An Adoptee’s First Biological Child

I have read about this from the point of view of several different adoptees in the past. I have wondered what my own adoptee mom (or even my adoptee dad) felt as they created a biological, genetically related family of their own. They are both deceased, so I can no longer ask questions like that of them.

Today, I read – I’m curious about adoptees first experience being pregnant. Thought I was infertile all these years and I’m finally pregnant. I thought I would be flooded with more happy emotions. I often feel paralyzed and scared shitless. I’ve done the leg work to not put my trauma on a child, plenty of therapy when I was younger and actively trying to start a family. Not using a child to fill my holes as my adoptive mother did. Now I just feel disgusted and worried sometimes, feels somehow adoption related. My first parents non stop on my mind lately too. Any first child experiences good or bad would be very helpful! Thank you! She later added – I am very worried about not looking at my first mom the same. We aren’t the closest but our relationship is what I need it to be, I’m nervous I’m going to resent her after going through this; even though I know she didn’t want me. It’s almost like I’ve been in this weird limbo of not fitting in to either family and the thought of starting my own makes me want to run for the hills.

I am in reunion and have a good relationship with my First Mom but never cared much about my biological dad’s side, until I was pregnant and really until I had my son. It does make me sad that my son won’t know his aunts and cousins on that side but I haven’t had the bandwidth to try to make contact yet. Dealing with my maternal side has been enough drama and stress for one lifetime.

These feelings are totally normal, even for those without trauma. There are layers for many who feel this way, but even those I know who had ‘normal’ childhoods often feel this way too. You’ll also feel like failure frequently, out of your depths, like a bad mom, etc. those are all normal too. I have layers to mine due to trauma, so as time and healing have allowed, I have worked though different layers as they’ve come up (and up again and again). It was VERY important to me to avoid adding birth trauma, so I found a midwife and worked hard at allowing the natural biology and oxytocin stuff, breast fed etc. those all help with attachment and bonding (which I still greatly struggled with due to a severe attachment trauma).

I have 4 currently, and recently had a still birth, so I am now dealing with new levels of trauma added to those previous layers. Dealing with secondary infertility and a loss after 4 healthy pregnancies really rocked my internal dialogue (since fear of losing them through accidents/etc, just general anxiety like falling down stairs while pregnant (which I didn’t) etc). My mom hit a brick house (blogger’s note – I do not know if this is literal or figurative) while pregnant with me, so I’m sure there’s a layer there too.

I don’t know if my trauma has made it better or worse to be honest…the death of my son broke cracks into the structure that trauma built to protect myself from bonding and attachment. Though feeling (some) grief, I’m having glimmers of hope and joy, which is really mind fu**** me to be honest but I’m trying to roll with it. I deal with it small bits, here and there, denial in a box is its default space but when it does come out, I try not to stuff it automatically back in there. I try to give it space and observe it and know it won’t kill me, even if it feels like it will or should or could…sorry if I’m not making sense.

Give yourself space to feel the things you do and do not judge yourself harshly. Know you are not alone, the feelings WILL pass (even if it takes time, for me – it has been on and off for almost a decade) and no one is a better mom to your baby than YOU.

I experienced something similar with my pregnancies. I think fear is very common in any pregnancy, everything’s so new and life-changing. I think it’s an especially complex time for adoptees and a resurgence of feelings is common. Talking about how I felt helped me. I hope you know we’re with you and cheering you on.

I was fine while pregnant and when giving birth but got horrific PPD/PPA (Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety) despite being surrounded by love and support. I think giving birth brought up a lot of unresolved feelings and trauma and contributed to my PPD. I got through it with therapy and medication. It didn’t last forever thankfully and I had a lot of support.

I experienced PPD and difficulty bonding with 2 of my 6 babies. With the other 4, I felt that immediate attachment when I saw them. It took a few months with those 2, for me to feel like they were truly mine and that I was a good enough mother for them. In the long run, there has been no difference in the level of attachment or love I feel for them. (I’ve been parenting for 17 years.) Becoming pregnant with my firstborn was what awakened me from the “I should just be grateful” fog. I honestly believed I had no trauma from being separated from my mother, up until then. When I became flooded with instinctual feelings for my baby, I wondered if my original mother ever felt those things for me.

Not every mother gets that first glimpse of their child and immediately feels attached and wildly in love. It’s *not at all* uncommon for it to take time to build that attachment and have trouble bonding with your child at first. Then of course there are things like PPD and PPA that make bonding harder. But none of these things make a person a bad mother. Often people with a history of trauma – *especially* if that trauma has to do with abandonment or attachment issues – will have trouble bonding with their child. And it’s completely normal.

I wonder about this with my own mom, some of the things I have learned recently related to her second (actually third, because she had a miscarriage first) pregnancy as well as how I describe my own parents as being weirdly detached. Good parents but that cut thread of connection to their original families, I believe, had an impact on their perspectives related to parenting. They were good parents, not at all abusive, but quick to want us to be independent of them.

Another adoptee writes – I felt awful, disgusted, fearful when I was pregnant. I was terrified I would project what happened with my birth and adopted parents on my little girl. She’s 8 now and I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. I make mistakes with her but I am quick to apologize and let her know when I am wrong. I explain that I shouldn’t have projected my negative emotions on her. I also let her know it’s okay to not be okay. I had severe PPD and for a couple days when she was a couple weeks old when I wanted nothing to do with her. I told my ex husband mom that I needed her to take her for a day or so because i didn’t know what to do. Luckily that passed very quickly. I love my daughter more than anything in this world and would give my last breath to her. Also if you do have awful feelings, talk to your doctor. Medication did wonders for me with my depression. It honestly helped so much.

There’s a couple layers going on. I also got pregnant after miscarriage and sort of infertility. I don’t think I really processed or felt safe in my first successful pregnancy until after 30+ weeks. When I held my son, it was really the first time I saw and loved someone I was biologically related to. It was powerful, odd, terrifying. So many different emotions. I didn’t think as much about my first mother’s pregnancy with me. But we were in reunion and in a tough place then, so it was complicated. Give yourself time, space, gentleness. Pregnancy is a wild hormonal ride, even without added layers to it. And those added layers aren’t easy. 

And then there was this very different but honest perspective – I considered adoption, but I was stealthed/forced and thus very scared to have a baby so young even while married. I remember ridding that idea before the half mark because I felt him kick. And then at birth my very first thought looking at him was I could never give him up. Even totally unprepared I couldn’t have done it. I was actually really ashamed of that and told no one how I thinking or feeling, because I had solely considered my bio strong for doing so (drug addiction) and here I was poor and sick and barely legal to drink while a college student in a shit marriage… and I could Not fathom even leaving his side. I love him but sometimes I still don’t know if that was correct because he’s suffered a lot… my son was deeply abused by my now ex-husband and I have a lot of trauma from it I’m still working through… my own biological parent, I don’t think could have given me half the life I got from adoption, and even though my adoptive parents were super abusive. There’s so many mixed feelings and traumatic thoughts and memories that get brought up when an adoptee is pregnant. I hope you at least know all of your feelings and fears and joys are all valid all at once.

This perspective from another adoptee was interesting to read because I do know my mom saw a psychiatrist at one time but I don’t know her reasons for it – “It’s hard, I feel like I focused too much on doing the ‘right things’ and not traumatizing my kids, which often made me a hands off parent. I had to get my butt in therapy and put in the work to be a better me. Now I’m not a hands off parent and learned boundary setting with my kids.” I do know that I was surprised at the degree that my two sisters were dependent on our parents at the time of their deaths at 78 and 80. Maybe my mom overcame some of what I experienced in the decades before that.

Definitely worried I was going to fuck my kid up like I was fucked up. To the point of almost terminating. My second pregnancy was a lot smoother but I still experienced horrendous PPA with both. I had happy moments and sad moments in pregnancy. Despite my PPA though, I was lucky enough to avoid PPD and feel a determination I have never felt before in life when they placed my son on my chest. I looked at him every damn day and promised I would give him a better life. My husband and I weren’t in the best position at all. In poverty, high crime area, barely surviving. But I promised my kiddo I would get him out of there every single day. My husband is aged out former foster care youth, so he was just as determined as well. 3.5 years and another (planned this time) pregnancy and we made it. Our kids will never have to experience a life even close to what we lived. Having kids made me afraid and feel powerless and worry I was gonna be a horrible mom, but more than anything it made me, and my husband, WAY better people and helped us get out of the cycles so that we were not perpetuating them.

Pregnancy and childbirth weren’t really issues for me. My biggest issue is just feeling completely clueless and like I’m doing everything wrong. I was raised by my adoptive dad from age 8 onward, and don’t really remember much from being younger, so I feel like I have no experiences good or bad to reference. Like the concept of a mother is totally foreign to me, so I’m flying blind and making it up as I go.

What helped me the first time around was preparing to be surprised. Knowing that this baby, although my flesh and blood, would be their own little person. Their own soul. I was there to love and nurture whoever they were. And I really was continuously surprised, usually in a pleasant way. I never went for schedules and “Child must be doing X by a certain age” BS. Instead my kids developed as naturally as possible. All of this was in defiance of my “normal” adopted upbringing. What was crazy was that my eldest looked nothing like me or my husband. Thank God I had already reunited with my birth mom, so I could show people that’s who my daughter looked like, because otherwise it would have been hard to explain.

I had bad Postpartum anxiety. To be fair my Mother in law did NOT help. I was afraid someone would steal my babies and I wouldn’t get them back. She would literally snatch them and walk away so we ended up having a long break from her and eventually things worked out once she calmed down enough to understand me and that my husband wasn’t going to side with her. But with all my babies I couldn’t be away from them. I had hard time taking showers and no one could hold them expect for my husband if I didn’t have eyes on them. If I had them with me, I was fine. It was bad with #1, better with #2, #3 was a whole other mine field because that one was a girl. I kept fearing I’d wake up and want to walk away. My husband was a major support. Only my 5th wasn’t as bad, but my husband had paternity leave and was home with me the first 4 weeks. I know it wasn’t rational. But I’d have panic attacks that they were gone. I do not have an anxiety or panic disorder. I’m usually extremely even keel. It caught me majorly off guard. Parenting wasn’t and isn’t an issue though. Gentle and communitive parenting came very naturally to me.

I had good support and my first pregnancy was wanted and planned. I do know that once my baby was born, I saw my biological mom and adoptive mother through a different lens. I did start feeling really sad about my adoption for the first time. I started think how I didn’t bond with my adoptive mother until I was after a year old. How that is not normal. I made me feel a new kind of pain. Sometimes this sounds silly but I feel like I love my kids more than non-adoptees because of my experience. I felt like I didn’t really understand my biological mother at all, even though she was very young mother. I started to excuse her uncomfortable behavior because I don’t feel like anyone is ok after something so traumatic. I didn’t feel resentful, just sadness. Pain. Loss. I don’t understand how some people don’t want their babies but it’s not always for me to understand that either. When she says “I love you” it makes me uncomfortable because I feel like “how?”. Lots of feelings.

Some Wounds Don’t Heal

Knowing what I know about adoption, I’m now against this whole thing and because of what happened, it would just be way too personal. And what happened ?, you ask. I’ll share the story of selfish points of view.

A somewhat distant cousin had wanted to adopt my oldest child when I found out I was pregnant in high school though I did not take her up on her offer. Fast forward to 2 years ago, I was again pregnant with my third child. At that time, I was highly considering adoption. I asked this cousin – knowing shes always wanted to adopt – what would happen if she adopted my baby. I was simply exploring my options. I explained to her that the only reason I was considering giving him up was because I felt like mentally and financially I couldn’t take care of 3 kids. Which was a correct assessment on my part at the time.

Allow me to explain my conditions related to a surrender –

I want to be a part of his life. I would still consider myself his mom. My motivation is for him to have a better chance. And here was her reply –

If she did adopt him – I would not be his mom. He wouldn’t know anything about me other than I was related family. I wouldn’t get visitations or special calls and pictures. I’d only see him at family reunions (get real, in my 24 years in this family, we’ve only had 1 reunion on that side and I was a kid when it happened). She said that other than that, my contact would be seeing her Facebook posts, and occasional text updates, but he would be her child and I would (in her words) “in fact no longer be his mother”. I politely said thank you but that doesn’t work for me.

She messaged me a few more times telling me to let her know if I changed my mind and how badly she “wanted this opportunity.” I kept my baby.

Since then there have been moments in spending time with my aunt (my cousin’s mom), that this has been brought up and I’m told about how much it hurt my cousin that I didn’t let her adopt my son. That “it hurt her deeply and was wrong.” Blah blah blah.

I answer, “How do you think I would have felt having to get rid of my baby? I would have been suicidal.”

Fast forward again –

My cousin has finally adopted the baby she always wanted. She is now having a baby shower, inviting everyone in my family (my aunt, cousins and step-grandma). They are all mad at me that I’m refusing to go and “celebrate this with her and her new baby.”

Back to the beginning, she says, “Knowing what I know about adoption, I’m now against this whole thing and because of what happened, it would just be way too personal.”

When one really begins to read what grown adoptees say for themselves about their experience of having been adopted and when one reads deeply some of the therapists that work with adoptees to heal their trauma, one understands why this young mother feels the way she feels. I belong to an adoption group with all aspects of the practice represented – adoptees, former foster youth, original mothers, adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents. This group works actively to encourage young pregnant women to keep and parent their child. Often they even supply resources for her to do so. Society should be actively trying to keep families together instead of tearing them apart. And there are reforms being promoted for dealing with the circumstances of the tragic few that have no family to go to.

What Causes The Trauma ?

A question was asked – what causes trauma in adoption ?  I think it is valid to ask about that.

One adoptee responded – The separation in itself is traumatic. Example: I was separated from my birth mom right after I was born. She didn’t even get to see me. Now I know when babies are born it takes time til they understand they are a separate person. They still believe that they are A PART of their mother. It’s like someone cutting off a part of your body. And you have no recollection of who or why. Wouldn’t that be traumatising for you?

Another adoptee shared that the trauma came from not being able to understand why the original parents, or at least the mother, didn’t try harder.  Often an adoptee interprets that to mean that somehow they were not good enough, not lovable, defective somehow.  Children especially cannot appreciate the complicated situations many adults must navigate and how they arrive at difficult decisions that may even leave them with a lifetime of sorrow.

This frequently leaves the adoptee believing as they mature that no one could ever love them. They explain it this way – if the person who was naturally supposed to love them the most, as their own flesh and blood, couldn’t find it in themselves to love their own child, then why would anyone else be able to love them ? The concept of love is broken for many adoptees. For many, it is the ultimate betrayal and cannot be explained as anything less than a profound abandonment.

Many adoptees are given the standard narrative that their mother loved them so much and didn’t think she could really give the child the best life and so, she surrendered her child to someone else to raise, believing that would give her child the best possible outcome.  And I think a lot of these mothers have become convinced one way or another that this is the truth of their situation.  I try not to judge.  But personally, I do find this sad.  It arises from a self-deprecating and poor self-esteem that is preyed upon by agencies and lawyers who make money when they can get a child released from their original family to allow a more wealthy couple to technically “buy” that child.  I realize that most adoptive parents do not see it as baby selling and buying.

There is trauma too in this narrative. This teaches an adoptee to equate love with abandonment and betrayal.  The effects can diminish the opportunity to have strong, stable and healthy relationships later in life.  Some will go through several failures (and one does not have to be adopted to have failed romantic relationships, some of it is learning what it is that one needs and what one can give to another person, including when and how to compromise) before they finally find a relationship that can help them heal from such misunderstandings.  Some sadly never heal.

The Basics of Adoption

Raising an adopted child is not the same as raising your biological children.  That is the first thing to understand.  I can just imagine my mom’s adoptive parents (a banker and a socialite) saying something like this – “If it were not for us, you would never have had the kind of life you’ve had. Just always remember that.”  And there is truth in that.  My mom would have grown up in abject poverty.  She was able to go to a university for a degree because of her parents’ wealth.  I was able to take a special summer session as a student at Claire College, Cambridge and see the country of England, thanks to my mom’s adoptive mother.

Different isn’t always better. Also, more money doesn’t always mean happier.  My mom had a difficult relationship with her adoptive mother who used a lure of money against her frequently.  I can see she used money to control my mom when that (to control my mom) was not truly possible.  I do know how blessed my adoptive grandmother felt to receive her two children.  But as my mom grew up that feeling seems to have mutated into something controlling and judgmental.

I will honestly admit, I am grateful I was not adopted. Though I didn’t know family beyond my parents, at least I knew who my parents were. I did not have the name I was given at birth taken away from me. I did not have to pretend to belong when I knew that I didn’t. I was not abused but no one ever tried to convince me I was special because they chose me for adoption. I did not feel abandoned or rejected. My parents believed in honesty and truth.

No one tries to make me feel better by telling me my life could have been worse.  Or that I would be dead if these people didn’t adopt me.  That’s putting a huge burden on a child to meet the adoptive parents’ expectations.

Adoptees suffer a primal wound by being separated from their original mother. Many have symptoms of PTSD. Many adoptive mothers never resolve their feelings of inadequacy due to not being able to conceive naturally. Adoptees are often overwhelmed by feelings that they need to search for their genetic lineage. As adults, adoptees often experience difficulties in achieving a successful romantic relationship.