Ask AF: Doesn't Our Child Have a Right to Know About Her Birth Mother?

We have a closed adoption, per our child’s birth mother’s request. How can I ever tell my child that I know who her birth mother is, but can’t share that information?

Q: We have a closed adoption, per our daughter’s birth mother’s request. A few weeks ago, she emailed me for only the second time in eight years—and it was to make her original non-contact statement even more strict. She asks that we tell our child nothing about her, and even wants to keep her name a secret. As much as we want to respect her wishes, I feel a responsibility to our child. How can I ever tell her that I know who her birth mother is, but can’t share that information? How should I handle this situation?

A: First of all, thank you for this incredibly difficult and thought-provoking question. I appreciate your willingness to reach out and ask. There are some who might see this as a “golden ticket” opportunity, believing that it gives them a free pass to be the “only” mother to their child.

My heart goes out to the biological mother. She has every right to make that request and, as a birth mother myself, I totally get her mindset. I maintained silence in my adoption for years and even sent a letter requesting that my child’s parents not contact me. But that changed and we have worked out an amazing open adoption, and I am so glad that we did. I know that will not be the case for everyone. One thing that I think is important to remember is that this is a request. When a woman terminates her rights, she is not in a position to make demands. Yes, I understand that we want to honor her and love her well, but this is 100% about the adopted person. The child has the right to know where she came from and what that journey looked like for her. I also believe that you can share your child’s story with and still honor her birth mother’s request for anonymity—for instance, by telling your child everything you know about her birth mother except for her name.

Raising a child in a closed adoption won’t be easy and you have to be prepared and accept the fact that there will be questions you won’t have answers to, but that is OK. Don’t pretend to know, just share in your child’s questions and be a support where you can. Even if your child’s birth mother can’t be present in your lives, she still exists. And always remember that your child’s thoughts and opinions about her biological mother will have a great deal to do with how you speak about her.

—ASHLEY MITCHELL,
owner of Lifetime Healing, set out to seek increased care, understanding, and resources for birth mothers. For almost a decade, Ashley has been one of the most consistent and sought after birth mother voices in the nation. Well known for her vulnerability and transparency in adoption, her story has touched the hearts of countless members of the adoption community. Learn more at lifetimehealingadoption.com and bigtoughgirl.com.
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