Dear Virginia, When I was young, I got pregnant. I tried to care for my son but had to give him up for adoption when he was three. It was hard to do, but pressure was put on me by social services and I thought it was best for him. Now I have managed to get in touch with him (he's in his twenties) but he refuses to see me. I'm desparate to see him. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Orla

Virginia writes:

Perhaps the best thing you can do - or anyone can do, actually, faced with any problem in the world - is to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Let's say you were suddenly faced with a letter from a mother on whom you'd been completely dependent until the age of three (quite a great age, really, in terms of emotional growth); a mother who had then, completely incomprehensibly, handed you over to someone else without any explanation at all. Oh, she might have given you an explanation, but it's unlikely you could, at that age, have understood what was going on at all. All you felt was completely abandoned.

Or let's say this mother who'd given you away was cruel to you - and certainly if the social services were involved it sounds as if she wasn't the best mum in the world, however well-intentioned she was - would you really want to be in contact with her?

Wouldn't your first reaction to a begging letter to meet up and be pally be a hearty: "You rejected me, so now I'm going to reject you! Fuck off!"

Now, of course it may well not be your second reaction, so I think it might be an idea to keep the avenues of communication open. You would write back and say you're very sorry not to be able to meet him, but hope he won't mind if you occasionally send him a card and keep him posted of any changes of address so that if he changes his mind at some point when he's older, he can get in touch. It might be worth explaining how you only gave him up for his sake, how you hope one day he can forgive you. You might also add that you completely understand his rejection.

It could well be that, when he has children of his own, he might be more interested in making contact. It's weird how people in their twenties find the whole concept of their families and their past a crashing bore - "Oh really, was my grandfather the man who single-handedly won the First World War/ discovered fire, yawn, yawn" - and when they get to around 40 they suddenly start digging around in archives and become fascinated by their ancestry. They are also probably more aware of who they actually are. The twenties are, if my own experience is anything to go by, a particularly wobbly time emotionally.

I think it would be sensible, as well, to get a third party involved - perhaps someone from the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, for example. Just to get a letter out of the blue from the mother who rejected you would be an alarming surprise, while if you were softened up and eased into the whole concept of contact by someone who's clued up about adopted children's anger, you might feel a bit differently.

Having said all this, it's worth remembering that you have been a good mother to your son so far. You were, clearly, incapable of looking after him. Your motives in handing him over to someone else were entirely loving. The decision must have caused you a lot of anguish and pain. And perhaps, for the moment, apart from the odd scrap of contact here and there, you ought to see that a decision to leave him alone, at least for most of the time, and to accept his rejection, would be the most loving act of all.

Readers say:

You are desperate, but he isn't

You may have been let down by social services and you got pregnant young, so life wasn't kind to you, but things are where they are. Sorry to be cruel, but your son may have a complete life and think of his adoptive parents as his real parents. You will always be there should he change his mind. A future partner or someone he talks to later may get him to think again. There is no harm in living in hope, but he doesn't owe it to you. When you say you are desperate, this is about you, not him. The best thing to do is develop new interests and get on with your life, and seek help if you can't and are still scarred by the past.

Rupert Fast


You're not the guilty one

Oh dear. As I see it, you were a very young unmarried mum, a teenager presumably. Now, what on earth were the social services thinking? I will say that I have a pretty low opinion of these people. There can be few worse ages to take a child from its mother than three. You are the centre of its whole life. That child will have put the foster parents through a hard time, crying for "mummy" and throwing tantrums for some considerable while. I don't want to make you feel guilty, because I don't think you are.

Your son remembers what happened and blames you. I can only suggest that you don't push too hard. Have you tried to explain the circumstances to him? I hope he soon realises that he has nothing to lose from building up contact slowly. Meanwhile, send birthday and Christmas cards containing little notes.

NF Edwards

Sleaford, Lincolnshire

It's up to him

Sadly, I think all you can do is wait. You have let him know that you want to meet him, and presumably he knows how to contact you. Other than writing to him and explaining what happened and waiting to see if he wants to get in touch, there's not much you can do. The last thing you want is to make him feel pressured into meeting you. Far better for him to meet you because he wants to; that way there is a far bigger chance that things could work out.

Alison Turner

Milton Keynes

This will take time

I realise how difficult it has been for you and how disappointing it must be now to feel rejected in this way. You have a lot of bridges to build and it will take time. Don't rush him or put undue pressure on him. Try to keep contact going, and hopefully he will learn to trust you and may wish to meet you in the future. I hope so, but if he still refuses to see you, I'm afraid you will have to accept it.

Marion Greaves

by email

Respect his wishes

Difficult decisions have to be made according to circumstances at the time. You make the best available choice and you should be comfortable with yourself. For Orla to be "desperate" 20 years later that her son will not see her is sad but inappropriate. She must respect his wishes. She does not know his situation, and this attempt to meet up again may have provoked real distress. In years to come, he may change his mind. What benefit is there in reopening old wounds? Close the book.

John Irving


Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My mother left a cottage to us three children - and it's caused no end of trouble. My brother now lives there with his wife and kids, and he's unemployed; my sister wants to keep it on for sentimental reasons (we had wonderful holidays there); and my husband and I want to sell it so we can buy a bigger house. It's a nightmare. Any advice? Yours sincerely, Jennie