Sunday, June 8, 2014

What To Do When Your Birth Mother Refuses Contact or Vital Information

This topic has become dear to my heart because as many of you know who read my blog, I have been in a position to be refused information.  Actually that is the story of my whole life as an adoptee -- being refused information, so you would think I would be used to it by now!

However, God blessed me with a tenacity of steel and many smart friends who are also tenacious, information seekers.  One of my friends and I found a birth mother yesterday in less than a few hours, and located her Facebook profile, complete with pictures of all family members.  You can literally go from zero to 100 when it comes to adoption reunion.  (I use the term "reunion" loosely as the term covers any finding of information, just not a meeting of people).

So today I want to write about what to do when you hit a road block.  One of the biggest road blocks of all is spending most of your life fantasizing about your birth mother and then being smacked in the face with the realization that she has refused to meet you.  Another common situation is when your birth mother refuses to tell you who your birth father is.  Believe it or not, I am not alone in this reality.  I have talked to umpteen adoptees in the same boat, so let's chat about these situations.

When a birth parent refuses contact

This is devastating to many adoptees when this occurs and it will feel like rejection, even though the parent is not rejecting you, per se (they don't know you!) -- they are rejecting what you represent to them.  If you represent trauma, fear and pain -- they will act those emotions out on you.  Sadly, many birth mothers are unhealed from the original relinquishment and when you (adoptee) show up, it will re-trigger pain and fear in your birth parents.  It's quite possible that the pain and fear will calm down with time (once the shock wears off); however for many adoptees, being shut out of their families of origin is a long-term reality.

Remember it is not YOU they are rejecting, but what YOU represent to them.  This may not feel like much of a difference but having a strong support system of people who love you and really know you, helps immensely.


Strict Orders to Stay Away

Many adoptees are told in no uncertain terms that they are unwelcome in the birth family and are "barred" from all contact with other family members.  However, you and I both know this is just one person trying to dictate the choices of everybody else they are related to and is not in the least, realistic.  Every person in your birth family has a right to decide for him or herself whether they will want to know you.  You as an adoptee have every right to get in touch with your own siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. without being expected to answer to an angry and hostile birth parent.  On the other hand, there are situations when reaching out to siblings or close family members may not be the best decision if you are a secret to them.  Each person will have to decide what is the best course of action for their family situation.  And remember, a relationship is a two-way street.  Nobody is entitled to a relationship and nobody is bound to stay in an unhealthy relationship -- that includes reunion.

If your birth parent is kind to you and asks you to give her/him some time to process her emotions and be the one to tell other family members, then by all means, give her time and space. Being "found" is stressful and a huge life adjustment, regardless of which party is on the receiving end.

However, I have heard stories of many hostile rejecting birth parents who are nothing close to reasonable -- they are the ones who basically give you the message that you have no right to exist -- and some will tell you they wish they had aborted you <--------who would even think to say this to somebody?  

If this happens to you, reach out for support.  Do not try to deal with the emotional fallout alone.  Try to remind yourself that this type of reaction is an expression of your birth mother's pain and is not a reflection on you,  Pray.  Journal.  Talk to your support group.

A Blessing in Disguise

Here is another thought that only occurred to me about a year after I originally posted this blog.  I am a woman of faith and I have come far enough post-reunion to believe that many times certain relationships do not come to pass or last as a way of protection for us.  Just because you have done your homework and know a person does not have a criminal background before appoaching them, does not mean that a person is psychologically and emotionally healthy enough to be in a relationship.  Sometimes rejection protects us from further hurt that a potential relationship could cause us.  Be open to this idea even though rejection hurts.

You have met your birth mother but her story doesn't add up

I hate to use the word "lies", but if we are going to cut to the chase -- many unhealed birth parents lie to their relinquished children in order to save face and not have to own up to their own choices at the time of relinquishment.  Being the kind and caring, people pleasing adoptees many of us have been trained to become, we are usually empathetic to our birth parents' plight.  We understand that they were young, naive, single, without support, shunned by society, etc.   I'm not talking about those types of situations.  I'm talking about situations like these:

  • Your birth mother may be reluctant  to admit she got pregnant during a one-night stand.
  • Your birth father walked away without any support but doesn't want to admit it
  • Your birth mother knows who the father is but is lying to protect herself (or the father's current family) because she may never have told him 
  • Your birth mother may not want to admit your father is from another race/ethnicity/socioeconomic level ("the wrong side of the tracks") or may have been married or engaged at the time of your conception.
  • Your birth mother has been traumatized, raped or it is possible there was incest going on in the family (this creates understandably deep shame in most women)

Any of those situations could be true and in addition, there could be many other reasons why you -- the adoptee-- are told a "fairy tale version" or "harsh and cruel" version of your existence in this world.  Again, this is not about YOU personally -- this is about what you represent to your birth mother.  If all birth mothers were loving and sacrificial like the adoption industry has brainwashed people into believing, then adoption reunion would be wonderful and beautiful for all involved.  Unfortunately, reality is not so kind.  (This is not to imply that ALL birth mothers are bad, or to even imply that MOST birth mothers are mean or cruel).  Some are not in a place to process the overwhelming emotions that reunion brings on.  Some are not able to face the pain and reveal the secrets they long ago buried.  The closed adoption era is full of shame and secrets and the consequences of shame and secrets stretch far and wide and sometimes are taken to the grave.

So what to do?

Have patience and try again at another time

Some birth mothers will need time to process sudden contact by an adult child.  Some birth mothers may still be in the closet and will need help and support to feel safe enough to acknowledge you. Give your mother time and then you can always try again at some future date.  I know many adoptees who were rejected the first time they contacted their mothers and were successful at a later time.  Be very patient and never give up if you believe that your mother just needs time and space to process this major event.

Remember that a majority of mothers want to know their adult children; however, there are a minority that are not in a place to revisit a traumatic time in their life.

Like in all life's dissappointments, we have to grieve the loss and move forward.  We have to admit that we had certain hopes and expectations about finding our mothers and them being happy about that and for many, this did not come to pass.

Many adoptees who have found rejecting birth mothers, have gone on to establish relationships with other members of their birth family. Many I know have met cousins through DNA and Ancestry family trees.  Many of us find that cousins who are not close to the original birth family are far enough removed to not be swayed by the birth parent's feelings.  Other adoptees have active relationships with close relatives who are willing to "defy" the orders of the birth parent because they are loving people and want to know their sibling/niece/cousin.  However, many times other relatives will follow the lead of the birth mothers as they know her and not you.

You have met your birth mother but something is off

If the version of your conception and birth and relinquishment does not ring true for you, do some investigating on your own.  Call your adoption agency or ask the Court for your non-identifying information.  Although some agencies have reported inaccuracies, many others were spot-on in their information gathering.  Many adoptees have used just their Non-ID to find their families of origin.

There are many resources at the genealogical library, on the internet, amongst private adoptee search and support groups, and through DNA that bring answers.  DNA tests are now down to $99.00 each and they bring to light many answers just not available to us before.  You can learn your ethnicity and if your parents are related to each other through DNA testing (go here to my DNA testing page).

I had a recent breakthrough in my own search using Polk City Directories in the town where my birth family was from.  Polk City Directories in the 60s (and other decades) tell you addresses and places of employment of the family who lived in that community.

Obituaries are invaluable.  When examining my family tree, I had the sudden realization that my great grandfather died when I was in utero. Studying my great grandfather's obituary helped me to understand my family better and retrace my family's steps at the time I was conceived.  Using the Polk Directories, I was able to pin down where everybody was living and working at the time of my birth.

My message to you is to never allow an individual you may or may not call "mother" or "father" to stop you in your quest for information about yourself.  And if you get flack from others for seeking out information that people want to hide from you, you can always ask them this,

"Do you know who your mother and father are?" (my husband has actually said this to people!)
"Can you open your photo album and see the faces of your ancestors staring back at you?"
"Do you have an accurate copy of your place and date/time of birth with the names of those who conceived you?"

I am fortunate to have a huge support system of other adoptees who "get it" in addition to a supportive spouse, and really my best advice to anyone who has been roadblocked in their search -- get support from others who understand.  If you need a therapist, find one who understands adoption issues (they are few and far between).  If you just need a friend, join an adoptee support group.  Other adoptees are invaluable in your search because we understand all too well because we have been there.


  1. Interesting posting. While I agree on many fronts, I think that, as a mother, I have a little input here. This is a two way street. If you want to push in and be part of the birth family, you are going to have to be open to having your life scrutinized as well. Don't expect her to let you in if you won't let her in.

    1. While I hear what you are saying Lori, scrutinizing a mother's life is not what this post is referring to. I am referring to birth mothers who are disrespectful or lie about important information such as medical conditions and who the birth father is. I am not implying that anyone -- mothers or adopted adults alike - have to be an open book. We are all entitled to privacy and can make our own decisions as to whether to be in a relationship with somebody else. I have met more adoptees than I can count who have been mistreated by the woman who gave them life. Does that mean all birth mothers are this way? Absolutely not. However, there are enough adopted people who have been treated this way. Are there adopted people who have mistreated their birth mothers? Sure. But this is an adoptee-centric blog and I have yet to see another adoptee writer address these sticky issues without offending. I understand that some things are uncomfortable to read and/or hear, but my hope is that post will help somebody else in the same shoes as many of my friends.

    2. I get the privacy thing. I just think that if mutual respect is workable, it is better than bipassing the mother. Also, I get it - but I know a ton of mothers that get crapped on. I think that each community seems to ignore their own flaws. I know a ton of mothers that make me shake my head and wonder..... so I see it.

    3. Mutual respect is definitely the "ideal" but the ideal is again not what this blog refers to. This blog refers to less-than-ideal circumstances which many adoptees experience in their quest for information and/or relationships. Adoptees, for some reason, can be treated like a pariah through no fault of their own --- only for being born and then attempting to learn about themselves and re-enter their birth family. The general public projects their own ideas about adoption reunion onto us, telling us that we should be grateful for the families who raised us, implying we have no right to the birth family who did not raise us. Of course mutual respect should be part of every reunion; however it takes two mature adults for that to occur.

    4. @lori really you think its okay to scrutinize people? Thats a bit harsh. As an adoptee I stood alone as I knocked on the door of a family that didn't know me. That's really overwhelming. Especially even more so when rejected. (Sigh)

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  3. As a birthmother of a beautiful daughter I was just reunited with almost 2 years ago, I'm so grateful for the positive feelings her parents gave her through the years which I believe made it so comfortable to have the loving relationship we now share. I just don't feel anyone needs to be expected to bring up old personal info like promiscuity. That's just ridiculous. I know my birthdaughter would never feel the need to ask. That should be a birthmothers choice to even bring those things up.

    1. Hi Anonymous! Yes, I agree with you completely. It is really nobody's business but her own; however, it may be a reason she would not be completely forthcoming about who the father is. We are all entitled to privacy --- my belief is; however, that if a child is created -- no matter the circumstances, the child (adult) created has a right to know who the other parent was.

      I'm glad you have a positive reunion. This blog is geared toward adoptees who have had negative experiences in reunion, have been lied to repeatedly and/or have been rejected by their birth mothers. Your daughter was fortunate to have parents who raised her well and I am always glad to hear of a happy reunion.

  4. I agree that an adoptee has a right to know who his/her father is.

    However, I asked my biological mother about my biological father a few times, but very time she has a fit! She even said if that is all what I want to know I can go home!
    The last time I asked she said why the hell I would ask for someone who is dead? Well, Now I know he is dead. And when I said it is important for me to know where I come from she laughed in my face! I was being ridiculous.
    My biological mother is in a kind of nursing home for old people now.While I can understand why it might be difficult for her, there seems to be no room to see that it is also difficult for me.I feel angry at her and I pity her.
    What on earth must have happened there?
    Just don't know what to do anymore to get the information about my biological father.


    Happy 2016

    1. Hi there Anonymous. I understand your frustrations as I am living them. I highly recommend DNA testing. I know LOTS and LOTS of adoptees who have found their birth fathers this way. DNA testing is much more affordable now. I wish you the best!

  5. I don't know why I didn't see this post way back when, but it definitely resonates with me, as you know much of my story already. My birthmother already had 4 sons when I came on the scene. The Non-ID claims she was separated from her husband at the time (well, perhaps in the literal sense in that he was out of town maybe...but no one in the family has a clue about that statement). We only know that my father is not the father of her sons, she gave me up, she told my adoptive dad when I was 17 and asking questions that we were never to contact her family again, and when she found out I had contacted a sister-in-law (wife of one of her sons) years later, she called me out of the blue and told me that "if abortion was legal, I would have had one." So...more time passes, I put on my investigative journalist hat, and locate my oldest half-brother, and showed up at his house unannounced. His wife turned out to be much like my birthmother (what a surprise), and despite the fact that my brother, who is 12 years my senior, wanted to have a relationship with me, the wife said "not gonna happen." More years pass, I meet some awesome adoptees here on FB (like Lynn <3 ) and one of them agrees to call my birthmother (now that I am in my 50s and she is in her 80s, mind you), and see if maybe NOW she might reveal the identity of my birthfather, which DNA testing indicates was of Ashkenazi heritage. Nope. Still nothing, but at least she was civil to my friend. Three DNA tests and hundreds of dollars and hours later, a few of my genetic cousins are on board to help me solve this once and for all, and I want to be able to call her myself and tell her I found him, before it's too late. I'm sure he's probably deceased by now, but I'm just as stubborn as she is, and I want to have the last word on this. It is MY life, my identity, my health, after all. Great blog, Lynn.

  6. Saying it's not a rejection of you but what you represent is utter BS. It is a rejection of you. It's a rejection of me. Full stop!

    1. Mary, thanks for posting. I understand that on one level it is rejection, but dig a little deeper and there is another layer. If someone does not know you (any random stranger) but they will not give you a chance to show them who you are--how are they rejecting you? They don't KNOW you in order TO reject the real you. Does that make sense? Of course, they are rejecting the opportunity to know you. Keep in mind that I am only talking about not being willing to meet or get to know you and am no speaking of a relationship that was established but ended.

  7. Hi my name is Jackie,
    I found my mother February 16,2015 she gave me up in 1965 right after I was born I was about 4 months old. I found her right before I turned 50 in June of 2015. I don't know how to express my hurt because I'm angry hurt depressed,I didn't asked to be born. After looking for her all these years she still didn't
    want nothing to do with me.I'm married I have 2 wonderful son's both married and one grandson. I should be happy but I have this
    empty space in my hart something I always wanted was a mother.
    I have been to counseling a number of times. How do I get rid of this angry and depression?

  8. Hi,I have a story, I don't know where to start it still hurts
    rejection hurts.I found my birth mother February 19th, 2015 we talked on the phone that same day for about 3 hours boy did we cry. 4 days later she came to Ohio where I live she lives in New Jersey. A month later my son and I went out to New Jersey
    for a visit. I don't understand what happened that visit was different,we didn't not argue or fight there was no kine disagreement of any kine. But after that visit she didn't want anything to do with me or my son's. In June of 2015 I turned 50 years old my husband gave me a birthday party we invited her
    and she had an excuse she didn't come. What's crazy about this I was her 3rd child at the age of 19. After giving me up she continued having children 7 more. She kept all of them. I don't get it is not like I'm asking her for anything. The kicker part of this I LOOK JUST LIKE HER. She has rejected me after just
    knowing me for about 6 week's. It hurts I have been to counseling to help with my anger hurt and depression. What do I do?

    1. Hi Jackeline, thanks for writing. I'm sorry that your reunion is not working out the way you had hoped. I don't have any real advice for you other than what I wrote in this article. Reunions are tricky and unique to the individuals. I will reiterate my advice to get support from an adoptee support group. There are many on-line (Facebook) or check for a live one in your area. Hopefully your counselor is adoption competent. If not, I recommend you find out who is. I wish you the best.

  9. birth parents owe no birth child a relationship. They gave you life. Enjoy your life regardless if they allow contact with you or not. You could have been aborted be thankful you have your life and leave people alone who don't want a relationship or any connection with you. Legally, birth parents do not have to respond to a birth child or to anyone they choose not too. Adoptees have the same rights to refuse to associate with people they don't want to.

    1. Hi Anon, let's flip around your comment. . . .
      Adoptees owe no birth or adoptive parent a relationship (by the way, I'm no longer a child). We were born and relinquished through no fault of our own. Be thankful for your life and your ability to say whatever you want on somebody's blog under the cover of "Anonymous" Enjoy your life even if you don't understand other people's perspectives. You could have been aborted and so could I. I also could have been kept in my original family. Each person has a right to decide if he/she wants a connection. People are individuals, not lumped together with one mind. Legally, adoptees or anyone separated from birth family have a right to contact/connect with anyone they choose to within the bounds of the law. If people did not want to connect, there would not be millions of people putting their DNA into

    2. My main point was (from whatever perspective a person is coming from) not to waste your time with non-reciprocal relationships. Focus on the joy in your life. Don't spend your time trying to force people to acknowledge you by going to other family members in order to embarrass or bully someone into acknowledging their past or to having an undesired relationship. All of our lives are too valuable for that. Focus on what makes you happy. Reach for that next highest feeling of love and appreciation that you can find. Stop focusing on negative disempowering events in our lives. Move on to finding happiness where you can find it. :)

    3. Did it occur to you, Anon, that there could be Joy in reunion, even after a rejection? There could be healing and love in reunion? There could be forgiveness and happiness in genealogy, and having relationships with cousins? Believe it or not, seeking family information does make some people happy :)

    4. Dear "Anonymous",
      All of us in the adoption constellation have many rights and wishes. We may not always get all the answers we want in the time frame we wish, but it is normal and OK to want our personal information as it pertains to our existence in this life. There isn't a sane person on this earth who wouldn't want joy and productivity in relationships. As adopted adults seeking answers, I assure you that our intent is not to bully or coerce biological relatives. (Goodness knows they may have already experienced that from other "authorities" in society back in the day.) However, there is never anything wrong in asking for as many answers as we can get. Personally, as an adoptee who sought out bio family members myself, I had / have no desire to focus on all the negative, "disempowering" times. I agree that the most important thing is NOW. However, to get to NOW and then move forward, sometimes we do have to research the past. Then we can reach an understanding and find compassion.
      Responsible adoptees are not like the paparazzi, digging for dirt.
      We seek understanding. You cannot understand if you do not have facts / truth.

    5. Anonymous, you present the same tired argument adoptees get every single time we attempt to share our experience. Here's a heads-up:

      We do not owe anyone gratitude for being alive. I do not expect it from my own children and none of my parents expected it from me. And if any of my kids ever thanked me for not aborting them I would probably run away screaming. That's just weird. Anyone could have been aborted - Adoptees are not "near abortions" or "almost abortions". My birth mother would be sickened by the idea.

      And Lynn never said we should bully or embarrass anyone into acknowledging them. Adoptees are put into an impossible position that we have to deal with. We were traded and brought up by genetic strangers. No matter how loving and magical society tries to make it, it is not natural. What *is* natural is to search for our roots. Being treated like pariahs or The Dirty Secret is not our doing and I for one will not quietly go away because I make people uncomfortable.

      And as for doing what makes us happy, nothing makes me happier than to find answers. I do not and have never tried to force a relationship on anyone, but I will never stop looking for my own answers, even if that entails contacting people connected to the relative trying to block me. No one gets to be the gatekeeper on the relationships in their family. I will keep searching no matter what. If reunions happen, that's bonus. This is not a waste of time, this is a noble quest.

    6. Again no. I am not a stranger. I am their long lost daughter nor do I care that the pain is too much and that's why they reject. It's a cop out. Time for them to grow up instead of pulling everyone else down in their misery. And anonymous you're cruel and insensitive and see adoptees as commodity.

    7. I have every right to contact siblings whether or not it wmbarrasses my bio parent. That shame lies with them not me. I have self respect I am nobody's dirty secret.

  10. Excellent! I couldn't have said it better myself!!! :)

    1. I am a great believer in people following their bliss and joy. However following that bliss (for some people) might be their right to be left alone. If that is a person's preference I also believe in the wisdom of allowing people to be left alone and that if we force a reunion upon unwilling people, that forceful act may diminish everyone's personal happiness.

    2. Also, for clarity's sake, Lynn, my comment about "I couldn't have said it better myself" was in response to your comment about "let's flip around your comment" and did not pertain to your comment about 'did it ever occur to you.' Whatever I am saying in relation to pursuing only mutually willing relationships applies to both sides: the birth parents as well as their biological children. Later in life, I have begun to realize that whatever I do to others, I am really doing or creating for myself. So while I may find myself in relative power over others in certain situations, I need to think long and hard about how I will use this apparent power.

  11. "You could have been aborted"-- that is the most asinine thing I think I have ever heard from clueless people to adoptees-- as if we are the only ones who that could happen to? And we wouldn't be having this conversation if it had. Flip the script indeed-- if no other rebuttal to this ignorance, I think that should be our first and foremost--it's a moot point. Ugh!!

  12. My situation is different, I kept my 3 kids until they were 7, 4 and 2. Two of them are autistic anf it was too much for me. I had no help. The younger two are living with an ex friend that is very problematic about visitation and i cant afford a lawyer and the child support fees so I havent visited in 6 years and dont intend to. This was all very painful and traumatic for me. Occasionally she sends pics and all i see is ugly. I feel no love or connection. Reading this, I now understand where this is coming from. Its not that im a terrible human, but the pain and trauma was deep and so my subconcious is rejecting what these children represent for me. I might be open to meeting with them hen theyre adult, in 8 years. Not before that, because my "friend" i know will have me come by once, and then keep them away for a year or more, all while makinh excuses. I just cant handle that and in fact it makes me angry and want to hurt her. When theyre 18 i wont be seeking them,but i would consider meeting if they wanted.

  13. Cheri from North CarolimaApril 25, 2017 at 5:32 PM

    Hi..I am 45 yrs old and I was a private out of state adoption. I had an amazing upbringing. I was in my twenties when I met my biological mother.The plan was for me to never find her. My parents hired a PI and then my daddy contacted her. We all met and it was a answered prayer. I am a secret. She married a couple yrs after my adoption. She did not tell her husband or kids. I have asked her to please give me information about my biological father. I have been denied any information. I am now going to do a DNA test with Ancestory to see if I have any luck. I want to know medical information. I also want to reach out to my father. It's my choice and I have told my biological mother that I am doing this with or without her help. I know that I may not find him and if I do...there may be rejection. I am prepared. I will never quit looking for him. I do not have to explain why I have a yearning for that last piece of the puzzle. I attended adoptee and birth mom groups for years. I live my biological mother yet our relationship is now strained. I have full support of my parents and always will. If the DNA does not give me any results then I will hire a private investigator. Everyone has a reason for the search and unless your will not understand the desire.

  14. I was adopted 70 years ago and have recently been approached by birth relatives who wish to meet me. I did so and it was wonderful to at last see someone who looks like me. I (through the appropriate authorities) approached my birth mother to sanction these meetings and the case worker was abused and told to go away. I was at first disappointed but am now angry (and I am not an angry person, what right does a birth mother have to try to stop me meeting my relatives. I was hesitant at first to go ahead with meeting relatives as I did not want my birth mother's secret to be revealed and to cause her undue stress but now I feel that I will go ahead and meet these new cousins. At 70 I feel I am not responsible for keeping her secret anymore and I do not wish to meet her.

  15. Hello to everyone who reads this, so here goes...I located my birth mother at age 50 after searching for years (30+). I sent her a cellphone text asking if she was possibly in relation to me - she flipped out and texted me that she wants nothing to do with me and "is not a happy person" do to the fact that I found her. All I asked for were any medical conditions that I need to know about and also origins eg: Irish, Nat. American or whatever. She actully blocked my communication with her (she has only a cellphone). No bio father name - nothing! I'm thinking of trying to sue for this basic human needs information that I requested? Can I do this? I am a very successful RN with a daughter of my own an I want this info for her (and me of course). I am going to ask a family lawyer (or human rights lawyer today I think! I have been devastated by this, but am more angry a than upset. My adoption was closed and private from 1963 Billings Montana. Her name is rita vincent or now rita boe (can I state this here?) Thanks for reading this - I was adopted into a wonderful family with simply fantastic parents but this rejection thing is really eating at me - I cry often over this!