Adoption Can Hurt

Are you part of the adoption triad? If you are reading this blog, you probably belong to it.  It refers to the birth family, most often the unmarried mother; the adoptee; and the adoptive, most often infertile, parents.

I am a birth mother from 1964, when unwed girls were expected to give up their babies for adoption to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Statistics from that period of roughly 1945 to 1973 claim that up to six million of us did the same in what is now called “The Baby Scoop Era.”

I am also a psychotherapist. After the loss of my first-born to adoption, I became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  Still confined by the shame of my secret past, it was not until my youngest son encouraged me to look for his missing brother that, in 2000, I began to learn about the lifelong process in which I had participated. This has been a challenging, complicated, and ultimately rewarding journey. It has also afforded me the opportunity to learn far more than the average therapist about the issues facing birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents. Frankly, I’ve been surprised and disappointed to learn how many of my fellow professionals are woefully uneducated and unaware of the lifelong issues experienced by members of the triad.

When I met my son’s adoptive parents, the first question his mother asked was “What nationality is he?” She had lived thirty-five years wondering about the source of our son’s wide cheekbones bequeathed by my Choctaw great-grandfather and never mentioned by me to the adoption agency.

How difficult to parent a child about whom one knows so little! How difficult for me to know nothing about where, how, or even who my son was for those three and a half decades! My son claims to have never been bothered by questioning where and who his original parents were, but millions of adoptees do not share his perspective. Even a cursory review of social media adoptee sites will uncover the pain many describe at feeling unwanted, abandoned or denied their biological heritage. This is despite however loving their adoptive parents may have been.

The reality is that sometimes children must be raised by non-biological parents. It is also true that adoption is not the idealized system it is often seen to be. Adoption has been used not only to provide for the best needs of the child, but also to satisfy the needs of adoptive parents.

As described by Evelyn Burns Robinson in her book, Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief, revised edition published 2003, all adoption begins with grief. There is the grief of the birth mother who loses her child, the grief of the adoptive parents who cannot conceive their own child, and the grief of the adoptee, who loses his or her original mother and family. All these losses present deep and lasting pain. We know now that the primal connection between a mother and child is one of nature’s most powerful forces. Babies are no longer seen as blank slates. Adoptive parents face special losses and challenges.

In my memoir with the working title of River of Connection, A Mother’s Journey of Loss and Discovery, I tell of my own loss, search and reconnection. I will be happy to send you the first chapter free. Please sign up in my Books section.

Through my personal experience, along with participation in organizations, support groups, conferences, retreats and reading, I have developed a special interest in helping other members of the adoption triad to heal. If you are seeking such help for yourself, you may visit me at or email me at




Why do so many people believe that we birthmothers, natural mothers, original mothers, first mothers – whatever you want to call us – forgot about, stopped caring about, our children lost to adoption?

Why do they imagine that loss doesn’t bother us, even decades later?

When I found my son I’d given up in 1964, a man at my Bible Study group asked me in all seriousness, his face creased with surprise, “Do you still think about him? You still miss him?”

The other day, I saw a tweet from an adoptee. She said that if her whole family had been killed on her birthdate or if she’d been abducted from her original family, everyone would be shocked and sympathetic. She said that when she complains of her adoption loss, she is met with surprise. People ask her if she had a bad adoptive family. How else could she be negatively affected by the very fact of adoption, they want to know. Or maybe they don’t want to know.

I think there are a lot of parallels in the case of birthmothers who lose their children. Since I’ve found my son, I’ve told a lot of people of my loss. Not a single time has anyone expressed the kind of shock or sympathy I’m sure they would if I told them my son was kidnapped or killed. People don’t seem to recognize that I’ve been traumatized. Their main reaction seems to be that they’re surprised that I even feel the need to mention it, much less write about it.

It was the year 2000 when I discovered my lost son’s identity and location and continuing existence, and I was employed as a psychotherapist in outpatient psychiatry seeing people with depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and all manner of presenting psychiatric problems. I’m ashamed to say that I never asked a single client if he or she might be an adoptee or a birthparent. That’s because in my profession, despite its mental health focus, this question was almost never addressed. Not on the assessment forms, not in the interview. I’m sure I saw dozens, maybe hundreds, of people affected by the loss of a mother or child through adoption and never knew it. I’m sure my colleagues did as well and still do.

Only after I opened to my own adoption loss and became involved with adoption related groups, did I realize that adoption posed trauma to me and to my clients. I proposed to conduct a training in my department to raise my colleagues’ awareness. Convincing my boss and co-workers that everyone in our department needed to learn more about the effects of adoption was an uphill battle, though I eventually succeeded. The training, in which I brought in a panel of birthmothers, an adoptee, and an adoptive mother, was well-received, but why is it not a required part of all professional mental health experts’ training?

Recently, I discussed with a social work colleague some of my grief experiences from losing my son that I’m including in my memoir, River of Connection. This colleague, who has years of experience working in international adoption, commented, “I don’t think the mothers in China or other countries have the same grief you did.” I was stunned.

Once I went to a meeting which included many prospective adoptive parents. A slogan bandied throughout the gathering stated, “Adoption Creates Families.” During a question and answer period, I stuck my neck out and commented, “Well, for adoption to create one family, it has to destroy the original one.”

One of the prospective parents turned and asked innocently, as if they’d never considered it, “Oh, you mean when we adopt children, someone else loses them?”

Why is there so little understanding of the grief, loss and trauma experienced by birthmothers? And, for that matter, by adoptees? I believe there are many reasons, but the biggest one seems to me to be the fact that our voices are only recently being heard. Our silence has allowed our pain to be invisible to the larger culture.

It’s time to change that. That’s why I’m writing my memoir, River of Connection. It’s why I’m starting this blog.

I hope you’ll write your own story. I’d love to hear it. And I look forward to your comments.