Missing His First Mom

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Little Man asked, “Mom, when will you take me to Ethiopia to see my mom?”

“I don’t know, but we want to take you some day.”

“Okay, I miss her. I want to go back and live with her.”    

I’ll admit, it pained my heart just a little, but I’m pretty certain this means we’re doing a good job of loving our son, honoring his Ethiopian mom, and promoting secure attachment. He feels safe enough to tell me that he wants to go live with his mom in Ethiopia. This wasn’t said with high emotion or with intention to hurt, it was simply what he was feeling in that moment, and he knew he could tell me.

Little Man became our son when he was just under five months old, and sometimes he still misses his first mom. He worries about her because we only hear from her on rare occasions. It’s been over two years since her last email and I worry about her too – wondering if she is still alive, if she is safe, if she is well.

There is a deep bond between a child and his first mother and I want to honor that with all of my children who came to me through adoption. Being a birthmom myself gives me unique insight into this complex relationship. My oldest son and I have stayed in touch over many years of an imperfect reunion. There is no such thing as forgetting and moving on.

My questions to you: Do your children talk about their birth families? How do you support them? How do you deal with your own emotions?

This is emotionally complex stuff and we would do well to support and encourage one another.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

30 Comments

  1. TomandKarla Marie Williams
    July 10, 2014

    I have 6 babies via foster adoption. 2 sib sets of 3! We have recently reconnected with one of the sets mom through notes and pictures. Hoping to have her in their life as they grow. It breaks my heart that I have not been able to make contact for my other 3 babies who want that same relationship that their sibs have. Still searching and praying for a connection for them.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      What a gift to your children to have reconnected. I understand that sadness over some having contact and others not.

      Reply
  2. TomandKarla Marie Williams
    July 10, 2014

    Also, all my children regularly talk about their birth families. Life before us that they can remember and some fantasy that they wish were true. We honor it all, listen, ask questions. They even compare stories with eachother. Only 1 of our children was actually in their mommy's care long enough to have memories…..when she talks, I see the longing in my other 5 kid's faces. We encourage them to share their feelings of sadness, pain, happiness and anything else as they feel the need. We have made a promise to them that we will do everything in our power to help them reconnect when and if they are ready. I cannot replace their moms, I can only be who God called me to be in their lives right now. I have a love for their mothers that I cannot even explain.

    Reply
  3. Heidi
    July 10, 2014

    My three do talk about their birth mom quite frequently and vacillate between wanting to protect her image, make her Mother's Day cards, and also stating quite emphatically that she is, "not a good person." – something they declared on their own.

    I remember hearing in a session at ReFresh (or maybe reading in a book somewhere) that if you can't think of (or know any) "positive" aspect of a birth parent, you can always play on the fact that that parent gave the child life. I do this frequently when the children bring up their bio mom and the "not so great" things she's done or her drug problems. I usually affirm what they are saying and then circle around to the positive. Example: "You're right, your mom is sick and used drugs and they affected her ability to care for you. One great thing; however, is that she gave you life and we can celebrate that." This always seems to calm their troubled hearts.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      That is beautiful, Heidi. Thanks for suggesting that – I believe Jennifer Anderson taught that in her session and telling your children their story.

      Reply
  4. scoopy
    July 10, 2014

    I just wrote a post about it. My kids are allowed to call their mom as often as they want. I believe in 100% open adoption when possible (even from Ethiopia), and I do not interfere except to support, encourage and be there when there are bumps in communication.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      I wish we had a way to connect with Little Man's first mom. We just have to wait to hear from her. I love that you've been able to have such great openness.

      Reply
  5. Jenni
    July 10, 2014

    So thankful this topic has come up. My son just asked to see pictures of his birth mother for the first time. He's 3 1/2 and was placed in our family at 14 days. As we looked at them, he said, "She's beautiful!" and "We love her, right?" Oh, yes, she IS beautiful (he has her amazing eyes!) and we DO love her! I pray for wisdom for the conversations that lie ahead. Thanks again for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      That is precious, Jenni. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous
    July 10, 2014

    This was encouraging to read. My little D is 5yo and been asking about his first mom since he was 3. We've had him since he was 3 days old. Unfortunately we have no contact with her and have been encouraged not to. Recently for the first time he said he wished he lived with her. It was hard to hear and honestly later that day I cried to my friend, but he said it in a caring way. He wasn't being hurtful. I never thought of it as us doing our job right so thank you for pointing that out.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      Be encouraged, you must be giving him an example of love. And it's still okay to cry.

      Reply
  7. Bethany Mullen
    July 10, 2014

    We recently adopted a 5 and 6 year old from the state foster care system. They both immediately began asking questions about their birth mom as they did not remember her. We have followed their lead in answering questions. They wanted to know her name first and then we showed them a picture of her. We talk about their biological family frequently and pray for their family, especially a biological brother they were close to but no longer have contact with. They both at different times have said they want to live with them when they grow up and to be honest I don't feel sad about that. I feel sad with them that they are not able to stay with their biological mother as she is a huge part of who they are just by the birth process. We try to be as open as possible when they ask question and as they get older we may provide more detail as to why they can't live with them. For now they are satisfied with the basic "They were not able to feed you or keep you safe" answer.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      You're handling it beautifully, Bethany. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  8. michele
    July 10, 2014

    Our daughter from China has no contact with her birth parents who abandoned her at birth. She sometimes talks about her foster parents where she lived off and on from birth thru age 9. She has mixed emotions about them. We believe they might have been rather harsh with their foster children. Today, at age 16, she does not want to go back to visit China.

    We have contact with our sons birth mother in Ethiopia. They came home at age 11 mo and 3yrs. There was a period of time of two years where we had trouble finding her and that was very hard on our elder son who worried constantly about her. Since finding her again, it has eased those worries and allowed us to talk about her in casual conversation without tears. Knowing that she is a Christian, she has food and shelter has done so much to make them more at ease. We talk about her and pray for her. The boys comments can sometimes sting my heart ~ the comments are never in anger or high emotion ~ just a longing to be with her, so I am also encouraged by their openness to share their feelings.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      What a gift to have found her and have contact. I'm so thankful for the ability to the contact with have with our kids' extended families.

      Reply
  9. holdingtomorrow
    July 10, 2014

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope that when we add to our family through adoption that I can remember that I too would like to live near/be with all the people that I love.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      You're already on the right track. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  10. Mary
    July 10, 2014

    I didn't know until today that you are a birthmom yourself. I went back and read those posts. Thank you for sharing your story of redemption.

    My mom had a baby at age 15 who she placed for adoption. She and my dad became foster parents when I was 4, which they continued for 20 years and resulted in the adoption of 2 of my siblings. Mom and my older sister were reunited when D was 24. They worked with a mediator through the adoption agency, which I think it was a great thing because each of them had a chance to process the emotions with a neutral party.

    Now I am a mom by adoption to a 16-year old, adopted through foster care. He does not have or currently want contact with his birthmom. His birthdad has passed away. Recently, though, he established contact with his older siblings. I know that many of them are involved in some of the same things that resulted in him being placed for adoption in the first place. We are separated by 400 miles but are going to be in their area next week to visit family, so there will likely be a face to face meeting. It is hard for me to know what to say and do in this. I want to protect him from all of the disappointment that could result from unmet expectations. I want to protect him from all of the things that led to him being separated from them in the first place. I also want him to have those connections that are missing in his life. I want him to know/see/feel that he wasn't forgotten.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      I hope the visit next week will bring some healing and answer questions for your son. This is incredibly complex stuff – you are courageous. Many blessings to you.

      Reply
  11. Angela
    July 10, 2014

    There is so much focus on bonding and attachment with our adoptive child. I feel sometimes I get a little overprotective even of my 2 adopted children. I love what you said about Little Man! Yes, you must be doing a great job if he can trust you and feel safe enough to share those hard feelings with you! Bravo and yet, I know the hurt you would naturally feel….. I am finding out more and more how hard it is being an adoptive parent!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 10, 2014

      I hear you, Angela. This is complex parenting – with sweet rewards.

      Reply
  12. Melissa B
    July 10, 2014

    We've been talking about this in our house this week. My son, who was adopted from the foster system at age 6, still sometimes calls his foster dad and foster brother. Not as often as we probably should, but occasionally, and I think it's a helpful link to his past. My daughter came home from Liberia as a baby and wishes she could call her birth mom. She was feeling kind of sad yesterday that I had told her I don't know any way to find her birth mother. I ended up suggesting she write a letter to her, and tell her about her life now, and her mom and dad and brothers and sisters and all the things she likes to do, etc. I said we could send it to the orphanage she lived in and ask if they knew how to give it to her birth mom, and if not, all those ladies who loved her before we did would probably love to see what she's up to. She was super excited at the idea. I'm not sure she'll even do it, I think it was just a big relief to her that she might be able to have some link with that part of her life, similar to how her brother has a link. For now that knowledge was enough for her. It's interesting to me how much more she thinks about it than our adopted son, even though he was so much older when he came home. Adopting a baby certainly doesn't take away the transitions and loss they might go through as they get older. I hope I'm finding an ok balance between encouraging her to be thankful for the family God placed her in, and validating her desire for a link to the life she first lived.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 11, 2014

      It sounds like you're doing great, Melissa. I like the idea of sending a letter to the orphanage.

      Reply
  13. Tara Bradford
    July 11, 2014

    One of the things we intentionally spoke to our children regarding their birth mom was that they could say anything they wanted about her and we would not feel like they love us less. By giving them that reassurance and permission to talk about her while also not making statements that reject their feelings or make it about "me", has given them a felt safety where they bring up questions and feelings as they think/feel them.

    Our children have a gnawing question about where their birthmom is and we have held their hand through this process of wanting to return to their birth country to have resolution. What's saddened me is the immense guilt and sense of being responsibility they feel for her well-being. It's been extremely tricky navigating the road of returning to the birth country with our 18yo who would return by herself if she could. We've certainly not been without mistake in this process but I am certain being intentional and persistent in conversation to move through the process together has been binding for all of us.

    Hope you are all doing well! Would love to chat with you sometime 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 11, 2014

      Those are great thoughts, Tara. Thanks so much.

      Reply
  14. Laurel
    July 11, 2014

    My son and I had a similar conversation just the other day where he told me he was sad because he missed his birthparents and he wished he could live with them. I also was encouraged through that conversation that I am doing something right. My job is to make sure my kids know they can feel those things and they can talk about them with me. I have to remind myself that that is success. The fact that my son felt comfortable sharing those feelings with me means I'm doing a good job. It does pain the heart a little bit to hear it, but overall it means our children feel safe expressing their complex emotions and desires with us! Like you said, it is completely natural for our adopted children to miss their birthparents. That's not something we have to fear as adoptive parents.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 11, 2014

      I'm glad you recognized that you're doing great letting your son communicate. It's so important to listen and not expect them to stuff their feelings down for fear of our reaction.

      Reply
  15. Krissy
    July 13, 2014

    Lisa,

    You are such a strength to me. I was also 15 years old when I got pregnant. It was a very scary situation. I too placed my baby for adoption. It's been 6 years now and I still miss her every single day. While our adoption is open, I haven't seen her in 3 years. I hope that when she grows older she will understand why I placed her for adoption. I hope that one day I will be able to get over the pain of losing my mom. I know she is being given the life she deserves and I'm able to attend college, but it still hurts so much. Do you attend birth mother support groups?

    Reply
  16. sciencedino
    July 15, 2014

    Our 10yo foster son entered the system when his mother passed away 3.5 years ago. He loved her, despite her many parental shortcomings. And he misses her. He also misses his three siblings, two of whom he no longer is in contact with. It's hard to watch – I can't imagine how hard it is to live. But we try to assure him that it's OK to love his mom, it's ok to talk about her, it's ok to talk about his siblings and that we delight in helping him maintain a relationship with his oldest sister, with whom he still has contact.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 16, 2014

      I love that you are encouraging him to talk to you, grieve safely with you, and the way you are supporting his relationship with his sister. That’s beautiful.

      Reply

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