Why Won’t My Natural Mother Meet Me? by Carole Anderson, A First Mother’s Voice.. Still Speaks To US!

Why Won’t My Natural Mother Meet Me? by Carole Anderson, A First Mother’s Voice.. Still Speaks To US!

Carole J. Anderson, died March 31, 2003, after an extended illness of cancer. After graduating from college, Carole received a master’s degree in social work and then went on to attend law school. She later served as clerk for a Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. Carole was a leader in the field of adoption reform, serving as National President of Concerned United Birthparents for many years. 


May she rest in peace, knowing we are still listening and feeling her heart-sent message.

Why did your birth mother refuse to meet you? Carole explains….

There are probably as many answers as there are birth mothers. From some of my own feelings and those of other birth mothers, though, I do have a few possible themes to suggest. Maybe some of the possibilities are behind your birth mother’s refusal to meet you….

  • Your birth 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 what others told her would be best for you.

       The list of “if onlies” is endless.

  • 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.

If 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.

  • She 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 birth mother has other children, she may be terrified of losing them, too, if she had not told them about you.
  • Many birth mothers were rejected by their children’s birth 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 birth 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 birth father. If she loved 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 birth 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 birth 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 birth 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 birth 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 society’s eyes.

Subconsciously, 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 birth mother you wanted more than she could give. To your birth mother, this may have been experienced 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 and yours.

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 birth mother herself who decided that you were more important and mattered more than she did, she herself who chose your needs above her own.

If that choice was made by others such as her parents or by her situation instead of by your birth 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?

Yet 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 birth mother’s life for her child’s in unique.

Rather than compensations, the sacrifice is generally answered with guilt, pain and emptiness. Society’s reaction is most often condemnation rather than approval. The birth mother’s sacrifice is unnatural, unrecognized and unrewarded.

Some birth 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 birth 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 birth 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 birth 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 birth 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 at all….

    As an adult, you are unlikely to want your birth 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 birth mother. You cannot relate to your birth 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 birth 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 categories.

.…If 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.
The issues a birth 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 birth 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 children.

Most birth 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 birth 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 birth 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.

Your birth 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, rationalization 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.

.….You are offering the opportunity for your birth 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.

In order to accept them, though, your birth 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 birth mother may grow to accept the gifts you offer.

by Carole Anderson

Copyright 1982 by Concerned United Birthparents, Inc.

Foster Parent Poem…

Foster Parent Poem…

There I sat, alone and afraid,

You got a call and came right to my aid.

You bundled me up with blankets and love.

And, when I needed it most, you gave me a hug.

I learned that the world is not all that scary and cold.

That sometimes there is someone to have and to hold.

You taught me what love is, you helped me to mend.

You loved me and healed me and became my first friend.

And just when I thought you’d done all you do,

There came along not one new lesson, but two.

First, you said, “Sweetheart, you’re ready to go.

I’ve done all I can, and you’ve learned all I know”

Then you bundled me up with a blanket and a kiss.

Along came a new family, they even have kids!

They took me to their home, forever to stay.

At first, I thought you sent me away.

Then that second lesson became perfectly clear.

No matter how far, you will always be near.

And so, Foster Mom, you know I’ve moved on.

I have a new home, with toys and a lawn.

But I’ll never forget what I learned that first day.

You never really give your fosters away.

You gave me these thoughts to remember you by.

We may never meet again, and now I know why.

You’ll remember I lived with you for a time.

I may not be yours, but you’ll always be mine.

–Author Unknown

 

Celia Center Support Group featured on TV Series LONG LOST FAMILY TLC Channel — Viewed 238,496 times on YouTube!

Celia Center Support Group featured on TV Series LONG LOST FAMILY TLC Channel — Viewed 238,496 times on YouTube!

The producers of Long Lost Family contacted Jeanette Yoffe, Founder of Celia Center to support a woman, Joanne, who found her birth father. Joanne wanted to join a local support group, to learn how to build a relationship with her long lost father, and balance her relationship with her step-father.

Watch and see how members of Adoption Constellation supported Joanne in Los Angeles on June 8, 2016.

Celia Center Adoption Constellation Support Group Community helps Joanne navigate a reunion with her birth father. Support Group facilitated
by Founder, Jeanette Yoffe M.F.T.

Celia Center Support Group is on OWN Television

Celia Center Support Group is on OWN Television

logo and photo of woman with small child

Celia Center was approached by OWN Television about their new show Raising Whitley.
It is a  

Kym needed advice upon meeting with her foster-adoptive son’s birth mother. Watch as the Celia Center Community and Founder, Jeanette Yoffe support her on her journey.

WATCH MORE EPISODES HERE

Adoption Discussions Radio Interview Part I & II

Jeanette Yoffe was interviewed by Donna Montalbano for Adoption Discussions, WOON Rhode Island Radio about adoption and healing, helping Foster & Adoptive Families in Los Angeles. Click here to listen or download Part I... Click here to listen or...
10 Recommendations for Birth Mothers: With Love From a Birth Mother who knows!

10 Recommendations for Birth Mothers: With Love From a Birth Mother who knows!

10 Recommendations for Birth Mothers
For a Successful and “Responsible” Reunion
By Sarah Burns
18 years in Reunion

1. At the very start, seek professional help or a support group: you can find professional help through individual therapy or find help in support groups. (You WILL need it and it WILL help!)

2. Remember that you and your son/daughter are both reclaiming lost parts of yourselves as you develop a NEW relationship, growing out of an OLD one.

3. Try to understand that the reason your son or daughter may want to reunite with you is to meet his/her own needs, but not necessarily to hear about your pain. You can share that elsewhere.

4. Reclaim your parental role in small but significant ways by stating your hoped-for desires, goals, and preferences. Don’t be afraid, to be honest, and sincere and to be who you are.

5. Do not approach the relationship as a beggar or supplicant (e.g., “with hat in hand’) and never make emotional, financial, or other demands of your child.

6. Know that you can’t do the work for each other. Give the relationship the time, the nurturing, and the respect it needs to be developed or restored. Know that even if you are rejected, you’ll still have established rapport, and your son/daughter will know you care, that you’re there to stay, and you’ll be there for them, no matter what!

7. Don’t pressure your son/daughter to assume that role, or to accept you as their mother or their children’s grandmother – if they are not comfortable with you taking on that role! “Give time time” as things might change and improve and decisions made now might change later.

8. Exercise choice in other areas of your life when you feel you lack control in this one; it will help you practice being more patient, accepting, and empathetic.

9. Let your child know you are sorry you gave them up. Then go on to be the person you are: a competent, caring, attractive woman worthy of respect.

10. Channel your anger and frustration into action to make changes for other women who are considering adoption or who have surrendered a child, so that you can move from being a victim to becoming a brave and proud warrior.


Join a Mothers of Loss Support Group HERE

Join Celia Center’s Support Groups to Hear from An Adoptee’s Point of View HERE

Listen to Birthmother’s Share their stories HERE

Learn more about Reunion in Adoption HERE

Affirming the Adoptee’s Reality: A Way to Intimacy by Marcy Axness, Ph.D., Adoptee

Affirming the Adoptee’s Reality: A Way to Intimacy by Marcy Axness, Ph.D., Adoptee

Affirming the Adoptee’s Reality: A Way to Intimacy
by Marcy Axness, Ph.D., Adoptee

The young child knows when the truth is being told and when it isn’t. It’s just amazing how much little children know of you, within and without.—Patricia McNulty, adoptee and Waldorf kindergarten teacher

The road leading up to adoption is invariably a painful one for parents, marked by many losses: the children they might have had, but for infertility; the child or children they lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, or death; and sometimes even pieces of themselves feel chipped away – their feelings of competence, wholeness, worthiness, and so many other essential components of self.

By the time their long-awaited adopted child is placed in their arms, parents usually – and understandably – just want to put all the heartache behind them and move on into the joyful realms of mothering and fathering. But the very real feelings of loss that attend adoption need to have a place in the story of the adoptive family, or they can cast ever-lengthening shadows on the relationship between parents and child.

Adopted kids often grow up with the mantra “being adopted is just another way to become a family.” This is a dismissive characterization of a profound experience that has involved not only the parents’ deep losses but the child’s loss of the parents who couldn’t keep him. With the best of intentions, adoptive parents often convey half-truths about the implications of adoption to shield their child from the pain of loss that is inherent in the experience.

Understanding The First Reality

“I lost my mother soon after I was born.” If I were to say this to a stranger, the response would surely be shock and sympathy for my loss: “I’m so sorry for you.” But if I tell that stranger, “I was adopted,” the response is usually, “Really, that’s wonderful, how nice for you.”

If we are to affirm an adoptee’s reality, we need to remember that she did, in fact, lose her mother soon after birth (in the case of an infant adoption). And while she may have been blessed with wonderful, loving, adoptive parents, this blessing was preceded by a profound loss. For a newborn to be separated from her biological mother is a trauma, both psychological and physiological, that is felt and processed and manifested in the lives of adoptees according to their individual temperaments, personalities, and physical, emotional, and spiritual constitutions.

There are two realities that a parent needs to accept in order to have an authentic relationship with an adopted child:

  1. My child has two mothers and two fathers.
  2. My child came to me not as a blank slate, but with a history of connection and of loss.

Adoptees – like all other people – have their roads to travel. Our “life journeys” come with certain burdens and lessons which help make us who we are. I believe that I am living exactly the life I was supposed to, and I have no regrets. But whether it was God’s plan or simply my destiny that I came into this earthly life as an adoptee, I still needed and craved compassion and acknowledgment for my losses, and for my reality, before I could truly move on to the business of living my life. The goal as I see it isn’t to try to fix things so that adoptees no longer have a burden, but rather to do whatever we can to help them remain connected with their inner truth instead of alienated from it. We can do this by affirming the adoptee’s reality.

The Heart of Open Adoption

Whether one has an “open adoption”, a “semi-open adoption”, an “international adoption”, or a “closed adoption”, these terms refer to the mechanics of the adoption, not to the way it feels. To have an “open-of-heart” adoption is to have the ability to affirm the adoptee’s reality, without flinching: “It was sad that you had to leave your other mother. I bet you miss her. Yes, you really do have two mothers.” Reality. Affirmed. Ahhh… that makes sense, my feelings make sense, everything makes sense now. I know what’s real.

The Gift of “What is So”

If you go to any park on any day in any city, you will see a child fall and start to cry – and then you will see his mother swoop him up and begin to chant incessantly to him, “You’re okay, you’re okay, no blood, you’re okay!” Meanwhile, the child continues to wail. Only very occasionally will a parent tell a child, “Yes, I saw that you tripped over that bucket and fell down. And that hurt, didn’t it?” Or maybe, “That was pretty scary, huh?” She reflects her child simply what is so – not what she wishes were so, or what she might prefer to be so. Her child’s crying ebbs and he is soon ready to get back to his business of playing. He has been heard.

Sadly, when we respond to our children like the first woman in the park, when we try to impose our preferred reality, our myth, upon them, we insidiously lure them – day by day – away from their own inner knowing, their inner truth. And that is when they become infinitely vulnerable in the world, for then they have lost their intuitive compass.

The other devastating consequence is that we erode our child’s trust when we don’t reflect the truth back to him. When we tell a child, “There’s nothing sad about adoption, it’s just another way to become a family,” he begins to lose his compass, and the ability to distinguish whether or not there are feelings of loss or hurt inside him. He will also lose any sense of trust for – and connection to – the parent who repeatedly discounts his experience and his reality. What incredible blessings come when we are able to affirm our child’s reality, because doing so builds trust, and trust leads to intimacy.

Studies show that this kind of intimate connection between parents and children is the most effective protection for them in a world of peer pressure, drugs, sex, and other high-risk circumstances.

Adoptive Parents Need to Affirm Their Own Reality

Why would we tell a child, “You’re okay!” with such frantic conviction when he has clearly just suffered a hurt? Perhaps it is because we need so desperately to remind ourselves (or convince ourselves) that we’re okay. We have to keep tamped down all of our own hurts and fears and losses that have never been acknowledged, our own reality that has gone unaffirmed. This is the generational legacy of denial.

Jung said, “The most damaging thing to a child is the unlived lives of his parents.” I take this to mean the parts of the parent that have been unacknowledged, unexpressed, and ungrieved: the shadow. For adoptive parents, a critical piece in affirming their adopted child’s reality is affirming their own reality.

“Other mommies and daddies had to take what they got, but we got to choose you,” is another of the well-intentioned but ultimately destructive lies that some adoptive parents tell in an attempt to bolster their child’s positive sense of self. Perhaps these parents are attempting to “polish” the status of being adopted, and compensate for any undercurrents of social stigma to which the child might later be exposed. While it may not be appropriate to discuss every painful detail of their pre-adoptive situation, it is crucial for parents to share the essence of the truth with their adopted children, the feelings that hover beneath the facts.

Annette Baran, the author of the groundbreaking book, The Adoption Triangle, says that “Adoptive parents must weep with their child: ’We’re sorry, too, that you didn’t grow in Mommy’s tummy.’”

“I think parents don’t realize they’re allowed to show these feelings,” says Baran. “They think they have to present an unflagging cheerfulness about adoption, in order that the children will feel positive, too. This is a mistaken notion.”

Parents who demonstrate emotional openness send a healthy message to their child that he or she is allowed to express a full range of feelings, not just the “positive” ones.

“Parents whose children express sadness usually feel that they need to reassure them, rather than feel the sadness along with them. But having lost an original set of parents is something to feel sad about, and the best any parent can do for a child is to allow them to share those feelings of loss with them,” explains Baran.

Saying It Out Loud: “Adoption Was Our Second Choice”

We as a society are two-faced about adoption—publicly we laud it as a wonderful thing, while in our hearts we often scorn it. It’s second-choice. And in the secret minds of many, second-best as well. If we didn’t find adoption so contemptible, so laced with shame, why would our laws be so vehemently constructed to protect everyone from the shame returning to their doorsteps? So…why should adoptive parents feel any differently than others in society? Discovering that you can’t bear children and deciding to adopt doesn’t necessarily obliterate a lifetime of subliminal cultural attitudes about adoption. It may just mean you desperately want a baby in your arms.

Very few people in our society grow up dreaming that they’ll fall in love, get married, and adopt a child, or that they will have a child and give it to others to raise.

Adoptive parents need to address their own ambivalence about the very desirability of adoption if they are to avoid the kind of inauthentic, happy-face approach embodied in dismissive slogans like “adoption is just another way to become a family.”

Another challenge for adoptive parents is the nagging legacy of infertility and society’s ongoing lack of recognition of this as a profound loss. Parents need to be guided and supported in finding ways to do their mourning, so that the adoptive mother can say very sincerely and authentically to her child – not just mechanically following a script – “I’m sorry, too, that you didn’t grow in my tummy. It was sad for me that I couldn’t grow a baby, and it was sad for you and your other mother that you couldn’t stay together. But I am happy that you and I ended up together.” What an amazing, powerful connection can be forged here, on this common ground of loss. Affirming the adoptee’s reality is a key element in the secure, continuing relationship between parents and children.

How Do Parents Affirm Their Adopted Child’s Reality?

1. Affirm the Newborn’s Experience

In my article, “A Therapist Counsels Parents of Babies Separated From Mothers At Birth, “1 a perinatal therapist offers specific things parents can say – out loud – to a baby who has been separated from his mother. Infants who have recently experienced separation from their mothers will show signs of trauma – prolonged crying or almost no crying, flaccid body tone or extreme rigidity, tremendous startle responses, and/or an unwillingness to make eye contact or to be held or comforted. Instead of feeling that the child is rejecting them, parents can say to this baby, “You miss your other mother. You miss your connection. You’ve lost something very important, and I understand, and I’m going to be here for you. It’s all right to be sad.” They can hold the baby, and let the baby mourn because this is what the baby needs to do.

The time to begin affirming an adoptee’s reality is at the very beginning; this lays a foundation of openness and honesty. Using the words, out loud, before the child even has language, it is our energetic message that is conveyed to her, telling her that we are connecting with the knowledge of loss that is in her bones, beyond words.

2. Tell Him the Story of His Birth

Children love to hear about the time in their mother’s womb, the day they were born, and the day they came home. It helps to lay a foundation for them of connectedness to their family and to this earth. It grounds them. Typically, it isn’t a story that adoptees get to hear. We grow up with the vague sense that we were hatched from a very special, top-secret file. This is one of the beauties of open adoption, in which it is possible to create a child’s “life book”, containing the birth parents’ pictures and information. This can lead to natural conversations about the birth parents: what color eyes the birth father has, what his hobbies are, the birth mother’s favorite song, whether she rides horses or likes to rollerblade, what she liked to do during her pregnancy. All such conversations are opportunities to affirm the adoptee’s reality.

3. Offer Her Stories, Songs, and Images that might Resonate with her Experience

As with all children, parenting an adopted child is not an exact science, but an intuitive one. It asks that you look deeply into your unique child and find what will resonate with her. Trial and error is often the path to gold in this realm. There are many great stories of separation, self-discovery, loss, and redemption. There are many great stories about children without their biological parents—Moses, Pinocchio, Merlin, and Arthur all were fostered away from home toward great destinies. These kinds of more symbolic, literary, artistic representations are wonderful to use. It invites the child’s imagination in. For me, Thumbelina, the story of a perfect little girl who was delivered from a flower, provided me with a powerful connection that — at age four or five — I didn’t begin to understand cognitively, which was its beauty. Thumbelina gave me a symbolic context for the primal feelings that lay at my core. That story, in some way, gave me a home for my soul.

Stories, drawings, and other types of creative expression can inspire the child’s imagination, and that is critical in supporting the development of a child’s healthy will forces. These approaches offer the child as many different colors and brushes and textures as possible with which to envision his own life, his experience, and himself. (Be careful not to undermine the value of this approach by “narrating” or over-commenting on the child’s expressions. more »

4. Take A Spiritual Approach

Holding an awareness of a child’s experience, without even saying a word, can be tremendously healing for the child and for the entire family. There is a growing body of evidence for the healing power of prayer, or of simply holding a vision of the person as a whole, healthy, completely loved, and at peace.

Another way to work on this level is to sit by the child’s bed while he sleeps, and “talk” to his unconscious, either silently or aloud. “I am safe in my world. It is safe for me to trust and to give and accept love. My mother and father will always be here for me. It is alright for me to feel sad or angry and to talk to my parents about it… they will affirm my true experience and my feelings.” This is a simple but incredibly powerful way to affirm a child’s reality.

Reality is A Personal Affair

In a sense, we cannot know exactly what any particular adoptee’s reality is, since an individual’s reality is a product of many subjective perceptions, filtered through her unique emotional, psychological, and spiritual lenses. But if we affirm an adoptee’s honest experience – what it is that really happened to her – and offer her a palette of contexts through which to own that experience, we will weave a vital connection with that child. Our gift in return will be her sense of trust and her resulting willingness to share with us her reality, and her life. And that is called intimacy.