Adoptees As Mothers: A Roundtable Discussion

Adoptees As Mothers: A Roundtable Discussion

Nutshell logoSince 1995 November has been National Adoption Month. In honor of the month I wanted to use the roundtable to talk about the experiences of adoptees as mothers. Participating in the roundtable are:

Rebecca Hawkes who was adopted as an infant and is a mom both by birth and by open foster-adoption. She writes at and is co-founder of

Gina Kohn, also adopted as an infant and mom to two daughters by birth who are now adults. (In the interest of full disclosure, Gina is also my cousin by birth. We are forever grateful to the internet, which has allowed us to have a relationship although we have never met. Gina reunited with her mother – my aunt – as an adult.)

Catie Mehl, adopted in a private closed adoption and now in reunion with both her birth parents. Catie has two stepdaughters and also has two children by birth. She is a Certified Birth Doula, birth doula trainer, certified childbirth educator and a certified lactation counselor. Catie also co-facilitates the All Adoption Group here in Columbus, Ohio with Kate Livingston and me. Catie’s web site is

Rebecca: For me, the biggest adoption trigger connected to my daughter’s birth happened when she was three weeks old, the age at which I joined my adoptive family. I looked down at her sleeping and thought of all the changes she had gone through already in those few weeks as well as how completely I had transformed into a mother in that same time period. It felt like a lifetime, and I was suddenly struck by the fact that these three weeks, so rich in my daughter’s life, were the missing weeks of my life. I have no idea who fed or held me during that time. I think it was the first time I ever processed that as a loss. I recognized that I had a pre-adoption history though the adoption institution was set up in such a way that no record of it was passed along to me. The period between birth and placement had been treated as trivial but I suddenly recognized that it wasn’t. And neither were the nine months prior to my birth.

Gina: Currently, as a mom, I am dealing with empty nest symptoms. My older daughter is attending college far away from home and my youngest is attending a local college so she still lives at home. I think my adoption issues are surfacing due to the separation that is occurring. Although it’s such a natural process and I know that, sadness wells up from a cellular level within me and I’m having some grief over it.

Rebecca: “Sadness wells up from a cellular level.” Yes, absolutely. That’s it exactly.

Gina: I feel bad that my adoption has affected my children (and it will for future generations) forever; I call it the trickledown effect of adoption. We have a small extended family but we did form many positive, loving friendships that gave us that familial feeling. I was determined to let my daughters blossom into their own unique, authentic selves. As a child I didn’t have that opportunity. (I’m still trying!!) I encouraged their individuality and talents to emerge naturally. Seeing them develop and become who they are has helped me on my continuing lifelong search for authenticity. I truly feel that my daughters have taught me more about life, than I have taught them. They are so dear to my heart and soul.

Rebecca: The one other thing I might add is that my entry into motherhood also affected my relationship with my adoptive mother. I’ve only just recently come to understand that our different styles are largely rooted in our distinct personalities. We are just very different people. I think it can be hard for adoptive parents of my parents’ generation to accept and embrace the ways that their adoptive children are different from them because they were led to believe that we were blank slates, which we weren’t—at all.

Catie: I second Rebecca. I found the exact same thing to be true for my adoptive mom and myself.

Rebecca: As an adoptee parenting an adoptee I need to remember that her experience of adoption is her own and will not necessarily be exactly like mine; nevertheless there are certainly times when I am aware that we understand things about each other, specifically because of the adoptee connection.

Gina: I felt guilty for being so happy about my pregnancy. I had to carefully navigate the eggshells I tiptoed on around my adoptive mom. The issues they each had with the loss of never having their own biological children were never dealt with an adoptive mom had a competitive and jealous spirit.

Catie: I spent my whole life not looking like anyone in my family. Even after reunion, my husband and other friends would say I don’t look that much like my birth family (but pictures of my mom when she was younger say otherwise). I remember when my son was born and he looked just like my husband, Jim, I felt so disappointed. And the same when my daughter Lydia was born. She looked like him, too, and I was sad all over again. All of my life I’ve wanted to look like someone and I gave birth to two great kids and still can’t say I have anyone who looks like me. I know that’s probably silly and little, but it hurts.

Gina: I think as adoptees, we have always been looking for that familiar face. I can understand how that would be hurtful and disappointing. I don’t think it’s silly at all.

Rebecca: For me, the grief began rising up in my twenties, overwhelming me on a couple of occasions, but I didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t know other adoptees, hadn’t read anything about adoptee grief, and didn’t have the Internet yet, so I didn’t understand what was happening to me. It was a very lonely time. These days I derive a lot of benefit from the online adoptee community. It’s a tremendous relief to interact with people who understand what I have experienced because they’ve lived it too.

Author’s Note: As an adoptive parent, hearing the voices, thoughts, experiences and opinions of adult adoptees has made me a better, more responsive parent. I am grateful to the participants for sharing their stories with me. I hope other adult adoptees as well as other adoption constellation members—birth family members, adoptive family members—will feel free to comment with their thoughts.

Art by Michael Lombardo

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