Robert Hyde, brother of a mentally ill man who killed five people, reached out to Laughner's parents to offer his understanding. Quoting from in the New York Times:
"While the actual victims of crimes and their relatives 'have people pulling for them, 'we on the other side don't even want to broach the subject. I will never say, 'I lost my brother too--I'll never go fishing with him again. It would look cold and callous,' he added. 'People don't understand. And you don't want to offend anybody.'I read those words and thought Yeah, right, that's what your are supposed to do when you give up a baby. That's what you are supposed to do when you lose a child to adoption. You aren't supposed to say a damn thing. You are supposed to suck it up. Unless you are on national television on Sixteen and Pregnant, shut up already. It was all the more true for women in decades past when an "out of wedlock" (what an archaic phrase that it today, when something like 40 percent of all babies are born that way) baby was something to hang your head in shame about. I was so mortified that I hid out in an apartment by myself in a strange city, far from my hometown, and since I was able to keep my shame from my parents, I did, rather than ask them for help and support.
So, he concluded, 'you just suck it up.'"
The sucking up of the pain and grief was to go on forever, we were to go through life pretending that "it" did not happen, no baby was there trailing you like a bad odor. You were defiled, used goods, a common slut. That's how it was for those of us who gave up our babies way back when. I think that is how it is for those mothers who cannot reconnect with the children they gave up, who refuse even a single meeting, or can't tell the rest of the family and their friends about their lost son or daughter. They are unable to get past the feelings they had about themselves at the time they relinquished their children. And if we do talk about it, we have no idea whether we will meet empathy, or an attitude that says: You did it, you had sex, you signed the paper, so suck it up.
How does this affect us? Not in a good way. This month's Harper's Bazaar has a story about Jen Ramey, a
big deal model manager who credits her years of obesity to something that happened 30 years ago: she gave up a child for adoption. She was 18. She gained 90 pounds during the pregnancy, and never lost the baby weight. "I can't tell you if that was emotional baggage that I was holding onto for all those years, but I felt guilty."
Her diet guru and trainer, Angelo Sorrenti, however, has no doubts: "The adoption was a trauma for her that was devastating. she became obese and she stayed obese, until now."
It was refreshing to read in a regular woman's magazine, an upscale fashion magazine no less, the frank and open admission of how giving up a child has a long-term, devastating effect. A while back I posited that giving up a child could be a cause of post traumatic stress disorder and that elicited a lot of comments from some about how that couldn't be. Well, I beg to disagree. The emotional damage done to the first mother by the act of giving up her child, which feels to us like abandonment, no matter how many pretty words you put around it, is going to vary from woman to woman. I'd say it hit me pretty damn hard. An 8 on a scale of 10; I was never institutionalized. And until I started to write about it five years after I gave up my daughter, I simply sucked it up.
But how about the rest of us? I came across this statistic a few days ago in the only comprehensive study of the health and well-being of birth mothers after relinquishment, one done in England, where adoptees have had the right to their original birth certificates since 1975:
While only an insignificant proportion of birth mothers had been diagnosed with a mental health problem before adoption (3 percent), in the time between the parting and contact, 24 percent had a psychiatric diagnosis mainly for depression, with half of them having had inpatient treatment. *If you are reading this and do not think that giving up a child causes enormous psychological impact that most of us feel as damage, nothing I can say will change your mind--lorraine
*The Adoption Triangle Revisited: A Study of adoption, search and reunion experiences by John Triseliotis, Julia Feast and Fiona Kyle, 2005; The British Association for Adoption & Fostering.