Birthmothers in Literature

I’ve been fascinated by birthmothers in literature ever since my mother read me Rumplestiltskin. Although the miller’s daughter escaped relinquishing her son in the end, the possibility of separating mother and child was the part of the tale I found most frightening. It was a close call for the miller’s daughter and her son.

It was the summer between high school and college that I read Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex–the same summer that I gave up my firstborn son. All of Oedipus’s troubles began because his mother gave him away, I thought. What will happen to my boy? As a theater student, I found more adoption stories in Shakespeare–A Winter’s Tale, Pericles, and Cybeline– and in the novels of Charles Dickens.

Currently I’m reading Nicole Krauss’s new novel, Great House. It’s a complex story with several threads. The character of Lotte is somewhat of a mystery with a tragic past. Her husband does not know how tragic, exactly.
“She struggled with her sadness, but tried to conceal it, to divide it into smaller and smaller parts and scatter these in places she thought no one would find them. But often I did–with time I learned where to look–and tried to fit them together. It pained me that she felt she couldn’t come to me with it, but I knew it would hurt her more to know that I’d uncovered what she hadn’t intended me to find. In some fundamental way I think she objected to being known.”  

Later in the marriage, Lotte develops dementia (she’s about seventy-five by then,) and one day escapes from the nurse who is supposed to be tending her at home. Lotte goes into the courthouse, finds a magistrate, and tells her that she’d like to report a crime.  
“”What is the crime?” she asked. 
“I gave up my child,” Lotte announced.”

2 thoughts on “Birthmothers in Literature

  1. maryanne

    I just discovered your blog, sent here by Maybe’s Patti Smith comment. I really like your writing! I am a birthmother and poet and also have written a lot of essays about adoption subjects. I will be reading more of your blog, but just wanted to say hi and how much I appreciate your fine, nuanced writing.

    I also found my son many years ago, am in reunion, finally, after a very long time of indifference on his part.

    I really like the theme of Birthmothers in Literature. Have you read adoptee Marianne Novy’s book “Reading Adoption”? She goes into a lot of literature with adoption themes.

    Are you or were you a member of CUB? I am a long time member and currently secretary. Drop me a line at
    I would like to get to know you:-)


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