The Power of Words
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The Power of Words

My Mother Didn’t Want Me.

My Mother Couldn’t Keep Me.

Sit with those two sentences. Feel the differences implied by their words. In one, you are rejected and abandoned. Discarded. Given away, never to be thought of again.

The other gives a different view. Being unable to keep something means it wasn’t your choice. That you were an innocent in a set of circumstances that were beyond your mother’s control.

When adoptees, either children or adults, utter the first line above to describe their situation, “My mother didn’t want me,” I always silently cringe. Because the truth is that unless you have met your birth mother and heard her story, you cannot possibly know that. Maybe it is true. Maybe she never wanted children, never had them, and already knew at a young age she did not want ever to be a mom or parent a child. In that case, her relinquishment is not only a blessing, but it would have been a curse for you to be trapped with her.

What we want as human beings, and as women, changes during the course of our lives – this is true for all of us. Parenting is a challenge no matter what your level of maturity or financial stability. What your partner wants for their life, and the strength of that bond all influence the timing of when is the right time to become a parent. To want to be a mother. A young woman may not want to be a parent when she cannot support that child, but then want to mother later in life when her circumstances have changed.

But here’s the thing – that’s on her. It may not seem fair to an adoptee feeling the effects of that primal separation, but the point is that we don’t need to take in those words of ‘not being wanted’ and make them our identity.

This is not a judgment of birth mothers. Their circumstances and reasons for relinquishing their children are varied and complex. In my experience with the birth mothers I know, they are at least, if not more, fearful of the rejection of their adult adopted children as adoptees are of feeling the same from them.

Another hard truth with this is that no one should be forced to become a parent who does not wish to be. The job is too hard.

If you remember Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray Love, she leaves her husband because she realizes that even with their many years of marriage and plans to start a family – she does not want to be a parent. Famously in one chapter of her story, she discusses these doubts with her sister, who wisely says to her, that “having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.”

Elizabeth is not a devil for her admission. She is honest enough to recognize this should not be her path and harm another while she complies with those prior ideals and commitments. Because a parent who does not want to be one will most likely harm their child emotionally, at least in some way.

I identify with the author because I have also chosen not to become a mother. My husband of over thirty years feels the same. And while I have moments where the now-grown children of my friends make me wistful for a different path, for the overwhelming majority of the time, I’m happy with ours.

But sit with this again – why should any adopted child take on those feelings of rejection from their birth mother? Do we understand how backward that is? Especially so, if it isn’t even the truth.

When an adopted person says, their mother didn’t want them, at whatever their age they say it – they are taking on those emotions that their mother may, or may not, have about being a parent, and internalizing them as an indictment of their being born and placed for adoption.

Words matter and they have power. To my fellow adoptees, I say – keep your power. Own your words and choose them carefully – you deserve that.

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  • Ugh, this was so hard for me, especially when I was young, because people would actually TELL ME THIS thinking it would make me feel better to be with parents who wanted me so much, they went out and got me. The 1970s were an awkward period in adoption history. People were just starting to realize that maybe closed adoption wasn’t ideal.

    This “wanting/didn’t want” also reared its head with the birth of my first child. As I looked at the first biologically related member of my family I had a relationship with, I wondered how my bio mom could’ve walked out of the hospital without me. It messed me up for a while.

    • Thank you for sharing! It’s a hard and messy concept to be sure. I don’t know if any of us can stand in their shoes without having lived their experience. Wishes for continued healing for all of us.