Secondary Rejection In Reunion: An Adoptee Perspective

Claudia D’Arcy has written an excellent post on her Musings Of The Lame blog: Secondary Adoptee Rejection In Reunion: Hearing The Rejected Adoptee’s Pain.

Claudia is a first mother, adoption rights activist, and all around groovy person. It may be one of the best things she’s ever written. And it was also the most difficult for me to read, because I live it each and every day.

Secondary rejection happens. It’s one of those things adoption dissolution (aka the “returns department”) that the adoption industry doesn’t want to admit.

Claudia reminds us, rightfully so, that adoptees who are rejected twice are not rejected for ourselves. We are rejected because our mothers simply can’t handle being mothers. They were told to go on, to forget it (us!), that their lives would “go back to normal.” Some of them need to believe it so much that they must deny anything that threatens it.

But there is no normal in adoption. And, despite understanding on the philosophical level that it isn’t about me… I don’t think I will ever be able to convince myself of that.

To understand my perspective you need to read my story: Caveat Emptor On Confidential Intermediaries and Case Closed! Another Adoptee Becomes A Confidential Intermediary Statistic (which has a timeline of events).

To be surrendered for adoption is one thing. To be rejected twice – to be rejected as a person, not a theory; to be rejected as an adult and not as an unexpected pregancy is something totally, utterly, abhorrently different.

When your contact is limited by laws and intermediaries, you feel like you have to pack a lifetime into a brief window of opportunity. You’re afraid you won’t have another chance to ask the questions to which you’ve always needed answers. It’s a horrible Catch-22 and one of the reasons I despise intermediaries and compromise legislation (that, and the fact that they criminalize us for demanding rights that are basic to all human beings).

I may never know why my mother chose to deny so abruptly and completely. But I know how it feels to me. It’s so much worse than simply being adopted. It is to say to your mother, “I exist” and for her to respond, “I wish you didn’t.”

It wasn’t like I was expecting some kind of rosy reunion. Upon hearing my story, some people think I was demanding that she come and be my mommy. Believe me, after my experience with my adoptive parents, the last thing I wanted was another parental unit. All I wanted were answers. All I got was a door slammed shut. Worse – a door partially cracked, then slammed shut. Which only makes me feel all the more like it was something I did, something I said, something I **AM** that makes me unworthy of the same basic rights – identity, heritage – that other people take for granted.

It does no good to hear people, even someone I admire and respect as much as Claud, say “it’s not you.” My brain understands that. My heart never will.

Some may not like my use of the word “rejection” (see Claud’s post for the reasons  why she chose to use it). I’m using it because that’s how it feels to me. Yes, I know, my first mother didn’t really reject me when she surrendered me for adoption, but it’s another one of those brain-heart matters that adoptees understand on the philosophical level but not on the emotional level.

How can we? Breaking the mother-child bond is the most destructive thing that can happen to either mother or child. We shouldn’t be cavalier about it and invent euphemisms that make it sound less bad. That’s the adoption industry’s party line, to make adoption more palatable.

The truth is, adoptees often feel rejected, no matter how good their adoptive circumstances are and no matter whether they eventually reunite, happily or not, with their original families. We have to deal with issues of rejection and abandonment every moment of our lives (and no, I’m not saying first mothers abandon, I’m saying this is how adoption makes many adoptees feel). Getting rejected twice feels like a confirmation of all those bad feelings.

To me, it was proof of what my adoptive mother used to say when I would come home crying because the other kids teased me for being a weird adopted nerdy girl (and yes, some of the teasing was specifically due to being adopted). I would be sobbing and she would roll her eyes and say, “You must have done something to make them not like you.”

I must have done something to make my mother not like me.

To all you first mothers and adoptees out there who may be considering a secondary rejection: Don’t. However you may feel, whatever happened to you – we’re not to blame, and rejecting us again hurts so very much. We’re not trying to “out” you or make your lives miserable. All we want is existence. All we want is for someone to say, “Yes, you were wanted. Yes, you were loved. Yes, I will answer your questions.”

My first mother may one day change her mind, but I’m not holding my breath. I think she is in such a state of denial that she simply can’t accept my existence without her entire world falling apart. It’s as though, by denying contact, she erased me from time and space – if I was ever there to begin with.

Sometimes you have to back away from a relationship if it’s toxic. I know some first mothers and adoptees who have had to do this because the other party overstepped or refused to accept boundaries. That’s a different matter. I’m talking about rejecting to keep the blinders on, to maintain the falsehood, to pretend the big nasty A word never happened. All that does is foist your baggage onto someone else. We all have to deal with our own shit, no matter how much it stinks, and we are better off for it once we do.

And, for the record, those denial of contact vetoes that are so helpfully mislabeled “preferences”? They put a permanent ban on the adoptee’s ability to gain access to their original birth certificate, which may prevent them from renewing drivers’ licenses or getting passports (or, in the latest twist, running for public office). There is a real and legal implication for the adult adoptee that the Powers That Be may not have explained.

Please have some basic human compassion when – not if – your adoptee or first parent seeks you out. You don’t have to embrace them wholeheartedly into your lives, but don’t send them back out into the cold with no answers. It’s cruel and unnecessary on top of all the other cruel and unnecessary aspects of adoption.

UPDATE: Claudia’s started a listly on this topic, you can read more here and be sure to add your blog if you’ve posted on this topic.

Image courtesy of dan /


  1. You know, that is a two way deal. I am a secondary rejection mom – my daughter opens the door, makes sure my hand is in it, then slams as hard as she can.

    I put it all out there. My heart, my family, anything she wanted…. big mistake.

    How can it happen, you are right – the breaking of that bond is horrific.

    How can I cope – I don’t put anything out there for her anymore. I can’t, my heart is torn up and my emotions go nuts every time I consider it. Because I know that next time, she might wait until my head is in the door and then slam it.

  2. That’s what I meant about sometimes you have to stand firm or even cut ties if people aren’t respecting boundaries. It’s not exclusive to first mothers or adoptees (or people not involved in adoption, for that matter). Any way you cut it, it sucks and shouldn’t happen.

  3. Triona,
    My experience was similar to yours, in that an agency confidential intermediary told me that my original mother wanted no contact with me and expressed no interest in how I was doing. It hurt deeply, and I ultimately decided that I would not accept the intermediary’s decision as the last word. I had just experienced a serious medical issue, and was determined to secure at least some medical history. I discovered my original mother’s address through a private investigator and sent her a certified letter explaining how hurt I was and why and what information I wanted. I assured her that my intent was not to hurt her or disrupt her life. The letter worked — she picked up the phone and called me. That one phone conversation is the only contact I have ever had with her, but for closure, it was better than nothing. I agree with everything you have said and wish so much that you hadn’t been left dangling — it is so unfair.

  4. Being a first mother myself, I do not pretend to understand why or how a first mother can not acknowledge their child.
    It is so important to come to terms as a human being with our own faults and mistakes. To acknowledge that we f*cked up and to try in some small way to make it right. How can you grow as a person if you refuse to “own your sh*t”?
    My heart goes out to every adoptee that has faced being rejected again. I can not imagine the hurt involved.

  5. http://Robin says

    It is nearly impossible to not take rejection personally. As much as we might intellectually understand that it is not a rejection of us personally, the adoptee still IS the person who is being rejected. My n-father did not want to marry my mother or have a child. So even though I know that he did not reject me because of my personality or because I was the wrong gender or because he wanted a different child just not me, none of this really matters because unfortunately I AM the person who is his child and the person that he did, in fact, reject.

  6. Robin – I feel the same way. It IS about me, because I am very personally involved and very personally affected. I was born into this situation and I will always be adopted. I can’t change that but my mother could make things better if she were to be upfront and honest about my existence, and not coincidentally rescind the denial of contact so I can get my original birth certificate. At this point that’s all I really want.