Being a Birthmother on Mother’s Day

As with most pregnant teens during the “love generation,” I was told that the right thing to do was to relinquish my baby to a good home after he was born. Seventeen-year-old girls don’t make good mothers—or so they said.

But I was a good girl. I did what I was told. I gave my baby to a family who would provide him with a wonderful life and soon I would forget all about everything, just as they said, and continued on with my life.

My son was born to my high school boyfriend and me when we were 17. Sometimes birth control fails.

Our parents refused to let us marry. My very Catholic parents sent me away to live with a family until the baby was born who would then be privately adopted. Much later I would learn that the entire adoption was a conspiracy of blatant secrets and lies.

Our first family photo, my son's father, baby hiding under my dress (3 months pregnant) and me; Prom Night. ©Dori Owen
Our first family photo, my son’s father, baby hiding under my dress (3 months pregnant) and me; Prom Night. ©Dori Owen

It wasn’t easy to have a baby at 17. No Lamaze classes, no birthing coaches. I went a week past my due date, and my doctor decided to induce labor so I knew beforehand that I would be having a baby on September 18. This was about the sum total of my knowledge. I remember so vividly having to hang clothes out on a clothesline for the family I was staying with. I sobbed the entire time. For me, for my baby, and for the unknown. I went to bed miserable and uncomfortable in the 100-degree heat.

Inducing the next morning in St. Joseph hospital’s labor ward brought on pain quickly and hard. I was given no meds. My mother was with me, and she would shove a washcloth into my mouth telling me that my screams were disturbing others. Heaven forbid. I had to be a good girl even in labor? I finally got some Demerol before going into the delivery room where I was completely put under for the birth. How I pushed, I’ll never know. I spent two nights in a non-maternity wing and went home to my parent’s house for the first time in four months. Sans baby.

I never saw my baby, and this was the beginning of the familiar lie to all birthmothers. Go live your life. You’ll forget in time. Your baby will be in a much better place.

Baby Boy Owen (His name on his Birth Certificate) @Dori Owen
Baby Boy Owen (His name on his Birth Certificate) @Dori Owen

For a while, I did forget about things. I finished school and then left my home and my son’s father in Arizona as soon as I could so I wouldn’t be reminded of any of it. I moved to Southern California, got a job, and began my adult life.

But “they” were wrong about a few things. I DID think of my baby. I knew he was a boy; I found out accidentally in the hospital. I would daydream about him riding a Big Wheel up and down the Phoenix sidewalks. I saw him as a happy little boy with many brothers and sisters, of which I was told he would have. I found out much later that this was fabricated as part of the secrets and lies in the underground private adoption world. But I didn’t know of any of that then. Thinking of him just made me happy.

I lived in a maternal limbo. After I was married, if someone asked me if I had any children my answer was an automatic no.

Or not yet. Did I want children? Of course. Was I trying to get pregnant? Like a mad woman. My husband and I went all the way up to in vitro before we decided we could no longer afford the infertility treatments. I had heard about something unscientific called secondary infertility which apparently was common among birthmothers who’d had babies in their teens. Somewhere deep inside I felt it was God’s punishment for my promiscuity.

Life went on, and my husband and I moved to Nevada. About this time my son would have been in college. My husband would say to me, almost teasing,

“Someday he’s going to come knocking on the door. What are you going to do? What are you going to say?”

I never took this seriously because how on earth could he find me, really? It seemed like such a remote possibility. By this time, I no longer had a real picture of what he looked like. He would always remain my baby in my mind.

Another few years went by, and on a whim, I researched and found out about a new law passed in Arizona. Adoption records were still sealed, but the Arizona Supreme Court allowed a confidential intermediary to contact both parties, and if they were in agreement, phone numbers were exchanged. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been searching for me since his college days, even to the point of calling women with the same name as mine and asking if they were his mother. So this boy said YES to the intermediary and got my number first.

It happened on a snowy Reno night. I worked for the city of Reno and was giving a boring presentation to a bored neighborhood group when my pager went off. I knew. I didn’t even bother calling. I just knew. I said I had an emergency and flew home on icy streets. I ran inside, and my husband said excitedly, “I talked to him!” I grabbed the piece of paper with his phone number. I had a son and his name was Brian, and he lived in Portland! I could barely breathe. I had wished for this for so long, and now he was one phone call away. I dialed the number, and he answered on the first ring.



“Brian, this is Dori.”



“I’ve waited my whole life to hear the sound of your voice, and now I don’t know what to say.”

It did not take long for us to find our rhythm. We had millions of questions and talked so fast right over each other in a mad rush to get the next question out. We were both in shock over the similarities. Music, food, humor, books. It was too much for either of us to absorb. It was as if we had found each other’s doppelgänger.

I don’t believe either one of us got much sleep that night. And the sleep I did find eventually was one of happiness and completion. Like I’d never experienced before. I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe the deep contentment and satisfaction I feel now when I’m asked if I have any children. Why, yes. Yes, I do.

“I have a son. His name is Brian.”

I get Mother’s Day cards. Presents. Sometimes flowers. The acknowledgment I ached for years has been validated with truth and honesty. No more secrets. No more lies. At times, it’s as if we’ve never been apart, yet our relationship has still maintained the magic of a mother and child reunion. I text him, “I love you.” He answers, “I love you more.” I’m not even sure if that’s possible, my darling boy.

The first Mother's Day card given to me, from my son Brian. @Dori Owen
The first Mother’s Day card given to me, from my son Brian. @Dori Owen

Happy Mother’s Day.

Photo: ©Dori Owen All Rights Reserved

Dori Owen

Dori Owen blogs on, is a columnist on, a contributor/editor for The Lithium Chronicles, created the Facebook page Diary of an Arizona Girl, is an author on AskABipolar, was featured in the books FeminineCollective RAW&UNFILTERED VOL I and StigmaFighters Vol II, and is a zealous tweeter as @doriowen. She's a former LA wild child who settled into grownup life as a project manager, collecting an MBA and a few husbands along the way. Dori spent her adult years in Southern California, with a brief stay in Reno, and has now returned to where she ran away from in Arizona. She is a shown artist, writer, and her favorite pastime is upcycling old furniture she finds from thrift stores. She lives with her beloved rescued terrier, Olivia Twist, and the cat who came to visit but stayed. The love of her life is her grown son in Portland, Oregon who very much resents being introduced after her pets. But she she does love him the most.

  1. Susan P. Blevins
    Susan P. Blevins

    What an amazingly moving story, and how wonderful that it has a happy ending. I read it with tears in my eyes. So much joy on all sides, your son, your husband, the birth father! Astonishing and uplifting. Thank you dearest Dori for sharing this. You are a beautiful soul.
    Love always
    S xo

  2. doriowen

    Angie, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with infertility issues. That was a very hard time for me. It got to the point where I’d go to the mall and be resentful of anyone pushing a baby stroller! I’m so happy you read this essay and even happier you took the time to comment. Sending you much love—D.

  3. doriowen

    I’m so happy for your niece–I know they made the right decision! People told me that 17-year olds don’t make good mothers but now I strongly disagree. Good for her! Thank you so much for reading the essay and leaving a note! ~D

  4. doriowen

    Karla, sometimes I have to read it more than once to believe it’s all true! We were so fortunate to have a happily-ever-after! Yes–the phone call is one of my favorite memories. I’ll never forget his sweet voice…… ~D.

  5. doriowen

    Thank you for your thoughts, Shannon. It’s kind of like labor in childbirth. You forget the pain because the end result is so wonderful! ~D.

  6. doriowen

    Yona, this is exactly what it’s about–connections made from connections lost. We are all so fortunate to have found each other! Thank you for taking the time to comment…..~D.

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    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I cried for the years you didn’t get to spend with him and now I’m crying happy tears that you were able to find each other.

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    Very touching. I felt the need to read it all over again just to experience the warm touching moments before and after that phone call. I’m happy that I was able to read a part of your wonderful life.

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    God bless you for your decision to go against maternal instincts and give up your son – so sorry you had to endure all you did, though – but so thankful you then were reunited with him! My 17-y.o. niece got married to her 18-y.o. “baby daddy” a month before their daughter was born. They were also encouraged to give her up for adoption and they tentatively considered it, but now are thankful they kept her, even though they’re having to grow up fast as teenage spouses and now parents.

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    This is deeply moving and I feel honored to have read it and your story! I’m so glad that you guys found each other at this stage in life. As someone struggling with infertility, the thought of finally having that hole gone fills me with joy for you. xoxo

  11. doriowen

    What beautiful words you write! I’m so happy you took the time to comment. I completely agree with you–there is no greater heaven! Much love…. ~D.

  12. doriowen

    After doing so much adoption research, before and after I found Brian, I had no idea how complex and complicated the issues are. For us, it was different because Brian was an adult in his 20s wanting to search. Statistically, most adoptees don’t even consider searching until their 20s or 30s when they start having families of their own and have questions about medical history. And some adoptees never even consider searching. I’m so glad you read my essay–we had a happily ever after. Sadly, not everyone does. Your brothers are your brothers…no matter which path they came into your family. They’re so fortunate to be in your loving family! Thank you so much for commenting, Rebecca, I really appreciate it. ~D.

  13. doriowen

    How sweet of you to take the time to comment…thank you so much! I have always believed that there was a lot of synchronicity in our reunion. His birthfather was looking as well! And with our extended family having so much happiness and love, I have to believe it was meant to be! ~D.

  14. doriowen

    Thank you so much for leaving a note–I really appreciate it. You are so right. The mother son connection is very primal in some ways. He and I have a different kind of relationship than he does with his birthfather. But the whole extended family reunion has been nothing but love!

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    This brought me to tears. I am so happy that you and Brian found each other after a very long time. A baby and mother’s son is always forever. This is a beautiful and emotional story. You did the right thing for giving him a bright future.

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    Oh hun sorry that you had to give up your baby for adoption but so glad that you were able to be reunited after all those years. Its amazing that he had come looking for you as well!

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    What a story. My two younger brothers are adopted and we love them dearly. I had no idea what it must be like on the other side.

  18. doriowen

    After this was published in Feminine Collective, I sent a copy to my son and he told me it made HIS eyes water! The reunion was an incredibly emotional time for both of us. So many different feelings, questions–all happening at once. But, wow. I have a son! LOL I say it whenever I can! Thank you SO much for reading the story and taking the time to comment…. ~D.

  19. doriowen

    Thank you for taking the time to write such kind wishes…it means a lot to me. I’ll tell you, if anyone would have told me that somehow everything was going to end in a happily ever after moment that included everyone–I’m not sure I would have believed it! My son just visited on Memorial Day weekend….heaven! ~D.

  20. doriowen

    I love your name–MomKnowsBest, hah! I’m so very fortunate to have a happily ever after, not everyone does. One of my friends just reunited with her birthdaughter and it did not go well with them. Thank you for reading the story and taking the time to write a comment….it means a lot to me! ~D.

  21. doriowen

    Thank you so much for leaving a comment and telling your story. Mothers! I am SO happy for you that you were able to keep your son. So happy! That is what I really wanted. Even though his father walked out, it was fortunate he had the love of your family. And who knows if that chapter is even closed? Maybe someday he will want to know his son. Your son is very, very fortunate to have a loving mother like you. I’m so glad you read my story and told me about yours. Wishing you every happiness–Dori

  22. doriowen

    You are very kind to take the time to leave a comment. It was strange not knowing, but after a while it became my normal. But then the urge to find him became so strong–I knew the time must have been right. Thank you for your happiness for me…it is very special to me! ~D.

  23. doriowen

    Roller coaster is a good description, Brandi! Everything DID turn out to be a happily ever after and for this I will always be thankful. I’m so glad you read the story. You taking the time to comment means so much to me. ~D.

  24. doriowen

    Thank you for your supportive thoughts, Elizabeth. I know I am very fortunate…not every story has a happy ending. Our extended family was together over Memorial Day weekend. At dinner one night, his birthfather looked over at me and said, “This is all I’ve ever wanted. All of my family together.” Me too, Jack, me too. I’m so happy you enjoyed the story! D.

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    I feel really sad that you have to let go of your child just because of your parent’s religious reputation, but still your faith didn’t fail you in finding your child and I am very happy for the both of you, truly there is no greater heaven than the heart of a loving mother.

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    Wow, that story had me in tears as soon as I read the first couple of paragraphs. It’s such an amazing thing to be able to find what you’ve been looking for for a long time. I am glad you’ve found each other!

  27. Avatar

    What an incredible story, so beautiful and touching, can’t imagine what it must have been like all those years of not knowing. I am so happy for you.

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    I cannot imagine how you went through with your mother, she put the washcloth in your mother while giving the birth. I was lucky that I did not give my first son to the adoption center when I was 19 years old college student. My VERY Catholic mother disagreed with the adoption, she told me that I was an adult and that I made my decision. I kept my son and took care of him. His birth father walked away with other woman after I told him that I was pregnant. It was so depressing time for me but I was grateful that my extended family helped me with my son while I finished my college. For you and Brian, I am very happy that you guys found each other 🙂

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    I could only imagine the pain you went through having to give him up. I love that you were able to finally meet. him.

  30. Avatar

    This was a very emotional story to read. I am sorry that you were forced to give your baby for adoption but so happy that you two found each other years later and managed to bond so beautiful!

  31. Avatar

    Oh Dori…this was so beautiful and heartwarming. I swear by the end I was so moved my eyes watered. You and your son finally found each other after a whole life. It makes me happy

  32. doriowen

    Thanks for reading this, Renee. I have to tell you, I did think about you a few times! I believe that it is the adoptee who has all the rights, and should the one who should controls the pace of reunion. They really had no choice, but birthmothers did. Not everything was perfect, we did make room for each of our feelings–but it’s all so amazing! I sent him a link to the essay last night and he said it made him feel like crying….awwww! So glad I met you…you make my life a better place. xoD.

  33. Renee DeMont

    This is a wonderful piece. I could relate on both ends being an adopted child, and then later discovering my 45 year old brother (given up at birth) was looking for us too. Talking with him was surreal. Its exciting, and I am finding more often than not, folks are generally happy to be found! I agree with Stephanie, Brian has your beautiful smile! So sweet. You have a son! Love it!

  34. doriowen

    I love you, dearest Stephanie, thank you for getting what this is all about–and for getting me. Te adoro mi amiga xoxo

  35. doriowen

    Thanks so much for reading this, Kitt. Yeah…I still feel that way about my mother even today! I am so fortunate to have reunited with Brian, and his birth father. I’m thankful every day. I so appreciate you taking the time to comment! xD.

  36. Kitt O'Malley

    Dori, what a 180, in life, in this piece of writing. In my mind, I went from yelling, “Fuck you!” to your mother as she shoved that washcloth in your mouth, to celebrating your reunion with your son, Brian. Happy Mother’s Day, Dori. Congratulations!

  37. Avatar

    Motherhood it’s a precious gift, but also one of the toughest, most challenges experience a human being can have. You never know whether your making the right desicions or not, Bipolar playing a huge factor and your kids resenting you when your absent during those inpatient stays in the hospital. Dori, my darling mama, you know all these situations so well, and here you are, a strong woman who remains a champion throughout all the pain and tears. Brian has your eyes 🙂 and he also has his mother’s beautiful smile and heart of gold. Thank you for sharing your story mama, today I will hold my little ones a little bit tighter and a little bit longer. Thank you for showing everyone what’s really important. I love you mama

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