Meeting the Birth Mother

Meeting the Birth Mother

Most international adoptions are closed adoptions which means the adopted child and adoptive parents are not provided with information regarding the child’s birth mother. But when adoptive mother Elizabeth Foy Larsen and her husband adopted a baby from Guatemala, they hired a “searcher” in order to track down their daughter’s birth mother. When they finally tracked down “Helen” they discovered that she was desperate to receive news about the daughter she had reluctantly given up for adoption in order to “protect her family’s honor.” Today’s New York Times features Elizabeth Foy Larsen’s article about her family’s poignant meeting with Helen in Guatemala.

Isn’t it obvious that every mother should be able to raise her own children? But not every mom has that privilege. Even in my tiny neighborhood, I know several moms who can’t raise their own children. I know one mother who is unable to raise her children on account of a serious mental illness. I know another mother whose children do not live with her because she needs to work in Israel in order to financially support her family in the Phillipines. And I know yet another mother, Hagit bat Leah z”l, who cannot raise her 5 young children because she is no longer among the living.

It’s summer vacation. There’s a good chance that your kids are driving you absolutely nuts by now. But I hope, JewishMOM, that reading the tragic story of this birth mother will make you want to give your own children a big hug.

The following is an excerpt from Untying a Birth Mother’s Hands by Elizabeth Foy Larsen

For all the abundance around that table, there was a noticeable absence. When we set up the visit, Helen had told us that her mother, who didn’t know about her granddaughter until she was a 2-year-old “Clifford”-watching American kid, had wanted to join us. A week earlier, the searchers had forwarded us a message saying that she couldn’t get time off from her job.

“I’m sorry your mother had to work,” I said.

Helen looked down at her fried chicken. “That’s not why she isn’t here,” she said. “She was worried that if she saw her granddaughter, she wouldn’t be able to let her go.”

I knew that Helen had hidden her pregnancy to preserve her family’s honor. Until that afternoon, I had always imagined that was what her mother would have wanted. Suddenly I understood that when it comes to adoption, grief can ripple through generations.

“In Guatemala, grandmothers treat their grandchildren better than they treat their own children,” she said. “She still hasn’t forgiven me.” As Helen described her mother’s pain, my normally reserved husband tightened his lips around his straw and wiped his eyes.

Yet for all the honesty that day, much was left unsaid. More than a year after our visit, Helen told me she had tried not be too emotional because she didn’t want to make her dear girl sad.

“I would have liked to have asked her to forgive me for not being brave enough to keep her by my side,” she said. For an impossible second, I imagined what that would have meant to my own life.

“I wanted to walk in the street holding hands with her,” Helen said. “But I was so ashamed to ask, because I saw her walking with you.”

Click here to read the rest of Untying a Birth Mother’s Hands


  1. If only adoption was as simple as we like to think.

  2. Yes. I agree.
    Like divorce, society likes to pretend it’s a simple happily-ever-after solution, but it rarely is.

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