In Support of Truth

Falsehood is easy, truth so difficult. – George Eliot

What could one possibly say to this?

"You should never tell your daughter that you tried to keep her. She should never know that you wanted her. The story of her birth and how she came available for adoption should be kept to yourself. It would be too painful for her to hear. She would feel like she is living the wrong life. She will feel as though the life she has had is not valid."

This statement or suggestion came to me from another adoptee. This adoptee is aware of the key points of my story (maternity home, promissory notes, threats of lawsuit) and feels, apparently, that discussing that with my daughter would be a bad thing.

I admit this boggles my mind. I realize this is one adoptees opinion and maybe they would never want to know this information but to advise the same for another?

I am a realist. Some might consider me a bit hard core in the truth department, but that is who I am. I have learned through the years to be a little less blunt and consider the feelings of others but I have a really hard time embellishing, omitting, denying or avoiding.

I am not wired that way.

Furthermore, I am paid a good living to counsel others, executives, to tell the truth, to be transparent and admit mistakes. I would not be the least bit credible in my opinion if I was selective about my own truth.

My truth is that I did not want to surrender my daughter. She was not meant to be adopted. I tried to keep her. I failed. I was too weak. I caved to the threats of lawsuits against me and my parents. I had no legal counsel. No place to live. No one to help me and support me. The truth of adoption trauma and how it affects mothers and children was withheld from me by the caseworkers. They lied to me so they could get her and sell her to any one of their wealthy clients. It was to their benefit to get my child at any cost. They were suppliers to the intense demand that is created by the prospective adoptive parents.

Had things been ethical, she would not have been adopted. Had someone supported me, she would not have been abandoned to strangers.

Does this mean the life my daughter lead is not valid?


Her life is very real. She has very real parents and a very real family. However, that very real family does not negate the fact that she also has a first family. Nor does the love she receives from her adoptive parents zero out the love I have always felt for her. I understand she cannot recognize me or her first family. That does not mean I cannot recognize her. She is, was, and always will be a part of my family and a part of my life.

As I have said many times, motherhood, for me, does not come with an off switch. It doesn’t even come with a dimmer switch.

All that being said, I have shared very little with my daughter regarding her adoption story. My approach, erroneous as it may be to others, is the same I have taken with her brothers at any given age. I answer only what is asked. I assume when she wants to know something, or is mature or emotionally ready to know something, she will ask. I have not and will not vomit my emotions all over her and expect her to find her way through the smelly wreckage. I have told her she can ask anything. I have assured her that her feelings matter and she should never feel the need to protect my feelings in spite of her own. I am a big girl. It has taken me a long time to acknowledge and own my feelings. I am responsible for them. Not her.

Her story is her story and it is available at the asking. But I will not embellish it to make it sound like something it is not.

It is my truth.

It is her truth.

How we handle that is up to us as individuals and as mother and daughter.

Sorry to my friend the adoptee who offered that advice I refer to at the beginning of this post. I have to politely refuse to accept it.

19 Thoughts.

  1. I want to comment on two point in your post. The first is that you did not “fail.” There is no failure when you had absolutely no way to fight. You resisted to the best of your ability. That is not failure: it is claiming your motherhood and a victory against their attempts to steal it. They may have stolen your daughter but not your humanity. You still fought. So the blame is not on you.
    The second thing is that telling the adoptee the details of the coercion, lies, deception and fraud that was applied to us to force us to surrender is, IMHO, what every adoptee who was surrendered under these circumstances should know. It is the mother’s truth, her experience, and PROVES that the adoptee was wanted and loved and not “thrown away” as an unwanted child. That is one reason why my reunion has worked out so well — in my very first email to him I told him “that he was loved, and wanted, and i never wanted to lose him.” I refuse to tow the party line that he was “placed” (i.e. deliberate legalized abandonment).
    Your daughter may need you to come forward with the details of the coercion before she believes that you love her and wanted her — otherwise her feelings of rejection and anger may be a permanent rift between you.

  2. Cedar – I understand and agree with your points. You also gave me another writing prompt. Thank you.

  3. With all due respect to that adoptee, every mental health professional I’ve come across, including our incredible family therapist who is very knowledgeable about adoption issues, says that it is always best to be truthful to our children. I can’t imagine lying about her beginnings and letting her believe that she was unwanted.

  4. Judy – Your comment also feeds into what I want to write about tommorow. I agree with you. My thinking is that just like adoptive parents of young children, first parents of reunited children need to go out at pace that is comfortable to the adopted adult. But more on that in another post…

  5. I’m sorry, I totally disagree with whoever wrote this. The only guarantee in any relationship is the TRUTH!
    This adoptee seems to want no information about how his/her life started, which is very sad. If lies are told, in my opinion both lives have very little meaning.

  6. I realize that each adoptee is different and has unique feelings about being adopted, but I don’t understand the implication behind that adoptee’s comment. As an adoptee myself, I can accept that my birthmother was psychologically forced to give me up for adoption, but I can separate that event that happened to HER with how my life went. My life was that I was adopted by my parents (never ever strangers to ME, only strangers to my birthmother) and that is when my life started. It does not cause me pain to know that she put me up for adoption under duress. It does make me feel empathetic towards her and deserving of getting to know me and being part of my life now. She is not my mother though in any sense of the word beyond biological. I don’t believe that genetics and giving birth makes a woman a mother if she doesn’t have the chance or gives up the right to mother that child after giving birth. I wouldn’t say that to her, preferring instead to be kind and respectful to her because I know she’s had things very hard. That’s where it is complicated for some adoptees. Our adoptive parents are not our adoptive parents, but simply our parents. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be adopted in my birthmother’s view, but I do believe there had to be something less than random about getting the parents that I got. I wouldn’t have wanted any other parents, so in that sense, my birthmother’s coercion was a blessing to me, even if it was her nightmare. There’s no way to say that nicely to her though, so it’s a thought I keep to myself. First time posting here, btw.

  7. I completely agree with you that all people deserve the truth in any relationship. I also agree that children deserve honest answers only to what they ask. You should have seen the horror that came from my MIL when I calmly explained about eggs and sperm when my three year old asked how the baby got in my belly. He asked. I answered. No more. No less.

  8. Oh Debbie, you stuck a knife in quite a few 1st mother’s hearts there, but it is your truth and honestly how I imagine my daughter feels. So I can appreciate your honesty however painful it is to hear. I am however, glad you have chosen not to say those words to your birthmother.

  9. Kristy / Debbie – Do you think its good to keep that from your/her mom? I dont know. Debbie prompted yet another writing prompt for me. (Keep talking people!). I wonder if a mother would want to know that. Is a relationship honest and genuine if one is pretending it is something it is not?
    Perhaps it is just me, but if my daughter was pretending, giving something fake, not real, (insert your own word here), I think I would want to know.
    I dont want a relationship with my daughter becuase she feels sorry for me or like she is doing me some favor….
    (Debbie, not suggesting you are doing that..just what I started to think about after your comment)

  10. “She would feel like she is living the wrong life. She will feel as though the life she has had is not valid.”
    I have heard this mentioned before but from the other angle. An adoptee wrote a beautiful piece entitled “Ghost Child” in which she talked about the biological child her parents wanted and couldn’t have and how she was haunted by this child who, presumably she was told, would have had her exact same name.
    I think because of all the things we have not shared in before reunion life honesty is very important. There are enough myths and half truths floating around about adoption. If everyone is silent how will they be revealed for the what they are, how will people learn?
    One dialogue at a time, I think these discussions need to be had. There is a resistance to the truth in adoption for some reason.

  11. Debbie, while your honesty is admirable and yes, it’s wise not to be quite so brutal with your nmother, I can’t agree that there was something “less than random” in you getting placed with your adoptive parents. Why would my son be put with aparents that were emotionally neglectful? Was there a reason other than bad luck? It is all random……the way some adoptees feel, the way some nmoms feel, the type of aparents children grow up with. You made me think….did my son feel that way in the beginning of our reunion? I remember telling him that I didn’t want him to say things to me if they didn’t come from the heart, that it was much better for us for me to hear the truth even if he was afraid to hurt my feelings. His response- “You don’t know how important you are to me”. Just as I am enjoying a wonderful reunion with my son (he lives with me and the rest of my/his family and calls me Mom), I think my reunion is just dumb luck also. There is no reason why I should be given such a loving relationship with my son above any other mom who lost her child. And even though I am extremely happy at having my son back, I wish he could describe his relationship with his amother the way you do.
    The truth is the best……my son knows what I went through and we have a great relationship but he does think that it was best he was adopted…..he says it “wipes out his whole life” when I say that I wish his life had been different and that I had kept him. I realize what that means to his identity. It is everything he is, his experiences. He is proud of the person he is (as am I) and he wouldn’t change anything. He says he’s just glad the part of his life without me is over and we have lots of time together.

  12. Okay Suz, so yes I understand, let me role play for just a moment. If I was Debbie’s mother and she said to me what she said here, I think the pain of hearing that would be unbearable. Maybe that is because I believe that is how my daughter feels. Not sure. But that being said, here would be my response: Although my coercion was separate than how your life went, my pain WAS the reason your life went. Before you were born I was your mother and by acts of others I made the greatest sacrifice a mother can make, and if THAT fact alone doesn’t make me worthy of the title “mother”, if only nmother, than I don’t know what more a person could do to earn that title. Certainly your parents raised you and I am not here to challenge that. I do not want you in my life because you pity me for what happened to me. I want you in my life because you appreciate me for who I am. The one who loved you first.
    Debbie, adoption is painful, reunion too..
    Thank you for your first post, hope I didn’t scare you off 🙂

  13. This is a very sad post from an adoptee who obvously does not want to know any pre adoption of herself. To say she would not feel the life she had would not be valid to her. If she thinks and keeps it all as it is then its safety for her. How could you not ever think beyond this. My thoughts are there is more to this than what is told. But to know the truth of her adoption would make her life invalid? Will she tell her family one day the truth or not. Will that make a valdity to her children?

  14. I really have a lot of compassion for this girl you wrote about. Clearly within herself she is conflicted about her adopted fate. Personally I think that knowing the truth of how I was given up would help to validate the longing to know how much my birth mother loved me. But that is my experience.
    Reading Debbie’s comments, I can hear that for her, her life works when she sees her adoptive parents as her parents and her birthmother as the woman who gave birth to her. I don’t think this is wrong though anymore than I think an adoptee feeling that she/he has two mothers — adoptive and birth. Or the adoptee that feels the adoptive parents are just fill-in parents until he/she finds the birth parents. None of these views are right or wrong — they are simply a perspective that someone has taken in their life. It’s how they see it, and it is a reflection of their experience. We should honor that.
    If there’s one theme I’m seeing in all in the comments to your posts, Suz, it’s that we shouldn’t generalize. Each of us has a unique experience of the adoption triad. It is disrespectful for one individual to impose their experience/viewpoint/opinion/decisions on another. We are each capable of navigating our way through this experience, and we should honor our own truths and allow others to follow their own truth.
    So Suz, good for you for recognizing your truth and sticking to it!

  15. A male adoptee’s perspective here, after reading Ann Fessler’s book (The Girl’s Who Went Away) I saw that what happened went way beyond individual choices. The time was horrific to be a mom, on your own, without the traditional support system. I get that. Some of these things just take years… especially when they have to do with such sensitive things as where we come from and what happened in the earliest days of our lives.
    I think your acknowledging the truth here in an open forum where others can see it is one way that your “child” – now an adult? – may come around to getting it too. These messages have a way of getting around (I don’t mean blog messages… but the ones that are important to us).
    My natural mother told me after I asked her whether my conception involved a rape… “no.” But it is still difficult for her to talk about those times, as it is hard for me to ask her. One part of these old stories is that they are also in a way part of my life… they are things for me to work into the story that I have made of my life… “this is my life, etc.”
    When you start telling us (adoptees) things we have not had access to for years…it makes us work to integrate them. Where do they fit? Who am I now? History like this is very personal and does indeed get down to identity things.
    Yes, I want to know. I think. In my heart I’m scared to know.

  16. I think in the same way that many of us (mothers) felt what was expected of us was to demonstrate that we had ,in fact, gotten on with our lives, many adoptees feel that their demonstration must be that they have accepted their adoptive family and foresaken all others.
    My son has expressed all three of the attitudes set out, pro them, pro me, pro us both.
    I think adoptees are in a difficult position. Enhanced or eased by individual situations and experience.

  17. Mombonnie, I was not saying that all adoptions are meant to be or that life is all destiny or anything like that. I just personally believe that my parents were meant to be my parents, that it was not random at all. For me. I would never speak to all adoptions or all adoptees. This is a feeling within me. Again, I would not say that to my birthmother. Not because I want an inauthentic relationship with her, but because I know how hurtful that would be to her because her perspective on my adoption is radically different. I like her a lot. I will most likely grow to love her as I get to know her. We are almost 2 years into our reunion, she has met my family, and I am getting to know hers (mine!). It’s been a surreal sort of experience, but mostly good. My birthmother has 2 daughters who she is raising, and it is my belief that this has helped her understand my relationship with my mother and made her realize that she couldn’t have the same mother-daughter relationship that she has with her girls or that I have with my mom. But we can still have our own type of unique relationship. I just am not going to give her brutal honesty about my feelings at this point. I can like her and build a friendship with her without rubbing salt into her wounds. That is the weird thing to me, that something that worked out nicely for me and my life started with her worst nightmare.

  18. “The story of her birth and how she came available for adoption should be kept to yourself. It would be too painful for her to hear.”
    This in particular puzzles me. Although I absolutely understand that trying to reconcile life before and after adoption is hard for an adoptee, it seems to me that the possibility of fabricating equally painful untruths negates this line of thinking.
    Yes, the truth can hurt – but everyone deserves to know it. I think, too, that it’s possible to work through painful truths, but lies only lead to more and more pain.

  19. two cents on the original post: it *is* one adoptee’s opinion.
    Here is another (again, only one’s), and the flip side:
    I would definitely, without question want to know. I was actually more upset that my real mom’s situation and yours (Suz) weren’t more similar. I was ready to tell her it was OK, and it wasn’t her fault and etc. etc. Those things create compassion and understanding, for me. Those things make it a little easier.
    It was actually harder for me to hear and accept that those things didn’t occur.
    It means she might have actually made the decision on her own. And yet, it’s still, it’s always, for me, better to know. Not knowing is the worst there is.
    So yeah, this one adoptee? Wants to know the details.

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