A new study (Divorce, It Seems, Can Make You Ill) reported in The New York Times the other day shows that people who divorce--even if they remarry--are more likely to be less healthy than married people who never divorce. "Even remarriage can't relive all the stress of a marital loss," the pull quote stated. Here's what jumped out at me:
"While remarrying led to some improvement in health, the study showed that most married people who became single never fully recovered from the physical declines associated with marital loss. Compared with those who had been continuously married, people in second marriages had 12 percent more chronic health problems and 19 percent more mobility problems. A second marriage did appear to heal emotional wounds: remarried people had only slightly more depressive symptoms than those continuously married."You know where I am going here, right? You know what mental word replacements I made, right? Instead of "divorce" use the word: "surrender." Or "relinquishment." Or this pithy phrase: give up my baby.
What I would love to see is the same kind of large-scale rigorous kind of study done with birth mother and adoptees. (The divorce study was done with more than 8,000 women and men in their 50s and early 60s, and was published in the September 2009 issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior.) A quick Google found some studies that touched upon birth mothers' health, the most detailed of which is the Birthmother Research project. That study found on average that birth mothers who surrender children are more likely to have hysterectomies. Psychically, that makes sense, as your female organs are the site of our grief. Researcher J. Kelly, M.A. goes on to state:
The survey results supported other research findings (Jones, 1993; Carlini, 1992) that birthmothers experience difficulties with unresolved grief, traumatic stress symptoms, self-punishment, low self-esteem, arrested emotional development, living at extremes, difficulty forgiving oneself/others, being out of touch with feelings, difficulty giving/receiving love, relationship problems, self-hatred and dysfunctional sexual problems. Unresolved grief, self-punishment, and low self-esteem ranked highest among the difficulties identified as extreme, often or severe.Sounds like giving up a child is the cause of a great deal of stress, and that is the known root cause of so much illness. Kelly also notes that lifting the veil of secrecy that we are told we were "promised," might help lift some of the lasting guilt we feel:
A primary argument against open records has been the safeguarding of birthmother confidentiality. However, lifting the veil of secrecy may have inherent therapeutic value for the birthmother. Gediman and Brown (1991) write that "keeping a secret can make us feel guilty, duplicitous, or unauthentic; and that, over a long period of time, it can have a powerful influence on character and personality" (p. 13).After reading this, I thought here might lie some reasons birth mothers fear and reject reunion with their relinquished children. The mothers are simply too screwed up to handle the stress of the missing child come back; that and having to admit to one's family about the first child who may have been a lifelong secret.
Other studies that look at a woman's health after relinquishment include John Triseliotis et al in The Adoption Triangle Revisited. He also found diminished health among birth mothers, which we have written about before, (Birth Mothers Happy to Reconnect), but only among "searcher birth mothers." A 1996 study in the British Journal of Social Work concluded that if family doctors were more understanding of a birth mother's needs, they might have less need for "medication." That is, drug us with lots of stuff from Big Pharma (Atavan, Xanax, Valium, Prozac, you name it) into being more, uh, relaxed about giving up our babies. I can just see it among the reasons to be prescribed: relinquishment of child to adoption. Ya, that might help. And turn some of us into lifelong users.
But first, we'd have to admit that we gave up a child. I remember my first visit to a company doctor after I gave up my child. Of course, it being 1966, to stay in my chosen profession (newspaper reporter) I had to move (from Rochester, NY) to another city (Albany) and find another job. And the new newspaper had a doctor run routine tests before I was put on their medical insurance plan. All was going well, and then I hit the wall:
"Any children or pregnancies?" the doctor asked.
NO. I was terrified that if I admitted the truth, it would be duly noted and the publisher and editor of the Albany Knickerbocker News would have access to my records. And would I be able to get this job I so desperately needed? Or would I be told, Sorry, your record indicates you are unstable and a troublemaker.
The doctor just checked off, No, I presume. End of story. But I'll never forget that moment, kinda the way I remember where I was when I heard John Kennedy was killed.
Was I screwed up that first year? Was I sicker than I would have been otherwise? What I remember is getting a stubborn red rash that lasted for months, despite the cortisone cream that the doctor prescribed and told me that it was most likely caused by stress. Was I under any unusual stress, he asked.
I shook my shoulders, indicating, I dunno. Again, I wasn't going to admit who I was: a woman who had given away a child.
But nonetheless, I did find my way to amphetamines, prescribed by the psychiatrist-in-residence who had moved into my apartment building the same day I did, and so we became friends during the many trips up and down the stairs. One night a couple of months later, I blurted out the truth to him. I had just given up a baby for adoption. He prrescribed little green capsules-uppers--for a couple of months. With them, I got through the day without breakdowns, stayed up late so I would be able to find refuge when I did finally lie down.
But I am just a test case of one.
Of course I can't make the connection, but for most of my adult life I have been plagued with an unusual number of sinus infections to the degree that for several years I was in semi-infected state, all related to my sinuses. Over the winter, I felt like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, lying on the couch. I never knew if I would be healthy enough to make plans to do pretty much anything. I always felt--I might be sick. And I often was. Consequently, the teeth on one side of my face have all been removed or had root canals, as the constant state of infection appears to have led to a weakening of the teeth on the side of the troublesome sinus. A operation a few years ago to rebuild my nose (no, I did not do coke) has helped a great deal but...my temperamental sinuses and a normally low white-blood cell count remains an issue. Of course, who can know the cause? I'm just sayin'...this is my story.
I won't call relinquishing a child for adoption a "primal wound," but how about instead, primal stab? Oh yeah.
One last thought, I have become friendly via email with an adoption social worker involved in relinquishment and placement (yes it is possible, there was a surrender and so far, happy reunion in her immediate family), and she asked me if I could suggest any websites that might be helpful to a woman considering giving up her child. I half-jokingly suggested FirstMotherForum, of course. I mean, there is no way I could ever counsel a teenager/young woman/any age woman to give up her child to genetic strangers. If there has to be an adoption, look to your extended family first, and then your friends, and do not keep your real identity secret ever from that child.
Of course the contented first mothers we encountered over at Mormon-driven sites seem to say otherwise--but the grief did manage to burble up now and then--but unless one is lobotomized, I can't imagine that any website would provide help and solace to a woman considering adoption for her baby. Suggestions?