods during prenatal development when our cells and organs decide how they will behave for the rest of our lives. Just think…at the very moment of conception, our entire genetic code was established that determined our sex and the color of our hair and eyes. At three weeks we had a beating heart, and at forty days detectable brain waves. 

Perhaps even more fascinating is a phenomenon that goes on between a mother and her unborn child that absolutely boggled my mind when I learned about it. 

Our First Conversations with Her 

Who do you think was the first person with whom you had a conversation?  Would you believe it was your birth mother? And, where and when do you think it might have happened?  This is the mind-boggling part —in the womb! 

Dr. Thomas Verny says that during the last three months of pregnancy, and especially the last two, we are mature enough physically and intellectually to send and receive fairly sophisticated messages to and from our mothers. Our mothers set the pace, provide the cues, and actually mold our responses. 

What messages did we get from our birth mothers? I believe it all depended on her attitude toward us. If we heard, “I love you and am so glad you’re a part of me. I will do all that I can to help you develop into the person you were created to be. I can’t wait to see you. I will welcome you into the world in a way more wonderful than you can possibly imagine,” our response was certainly positive. We would have thrived on it. “Oh, Mommy,” our little pre-verbal minds might have “said,” “I love you so much and I can’t wait to be born so that I can nurse at your breasts and be held in your arms.” 

On the other hand, what if we heard, “I don’t want you. I don’t even like you. In fact, I think of you as an ‘it,’ and frankly, I can’t wait to  get rid of you. I wish I could”?  Our little minds may have responded like this: “All alone. All alone.  Hurts so bad. No one will ever take care of me. I must ‘buck up’ and be strong so I can survive. Be strong. Be strong. Tense up. Be on guard so I won’t be tortured like this again.” 

This kind of message to us would be unimaginably painful. Author Judith Viorst likens it to being doused with oil and set on fire.4 

But it’s a subconscious pain. Dr. Arthur Janov says that this kind of pain is “not like a pinch where we yell ‘ouch,’ shake our fingers, and in a few minutes get over it. Instead, it’s like being pinched so hard you cannot feel it, so that the pain goes on forever because it is continually being processed below the level of conscious awareness. It doesn’t mean it is not there doing its damage — it just means that it is too much to feel.”5 

Some of us can identify with those negative conversations, and many of them are still playing in our heads even though they were communicated so many years ago. Some of us feel at a primal level that we need her love and welcoming attitude in order to survive. 

I know for a fact that I didn’t have my birth mother’s love from day one, yet by grace, I am a survivor. As my husband always says, “From some people you learn what to do and from others you learn what not to do.” Out of the rejection communicated to me from my mother when I was yet unborn eventually came the awareness that I was forever wanted by someone. Marvelous and miraculous things occurred while I was in the womb, being knit together cell by cell, bone by bone, and tissue by tissue. 

Whatever the case, whether conversations with our birth mothers were positive or painful, prenatal experiences are encoded in our bodies, brains, souls, and spirits, resulting in questions and thoughts that pop into our minds, often unexpectedly, throughout our lives. 

Our First Thoughts About Her 

Folks who aren’t adopted are often amazed at how early some of us think about our birth mothers, especially when I tell the story about the adopted girl who asked her mom prior to her third birthday party if her “lady” was coming. The mother asked what lady she was talking about. Her daughter answered, “The lady I grew inside. It’s my birthday, isn’t it?”7 

Cheri Freeman thought about her origins at an early age also. She told herself stories at age three or four about how her birth parents missed her and how happy they would be to finally meet her. 

Joe Soll says that from the moment he knew he was adopted at age four, there has never been a day that he hasn’t thought about his birth mom. 

Frieda Moore found comfort when hurting by imagining her birth mother coming to find and rescue her, taking her home to live with her forever. 

Pam Hasegawa, a fifty-nine-year-old adoptee advocate, says that when she had the lead in a play, she remembers thinking, “If she could only see me now! Would she be proud of me?” 

Where did those positive attitudes come from? Could they have begun in the womb? And what about those of us who have negative attitudes?

Laurie, ,even as a young child, worried that her birth mother must be struggling and depressed. Others of us didn’t begin to think about our birth mothers until we hit puberty and shot up to six feet tall even though both our adoptive parents were short.

Shirley Reynolds says that when she became a teen, she realized that she looked much different than her adoptive family. This propelled her into a fantasy world where her mother would be dark-haired and petite, like Shirley. And of course, she would be beautiful! 

Some adoptees claim to never think about their birth mothers.  Sally says that she feels guilty because she doesn’t think about hers, knowing that so many other adoptees do. Sally is not alone. Many don’t think about their birth mothers for various reasons, but the predominant reason is usually shame. Shame is that awful feeling, not that we have done something wrong, but that something is inherently wrong with us as a person. 

How about hearing your adoptive mother talk derogatively about the twenty-one-year-old down the street who was unmarried and pregnant,  raving about how much shame she brought to her family? Connie Dawson heard this message at the tender age of ten as her mother delivered a veiled message that Connie herself was shameful and shouldn’t be “bad,” like her birth mother was. Or how about Sue who struggles with a haunting belief that something dreadful must lurk within her, which if found out by her adoptive parents, would cause them to bolt from her? 

Her Lifelong Impact 

Whether positive or negative, and whether we like it or not, our birth mothers are a forever part of us. How we choose to respond to that reality will deeply influence the course of our lives. 

Author Louise Kaplan says that in the death of a parent (which I believe can be likened to relinquishment), the dialogue between parent and child continues within the child and that the child remains attached in profound ways to that dialogue throughout life.8 

When my dad died, one of his friends said to me, “You never lose your parents. They are always a part of you.” In my grief, I was rather skeptical, but since that time I have found it to be true. For instance, after every meal, Dad, in a mischievous way, picked up the unused silverware saying, “This one’s clean!” We’d all laugh and say, “Yeah, Dad!” Over the years it became an endearing behavior, and in the years since his death, whenever I pick up clean silverware after a meal, I think of him and smile. 

Thoughts About Our Birth Parents Are Innate 

When I was almost finished with the final draft of this book I talked with a reunited birth father who adored his daughter but who had been rejected by her. His heart was breaking as he wept while telling me that he would do anything to have a meaningful father-daughter relationship. 

Do many birth fathers feel the same way? Would they want a relationship with us if they had an opportunity? Do they feel the loss of us to the same degree that birth mothers usually do? As we do? 

As I’ve said, I believe that adoption can be likened to a big door. Over the top of the door is written “Birth Mother,” for our thoughts about her usually come first. It is often after we have gone through the adoption door that we find the words “Birth Father” written on the other side. 

Ron Hilliard, of Palm Beach Heights, Florida, focused mainly on his birth mother and blocked out thoughts of his birth father because his father didn’t want to marry his mother and also urged her to have an abortion. Ron’s search for his birth mother ended in a cemetery and he is now looking at the back of the adoption door and wondering who his father is—and who he is as a result. This curiosity is being fueled by the fact that Ron has a fraternal twin brother who resembles his birth mother’s photos, while Ron doesn’t. This makes him wonder who he does resemble. 

Some of us see the words “birth father” first on the adoption door. Richard Curtis says that the loss of his birth father was the first loss of a male figure in his life, followed by the loss of his adoptive father when he was only five years old. As a result, Richard had no male role models and was left with what he terms a “father hunger” that he believes many adoptees experience.  Like Ron, Richard’s search for his birth father ended at a tombstone. 

However, after finding people who knew his father prior to his death, Richard can see that many of the choices and behaviors he has made in life closely parallel his birth father’s. 

Crystal speaks of father hunger by calling it a “void” that colors her relationships with men and keeps her longing for a daddy even though she is forty years old. A friend recently asked her what she would do if she ever found him. To Crystal the answer was simple —“I’d quit my job, move in with him, and have him take care of me.” She then added, “I am joking… but not really.” 

When our curiosity is aroused, our speculations about him increase. What kind of a person was/is he? Did he refuse any responsibility and abandon our birth mother, as in the case of Laurie? Out of deep hurt, she says she prejudged him as a jerk because he chose not to marry her mom or encourage her to keep her baby. She is actually happy that she doesn’t have to know him.

To Issie, her birth father is a non-issue. A few years ago she thought briefly about trying to locate him, but her fear of rejection was too strong. In addition, she has no proof, short of DNA, of who her father is. 

Then there’s the nasty subject of incest. Sheila says that her birth father is her mother’s stepdad. She’s glad he died before she met her birth family because she doesn’t know how she would react to him. She’s accepted that he’s a part of her, yet she can’t comprehend his deplorable actions. 

Dawn Saphir, twenty-seven, born in Seoul, Korea, and adopted at six months of age by a Caucasian family, says that based on what she’s learned of Korean culture at the time of her birth, she doesn’t have a lot of positive feelings about who her birth father may have been. 

Some of our birth fathers may be completely ignorant of the fact that we even exist. How might our lives have been different had they been informed? 

Karen says that she feels a great tenderness for the father who never knew about her. “He never had the chance to ‘give me up,’” she explains. “He never had the chance to know he was a father.” 

Our Dual Identity 

If we were created from the very fiber of our birth parents’ physical and emotional beings, don’t you think our need to think about them would be innate? If we had primal conversations with our mother in the womb, wouldn’t you say it is natural for us to think about her as we are growing up and growing old? And if our birth father’s DNA helped determine the color of our hair and eyes, wouldn’t you say that he is just as much a part of us as our mother and it is normal to want a relationship with him? 

Wherever we are in the spectrum of perceptions about our birth parents, we must rest assured that our thoughts are normal. They are part of the fiber of our being. Part of the package of being adopted. It’s all about our identity… our dual identity.  Most of all, it’s about establishing an unshakeable identity by integrating all the parts of who we are—body, soul, and spirit.

So what must we do for ourselves? What healthy choice must we make to move closer toward who we were created toward an unshakeable identity? 

OUR CHOICE

To give ourselves permission to think about and discuss openly our birth parents, especially to our adoptive parents.

Giving ourselves permission to let natural thoughts surface reminds me of when I am getting sick. I feel nausea and the urge to toss my cookies. I hate that more than anything, so I concentrate on something else so that I won’t. But when I finally let myself think about the possibility, up comes my lunch, followed by an incredible feeling of relief. A similar sensation often results when we allow ourselves to freely think about our birth parents. The urge to do so is really unstoppable. 

 Perhaps all these thoughts are new to you. You want to begin your process of making positive, life-transforming choices but don’t know how. The following section will help.

HOW TO BEGIN

  • Try free-association writing. Write whatever comes to mind about your birth parents. No one is ever going to see it, so be as free as possible. When you are done, look back and discern basic themes that run throughout your piece. 
  • Make a drawing. Imagine “The Adoption Door,” and draw both the front and back sides. Label whose title is over the doorpost—birth mother or birth father. Then ask yourself, “Where am I in this scene? 

Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge: TWENTY LIFE-TRANSFORMING CHOICES ADOPTEES MUST MAKE. 2013


Passing on My Adoptive Mom's Traditions

One Adoptee Carries On Her Mom’s Christmas Eve Tradition

When I was a little girl, my Mom threw a big party after the Christmas Eve service at their church. It was as fancy as a little town can be, and Mom wore the same thing every year-a purple velvet dress. It was stunning and how I loved it on her. Of course, as a child, I didn’t realize what an impression that the purple dress made, but if you asked me today about a favorite Christmas memory, it would be mom in the lovely dress.

Adoptive moms have no idea of the memories of love they’re creating for their kids. They can’t even fathom, nor entertain the idea that THEY are a gift to their adopted children–their persona, their everyday activities, their faithfulness in remaining a mom with a non-abandoning heart.

So, when Christmas Eve comes, I think of Mom in the purple dress. I’ve purchased a purple velvet blazer to carry on her tradition. Even though she’s not here, the timeless memories she created live on inside me and hopefully to those who see me wear a purple velvet coat on Christmas Eve. I can tell them where the tradition began-in the heart of my beloved and much-missed Mom.