Should I search for my birth mother?
In my last two posts, I told the incredible story of finding and reuniting with my birth family…an almost a fairy-tale ending. However, I am keenly aware that in many cases, these adoption reunions are less than stellar. Some are even tragic. Most adoptees and birth parents are aware of this sad fact as well, which makes them wonder — as it did me — if they should even bother. Countless times, we adoptees have asked ourselves, “Should I search for my birth mother?”
Read on for some information and tips to help you answer that burning question.
A Painful Experience
To search or not? It’s a hard question. How does one decide?
The first step would be to take an honest look inside yourself, which may be easier said than done. But let’s start with an analogy of pain. Have you ever had pain somewhere in your body that just wouldn’t go away? Chronic pain versus that sudden, and often dreadful, acute pain…a pain that is just always there.
Perhaps it’s there now and has been for months or even years. Think back to when you first began to experience that pain — if you can remember that far back.
It was probably much more intense than it is now. Maybe so much so, that you thought you wouldn’t be able to stand it. After a while, it eased up somewhat, and over time perhaps, continued to improve. But it never went away completely. You lived, and perhaps are living even now with that pain, as time rolls on.
You became used to it. So used to it in fact, that there were times when you didn’t even notice it, which may have eventually led to most of the time forgetting that it was there. But of course, there would be times when for whatever reason, your nemesis would come knocking on the door of your conscious mind, cruelly taunting you by reminding you that he was still there, and wasn’t going away anytime soon.
Which may well have come as almost a surprise to you — I know it does when that happens to me. What? Oh yeah, I’d almost forgotten…that hurts right there. Your only self-defense was to shrug it off and ignore it. There’s nothing more I can do. It is what it is — so what. I’ll just carry on. It’s never stopped me before, and it won’t stop me now.
It has become so much a part of you that for the most part, you’ve forgotten it’s there. (And now I’ve reminded you. Sorry!)
The Perplexing Pain That Never Leaves
That’s how it is with we adoptees, and I would daresay, with birth parents. If you have read my first two posts in the Reactive Attachment Disorder series, you have some idea of the trauma a baby suffers in being taken from his birth mom, as bonding begins at conception. Up to the age of about three months, Baby believes that he and Mom are literally one.
He has had nine months of bonding with Mom; at birth, he not only knows the sound of her voice, but knows her smell, how her body feels, when and if she was under stress during her pregnancy or if she was at peace, and so much more.
Birth is indeed miraculous, but so is this awesome prenatal bonding process. In open adoptions, sometimes the birth mom will graciously allow the adoptive parents, or at least the adoptive mom, into the delivery room with her so that the adoptive mom can be the first to hold the baby; the hope being that baby either won’t know the difference or at least will be less traumatized.
This is an amazingly unselfish, loving thing for the birth mom to do, and I applaud all birth moms who do this. It’s certainly preferable to the other alternatives, and probably does help in many cases. But the fact remains that, even if Baby goes directly from the womb to her adoptive mom’s arms, she still knows. Who IS this? This isn’t my mom.
Any way you look at it, Baby is traumatized. The level of trauma depends on the baby’s individual personality and what the months of in utero life were like. Did the birth mom have a healthy, low stress, peaceful pregnancy? Or was her life pretty much a train wreck, with extreme stress and trauma the norm? Was her relationship with her boyfriend/husband/parents/siblings good, or was there strife, or maybe even abuse?
Did she eat a healthy diet and exercise, or did she eat junk food and maybe even drink or do drugs? What were her feelings toward her baby? All of these things and more, play a part in determining not only the level of trauma a baby experiences but how that individual baby will be affected by and respond to that trauma.
Thus the baby’s pain begins…and it’s a pain she will never be able to give voice to or explain because the traumatic event happened at a pre-verbal age. As she grows, that pain may surface from time to time, manifesting as anger, extreme stubbornness, controlling behavior, abusiveness (even toward dolls or other toys as well as people, or both); extreme fear, self-reliance that goes beyond normal growth and maturity; and many, many more symptoms of attachment issues.
But at the conscious level, she has no idea what this pain is, or even that it is real pain from real trauma. So she moves through life as the walking wounded, doing her best to ignore the pain and pretend everything is fine.
Never having given up a baby for adoption, I cannot imagine the depth of pain a birth mother experiences.
Yes, even those ghastly, promiscuous, drug-addled birth moms we’ve all heard about. The ones who openly declare they don’t give a damn about the life growing inside them and seem to not care a whit when their babies are taken from them, and proving it by continuing their destructive lifestyle throughout their pregnancy.
Some even sell their babies rather than put them up for adoption. I don’t know…I wonder if somewhere deep inside, are these moms as traumatized by giving up their babies as the more caring ones who dearly love their little ones and plan to give them up due to that unselfish love?
After all, the so-called “bad” moms were obviously already traumatized before they even got pregnant. Add to that their devil-may-care attitude and discarding of their children, and it just seems to me like it has become trauma upon trauma.
Regardless, we know that the loving, caring birth mom is traumatized. I was told by my siblings that ours was. My older sister told me that as a little girl, she once caught our mother in the middle of a nervous breakdown — rocking and crying over one of my sister’s dolls as if it were a real baby, so distraught that she had to go to the hospital.
Towards the end of her life, she told my siblings that she felt so bad that she’d been such a “terrible mother.” Of course, they protested that this was crazy talk, that she’d been the most awesome mother anyone could ever have, but she responded, “No. You just don’t know…the things that I’ve done…”
They tried to reassure her that everyone has done things in their life that they’d later regretted, the past is mere history, etc. Yet nothing they said seemed to ease her mind.
But the oddest thing of all happened when she was in the hospital for the last time. In her pain and agony, she would ask, “My baby. My baby. Where’s my baby?” Naturally, they thought she meant Lisa, our youngest sister because she had always been called, “The Baby.”
So if Lisa wasn’t there when she did this, they would try to reassure her, saying, “Don’t worry, she’ll be here later.” When Lisa arrived, whoever was there would say, “Look, Mom, here’s your baby!”
Then she would look at Lisa and back at the others with exasperation. “No! Not that baby! The other baby!” At first, they were completely baffled by this but then wrote it off as the confusion of a woman in agonizing pain.
The mysteries were solved for them when they found out about me. The episode with the doll, the guilt over her past, crying out for her “other” baby, now all made perfect sense to them.
How to Know if You Should Search
I can’t tell you whether or not you should search for your birth family or for the child you gave up. Only you can make that decision. What I can do is give you a few tips and some questions to ask yourself, and offer encouragement.
- First and foremost, remember that many times, searches do not end well. The person may never be found, or you may find them, only to be rejected.
Are you prepared for what may be a long, difficult search that may end with no one being found? Or if you find them but they reject you, could you handle that? How would you handle it?
- As in my case, your birth parent or child may have died.
Are you prepared for this possible scenario as well? Yes? Again, how would you handle it?
- Very few searches are quick and easy. Most take months, if not years and require vast amounts of courage, commitment, dogged determination, patience, and hard work. Not to mention some organization and detective skills, which you can gain as you go along.
Do you have the required time, determination, patience and willingness to work hard in order to commit to such an undertaking? Do you have decent organizational and detective skills and if not, are you willing to learn as you go?
- Remember that even if your birth mom or other members of your birth family rejects you, that doesn’t mean they all will. Keep trying with as many family members as you can find, and you may just end up with more of a family than you at first thought.
If you find your family and one or more of them reject you, do you have the courage, determination, and patience it takes to continue to contact other family members? If not, would you be able to quietly withdraw, and still be okay?
- Even if you find the one(s) you are searching for and they accept you, the relationship may not be all wine and roses. It may get off to a rough start, but improve as time goes on. Or they may treat you well, but more or less keep you at arm’s length. The relationship(s) may end up being an on again, off again sort of thing. Or your child/birth parent/family may just be stark raving crazy! You never know.
Are you prepared for any of these possibilities? If the relationship isn’t all you hoped for, are you willing to nurture the relationship — yet at the same time, give them time and space to process this sudden, enormous change in their lives and warm up to you?
If you have no idea how to do this, or how to handle such a strange relationship, are you humble and willing enough to seek help in order to learn?
- Ask yourself how strong you are, and be brutally honest with your answer.
Are you thick-skinned, or super-sensitive? If you lean more toward the sensitive type, is there nevertheless a backbone of steel hiding underneath? How about courage? You will need to be very strong and courageous to even undertake the search, and even far more so if you find who you’re looking for and are rejected.
But Don’t Despair!
Honestly, I’m not trying to scare you away from searching! I just want to be up front and give you a few ideas about what may or may not happen. My search and reunion experience is the exception, not the rule, and is highly unusual — so you can’t go by that.
I realize that the questions I posed are challenging, but being able to answer them (and probably others) honestly and accurately is crucial to understanding where you stand and how well, or even if, you can handle any of the above scenarios.
They are the same questions I asked myself, struggled with, and finally answered.
However you answer those questions for yourself, I wish you all the best!