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Adoption Blog: My Paperwork Pregnancies

Why Would My Daughter Change Her Adoption Story?

Recently, my 5-year-old daughter, Irena, sat her two younger cousins down to talk to them, using her "teacher voice" as she spoke. Her cousins, ages 3 and 4, hung on her every word.

"OK, your Auntie Dani is my mother," Irena began. "I am her daughter. But I didn't come from her belly. I came from my birthmother who is now dead. She died when I was a baby so my mom adopted me." Her cousins nodded their heads in agreement while I, in the other room listening, was shaking my head in disbelief.

Irena's birthmother is not dead. I had no clue why she was telling her cousins this story and immediately wondered how many others she had told the same account. I'm guessing that anyone who has heard her say it probably had the same reaction as her cousins: Shock and wonderment. It does make for an intense adoption story.

I have told Irena her adoption story numerous times. She has told it back to me over and over in precise detail. She can do the same for her two brothers' adoption stories, too. So why the new twist?

The next morning I asked her, “When you were telling your cousins about your adoption, why did you say that your birthmother died?”

She looked at me like I had two heads and responded, “Duh! I've never seen her or spoken to her, so she must be dead!”

Wow. I had forgotten how black and white the world is through the eyes of a 5-year-old. If something is not good, then it's bad. If someone is not around, then she must be dead.

I reminded Irena of the pictures of her birthmother I had shown her—proof that her birthmother was still alive and well. Her response? “So? I still haven't seen her in real life.”

So now I'm in a bind. Though I've tried my best to explain the complexity of our open adoption—we share information about our family with the birthmother, write letters, and send pictures, have received basic information about the birthmother, and spoke with her at Irena's birth and once a few years later via a lovely phone call—to Irena, her strong-willed nature has her convinced that her version of the story still sounds right.

I will stress in my annual letter to Irena's birthmother that she please write us, as I have done previously to no avail. This time though Irena desperately needs some current information directly from her. I hope that if Irena sees our mailman deliver a letter with pictures from her birthmother, then maybe she'll admit that the story—our adoption story—I've been telling her for her whole life is right. But I won't hold my breath.

This is not what I pictured when I pursued an open adoption. I thought I'd have information and answers at my fingertips for my children (all of whom have open adoptions) should they ever ask anything about their adoption or birthfamily.

I know that I am lucky to have any information about her birthmother at all—I do feel truly blessed for that—however, I wish there were more. As my daughter is getting older, the deep and sometimes troubling thoughts she has about her adoption and the way she's chosen to voice them with this new version of her adoption story worry me. How can I tell her she's wrong when the sentiment of what she's said is so similar to how I feel?

For now, I'll continue checking the mailbox after I send my annual birthmother letter in hopes of a letter back. Maybe then I can regain some faith in the concept of an open adoption.

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Very interesting post. I am a contributor on the website where the readers share stories of their families. We are an alternative family website with adoption stories, IVF, 2 dads, 2 moms and single parents. I know the readers would love your story. Can you check us out and comment and leave your blog link at the bottom of your comments? Then if you like the site please alert your readers to it. Your daughter is certainly feeling her way through her adoption. I like her thinking. It works for her.

By Madgew on Monday, November 22, 2010 at 8:44 pm.

Danielle, I think this is her way of coping with the complexity of the situation for now. Developmentally, she may “need” her first mother to be “dead” at this stage of life to feel permanent where she is. It’s hard to explain what I mean in a quick comment, but her response is not unusual. Also, I think a cut-and-dried story helps head off complex questions that she may not be prepared to answer—your daughter may feel this intuitively even at a young age.

By Sharon Van Epps on Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 9:47 am.

Danielle,  I facilitate groups for adopted youngsters throughout the USA, Canada, and Australia, and have been doing so for many years.  I am also an adoptive mother to 5 sons and daughters (and 3 who were born to me), many of whom are now adults. 

Your daughter’s description of how it feels to her BECAUSE there is no lived-experience with her birth mother, coupled with the fact that she is grappling with dual loyalty and wanting to secure her connection to you explains why she told the story in that way.  As her cognitive development expands, and her ability to straddle the fact that she is connected to two families grows, the way she tells her narrative will change and be more similar to how you would tell the story to and with her. 

For now, I hope that you will feel blessed by having had the opportunity to overhear her tell her version of the story of herself, because it gave you the opportunity to have the conversation you had with her, and monitor her unfolding understanding of what it means to have 2 families, one of which she’s never met firsthand.  I would encourage you to focus on the feelings that underly whatever stories or theories she verballizes, as that will help her to feel understood, validated, and loved, so that she continues to try to express those feelings to you.  Young children often struggle to find the words to express how they feel, what they are wondering about, and how they are developing beliefs about themselves and their valuation or devaluation of themselves.  Helping them to connect with and then express their feelings empowers them to keep working to communicate with you—their parent. 

Please know, too, that you are doing a very good job in parenting her .  That is evident in the way she trusts you TO listen to her version of her story, when you initiated the discussion with her.  Keep talking!  Its the best way to help her gain deeper understanding of her past, so that she can connect that to who she is becoming. 

Jane A. Brown, MSW

By Jane Brown on Wednesday, December 01, 2010 at 9:28 pm.

Danielle,  just a quick note to say that my daughter,adopted from China, also maintained that her birthmother was dead at about the same age. I think it is more a developmental stage than lying, per se. We too had talked for years about her adoption story but…..  I con tined to say that it was most likely that her birthparents were alive.  Over time her understanding evolved…. But clearly it is so complex for a child to really understand adoption….

By SusanC on Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 5:28 am.

Thanks to all of you for your advice and comments.  It really helps to have somewhere to get advice for parenting through adoption.  Yes, there are lots of books out there but I can’t read them all in addition to just “normal” parenting books!

I am glad that I overheard my daughter tell this story because I assumed she understood adoption as perfectly as her older brother.  I shouldn’t compare them but it’s hard not to at times.

I’ll keep working on this and hopefully soon we’ll both work through this.

By Danielle Pennel on Thursday, December 02, 2010 at 10:56 pm.

This is an amazing story and reaction from mom.We never quite know what our children are “getting”.  It seems to me that you are open and encouragging to your daughter.  Lucky her, lucky you!

By Diane Stevens Pennel on Tuesday, December 07, 2010 at 7:42 pm.

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Danielle Pennel

Danielle Pennel


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