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Adoption and Child Separation at the Border

On June 1, 2018 Rebekah Henson published an important thread on Twitter critiquing the hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #Ke...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ask An Adoptee: Given Away or Taken Away?

The question was for a reunited adoptee from a first mother.  She was wondering if we ever realized that we were not “given away”, but rather that our mothers were coerced and had no choice in the matter.  So I’m answering the question, did my mother give me away or was I taken away?

Reunited Adoptee here!  I figured I’d tell my story because sometimes I think that stories like mine get overlooked online.  I see a lot of first mothers who swear that first mothers don’t give away their babies ever, never had a choice, and were coerced.  I feel for those mothers.  No mother should ever feel like she doesn’t have a choice in raising her child.  That being said, there are mothers out there who do have a choice and who choose to give their children to others.  Mine is one of those mothers.  I know this because she told me so.

When I found my mother, I thought that we would enter a wonderful reunion.  I sent that first letter to her and wasn’t sure, but when she responded back and said she’d love to keep in touch, I felt like I had crossed the mountain and was now in happy reunion land.  I mean, getting that first answer is the hardest part right?  She wanted to get to know me!  Yay!  I had one of those great first mothers and things were going to be wonderful and she was going to love me and accept me and we’d live happily ever after!  Um, yeah.  I was a bit delusional.

We started emailing and I learned why I was given up.  My first mother kept her pregnancy with me a secret from everyone.  She was afraid her parents wouldn’t approve.  She didn’t tell my father, she didn’t tell her parents whom she was living with, didn’t tell her friends, just kept it all a secret.  I have yet to figure out how nobody knew that she was pregnant.  I was a seven pound baby.  While not huge (like the sixteen pound baby that was born recently) but I wasn’t a peanut either.  Yet they all just thought she had gained some weight.  Nobody coerced her because nobody knew.

Her parents found out (because let’s not lie, our parents eventually find out everything when you live in the same house more often than not) and they gave her a choice.  They wouldn’t let her continue to live in their house with a baby but it was up to her.  She and my first father considered getting an apartment (though I’m pretty sure they told me this just to make me feel better and really never seriously considered it).  They did have a choice.  They talked it over and decided that they didn’t want to raise a kid at that time.  They decided together that they would give me up.  She told me that there was never really any question in her mind.  She didn’t want a baby.  She wanted to be a 21 year old and live life.  She didn’t want to have a kid that young.  Yes there are women out there like her.  No she’s not a witch, does not fly around on a broom, and does not wear a big black hat.  She was a normal girl who made the mistake of sleeping with a guy without any birth control.  Remember kids, don’t be silly, wrap your… you get the picture.

Furthermore, my first father has explained to me that she doesn’t see me as her daughter.  She severed that link mentally the minute I was out of her body.  Once the cord was cut we were done being mother and daughter in her eyes.  She doesn’t love me like a daughter because she sees me as someone else’s child.  I was given away in that sense.  She and my father picked from three families.  They picked parents for me and in her mind, they are my ONLY parents.  She never thought I would come back.  She wondered about me, but was hoping I’d stay away.

My first mother really did not want to raise me.  My first father was more on the fence but he didn’t want me to grow up the way he did, with parents who had no money and were poor.  He “gave me” to people who were married and who had nice things.  There was no coercion, nobody forced either one of them, and they truly did not wish to parent.  It does happen.  People like that do exist.  And they aren’t bad people.  They are good people who made a decision that maybe wasn’t the best.

I know that I have four parents.  And they are all real.  She may not love me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love her.  Do I wish things were different?  Sure!  I wish that she would agree to meet me.  I wish she would tell her family about me.  I wish I could call her and ask her advice on shoes (we’re both big fanatics), jackets (our closets are both full of them), and when the time comes, on pregnancy.  But unfortunately I wasn’t dealt that hand in life.  And I’m getting to be ok with that.  We can’t pick our family… right?


  1. Ladies - I appreciate your comments regarding my question, mostly I am hearing: that was not 'my' individual case, and that it's a feeling rather than a fact. I would therefore, for those of you that may be interested like to point you to further information, which I could not hope to elaborate on when others have done so much work on it, but in any event if you are interested please go to: www.babyscoopera.com. I know this deals with the BSE (which I am a part of) and that one would have hoped that things could have changed, but they have not IMHO.

  2. Sharon, that's a link I know I'm familiar with as are many of the BSE adoptees here. Many of us have also read Wake up Little Susie and The Girls Who Went Away. Very eye opening! :-)

    Just one point I know the women here want others to understand is that it is not for lack of knowing the details. It is really, really hard for us to be able to say "my experience was feeling left or abandoned" when others feel offended or like they are being blamed. Likewise, it's hard for me to say "adoption really sucks sometimes" because it hurts my a-parents feelings. When what an adoptee feels and experiences conflicts with what their natural parents or adoptive parents feel and experience in adoption, it's very difficult for the adoptee to feel like they can still be openly honest. This is one reason why the admins, authors, and I have created this collaboration blog to encourage adoptee expression of their feelings.

    Thanks so much for reading and for your question :-)

  3. Jenn, thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate how difficult it is to feel that your love and interest isn't reciprocated in the way you wish it were.

    Sharon, I appreciate your question and your sticking with us through our responses.

    I was adopted during the BSE, and have read Fessler's and many other books on the topic of the BSE. I am friends with many fmoms who were coerced and had their babies taken during the BSE. I hear what you are saying about YOUR experience. I am sorry that your baby was taken from you, and that you feel pain in hearing adoptees say that they were "given away."

    What *I* am asking, in return, is that you listen to my experience, and that of my mother. She was 22, and a college graduate. She did not cling to me and wish she'd kept me. She was not forced to give me up, although it's a grey area. She ignored the fact she was pregnant and let my grandparents arrange everything, and then blocked me, and the whole experience, out of her mind. When I found her, she didn't say, "I love you, I've always loved you." She has never said she loves me. Perhaps she does. But please don't TELL me she does. You don't know her. Only she can decide that.

    I went into reunion armed with the stories in "The Girls Who Went Away," and the stories of women like you. I expected, *wanted* her to be like you. But SHE IS NOT. To insist on her being so is false, and it's cruel to me.

    If people are more realistic about there being a spectrum of experiences, I think adoptees would be better prepared. Not every woman will be thrilled to have her child back in her life. Not every adoptee wants to have her fmom be a mother. Pragmatism, IMO, and compassion are the best guidelines, not insisting that we all hew to one narrative. That's when people get hurt, or misunderstandings occur.

    I am open to hearing about what your experience was like; it must have been horrible to lose your child, against your will and to suffer, and then to feel you must fight the semantics of a system that seem to negate your pain. I am standing here and telling you that no one wants to negate your pain, but there are many other experiences with pain, some of them possibly at odds with yours. What you do with this knowledge is up to you.


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