Adoptees As Mothers

Are adoptees’ abilities to parent affected by their adopted status? Is there a cumulative effect upon successive generations? It’s not discussed much in the adoption community, but I believe the answer to both these questions is yes.

Personally, I can say being adopted continues to have a gigantic influence upon how I mother my kids. For one thing, I am deathly afraid of losing them. When I had my first child I insisted that she remain in the hospital room with me. Fortunately hospital policies these days encourage “rooming-in” as it’s called, but when she had to go to the nursery for check-ups I insisted to the point of hyperventilation that my husband stay with her AT ALL TIMES. Despite the security (mother-child arm bracelets, guards, cameras, alarms) I was terrified that someone was going to walk out the door with her. Same thing when I had my son, because in my gut it feels like that’s what happened to me. My birth mother surrendered me to the delivery doctor who took me directly from the hospital. Somehow that became ingrained in my psyche such that when I became a mother myself, it was the overriding instinct. (So much for the idea that babies don’t remember…)

I also find that I cherish my children far more than some people seem to. My son drew on the wall with blue marker the other day and I just laughed. My daughter ripped her pants up in the garden and I was delighted, although part of that may be because my adopted mother chided me for the exact same thing. I became a freelance consultant specifically in order to have maximum time with my (at that point future) kids. We hardly use babysitters, not because we don’t like to go out but because we’d rather go with the kids than without them. My husband’s idea of his 40th birthday party was to take the kids bowling and you know what? We had a blast. My kids are such a delight. I know most parents say that but MINE really ARE, not that I’m not biased or anything.

But there’s this dilemma when I look at these two identical copies of myself. Probably only the adoptees out there will know how weird it is to have the first biological relative you’ve ever met be your own child. That is so warped, so wrong, that it chokes me. The only birth relatives I’ve met are my own children! Who the hell decided to burden them with that? The baggage of my adoption passes onto them. Another part of it is the dilemma of having no background to share with them. We’re a severed twig of a family tree, me and these two new-sprouted leaves beside me. The weight of an entire clan rests on my shoulders. My Celtic ancestors shout at me across the ages, but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Do non-adopted people think about these things?

There’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a while called Stalking Irish Madness: Searching For The Roots Of My Family’s Schizophrenia by Patrick Tracey. In one of those blinding strokes of synchronicity that sometimes strike adoptees, I knew I was Irish long before I saw any non-identifying information about myself. In fact I’ve followed a path of Celtic spirituality for nearly twenty years. When I made contact with my birth mother through the intermediary a few years ago, she made mention of mental illness in the family, in my uncle’s case quite severe. Unfortunately that brief tidbit is all I know, and it concerns me greatly. Are my own issues with depression and anxiety related to this mystery family illness? What do I need to know for my kids’ sake? What about their kids, and theirs? Again I am left as the sole repository of this knowledge, with zero access to any information that might help. I think it’s cruel that sealed records and ineffective registries allow such enigmas to occur. We should not be left merely with vague knowledge of “mental illness in the family.” I need a diagnosis, dammit, some resources that tell me what remedies did or did not work for others of my bloodline.

I firmly believe adoption is unnatural. Motherhood is sacred, and we don’t know enough about it to go mucking it up with social constructs that emphasize the material wealth of adopters over the bonds of blood. What has been done to my children is wrong. They should not have to suffer because I was adopted. They deserve full access to their ancestry, and as their mother it’s my responsibility to see they get it.


  1. I’m an adoptee and a mother and I do cherish my child greatly. I fear I will lose her. I have never loved anyone as I do her. I was the same way you were when I was in the hospital.

  2. I agree with pretty much this entire post both as you posit for yourself as an adoptee and as myself, an first mother that was terribly effected for the rest of her life by the loss of her first born child. Not only did it effect my marriage, my career, my housing decisions but it has far reaching effects into subsequent generations – my parented sons are effected. I am a very different mother to them becuase of my adoption trauma. Sometimes i am better because of it, other times I am worse. They are also forever struggling with why the cannot meet their sister, why she wont email them, etc. They just dont understand (yet..I hope with age they will see its adoption trauma that casues their pain not their sister)

    My entire family constellation and all relationships are effected – negatively.

    Hugs and peace to you and all of your family that is effected by this.

  3. http://maryanne says

    I am a birthmother who also feared losing my other children, was afraid they would die of SIDS because that was what I “deserved”, and kept them with me at all times for the first two years of their lives.

    Ditto Suz on the negative affects of surrender on everything in my life.

    Plus I am half Irish and very interested in all things Celtic, the music, the myths, the spirituality. I am very interested in the book about Irish schizophrenia. I had heard there were high rates of mental illness in the West of Ireland; my grandfather was from Co. Galway. There is lots of depression and alcoholism in my family, and I have suffered from depression on and off most of my life, not severe but chronic.

    My husband, who is not Irish, had two sisters who became mentally ill, probably schizophrenia, and both were suicides. My best friend from childhood has a severely schizophrenic son now in his 40s who will never be well. It is such a horrible thing to live with.

    Thanks for writing about this and I hope you are able to get more family history. It is so unfair that adoptees can’t know what the rest of us do without state interference.

  4. Joy–At the time I thought I was going out of my mind. There was no logical reason for it, and yet I couldn’t help myself. I’m sure the hormones and adrenaline post-birth added to the feeling.

    Suz–Hugs and peace to your family as well. Adoption is like a slow-acting poison, it will strike you just when you think you’ve got it licked, and it seeps into everything around you.

    Maryanne–Thanks for sharing a birth mother’s point of view. I used to be afraid of SIDS too, in fact I slept with my hand on my daughter all night until she was probably about a year old (she had a sidecar crib attached to our bed) to make sure she was still breathing. Mental illness is a frightening thing, especially when you’re in the dark. I find myself reacting unexpectedly to events in my life and am unable to figure out why. All I know about my birth uncle is that he suffered “severely” but I don’t know if that means hospitalization or suicide or what. I am terrified that something will crop up in my kids or their kids and I’ll have no way to help them.

  5. “I firmly believe adoption is unnatural. Motherhood is sacred, and we don’t know enough about it to go mucking it up with social constructs that emphasize the material wealth of adopters over the bonds of blood.”

    Beautifully stated.

  6. http://Mary%20in%20Virginia says

    This particular blog interested me greatly and I just had to read it. After reading, I just had to respond – mainly because my experience was completely opposite. I am an adoptee and now almost 64 yrs. old. I have, amazingly, raised two beautiful daughters and helped to raise 3 step-children. In looking back, my daughters were “possessions” to me – “posessions” that I had to raise to be model human beings because that is what was expected according to my adoptive parents. It took me 40 years to admit that…. just realized it, really, after reading your blog. I loved them dearly – don’t get me wrong – but I expected far more from them than they could possible give. I made their “growing up” years miserable and thought that was normal since that’s what happened to me. How, in God’s name, I ended up with two absolutely beautiful, loving, compassionate, intelligent, successful daughters is W-A-Y beyond my comprehension. My youngest daughter (who is the only one who could bear children) has 5 children and she is, by far, the most AMAZING mother I’ve ever seen. I guarantee she did NOT learn her parenting skills from me. Thank God !!! Thank you for your blog and beautiful writings.
    Mary in Va.

  7. Thanks, maybe!

    Hi Mary, thanks for reading. When I was growing up I was afraid I would end up parenting like my adopted parents who were very strict and controlling. I wonder if my more relaxed parenting style is a knee-jerk reaction not to be like them? I suspect as my kids grow up I will be one of those parents more likely to let them get away with things which isn’t necessarily any better. I have a hard time separating my own baggage from the situation, which I know isn’t fair to my kids.

  8. http://Anonymous says

    Triona, I’ve been reading more of your previous blogs and was particularily taken with the one regarding the Texas laws and “mutants”. (Forgive me if I have that info incorrect.) I have done a tiny bit of writing myself and can see that we certainly have the same viewpoints. If you would like to take a look at my blog, the address is
    Thank you, again, for your posts, Triona.
    Mary in Va.

  9. “Adoption is like a slow-acting poison, it will strike you just when you think you’ve got it licked, and it seeps into everything around you.” No truer words ever said. And yes, my parenting has been affected by the fact I was raised by a woman other than my natural mother. I was overprotective of my children when they were babies, but pretty lax with them as they grew older. When they got to be the age I was when I realized the truth of my familial situation (and then went into deep denial), I kind of disengaged from being a mother to my girls. The poison of adoption is a pox on our houses …

  10. Adoption most definitely influences how I parent my children.
    I coslept with my daughter until outside pressure made me stop when she was 19mths
    I am still cosleeping with my son who is 2
    My life is a mess because of adoption and Im terrified someone is going to take my children away from me.

  11. http://Suziq says

    As a transracial adoptee, I totally understand your concept of “loss”. If I went somewhere with the kids, I always knew where they were, as I watched them out of the corner of my eye, and nearly had apoplexy when a friend let hers wander out of her sight, not knowing that her child wandered until I mentioned it. Not to say that she didn’t value her kids as much as I did, it just looked and felt really different to me.

    Where I disagree is with your statement that adoption is unnatural. Adoption has happened throughout the world and throughout time and for many different reasons: orphaning, people being incapable of providing for their families, and even parents who are not great parents. In these cases children were raised within their communities, sometimes by families, other times not. They were not traded like the contemporary commodities they’ve become.

    The U.S. system of adoption can be traced to ancient Greece and Rome, when a child was adopted in order for parents to pass on their material wealth and social status. With this came lineage and pedigree, both severed by adoption by law – you can’t have two lineages, especially if they’re at odds with each other.

    The social workers in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the U.S. established the idea of shame to birth parents who weren’t “good”, couldn’t provide for their children as much as someone more powerful or wealthy could, and placed shame on teen mothers. They created a space to establish a total and entire unquestioned disconnect with genetic heritage, which they viewed as good because you know how bad genes are…

    Concepts of wealth, parenting and placement are intact in other cultures as well, but they are handled differently in children’s adoptions. Perhaps parents are not “great” parents and there are other “better” parents – in this case this is recognized without a passing of judgement and children are offered to these parents, not “given up” to them. In these systems, adoptees are not forgotten, they are aware of their place and maintain their birth status in the community, they are aware of the reasons for their placement, and there is no secrecy.

    In the U.S. secrecy, shame and ownership seem to be the cornerstone of many adoptions. That is what is unnatural – not the adoption itself.

  12. Suziq–You make excellent points. Perhaps I should have said, adoption as it is practiced in the U.S. whereby adoptees are prevented from knowing their origins. I think the unnatural part is the severing from one’s birth family, the sealed records system, not necessarily adoption itself. I don’t think it’s natural not to know your own bloodline. Thanks for writing!

  13. http://Anonymous says

    I wrote this to the young Makah speakers who spoke at the ‘150 Year Anniversary of Treaties Symposium’ in the Evergreen Longhouse, April 15, 16 2005:

    Thank you for appreciating the beauty of your culture and tribal connections. As a person who was adopted away from her family and tribe as a newborn baby, who feels so alone in this world, who has no family connections to celebrate big days, like the births of my three babies who are strangers to the people who would be their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I also mourn my losses alone. This is a heavy burden, a wound I don’t know if will ever heal. But perhaps it will, because when I see young people like you that love and appreciate the connections you have to each other and your culture, this beauty gives me healing.

    Thank you for appreciating knowing the names of your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins.

    Thank you for speaking.

  14. http://Melissa says

    I get so tired of hearing (in this case reading) about the adoptive parents feelings and views (as well as the biological parents regrets, etc…). They’ve been shoved down our (the adoptees) throats since we have been in their care. We are expected to put their feelings before our own innate need to know our birth parents and of our ancestors, thus having a better understanding of ourselves. WE DID NOT CHOOSE THIS. To read some of the adoptive parents (and birth parents) comments on here and other blogs about this angers me. Let the adoptees discuss what we are going through, stop butting in with your side of the story. We’ve heard it a million times. It’s time for US to care for our own needs.