When Mothers Defend Their Right to Stay Unhealed


Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, wrote an amazing post this past week at Adoption VoicesMagazine that had me dancing around the room.

At the same time, the post had some mother's panties in a bunch.

If you haven’t read, “Birthmothers and the Responsibility to Heal,” you might want to exit out of here right now and go read it. 

And comment on it.
It’s that important.

Ready, set, go!

Leave this blog, comment, go potty, get a cup of coffee, and come back and cozy up with me. I don't bite. At least not on Wednesdays.

Okay, now that you’re back…

I don't even know where to start in sharing what I adore about Karen's post. I like this post so much, I ate it for breakfast, shredded on top of my oatmeal this morning. Super good, people. 


Photo Credit: Megyarsh, Flickr


 Caffrey says:


“ I believe every birth mother has the responsibility to heal whatever trauma she has experienced as a result of her pregnancy and relinquishment of her child.  Even if the pregnancy was forced.  Even if the relinquishment was forced.
 She is responsible to heal enough of her trauma that she can tolerate the experience of her adult offspring learning her identity.

(And tolerate whatever feelings she would experience if she chose to tell/inform her adult offspring that she did not want contact with him/her.) 

Whoa. I am guessing this may strike some people as heartless and judgmental.  But please hear me out. First, be assured that I am not singling out birth mothers (or fathers) for having this responsibility.  In fact, I believe that every single one of us is responsible for healing our trauma, and for our impact on others when we fail to do so.”


Why I danced

If you’ve been reading my blog more than a few days, you already know why this post had me dancing.  I did a conga line around the room, all by myself.


The truth is that nobody is exempt from the responsibility to heal no matter what they have been through.

Hurting people hurt people, and when we refuse to heal, the negative impact of that choice is incalculable.

The impact of my mother's unhealed trauma on me is one of the reasons I did whatever it took to pursue help for myself, so my kids never had to face the ramifications of an unhealed mother.

I wanted to be whole -- first, for me. Because I’m worth it.

And second, I wanted to be healed because my husband, my kids,  and everyone my life touches are worth it.


Even though it wasn't readily available.
Even though I had to go through a frustrating search to find it.
Even though it wasn't convenient.
Event thought I didn't think I could afford it.

I pressed forward even when it meant a frustrating pursuit for a therapist who understood complex adoption trauma, complicated grief and significant loss.

In her post, Caffrey goes on to say:


“My heart bleeds, and opens, and holds my sisters in compassion.  But I tell you, you are responsible to others for healing these hurts. I believe I have come honestly by my opinion that birth mothers are responsible to heal their pain.  And I believe those who would “protect” them from feeling their pain are misguided in their understanding of personal responsibility.  I do not believe it is okay to say twenty, thirty or forty years later, “I don’t want to think about it”, or “I don’t want to feel anything about it”.  Not when another person’s identity, heritage, medical history or humanity is at stake. The price of a birth mother keeping her pain locked in the closet is being paid by another human being, by the adoptee.  And just like all the rest of us, her responsibility is to heal. “

Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it.

I know the pain of having natural family members rally around to “protect” my mother from having to deal with her unhealed self. And I saw first-hand how misguided their understanding was. Their efforts may have been well intentioned, but proved devastating.

She passed away this past summer, having never healed. 

For all the "resting in peace" people speak of, she did not die at peace. Moments before she passed on, the nurse came in to check on her and prepare her medications and said, "She has so much anxiety." 

It saddened me...yes. 
Surprised me... no.

I also paid the price for her refusal to heal.. with my identity, heritage, medical history and so much more.

Some days I still wake up and say, “Did this really happen?” Reality is hard to digest sometimes, no matter how many days you've received your daily dose of it.

Just so you know...

I am crazy about first mothers. First moms have been a H-U-G-E- part of my journey to wholeness.  They are the jelly on my biscuit. The gravy on my mashed potatoes.  When I was banging my head on the dashboard of the car, having a meltdown, so many first moms wrapped their arms around me, as individuals and as a community. First moms are my dear friends. They've helped me understand, and heal, and together we work side by side for adoption reform. Some first moms are even helping me search for Mr. Greek. Part of the reason these moms were able to reach out and love me, and give of themselves is that they went to the hard places and faced their pain -- a decision that empowers them to now help others. 

The decision I made 

My response to my first mother never healing has entailed a myriad of choices, perhaps none greater than running after wholeness with my entire being. 

Regarding my children, I say, “It stops here.” It will not go on for another generation, this refusing to deal with pain. The carrying on of the lies, the secrets and the unhealed pain ENDS HERE.

We will go there.
We will deal with feelings and not stuff them down.
We will not make excuses.
We will do what it takes.
We will pursue - no matter the cost, for this generation and future generations.

Arguing the right to NOT heal

I am saddened by the reactions of some mothers, to Karen’s post. They were vehemently arguing their right to NOT HEAL, or assuming they couldn't heal.


“You don’t know what we’ve been through…”

“We are treated like second class citizens…” 

“We have a right to not ‘go there’ again if we don’t want to.’”

“Treatment isn’t easily found or provided for us.” 

Okay so...

We all have the freedom to say no to healing.
And, what is the opposite of healing?
It is sickness.

When we argue our right to say no to healing, we argue our right to be sick.

It's kind of sick to argue your right to be sick. Just sayin'.

Arguing the right to NOT heal is an old argument...

The mothers who defended their right to stay unhealed reminds me of the story of the lame man in John 5 of the Bible.


“Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”  Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” John 5:1-8


This man was sick for thirty eight years. 

Clearly, he was dealing with long-term, debilitating pain. And, he had a choice to stay sick, or pursue wellness. Instead of pursuing wellness, he made excuses. For thirty eight years.

He lamented that no one was available to put him in the pool.
He complained that somebody always got there ahead of him.

Jesus cut through his excuses and asked, “Would you like to get well?”

A question still relevant today...

No matter who we are, Jesus is still asking  each one of us, “Would you like to get well?”

Sadly, some will defiantly say, “NO!” and defend their right to stay sick.

First mother, adoptee, human being, whosoever...there is help for your pain. 

As Karen so brilliantly says, it's not about "getting over it," it's about "getting into it." 

I encourage you, get into it. 

Run after help.
Real help.

Not"trying it on your own" for 30 years.
Not just reading a self-help book.
Not watching Dr. Phil. (God forbid. Gag me with a packet of koolaid.)
Not quoting a cliche.
Not just talking to your best girlfriend or your sister.

When it comes to something that involves complex trauma, significant loss and grief, God has  provided professionals to help us.

Run after real help like your life depends on it -- because it really does.

You're worth it.