Won't My Mother Meet Me?"
by Carole Anderson
Why did your natural mother refuse to meet you? There are probably
as many answers as there are natural mothers. From some of my
own feelings and those of other natural mothers, though, I do
have a few possible themes to suggest
Your natural mother lost a great deal when she surrendered you.
She lost the chance to give you all of the love she felt for you,
that all mothers feel.
She lost the opportunity to share in the important and the humdrum
events of your life. She lost all the joys and problems of raising
you, of guiding you from infancy to adulthood.
She may feel guilty that she was not there. She may feel cheated
because she was not allowed to be there. Either way, loss is both
painful and unnatural.
In addition to the pain of the losses themselves, there is the
additional pain of feeling different from other people, outcast
from society. Often there is the pain of feeling that the loss
was unnecessary and that the separation need not have occurred
"if only..." If only her parents had helped her. If
only the social worker had told her what adoption would really
be like for you and for her. If only society had supported single
parenthood at the time you were born. If only she had not believed
she was unworthy of you. If only she had had the money to support
you. If only she had somehow found a way to keep you. If only
she had believed in her own feelings instead of in what others
told her would be best for you. The list of "if onlies"
Knowing you could make her losses more real to her, and thus more
painful. She may have worked very hard at denying her feelings,
at convincing herself that your adoption was necessary, at telling
herself that giving birth does not make a woman a mother, at pretending
that she was not a mother and so did not lose anything. She may
have denied to herself that it ever happened.
she has succeeded at numbing herself to the pain by clinging to
such beliefs, knowing you would remove the blinders from her eyes,
exposing her to the full impact of all the years of loss and pain.
may have coped with losing you through fantasizing about what
might have been. She may see you over and over in her mind just
as you were when she last saw you, see herself raising you, see
what you would be like at different ages.
If your natural mother has other children, she may be terrified
of losing them, too, if she had not told them about you. Many
natural mothers were rejected by their children's natural fathers
and by their own parents during their pregnancies. If the people
she loved and trusted and whom she though would always love and
help abandoned her when she most needed them, she may be unable
to trust anyone now. She may regard all relationships as fragile,
and fear that she will be abandoned again if she disappoints the
people who are now important to her. Having already suffered the
pain of losing one child, the fear of losing her other children
and suffering that same pain again may overwhelm her. She may
also fear losing you a second time around, if you want to see
her only once. Many natural mothers have internalized others'
rejection of them and believe they are unlovable. Not loving or
respecting herself, she cannot believe that others could care
about her if they really knew her.
Suspecting that adoptees who search will ask about their fathers
after they have satisfied their curiosity about their mothers,
her rejection may be tied to her feelings about your natural father.
If she love him, accepting you could mean reopening the deep wounds
she suffered in being rejected by him. IF she did not love him,
she may dread having to admit that fact to you. She may not want
to explain her relationship with your natural father or her feelings
about it, and fear that you will reject her if she does not answer
your questions about him. She may fear that you would prefer him
to her and she could not bear to lose you to the very person whose
abandonment made your surrender unavoidable. She may believe that
your natural father is a terrible person and feel shame at having
had a relation with him, fear that you hat her if you knew him.
She may fear that you would be upset or would think less of her
or of yourself if you knew him.
Mothers want their children to be happy, but they also want to
feel needed and important to their children. They want to be the
ones who make their children happy. Generally, a mother's needs
and her child's compliment each other, so that both are satisfied
by her raising her child, with each needing and receiving the
other's love. The special situation of adoption, though, assures
that the natural mother cannot win. If she believes your adoption
was the best for you, she may feel worthless or useless as a mother
because you did not need her. If your adoption was not the best,
she may feel guilty that she did not protect you from whatever
happened and she may therefore feel she failed as a mother and
as a woman.
Your natural mother's image of herself as a mother, a woman, and
a human being may be at stake. If she has internalized society's
judgments that "nice girls don't" or that only an "unnatural
woman" could surrender her child or that "any animal
can give birth but that doesn't make her a mother", it will
be difficult for her to acknowledge to herself that it is she
who is that bad girl, the unnatural woman, or only an animal in
some mothers feel that their babies abandoned them. Mothers were
often repeatedly told that their babies needed or wanted more
than they could give them, and that surrender was necessary for
the child. Many mothers were told that to keep their children
would be selfish, that they had no right to satisfy their need
to love and nurture by raising their children, because the children
deserve and need more. Other people spoke for you, telling your
natural mother you wanted more than she could give. To your natural
mother, this may have been experience deep within as a rejection
by you, as her baby's deserting her for other people. Even though
she knows on an intellectual level that this feeling is not rational
and she may feel guilty for it, on an emotional level what she
feels may be that, although she needed and wanted her child, her
child was not there for her.
Closely related are the problems of competition and sacrifice.
Just as she may have felt that she was in competition with unknown
couples for the right to raise you, a contest in which she was
the loser, she was also placed in the position of being in competition
with you. She may have been told that it was her life or yours,
her needs or yours. Because you were not aided as a family but
instead treated as individuals whose needs were in conflict, she
may have felt that she was choosing between her own happiness
If she wanted to raise you but believed that your surrender was
necessary for you happiness, she may feel that she has sacrificed
her life for yours, her happiness for yours. All people want happiness,
everyone wants her own needs to be met, and there is usually anger
toward injustice. She, however, cannot allow herself to feel or
express her anger and resentment, because it was your natural
mother herself who decided that you were more important and mattered
more than she did, she herself who chose your needs above her
If that choice was made by others such as her parents or by her
situation instead of by your natural mother, there may be even
more anger. There can be tremendous guilt involved for feeling
anger, because we have been taught that parents gladly sacrifice
for their children. Her anger may therefore be threatening to
her, for what kind of person can she be that she could feel anger
toward her child?
other parents, other people, do not make sacrifices of this magnitude.
What society usually calls parental sacrifice is really more like
an investment or a trade-off of some current comfort in exchange
for other regards. To give up a full night's sleep in order to
tend a sick child carries with it the benefits of holding and
comforting that child, feeling necessary to the child, receiving
the child's love and gaining society's approval. What most parents
think of as sacrifices are small and temporary inconveniences
for which they receive personal satisfaction, the child's loyalty
and affection and societal sanctions. The sacrifice of a natural
mother's life for her child's in unique.
than compensations, the sacrifice is generally answered with guilt,
pain and emptiness. Society's reaction is most often condemnation
rather than approval. The natural mother's sacrifice is unnatural,
unrecognized and unrewarded.
Some natural mothers felt less than human during the pregnancy
and surrender experience, and may have felt they were regarded
as subhuman by society. Just as infants have a need to be nurtured,
so every mother has a need to give nurture to her child. You were
placed with people who could meet your infant need for nurture,
but your natural mother was given no substitute for you. Her need
to nurture was not met.
Understandably, many adoptees explain that their adoptive parents
are their only real parents and they love them dearly, but that
they searched to gain information about themselves. Newspapers
are full of articles about adoptees saying that they are not looking
for a mother, but for themselves or their own identity.
Your natural mother may feel she is again being reduced to a data
bank. Just as she once surrendered you to others while her own
needs went unmet, she may feel she is now being asked for information
but that again her feelings
and needs will be ignored. She may feel she has given everything
without receiving anything in return, and will be reluctant to
give still more if she fears that you too, will take what you
want from her and then abandon her with no thought for her needs.
Even if she is able to struggle through the many pains and losses
that have already occurred, your natural mother may fear that
there are more to come if she accepts you now. It may hurt her
terribly that she could not mother you.
Opening her heart to you would make your natural mother vulnerable
to a later rejection by you. If she welcomed you as the beloved
daughter or son she lost, how would she feel at being only a friend
or acquaintance to you? To what extent would you accept her? Would
she be asked to your graduation or wedding? Would you want to
spend Christmas or Passover with her? Would you regard her as
the grandmother of your children, including her in events in their
lives? Or would you want to see her on rare and secret occasions,
carefully hiding the relationship from others? She may feel that
not only have adoptive parents taken her place in your life as
a child and in raising you, but that by accepting you now she
would lose you again, this time by inches, by being relegated
to a lowly and insignificant place in your life, if she were included
As an adult, you are unlikely to want your natural mother to be
the mother she may, on some level, still want to be. Your image
of motherhood will always be that of your adoptive mother, not
your natural mother. You cannot relate to your natural mother
in the same way you would have if she had raised you, nor can
she relate to you in the same way. Neither of you are the people
you would be if she had raised you. Although the similarities
you are likely to share would make her keenly aware that you are
her child, the differences resulting from your growing up in your
adoptive home would make her painfully aware of the distance between
you as well.
Because meeting you requires facing all her feelings about your
surrender and loss, it may also challenge your natural mother's
beliefs about the value and meaning of life, the importance of
family ties, religion and other basic concepts on which she has
built her life. Many people want to believe that the world is
fair, that everything comes out even, that people get what they
deserve out of life. Adoption issues do not fit into such tidy
the world is fair, what has she done that is so terrible she deserve
such pain? If life is equal why did other people who expressed
their sexuality before marriage pay not price for it? If this
is justice why did her subsequent children have to grow up in
an incomplete family, without their brother or sister. IF families
are of primary importance and should be kept together why was
her family separated? How could her church have told her God wanted
her child to be adopted or that God created her child for other
parents? How could a loving God want this pain for her? If she
allows herself to acknowledge her experience, how can she reconcile
it with what she believes about life? If the foundations on which
she has build her life do not match her experience, it will be
difficult for her to face her feelings and risk losing those foundations.
Facing you may mean reconstructing her entire view of life, rethinking
all of her values.
issues a natural mother must face before she can accept her adult
child are not simple ones, nor are they obvious to her. Often
there are conflicts between what she thinks and what she feels
or between her feelings and those of the people around her. Few
natural mothers were told to expect these problems or prepared
to deal with them. Since little or no hope of a future reunion
was offered to surrendering mothers, there was little motivation
for attempting to deal with them. Many were told that they would
be abnormal if they did not forget about their children, that
they should go on with their lives as if they had never had their
Most natural mothers, despite the enormity of these issues, do
face most of them in the years following surrender. Most people
cannot sustain the fantasy that their loss was a nightmare and
not a reality. Most people find the strength to face the truth
of their own lives, but growth can be a slow and painful process
with uneven progress characterized by temporary regression back
to suppressed feelings.
To some people, it might seem pointless to attempt reunions when
so much pain, conflict and confusion seem to be involved. Reunion,
though, does not cause these difficulties. Their source is the
natural mother's unnatural separation from her child. The feelings
already exist, and leaving them buried beneath denials and fantasies
cannot resolve or eliminate them. However painful the separation
experience may be, it is her experience, her life. Attempting
to suppress the most profound experience of her life separates
the natural mother from herself as well as from her child and
is not healthy for anyone. It requires that much emotional energy
be spent on denying or numbing feelings, limiting emotional growth
in all areas.
natural mother's fear and dread are evidence of the intensity
of her feelings for you. If she had no feeling for you, you would
be no more frightening to her than a store clerk or a stranger
asking for directions.
What she feels may be an overwhelmingly intense but undifferentiated
fear and she herself may not understand the reasons for it. Her
reasons are her deepest emotions, hidden under so may layers of
intellect, rationaliztion and denial that she is unaware of them.
She may try to give sensible reasons why she cannot see, understand
or articulate the real reasons without much self analysis.
are offering the opportunity for your natural mother to grow by
facing herself and becoming reconciled with her feelings about
herself. You are offering the gift of knowing the person her surrendered
child has become. These are enormous gifts and you should be proud
for offering them to her.
order to accept them, though, your natural mother must climb a
painfully steep and rocky path through her many feelings about
your surrender before she can move forward to reconciliation.
Her ability to walk a part of that path or all of it is not a
reflection on you or on your worth or on your importance to her
but on how well she herself can deal with the fears and pains
that your loss and society's attitudes about the surrender have
caused her. With time and support your natural mother may grow
to accept the gifts you offer.
Copyright 1982 by Concerned United Birthparents, Inc.
2000 Walker Street, Des Moines, IA 50317