top of page
  • Writer's pictureMary Ellen Gambutti

Mother's Day in the Adoptee Community: Our Joys and Sorrows

Mother's Day is rife with emotional triggers for us in the adoptee community. As shown by our social media posts this week, we have experienced the heart-rending swirl of trauma, forms of abuse, loss, and bereavement, mingled with a sense of failure, inadequacy, regret, and shame. We may have known the joy; the thrill of discovery, just as often as we have encountered sorrow and grief, when reunion is thwarted by death or unwillingness. These are human emotions which we must be generous in allowing ourselves, while accepting help when we need it.

white tree flowers Apple
Apple Blossoms

Thank you for stopping by my blog today. I'm happy you have found your way to my website via social media, an email, or through one of my books. (Yay!) Whether you are an adult adopted person, a mother of loss, an adoptive parent -- perhaps each of these attributes apply to you -- I hope you'll find value here as well as my past posts. If you are exploring adoption to grow a family, please know I can't offer advice, only point out what has become widely understood; that the institution of Adoption -- domestic and inter-country -- is fraught with fraud, corruption, and unjust treatment of children, and that the toll on adoptees' mental health is well-documented. Adoptees United is my go-to source for legislative updates, and I urge you to support them.


I was born at the start of the post-World War II Baby Scoop Era in 1951 in South Carolina, where there were numerous military installations. I was adopted a year later by an Air Force couple. I'm the mother of a fine woman, herself a mother of two. I wrote my memoir, I Must Have Wandered: An Adopted Air Force Daughter Recalls, a hybrid of letters, (epistolary), lyrical prose, vignettes, and images, to capture my complex emotions, and, in so doing, my views about adoptees' rights to our identity.

I want to hold space for your mix of memories, dear reader, amid the often crass commercialization of Sunday's celebration. I honor your sentiments, while I offer my maternal relationships in this simple collection of snapshots.

Letter to Mom’s Memory is an excerpt from my memoir in which I tell the woman who raised what I couldn't when she was living. Over the twenty-seven years my adoptive family lived in California, our cards, letters, and eventually, e-mails connected us. I brought her and her mother, my Nana, back to their birth state, Pennsylvania. Nana died at 98. Mom died at 97.

Dear Mom,

I feel sure all the Air Force moves and Dad’s transitions were hard for you, Mom. I only remember seeing you cry once or twice. Once, when Dad returned from Iceland, he was yelling at you for not getting rid of things you had saved. You were weeping for your lost memories, for the many things you had already left behind in moves. My four-year-old self felt sad for you as I peered around your bedroom door.

There must have been heartache over many losses, foremost, the loss of biological motherhood and mourning the child you couldn’t have. You might have suffered from regret around your choice to adopt an unknown child to make the family you and Dad otherwise would not have had. Although we never spoke about it directly, it was palpable to me.

We both had our strengths and weaknesses. We are not mirrors of each other. I studied every move you made, particularly as a young child. You were my world, though so different physically and in manner. When I was a teen, our physical differences became more apparent, pronounced. My identity confusion sharpened. I was nothing like you, a fact you pointed out to me. You sometimes said you wished you weren’t well endowed. At your worst, you sometimes mocked me pointing out my gawkiness and lack of grace. Your intent, you inferred, was to see me improve. Did you resent me?

You wanted to toughen me up. “It’s just your imagination!” and “Don’t be so sensitive.” When I trembled in a panic—a panic that would recur into my thirties—especially with the fear of getting sick, the episodes could come on like catastrophe. You seemed to ignore symptoms of anxiety and later depression. I wish you had been able to soothe and allay my anxieties. I don’t think you meant to be cruel when you said like a prophecy that sounded like a curse, “You’ll never be happy!”

I needed your friendship, and when there were no friends or family to be found, I missed those you missed. You took me on errands when Dad wasn’t around. Shopping, playing a card game on the floor, taking a ride in the Louisiana countryside. Those were the childhood days I loved you most. I always loved you, Mom, but if you were affectionate, I rarely saw it. I saw your dutifulness, your busyness.

You said, “Actions speak louder than words.” I don’t remember the words “I love you” until your final years. Through my childhood, you showed your love by sewing my clothes, braiding and curling my hair, keeping me well fed, and keeping house wherever we landed. It was all about practicality: your nurse’s training, I think. You were a talented seamstress but never had the time to teach me. You hated to cook and avoided it when we were with Nana since she didn’t seem to mind the kitchen. You avoided the garden too, unlike Nana and me who were comfortable around plants and found our solace there. You and I spent many hours alone, together... I wanted to nurture you in your old age. I felt a strong sense of duty and compassion toward you — I wanted to show my gratitude.

Yours affectionately, Mary Ellen

Agnes Caffrey


My blog guest today is Lorraine Wheeler, fellow adoptee and an adoptive parent.

Thank you, Lorraine, for your generous and compassionate contribution.

Welcome to the World of Adoption Grief

If you are an adoptee, you will already be somewhat acquainted with the concept of grief. Many of us have read and re-read The Primal Wound. We understand intellectually what happened to us when we were abandoned at birth. The lifelong challenge we face is how we cope with that feeling of grief- that emotional scar that lives on in our soul.

Yes, we can say that we have healed our grief by reading some books, attending workshops, conferences, or therapy. Much of our “healing work” is done with our heads, while our hearts continue to carry the sadness of our adoption wound. As we progress in our journey through our lives we develop coping skills and resilience. We develop systems of support to aid in our healing. Life is unpredictable and sometimes rather chaotic causing us more anguish. Somedays it is simply too overwhelming to sit back and process our feelings of sadness and remorse. However, loss and grief can become gifts we will encounter along our way.

We may turn to alcohol, food, or overwork to distract ourselves from the intensity of our pain. This foundation of sadness rests quietly in our souls as additional losses pile on. Over time the weight of our grief becomes cumulative, and we may begin to build up barriers or walls to manage our sanity and protect ourselves from feelings of overwhelming loss.

For adoptees cumulative grief may also be mixed with complicated grief as we lose family members, close friends, or even whole communities. As the grief piles on we can experience a chain reaction within our bodies. The primal wound we carry and the pain we experience from normal everyday loss in our daily life can cause spark further responses in our psyche. These reactions can become difficult to untangle."

The many threads of our losses can be viewed as a cape of many colors woven of many tangled threads. We accumulate these threads through something I call our personal garden of knowledge or hall of records. As we learn to grieve and accept life’s losses, its sorrows and its joys, we acquire a basket of yarn that we need to construct our cape. The pattern we weave is unique. No one else has this pattern. The intricacy of the design is ours alone.

Allowing ourselves to feel pain and mourn the losses is the basis for the healing work we need to do. However, it is not a one-shot deal. Life’s losses hit us unexpectedly and pile on that firm foundation. Our walls may be rigid. If we can express our emotional pain we can begin to crack that foundation. We will have found a way to let the light in. Sunlight is a great healer. With enough of it our wound becomes smaller and smaller as we grow larger and larger.

Our cape of many colors becomes our badge of courage. When we choose to wear our cape proudly, we can begin to accept that our foundation of grief- given to us freely at birth is the basis for creating a life of meaning. Finding meaning in our adoption story is like a get out of jail free card. Freed of guilt and the burden we carry we release the energy needed to move forward, forge a new path, a new story and a fuller life.

We can create rituals like honoring our adoption day or birthparents birthdays. We can begin to establish a legacy for those coming after us that offers hope and healing for all adoptees by writing poetry, blogs, books, leading support groups, or advocating for changes in laws. Embracing our grief and claiming our power allows us to live a more authentic and transparent life.

Lorraine Wheeler grew up near Chicago, IL and was adopted at age three months.

She earned a MSN from Duke University specializing in mental health nursing.

She practiced for over thirty years. Her professional writing career began in the

nursing literature and evolved into personal memoir. Her first memoir recounts the

journey of her adopted son in an effort to help other parents cope and understand

difficult child rearing situations, Adoption, Addiction, Absolution, A Boy’s Life

Hijacked. She is a proud grandmother and is working on a new memoir, her own

adoption journey, Sweetness After Difficulty . She has published extensively in

textbooks, newspapers, literary magazines and e-books. She is now retired and

resides in Vancouver, WA.

I Must Have Wandered in e-book and softcover

I Must Have Wandered is a captivating journey of self-discovery and triumph over adversity....reconciliation with the privilege and loss of one adoptee's life. An inspirational must-read! Includes adoptee resources.

link to purchase - your reviews are always welcome!

If you'd like to contribute a piece to my blog, please send me a message or email.

Until the summer!

Mary Ellen

copyright 2023 Mary Ellen Gambutti

All Rights Reserved

bottom of page