How Many Adoptees Are Rejected by Birth Relatives?

This woman represents adoptees and foster kids who wonder if they will be rejected when meeting or reuniting with birth relatives. Sherrie takes the adoptee through this possibility, helping to process the fear, and then presents a life-defining choice the adoptee can make.

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, 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.

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.

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.

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 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, many sounds, movements around him, darkness and all kind 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.
  • 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 the “rite of passage.”

Please be sure and enter your email address at the right hand corner so that we can stay in contact!

 

(This post is Chapter 18 of 20 Life-Changing Choices Adoptees Need to Make. Copyright, Jessica Kingsley Publishing). You may purchase on the “shop” page on this site.

What Adoptees and Foster Kids Need to Know About Anger

What Has MisPlaced Anger Told You?

Never did I imagine writing a book about adoptee anger, for it was such an integral part of me, like tea is to water.

As a baby, I certainly wasn’t aware of it, but my adoptive mom (Retha) was.

All she knew was that my stiffened body refused her warm touch and whenever she tried feeding me formula, I arched and cried bloody murder.

Looking back after all these decades, I believe Retha translated my behavior as, “I knew I couldn’t do this. I might have done alright with a normal baby, but a special needs baby? I don’t have what it takes to be her mother.”

In the only way my newborn self could communicate, I was saying, “I’m hurting so incredibly bad. Don’t touch me, or I’ll die. I can’t take any more pain. And, besides, you are a stranger to me. I want my first mom.”

So,Retha thought this was normal and so did I.

Can you see why our relationship was challenging?

Of course you can.

Thus, the confusing, fear-based, loss-based mother/child relationship began.

The Mother/Child Dance Begins

It was like a dance. Retha led with fear and I responded with anger.”

Mom was not in touch with who she really was, her authentic self. Oh, the real her would peek through the clouds once in a while, but for the most part, she was operating out of fear and inadequacy.

How I wish someone would have told her that she was providentially chosen to be my mom and that she’d be given all resources to meet my needs.

However, even if someone would have told her that, she wouldn’t have been able to receive it.

And for my part in the dance, I believed that this raucous anger was a part of me. I never questioned it, but just tried to conquer it with self-help books and prayers.

Neither worked.

Two Kinds of Anger

What I didn’t know is that for the adoptee, there are two kinds of anger—real, God-given anger for when we’re in danger. It’s the proverbial red light on the dashboard, alerting us to the fact that something needs attention.

The other kind of anger is mis-placed anger, which runs rampant in adoptee and foster kid hearts.

It’s based on lies we’ve come to believe and never question…after all, it’s just part of us, right?

No, not right.

Misplaced adoptee anger is our enemy.

But, we don’t know it’s our enemy, nor do we question the beliefs it’s built on. We just accept it with all it’s lies.

It’s not the real us, fellow adoptees.

Misplaced anger stunts growth, cripples with fear, and binds with bone-chilling shame.

For adoptees, it communicates:

    • Your life is a mistake, you know? Don’t tell anyone this.
    • Your birth mother didn’t care squat about you.
    • Your adoptive parents don’t know much and never “get it.”

For Rethas:

    • God never wanted you to be a mother. That’s why you couldn’t have “your own” kids.
    • There’s no way on God’s green earth that you’ve be able to successfully parent this child.
    • Screw it. I’m so hurt that it’s not worth keeping on loving this angry child.

How I wish someone would have taught me about this earlier, for I’m now in my 70s and just learning it.

What a difference it would have made to both mom and me. But, it is what it is.

The Source of Misplaced Anger

This portion is so critical to our understanding of healthy anger and misplaced anger that I’m going to share what I’ve learned about how to be free from it’s effects.

What I’m going to share is the spiritual dimension to all relationships.

Fellow adoptee, on the day you were born, your attending physician and nurse and bio mom weren’t the only ones in the room.

The enemy of your soul was also there and was whispering lies that you wouldn’t be able to recognize as lies.

That enemy was saying this about you. “I’m going to kill her, one way or another. I know the impact she could have on her world and I don’t want her to ever succeed at that.”

It was then that Jesus said, “This child is mine. I will never abandon or forsake her. My blood flows through her veins.”

And so, both moms and kids have a common enemy—the arch enemy…Satan.

If this is off your radar screen, will you please just set this piece of information aside…it’s okay.

And, so Retha and I began the mother/daughter dance on the wrong foot and for subsequent decades, danced to the drum beat of misplaced anger.