The Open Wounds of an Open Adoption, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader responds to this heart-wrenching story:

While I can sympathize with the birthmother, as an adopted child myself, I feel as if a key component of the dynamic of adoptive children has been under-articulated. I grew up knowing I was adopted. It was always presented in very kind language: “She loved you so much that she wanted the very best for you.” My birthmother was always relatively present in this narrative. My mother showed me her pictures, shared the letters that they had exchanged, and I was given the opportunity to write to her if I chose to.

As an adult, I still have that freedom. However—and in many ways, I recognize this comes off as insensitive—I have no desire to establish a relationship with my birthmother.

The act of putting a child up for adoption must be one of the most agonizing, heart-wrenching decisions that a person could be faced with in their lives. I can't begin to comprehend the enormity of it. However, by that same measure, I assert as an adopted child that birthparents can’t possibly understand the struggle that these children with “two” sets of parents try to reconcile within themselves.

I know that another adopted child somewhere might have come to a different conclusion, but when I read that birthmother’s anguish when her daughter denied that she was her mother, I recoiled. In my circumstance, the idea of ever considering another person a mother to me feels like a terrible insult. Throughout my life there has only been one woman who put me to bed at night, who helped me when I struggled growing up, who provided hours of endless support, who let me cry on her when I was grieving or in pain. There is one woman who has been a relentless advocate for me, no matter what the age. She’s someone I’ve been truly blessed to have in my life, and she's an example I aspire to live up to, every day of my life. She’s my mother.

I owe thanks to my birthmother for making the difficult choice to put me up for adoption, for allowing me to have the good fortune to come into this family. But in regards to who my mother is? That was never a question for me.

Another reader who has no interest in connecting with his birthparents:

I was adopted 30+ years ago in a closed adoption process through the Catholic Church. I grew up in a loving household and had a wonderful childhood with my adoptive parents. I always knew that I had been given up for adoption because my birthparents were young and couldn’t raise me, and I received a note from my birthmother to that effect. I’m thankful to my adoptive parents that I always knew I was loved and that the fact of my adoption was considered to be an incredible blessing.

I have never wanted to seek out my birthparents, a fact that sometimes surprises me. I have other friends who were adopted who have begun warm relationships with members of their biological family, and it seems as though a missing piece has been discovered for them. For whatever reason I don’t feel this same need.  Perhaps this stems from a fear of upsetting the wonderful family life I grew up with, or a basic fear of the unknown. But at the end of the day I feel that, in my case, there are some questions in life which will just not have answers.

Before I had biological children of my own, I sometimes wondered what it would be like to have blood ties with someone in my life. After I had children, I found that it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be. I love my children the same way I love my spouse and my parents.

I have begun explaining to my children the fact of my own adoption. My biggest concern now is my lack of a medical history. I still do not wish to find my biological parents, but I am thankful every day for the love and the sacrifice they made for me.

Thanks for this thread and I look forward to reading more. For many people, this is a topic that lives in our core. I hope the conversation can be helpful for your readers, wherever we are in our own journeys.