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3 Ways First Mothers Commit Soul Suicide

by Laura on July 11th, 2013

Um. Yeah. Today’s post is a little rough, folks. They ran out of puffy hearts and fairies at the market this morning.

On a Facebook forum, a commenter posited that first moms who reject their children who cannot move beyond their own pain, grief, loss, shame, anxiety and fear … end up committing a form of soul suicide. And in doing so, they take a piece of their child with them.

Because who among us could say that parts of their mother aren’t inside them?

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to talk about this heartbreaking reality, since my experience has been vastly different. Compared to some of my friends (and I’m not bragging here, I’m just stating the truth), my reunion has been rainbows and unicorns.

And so, with all of this in mind, I want to give three ways that first moms commit soul suicide and drag down their adopted-out son or daughter with them.

1. Maintaining “third wheel always-outsider status” towards the adoptee

One friend, whom I’ll call Alice*, has a first mom who is still in love with her first dad. When the adoptee found her first mom, it opened a beautiful reunion … for the first mom and first dad. Alice was left as the third wheel as mom and dad started a long-delayed romance.


Look. I don’t need to know all the details of my first mom’s young adult sex life. I certainly don’t need to know the e-x-a-c-t details of my conception. I may need to take a tooth pick to my ear drums. But, I have learned the events surrounding my first mother’s relationship to my first father. I know the major players, who was involved, who was not. I have been entrusted to draw conclusions as I see fit. I’m a big girl; I can handle it.

Then, when Alice expressed a desire for a deeper relationship, her first mom encouraged Alice to reconcile with her adoptive mom, after all, “That’s your real mom, she raised you, you ought to be happy with everything your adoptive parents provided for you.”


And when Alice tries to explain the sadness she feels at having been adopted? “You’re ungrateful.”

Like having your own room replaces your connection to the women who carried you in her womb.

This fodder–that first moms were/continue-to-be unworthy–was internalized by women of the Baby Scoop Era. They were  told: your baby deserves two parents who can provide for a child. Your child will be better off being adopted.

It’s a load of shit that first moms have to move beyond.

But in recognizing that perhaps relinquishing their child was not the best thing or the “most loving thing they could do,” they have to acknowledge their role. Of course, coercion happened. Still does. Nevertheless, from the adoptee’s perspective, coerced or not, their mom birthed a baby, and that baby was adopted away.

By denying your adoptee a place in your life, you’re continuing to cut away at scar tissue that formed at relinquishment. You are hacking yourself, and you are hurting your child, too.

Mothers: trust your offspring to love you and accept you. Show them that you value them by giving them a place in your life, and please … tell. them. the. truth.

2. I’m allowed boundaries, and you, the adoptee, are not.

Speaking of first-parent relationships … My friend, Sarah*, is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She recently suspended her reunion with her first mom, for a variety of reasons.

Turns out, Sarah’s first mom is in love with her first dad, but in a twist on Alice’s story, that love remains unrequited. Consequently, Sarah is left in the middle, made to feel guilty for developing a relationship with her dad—because mom is jealous.

Insult-to-injury, mom secretly checks up on dad, online and even through mutual acquaintances, all-the-while refusing to acknowledge Sarah’s very existence to anyone in her life.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

When first we practice to deceive!

- Sir Walter Scott

This is the same first mom who holds it against her daughter that Sarah has the gall not to change her name back to the original name given to Sarah at her birth.

Sarah had suspended her relationship with her first mom because she was tired of being made to feel like a shameful secret.

Moms … Here’s the truth. I’m not a first mom, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a life-changing experience finally (finally!) to  let go of that society-induced shame. Imagine how freeing it could be to shout to the world: I have a beautiful adult son, and he wants a relationship with me!

Truly, there are so many first moms who are just waiting patiently for their adopted-out child to emerge from the adoption fog enough to be willing to search. They have tenuous reunions, waiting on pins-and-needles, hoping and praying that their daughter will call them, return their numerous calls and emails. They know that the relationship has to be on the adoptee’s terms, and yet they yearn for more.

So if you have an adoptee who wants a relationship with you, embrace her!!!

3. Just give me the name. Two words. First name, last name. Very simple.

Finally, there are my good friends Anna* and Carlynne* who in spite of being “good adoptees” while growing up (we’re talking perfect-child status), in spite of being compliant and grateful in reunion, still apparently haven’t “earned” the right to know the name of their father. Their f.a.t.h.e.r.

It defies all explanation.

We could play the What If? Game all day and all night. But here’s the reality: children are meant to be raised by their biological parents. That’s it. With this in mind, here’s my plea …

Moms: Please consider coming out of the shame-and-denial closet.

You ARE worthy of your child.

Remember …  Your child is THE ONLY person in the world who knows EXACTLY what it was like to be separated from YOU. Take solace in that. Draw strength in that. Reach out to your son. BE the mother that your daughter desperately needs you to be.

Even if she could never say so, and ask you in so many words.

And when she does have the courage to ask you for something … GIVE IT  to the best of your ability. We’re not talking about your five-year-old asking for a third ice cream in one day … we’re talking here about openness, lack of secrecy, certainly no lying. We’re talking about stepping back from the brink of committing soul suicide and killing your relationship with your own flesh-and-blood.

It’s quite simple, actually: We’re talking about giving love.

*  *  *  *  *

* Names have been changed

“Babies Feet” by Lisa McDonald, “Cake With Marzipan Booties” by Apolonia, and “Affectionate Mother Kissing Her Sleeping Daughter, Isolated On White Background” by Jeanne Claire Maarbes from


From → Adoption

  1. Lynda Pagan Mussemla permalink

    When you started with the words "third wheel" I thought that would fit what I feel as a first mom. It didn't though. I am the third (fifth?) wheel. I don't feel needed or wanted by my daughter and I will tell you why. I found her about 10 years ago and have yet to have a f2f. There has been nothing more than vague talk about it on her end and I have given up ever getting to see her again. It is just easier.

    • Lynda,
      You make a really good point … 5th wheel — good call. I'm sure that's the reality for many first moms, and it really sucks. There's nothing that's straight-forward about adoption, is there? Btw … I'm sorry about your daughter, she must be pretty deep into the adoption fog. For her sake (and yours) I'm hoping it lifts for her, though.

  2. Thank you (as always) for your insightful post. I'm glad your reunion has been more emotionally satisfying than my own. I still feel that experiencing it was a form of growth that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Hugs to you, my friend:)


  3. Abandonned permalink

    I really wish my birth mom had read this and absorbed it before she died of ovarian cancer in 2005. I don't know if it was fear and shame, but she was never able to talk to me at all. And if I tried contacting her, she was enraged. I have just never, ever been able to wrap my head around this. In the last six months of her life she knew she was going to die without as much as exchanging one word with me. I just wonder why she felt she had to increase my legacy of pain from all of this to such expotential levels. Like she had to hurt me even beyond rejecting me twice. I guess she's laughing in the grave now. I'm not laughing, though.

    • umbilicallychallenged permalink

      Dear Abandoned…….I understand <3 My bio Mother died also……didn't tell her family and refused contact with me twice over the course of ten years. Her own sister tried to get her to tell the truth, but she wouldn't. I felt anger as well. Relationship with two bio sisters hasn't been too satisfying….bio brothers won't even discuss me, let alone meet me! I don't want my struggle to be who I am amy longer so I am closing the door on the wondering, the searching……the feelings….. It's taken many years of figuring it out but it's time for me to nurture myself now. Just love yourself….nurture yourself….do whatever it takes. Our BioMothers were obviously unhappy people or they would have behaved differently. However…..just try to push it away and be happy because you are a beautiful person who deserves better.

  4. As someone who sought out my daughter and then had a good and I-never-want–to-talk-to-you-again-until-I-do relationship with her for the next quarter of a century, she did a great deal of make me dubious about what it was like when we were in contact. Up and down. Great one day, gone the next. In a way, we lose our children for good when we give them up, and we can never get back what is lost.

    I know you are talking about the kind of relationships that make adoptees rightfully crazy, but all that you said about parents acting nutty can be turned around because mothers often find they want a relationship that the adoptee cannot give. Too much guilt, too much anger, too much hurtful emotion.

    Abandoned: Whenever I hear of stories like yours, I cannot get my head around them because my experience was so different, so I can hardly understand those mothers who reject their returning children. I pity them, I feel angry towards them, I am puzzled by them. I am just sorry you have had to endure this pain. Hugs from elsewhere in the world from this first mother.

    • Lorraine,

      Thanks so much for commenting! It's great to see you over here!

      I agree, anytime that you have one person more deeply in the fog than the other, or you have someone who is unhealed, it's a recipe for a difficult relationship. I've written a lot about adoptees who are so deeply in the fog they can't see straight (but *believe* they have 20/20 vision) … and it's just that recently I've seen a bunch of first moms, whose returning children desparately want to understand their mom's pain, who read and empathize and try to help … to no avail.

      I think you're right when you say, "In a way, we lose our children for good when we give them up, and we can never get back what is lost."

      All that lost time, all of those lost experiences–we can try, and we should try, but we can never truly get back what was lost.


  5. Donya permalink

    I am a first mom in reunion with one of the children I placed. The 2nd isn't old enough yet. I actively searched out my son beginning on his 18th birthday. He and I have a decent but distant relationship right now. I am here whenever any of my 3 children need or want me. I am brutally honest with my son Joe 21 ( he has wonderful parents) and the son I raised Travis 18. They understand that to ask me a question is to receive the truth, unaltered, no matter how bad I look from my past choices. I harbor my guilt better these days, knowing all of my children are happy and healthy. I hope one day my children and I can have an open, honest, loving relationship, but until that day, I am here for any and all 3 of them.

  6. Cheri permalink


    My reunion with my daughter has been wonderful. I love her parents, they raised her well and I am forever grateful. She always knew she was adopted and they helped her to find me, which was a very easy task. She knows that I love her, we (my family) have made her a part of us. She has 2 sisters she is now in contact with and she was given her first father's name as quickly as she wanted it. and now, she is friends with him on facebook! I have left the door open to her to always ask whatever questions she wants. It has been beautiful. A picture perfect reunion that only God could have ordained. I love reading your blog and look forward to seeing you on the 19th!

  7. Jan Stewart permalink

    Huh?…..quote……"They know that the relationship has to be on the adoptee’s terms, and yet they yearn for more"………and how does that exactly work?A bit of a blanket statement or what? A relationship is give and take on both sides…….why should a mum do ALL the giving……hasn't she given enough? My daughter picked me up and dropped me like a hot potato……..slammed the door shut in her families face……..after using and abusing so the whole thing goes both ways……

    • Samantha permalink

      "why should mum do all the giving? hasn't she given enough"

      Seriously? Maybe your daughter's experience of being given away was too much for her handle when experiencing a mum who wanted her to be "grateful" for the "sacrifice."

      I'm not saying that giving your child away wasn't a difficult experience, but being the child of that reality is much harder.

      • yeah right permalink

        The only ones who can really answer this question for us are the adoptees who went on to become first mothers. Until some of them pipe up with their opinions I'm going to go with "you have no bloody idea what you're talking about."

        Unless the adoptee was relinquished at an old enough age to remember the experience, he or she is suffering the same pain as the infertile adopter: the pain of what-might-have-been. An abstraction, in other words. The first mother is suffering something very different: she carried the adoptee for nine months, she met the adoptee, she lost the adoptee. Someone real, not an abstraction.

        It hurts more to have something and then to lose it, than it is to have never had it (in conscious memory, at least). Especially when as often as not, further abuse is piled on top of the loss–as it is any time the first mother dares express a sentiment that is not "I did a bad thing, I paid the price, adoption is wonderful and I am dogs?!t." Oh the lovely public responses then. I'm sure you've seen some of them. You may have even offered some of your own.

      • Dear "yeah right,"

        I really don't want to get into an argument with anyone about whose pain is worse, as it would seem to imply from the quote, "It hurts more to have something and then to lose it, than it is to have never had it (in conscious memory, at least)."

        It's these types of statements that, as far as I have seen, truly grate on adoptees. "It hurts more" … no. No it doesn't. No one can compare pain … well they can, but it's the wrong thing to do.

        No one is negating first mother pain. Not even me! I've written before and often about the need to support women so that they never are put in the place of making a "choice" (choosing between two bad options isn't a real choice) to parent without support or relinquish. I honor and respect the pain and loss of first moms, and I'm for family preservation, with adoption as a last-case scenario.

        That said, my first mom was never an abstraction. She was/is a real, living breathing person (unlike an infertile couple's non-existant biological child). While growing up in a closed adoption, she STILL EXISTED. And, she exists within me, in my DNA, in how I look, how I speak, the mannerisms I use. The pain of that loss is REAL. R-E-A-L.


      • Jan Stewart permalink

        given away? are you kidding me? I never gave my daughter away…..she was taken from me…..the whole post revolves around the adoption koolaid that mothers abandoned their children? I am assuming that the adoptee is now an adult …….and what you didnt have you didnt miss……until it was pointed out that you didnt have it…… have no idea what I and other mums have given………and will give until we die…….so tell me how wonderful your adopters are again pls………..fmd

  8. I wasn't going to comment here because these exchanges are so often unproductive, however seeing Jan state "why should a mum do ALL the giving……hasn’t she given enough?" was thought provoking!! Adoptees have a great deal to process when they go into reunion, it takes time…they gave their identity,their names, their lives, their history, their families and their futures to adoption, their whole selves to be someone else others want them to be,they had no choice, now they do and get criticised for making those choices as adults.That doesn't seem to be something that's working both ways!

  9. Elizabeth permalink

    Unfortunately, "soul suicide" reminds me too closely of the term "soul murder" which I found from following up on a link to a racist (white supremacist) blog.

    Otherwise I'm in agreement with all your three points.


  10. Rosalind Maaka permalink

    The person who put up the blog about 3 ways mothers commit emotional suicide needs to take another look at the realities of adoption. I have over 30 years working with adoption reunions & very seldom have I met a mother who 'rejected' her child. Too many of these mothers were, in fact, given no choice – their children were abducted from them at birth by one means or another. I, too, am a mother & I was drugged so that my child could e taken against my wishes. I have never rfejected my child or any of my other children. Whoever wrote the load of garbage that this refers to needs to apologise profusely to the grieving mothers that he/she has so offhandedly slandered.


    Adoptee & Mother

    • Rosalind,

      Thanks so much for commenting. It's me who wrote this "load of garbage," and I want to point out two areas that you might consider. First, what happened in Australia with forced adoptions, drugging women during and after the birthing process was horrible and inexcusable. And yes, many women in America were all but forced to relinquish their children, for the sole reasons that they were young and unmarried. Also inexcusable.

      But, I think you may have missed the point a little … I'm talking about the things that first moms do to their adult children in reunion that are hurtful. We can go round and round about semantics, i.e. the school of thought that first moms don't reject their child, they reject their pain. But the way that plays out in the real world is that the adoptee feels awful and yes, rejected. The adoptee has to pick herself back up off the floor and resume "normal life" … because her first mom won't step up to the plate.

      Also, there was nothing slanderous about this post: all of the examples provided are true. And fwiw, since I anonymized the examples, there was no defamation, either.

      All the best,

  11. As a first mom in reunion – a very good reunion – I do not understand how any woman cannot acknowledge her own flesh & blood. I don't get it. I do have sympathy though for any first mother who is carrying this pain. I carried around guilt & shame too but once in reunion, I was able to start working through 'the load of crap'; even the long delayed grief that had been stuffed down for so long. While I do understand how we first mothers can torment ourselves (which thus affects our children) with the ton of guilt & shame, I cannot fathom withholding my love from my own flesh & blood or recognition of their pain. I would be remiss here if I didn't acknowledge that it is with God's grace that I am able to walk my healing path today. Suicide, whether physical or soulful, is driven by despair and hopelessness. The dark places where despair and hopelessness reside are void of love & acceptance. A first mother who cannot move beyond her own pain will very much reside in that dark place. She must learn to forgive herself first. (that was a huge step for me!) Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. With forgiveness comes freedom. Once we experience this freedom, love & acceptance will follow. This is a rough article to comment on. Our losses are so great & there is so much pain. We have to find ways to keep moving through our pain because if we get stuck we are lost in the dark places.

  12. Debra permalink

    This is a very interesting article. The circumstances surrounding conception do play a part in the mother-child dyad as I've heard it described recently. When my child was conceived, I was too young to know HOW the child had been conceived and my child was taken from me. The fact is: I loved my child then and I love my child now and we have had no reunion since I "remembered" everything. Most girls and women who "surrender" children do just that – they are forced to give away children they love and forced to do so by a SYSTEM that decides how everyone is supposed to feel about things. It is barbaric and like it or not – we are flesh and blood creatures and chemically bonded to our children. No religion or law should interfere.

  13. Hi Laura,

    Congratulations on your blog, it looks great.

    I would love to republish this post in the magazine. Please let me know if you would like that as well.

    Thank you,


  14. This can be a really fascinating post. The actual conditions encircling conceiving perform play a role within the mother-child dyad because I have noticed this referred to lately.

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