Adoption is such a mixed bag of blessings.  The most valuable for me as an adopted child has always been the fluidity with which I view relationships.  Family is truly those who inhabit my heart, because any other definition would necessarily create a very lonely life.  This definition is expansive, endless with possibilities and rich beyond compare.

The flip side of this approach has sometimes been that I place more importance on a particular relationship than does someone who has ample and strong genetic family ties.  I have, on more than one occasion, realized that my sense of family with someone was misplaced; in the end, I was “just a friend” or “just a girlfriend” or whatever the small, definitive category was that I occupied.  I don’t begrudge these people their categories; indeed there have been occasions when I have envied them the clear distinctions of their lives, the ease of prioritizing relationships, the simplicity of explaining how one is related to another.  But that was not the hand I was dealt, and so I have bent and manipulated common categories to suit my own needs and life.  And that approach has mostly served me well.

After I was three weeks old, I didn’t lay eyes on a single soul possessing my genetic thread for nearly 29 years.  It was then that I met my birth mother, Kathleen, after a lengthy search.  Ours was a joyful telephone reunion, followed by pages and pages of emails, futilely trying fill in the missing years since she had held me as a screaming infant in her arms.  There were early morning and late night phone calls, exchanged photographs and small gifts, and a visit by her to the home I shared with Bryce, when I was newly pregnant with Sabrina.  Later, when Sabrina was 18 months old, I traveled with her to Kathleen’s home on the West Coast for a short visit.  Sabrina charmed her new “Gran” completely, and Kathleen seemed delighted by the prospect of a grand-baby, having missed so much with me.

Every relationship has its honeymoon period and, had I read any adoption reunion books I would have known that the same applies to adoption reconciliations.  Our honeymoon period lasted longer than most, but small fissures erupted and, without the grounding of a stronger or deeper friendship, they expanded into deep chasms.  There were so many parts of me that not only reminded Kathleen of her beloved younger brother, but also of her despised older brother.  She disagreed forcefully with many of my life choices and was unimpressed by my choice of husband.  But perhaps most damaging was the fact that, aside from my skin and hair coloring, I physically favor my birth father, a man who brutally hurt her and about whom she cannot speak. So perhaps the relationship was doomed from the beginning, or even from the second beginning, but I was determined to at least keep the line of communication open, even as she clearly withdrew from me.

My first inkling that perhaps I had been abandoned by her permanently came two years ago when Sabrina was in 5th grade and completing a family history project.  I had received lots of family stories and histories from Kathleen in emails during those early, breathless days, stories I had been waiting a lifetime to hear and she’d been hoping for the chance to share.  I’d compiled them all into binders that I stored with my photo albums, the closest thing I had to a family history.  Sabrina thumbed through them, amazed to discover the richness of Kathleen’s family history, the surprising realization that we were, in fact, a Western homesteading and ranching family, and the terrific tales of Irish lore handed down.  Then she sat down and wrote Kathleen a very sweet email, telling her of the family history project and asking more questions.

Kathleen never answered her.

I was more than a little stunned as the days dragged by and there was no response to Sabrina’s email.  We worked on her project as best we could without the additional information.  I offered, but Sabrina refused to abandon Kathleen’s family and instead do something about her dad’s side, which was equally interesting.  She completed her project and received an A, but I was still reeling from the silence.

I sent Kathleen an email via Facebook, where I know she is very active, asking her to please reply to Sabrina even if it was just to say that she couldn’t provide anything else.


As an adult, I was able to cognitively process the rejection.  Kathleen is a woman who, at least since the harrowing and unfortunate circumstances of my conception and birth, has struggled and mostly failed at maintaining relationships.  She knew she would be a poor mother, having had a very cold and critical role model to follow, so she relinquished me rather than risk perpetuating the family problems.  The quirky and interesting commonalities we shared did not bridge our larger differences.  And basically, no amount of genetic material could make up for what was lacking between us.  I knew all of this.

But, still.

The adopted child in me cried out for her.  Wondered at how she could abandon me, again.  Wondered how I could be so very flawed that, even having gotten to know me, she could reject me so completely that her rejection would encompass my innocent children.  Wondered at how blood was so thick for some people, but apparently counted for nothing in my own life.

I accepted Kathleen’s complete retreat and did not pursue the family history issue again.  I did notice, however, that she did not unfriend me on Facebook, so I assumed that she had some lingering interest in me, my children, and our lives. I continued to send her school photos of the girls, Christmas cards and presents, and a Mother’s Day card that always read, simply, “Thank you.”  I thought we had reached some kind of plateau, in which I would continue keeping that thread alive between us, and she would continue to ignore me.  I rationalized to myself that there was no harm in it; after all, it wasn’t like she could actually hurt me anymore.  Right?

One day not long ago, she posted an interesting exercise on Facebook.  It was one of those cut-and-paste, perpetuating games in which the poster asks each of her Facebook friends to leave a one-word comment below the post, describing how the poster and the friend met.  I don’t usually comment on Kathleen’s posts, but they are not usually an invitation to participate, as she is more fond of political diatribes and humorous videos.  This time, though, I thought I had a very clever contribution.  And so, because I am apparently a pathetically slow learner, in the comments section, I wrote “Birth.”

Later that day, I noticed her post on my timeline again, as our sole mutual friend had also provided her one-word answer.  I clicked on Kathleen’s post, and as it filled the screen, I saw it.  The void.  The emptiness where my comment had been.  It was gone.  Deleted.

I should not have been surprised.  You, reading this, are not surprised.  But I was.  I truly was.

I stared at it for a long time, the obvious irony settling in.  She had deleted me.  She had deleted my birth.  So swiftly and easily, with merely the click of a mouse.  And I knew, for what was probably the first time, that if she could do that for real, she would.  She really would.

I know that getting pregnant with me changed her life dramatically and my birth father’s cowardly response to the pregnancy demolished her in ways I can’t fully appreciate.  And I know that my birth nearly killed her and did disable her for a year, and that she never had a family of her own after that for reasons that only she knows.  And I know that I am not what she had hoped I would be.

But I am her only child in this whole world.  Her blood.  And she deleted me.

In the days that followed, I felt foolish for the photos and the Christmas cards and gifts that have likely met the trashcan unopened, but not too much.  I offered her as much love as I knew how and I considered her as much a part of my family as the other wonderful parents I have.  I shared the most precious part of my life with her, my children, and encouraged them to pray for her and offer her love, too.

In short, I did nothing wrong.  It was not my fault that I was conceived under such ugly circumstances.  It was not my doing that she suffered an aneurysm during my birth.  I cannot apologize for how I have turned out or who I have loved.

I wish that we could have been family.  Some kind of family.  But I know now that we will not be.  So this holiday season, I instead turned my attention fully and completely to the family that does love me, truly and deeply and without reservation.  Some ties are actually thicker than blood.  And for that I shall be forever grateful.


Me, at about 2 1/2 years old.


Filed under adoption, healing, parenthood, relationships

18 responses to “deleted.

  1. As a fellow adoptee, I completely get this. I think “reconciliation” is romanticized; people believing it is happily ever after.

    I have known my birth mother since I was 18. She has never met any of my children, although a few days ago, my oldest daughter sent her and my (half) sister friend requests, which they accepted.

    She and I talk a few times a year. If nothing else, the medical is important. I’ve thought numerous times about doing a ‘nature vs. nurture’ post, but with both her and my parents reading my blig these days. ……. :/

    I am sorry, though. I honestly believe you might actually be better off without her influence, but it doesn’t lessen how you feel any.

    Family is not blood; it’s not even who raised you. Family is who, in your heart, is bonded to you with love. It could be blood; it could be the family that raised a person. But it certainly doesn’t have to be.

    I hope out of all of this, you can find a place of peace and acceptance. And you’re right- this doesn’t have anything to do with you……

  2. I have a theory. It has to do with cutting off emotions to stave away pain.

    My daughter’s birth dad did it. And although he spoke of how he’d always be there for her, turns out he just can’t. He muzzled those nurturing sentiments long, long ago, and just can’t seem to re-animate them. (She’s mid-twentysomething now.)

    Fortunately, my daughter’s step-dad is loving and there for her. She added in the card she sent him for Christmas: “I’m so glad you are my dad, Love Yooooou!!!”

    Even in my own tight-knit genetic family, there are rifts. I have to remind myself to embrace the ones I’m close with, and let go the pain of not being close with the others. We just tend to be closer with some people — I remind myself, that’s part of life.

    Good for you in sharing this. Sad on one hand, yet freeing on the other. And though yours is so deep and hurtful, I think we all grapple with an aspect of this.

    And good timing — Let the New Year take on New Wings for New Leaves on Life! (Like the smiling child in the picture of your childhood — smile on!)

    • To a certain extent, you hit the nail on the head. Prior to our reunion, my birth mother admitted to me that the only way she had lived through the early years without me was to cut off her emotions about me. I completely understand the necessity of her having done so, especially as I am now a mother and cannot imagine giving up a baby and the pain attendant thereto.

      I think the shame of that exercise for her was that it showed her how to compartmentalize her feelings, and I think she has incorporated that approach into her life on a more regular basis now in many areas of her life. While it’s an approach that probably served her well initially, I think her broader application of it likely holds her back now. It’s sad, and part of me feels very bad for her. But the other part of me knows that I cannot fix her or “it” and that I need to just let her go. If I could do it as a baby, without the cognitive understanding I have as an adult, then I can certainly do it now, right? 🙂

      • Well put. Yes, it’s the compartmentalization of it all. And truly it’s her (as well as my daughter’s birth dads’) loss! Isn’t it great that you have other family members to turn to, who love you and “get” you. Even if there is only one, I tell myself, I’m so grateful for that!!! (And I’m glad I have my horses!!!!)

        I’ve loved reading all the wonderful comments to this post. Rarely does a post get such heart-felt and right-on responses. I think you blessed us all by sharing this powerful post!

  3. This is truly a heart-wrenching tale.

    Adoption isn’t necessarily abandonment, as you know well that many circumstances can contribute to someone feeling they should give up a child who may have a better life as a result.

    What your birth mother has done, however, is abandon you. The emotion involved in that comes through in the spirit of this post and in the text: “…Wondered how I could be so very flawed that, even having gotten to know me, she could reject me so completely that her rejection would encompass my innocent children….”

    You will not believe me because my words can’t match the missing and cruel birth mother, but you are not “flawed”. It’s painfully clear that she is flawed. She is missing something in her. It may not be her fault that she is missing that important something, but it’s not there. And you are left bereft as a result.

    My brother has a daughter. She is older than my own oldest daughter. I didn’t know about her until she was five years old. These days, we chat via Facebook. She has abandoned her dad and hasn’t spoken to him in years. My brother is emotionally limited. He may be able to make babies, but he doesn’t have the emotional depth to follow through on being a dad.

    Your birth mother, for whatever reason, is a lot like him.

    As in Good Will Hunting: it’s not your fault. I wish that I or someone could make you believe that in your bones.

  4. I am sorry you have experienced this, I can only imagine the rejection you must feel and whatever other emotions it must bring to the forefront. You are NOT flawed in anyway, I know that deep down you must know that but rejection cuts deep.
    I can relate to some degree because at the age of 16. Almost 40 years ago I gave a son up for adoption. I have searched for him, put ads in the newspapers and kept my maiden name in hopes he would find me. I never wanted to disrupt his life but wanted to be there if HE needed me to be and my other son who is now 30 and learned about his 1/2 brother when he was about 8 has always wanted to meet his sibling. But I have never heard a word. Every year on his birthday I go into a depression; not nearly as bad as it was years ago but I have packed the effects of giving up a child my whole life.
    My ex, a very abusive man was adopted and found his birth mother just before we met. I feel for his birth mother because he is a psychopath that has made their life hell and she struggles with thoughts that somehow she made him that way. He has a very loving adoptive mother and was raised in a good home; I think he was born that way, genetics, whatever but tragic none the less.
    I guess my point is that the fairytale reunion is not always the result and people are fallible and sometimes we do the best we can at certain times in our life and it still doesn’t turn out well. I really think your birth mother rejecting you has very little to do with you and everything to do with her own demons, guilt, anger, selfishness, or pain.
    You did all you could to have a relationship and were mature and loving and open. You did all you could at the time.

    • Thanks, Carrie. Intellectually, I know that everything you said is right. And I’ve known enough adoptees involved in reunions to have heard the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think, as with most things, you think your own experience will be different. 🙂 But there is always an upside, and mine has been the reminder of how very many people DO love me and how blessed I am. If that is the only lasting lesson to come from my own reunion, then I will county myself lucky still.

  5. I understand the shock and sadness of deletion…albeit in a different way. This piece moved me and reminded me that family is also a choice and not only blood. Peace to you.

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  7. I think because she has never been a mother aside from giving birth, she does not have the same bind or emotion as mothers who raise their children do. She seems broken and no one can fix her except herself. Clearly she isn’t ready. Be grateful she gave you a chance at a happier life. Not everyone is so lucky. xxxx

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  9. HLS

    I’m a newly adoptive mother, and I am doing everything in my power to help my son maintain a good, solid relationship with his birth mother. It’s hard–triggering many emotions for both adoptive and birth families–for me to do this, but I don’t ever want him to feel rejected or unloved. I want him to know that we, his adoptive family, loved him and his birth mother enough to facilitate a relationship, even when it was tough to do so. I’m sorry that your birth mother deleted you from her life; please know that modern adoption is very different from what your mother experienced. Birth mothers have the choice now to request open adoption and contact, and that’s a great thing for the kids and the birth parents.

    • I think it’s wonderful that you chose an open adoption and that you’re working on behalf of your son to facilitate a good relationship with his birth mother. I think the difficulty still lies in the fact that no one can control another person’s feelings or actions. You might work incredibly hard to make that relationship good, but if the birth mother decides at some point to check out, there won’t be anything you can really do to make that not happen and spare your son those feelings. Open adoptions have so much more potential for good future relationships than the old way did, but they still contain the variables of human emotions and behaviors. And that will always make it fraught.

      Good for you for your awareness and your efforts. Whatever happens in his future, I am certain that your son will appreciate those. 🙂 Good luck to all of you!

      • HLS

        Excellent point. I have some hope that my son’s birth mother will choose to stay in his life because she chose the open format. In this state, open adoption doesn’t really exist, so we developed a moral clause that all parties had to agree to and sign that governs our behavior and contact in pretty specific ways. I guess she could still choose, eventually, to hit the delete button on my son, but since she had a choice to enter into this agreement or not, I’m praying she won’t–not for my benefit but for his. In many ways, it would be easier if she decides she doesn’t want contact, but I know that would be terrible for my son’s emotional health. Adoption is such a complicated situation, and because, as you point out, I can’t control birth mother’s feelings and needs, we will always live with some uncertainty regarding my son’s relationship with her. I hope with time that your own situation becomes easier to bear, and thanks for the kind words.

        • myra lopez

          This situation is so sad. Instead of looking at it as the cup half empty, look at it as the cup half full. Maybe its good your fate was not to be raised by this woman. Not all are “first mothers” as the adoption lingo likes to call them. I am pro adoptee first. The LEAST a birth family owes an adoptee is the knowledge of who they are and where they came from. Access by the adoptee, once they become adults to this full documentation should be written into law. Im sorry this turned out this way for you.

          • Thank you for your kind words. You are absolutely right that I amwas fortunate to be adopted and not raised by my birth mother. She was wise enough to know that she was not capable of giving a child the kind of unconditional love and acceptance that babies need to feel safe and secure in their world.

            Besides, the adoption world is full of stories far sadder than mine from every angle. 🙂

            I am, indeed, very lucky.

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