Dancing in My First Mother’s Shadow

Almost every adoptee has a shadow following her. It’s the shadow of the First Mother. The shadow may be fleeting, fear-producing, fierce, or formidable. It all depends, for each adoptee and First Mother are unique, one of a kind. But, one thing is certain–adoptees who experience rejection from their First Mothers can dance again.

The shadow of my First Mother, Elizabeth, has followed me throughout every decade of life, even though I didn’t realize it. But, in just the right situations, the shadow appeared. When expecting our first child and sitting in the OB-GYN’s office waiting to be called, I studied fascinating brochures about how babies develop in the womb. I wondered if Elizabeth felt curious when she carried me.

 Forty years later, Mike, my Dad through adoption, was getting things in order for his impending death, he got out the old green metal file box where he kept everything important. As we sat at the Duncan Fife dining room table, he pulled out document after document. Then, he said, “This is your birth certificate.” Grabbing it from his hands, I scanned the document and found the name of my First Mother–Elizabeth.  Oh my gosh. Talk about hitting pay dirt. I finally had something to go on in my obsessive mid-life search for her. The following day, at the county courthouse, I announced the good news about finding my mother. The lady tucked her long neck down onto her chest and said, “Do we have an adoptee here?” When I answered yes and that I wanted to find my father, she brushed me off, like a pesky fly.

The next time I thought about Elizabeth was when a popular speaker and author, Lee Ezell, shared how her adopted daughter found her. At the end of the talk, the projector put up a huge photo of the two of them–faces only. Immediately, I darted out of my seat. It was decided. I must find her, no matter the cost. Would she want to meet me?

And, so the l.o.n.g search began. Every avenue was explored: the Mormon Church’s death index, state health departments, telephone books. What really produced results was contact information for the funeral home who facilitated the funeral for Elizabeth’s mother. This private info came from the State Health Department. By that evening, I had her phone number. As I dialed the number, my hands shook. Then, it happened! We spoke well into the evening about everything from hair color to writing styles. It became evident that she was feeling insecure because she made sure that I knew every accomplishment. What would have really touched my heart would have been a humble apology for hurting me by her departure.

The reunion itself was stressful for both of us. Every night, her rich friends hosted us for dinner. She’d always order a steak, eat two bites and then leave it. It was uncomfortable for me being with such wealthy people. I’m just a small town girl. I’d never met anyone who has a swimming pool in the lower level of their home, or whose friend is a former movie star. Feelings I never knew existed came to my attention as I tried to trust my instincts that she indeed was rejecting me. 

After returning home from the reunion, I called to thank her, and what I experienced was nothing short of a personality change for her. She literally raged at me and while she did, a Bible verse came to mind: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;  your walls are ever before me. (Isaiah 49: 15-16 NIV) @Biblegateway.com. In spite of many attempts on my part for reconciliation, she wasn’t able to join me and my family for any future relationship.

We must not be afraid of our First Mother’s shadow, for we can learn to dance in it. This is only possible when we see her through forgiving eyes. Just recently, I’ve experienced much healing from a painful past. I not only faced the dark shadows of Elizabeth, but I’ve raced through them to the other side. And, I’m loving being her daughter for the first time. I loved her blonde hair and pretty face, her artistic talents, and her initial desire to thank God for “giving me good parents.”

I have come through the shadows and am now dancing in them with new eyes. I want this for all of you, fellow adoptees who were rejected. Put on your dancing shoes and dance with me!

What Hurting Adoptees Can Do:

1. You are not alone. After I reunited with my first Mother and experienced rejection, I didn’t know anyone else who had experienced this. For months, I thought it was my fault and looked desperately for help. Let it be known here that many adoptees are rejected by their first Mothers.

2. Be assured that you can have a life that thrives. In spite of how your first Mother treated/is treating you, you can heal from this pain.

3. Pray. Ask God what He wants you to learn about Him through this experience. I think about Job of Bible times who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

4. Search Scripture. See how many verses you can find that talk about how God cares for the orphan.

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