I was born in 1966 and adopted as an only child by loving parents, both of whom have died in the last 10 years. I am happily married with a successful business, and no children.
My parents knew my birth mother through work and arranged the adoption privately. I tried to find my birth parents, but had no success until two years ago, when I found my father’s family and a half-brother. Sadly, my father is no longer alive, but his family have embraced me. Boosted by this, I tried again to find my mother and, with the help of a Facebook search group, I did. I discovered she had a child two years after me, followed by three more, and appears to have been married to their father since then.
I wrote her a discreet letter and received a text message asking me never to contact her again. She said it would ruin her life if her secret was revealed, and even talked of suicidal thoughts. It made me feel awful, then angry. I find it hard, knowing I have siblings I will never meet. It makes me sad to think she has had to keep this secret from her husband for so long. But I also feel rejected as a dirty secret she hoped would go away. She is on Facebook, as are my half-siblings, and it is difficult not to look at their profiles every now and again as a very happy family. Should I forget they are out there? Or make contact again?
I’m really sorry to hear about this painful experience. I’m not surprised you feel both awful and angry: those are entirely understandable emotions.
I showed your letter to child and adolescent psychotherapist Alison Roy (childpsychotherapy.org.uk), whose specialism is working with adoptive families. She didn’t think it was a healthy process to expect someone in your position, who is trying to understand and make sense of their history, to forget their birth mother. But she did say that “there are safe ways of remembering”.
There is lots of good news in your story. Your father’s family have embraced you . “One of the things that you can be really proud of,” Roy pointed out, “even though it’s hard and painful, is that you have a clear sense of what you should have been entitled to – there’s enough self-love in your letter that shows you’re not just willing to take your birth mother’s statement lying down. You know you deserved better.”
Roy thought you must be furious with your birth mother, not only for giving you up for adoption, but now for rejecting you with very threatening emotional language. So, what do you do with that fury?
I think it would be useful for you to write to her. “We do this a lot in the therapeutic work I do with adoptive families. Often it’s less about sending the letter, but a way of you working out what you want to say,” Roy said.
Write this letter safe in the knowledge that you might never send it. I used to pooh-pooh this approach, but have come round to the thinking that the act of writing it down really focuses the emotions: often things we don’t expect come out. Take the opportunity to vent. You can send it if you want – or a “safer” letter later – but take your time.
“What you have to ask yourself now is whether you are up to putting yourself in a position where you might continually be rejected,” Roy said, “or whether you want to find a way to try to make sense of what has been a very upsetting and distressing experience – but one that you can take in and grow through.”
Your birth mother and father gave you your genes, but your adoptive parents and those around you gave you your identity. You are an adult now, and who you make contact with (your birth mother, your step-siblings) is up to you, but you need to think very carefully about your motivation and what you expect to gain. Gain is an important word here. We think by making contact with family members it will add to our lives, but sometimes it erodes what we already have.
Roy wondered about your motivation. “Is this about more than just adoption? Is it about identity and your sense of self? If you’re struggling with that, you may need some therapeutic help rather than going back to the people who rejected you in the first place.”
Think carefully about what you want and need right now, and whether your birth mother is really the person to provide it.
• Send your problem to email@example.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence
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A Is For Adoption by Alison Roy is out soon