Adoption is trumpeted today as a universal good thing. For infertile couples who wish to have a family, it is a solution. For religious organizations and fellow-travelers, agencies that use the mantle of religion, it is a business. For liberals who want to do good and keep the sense of family about them, it is a way to keep population growth down. Celebrities who adopt get on the cover of magazines, increasing their likability and encouraging ever more people to
raise other people’s children. A liberal think-tank issues a white paper encouraging women and teens to surrender their babies in order that they, the mothers, might have a better life.
But what is rarely talked about is the long-term mental and physical effect of surrendering a baby to others for adoption. One expects short-term grief in the aftermath of signing away one’s rights to a child one has borne, but what of the long-term lasting impact, four, five—twenty—years later?
A TOXIC AFTERMATH FOR MOTHERS
We are not doing so well. While there are millions of us out there, we are hard to study and pin down—we do go on and have lives and get swallowed up by a code of silence that many of us assume. But the toxic aftermath of relinquishing a child lingers on:
A British study of 93 mothers who had relinquished children to adoption found that while only an insignificant proportion of these women had been diagnosed with a mental health problem previously (3 percent), in the time between parting and contact, 24 percent had a psychiatric diagnosis, mainly for depression. Not surprisingly mothers who were compelled to search for their children fared the worst: They were prone to lowered self-esteem, anxiety and worry over the child; they required more doctor visits, and attributed their physical and mental problems over the years to adoption. Seeker mothers often cited parental pressure as the main reason for the adoption, and reported that they had little emotional support during the pregnancy and relinquishment.
An Australian study of over two hundred natural mothers found that nearly thirty percent reported below-average “adjustment” to the situation at the time they were questioned, many up to twenty years later. Half reported an increasing sense of loss over the years. Few opportunities to talk about their feelings related to surrender and no social supports exacerbated their depression.
A survey of a dozen studies identified a grief reaction “unique” to the natural mother that left her “at risk for long-term physical, psychologic[al] and social repercussions.” The authors concluded that the women’s reactions were similar to normal grief, with one notable difference: they “often lead to chronic, unresolved grief….Although interventions have been proposed, little is known about their effectiveness in preventing or alleviating these repercussions.”
A study of more than 300 natural mothers, most of them members of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), found that they perceived surrendering a child had a profound negative effect on their later lives, particularly regarding marriage, fertility and parenting. Critics might argue that members of any such an organization self-select to be skewed toward pathology; nonetheless, the results mirror the studies done by impartial researchers.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH SUFFERS
In The Adoption Triangle--the first book to investigate natural mothers—the authors (a psychiatrist and two social workers) found that in numerous letters from natural mothers collected years after surrender, “there was still the intensity of feeling and the need to describe the pain, still carried within…. Even if the birth parents had become comfortable with the decision [to relinquish] because there were no viable alternatives, they nevertheless felt loss, pain, mourning and a continuing sense of caring for that long vanished child.”
The Birthmother Research Project, found that on average women who surrender children are more likely to have hysterectomies than women who do not. Researcher J. Kelly, M.A. writes: "The survey results supported other research findings…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."
Today some come right out and call the effect of adoption on some natural mothers Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. That sounds about right to me.--lorraine
(Copyright material; not to be copied or used without the express permission of the author, Lorraine Dusky
 Jessica Arons,”The Adoption Option: Adoption Won’t Reduce Abortion but It Will Expand Women’s Choices,” Center for American Progress (October, 2010).
 John Triseliotis, Julia Feast and Fiona Kyle, ”The Adoption Triangle Revisited: A Study of adoption, search and reunion experiences” (The British Association for Adoption & Fostering, London: 2005) , pp, 80-92. The sample is small—32 seekers and 61 mothers who were sought, but is one of the very few—perhaps the only—to include both seeker and sought first mothers.
 Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process, Donaldson Adoption Institute (New York:2006, revised 2007), pp. 46-50. The Australian study is one of several included in the Donaldson report.
H. A. Askren, and K. C. Bloom, “Postadoptive Reactions of the Relinquishing Mother: A Review,” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 1999:28.: pp. 395–400.
 Eva Y. Deykin, Lee Campbell, Patricia Patti, “The Post Adoption Experience of Surrendering Parents,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, April 1984, pp. 271-280. Also Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, “Adoption-Induced Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Mothers of the Baby Scoop Era,” Origins America, 2010.
 Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran and Ruben Pannor The Adoption Triangle: Sealed or Opened Records: How They Affect Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents, updated from 1979 edition, (San Antonio: 1989) p. 72.
 Karen Wilson Buterbaugh, “Adoption-Induced Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Mothers of the Baby Scoop Era,” Origins America (On line: 2010).
The Adoption Reader: Birth Mothers, Adoptive Mothers, and Adopted Daughters Tell Their Stories edited by Susan Wadia-Ellis
"The one thing that did emerge most clearly from this work was the overall tone that adoption was an incredibly painful thing for all parties involved. The more positive essays were from the adoptive moms--birth moms and adopted daughters were obviously struggling to make sense out of their experiences.....wonderful collection, but at the same time I seriously wonder whether adoption is something I'm able to emotionally tackle after experiencing Wadia-Ells' book.
"Lesbian women, multi-racial families, and a variety of socio-economic backgrounds all lend to this book a wealth of perspectives. The contributors are thoughtful, often in emotional pain, honest about their experiences, and each one is a talented writer."--A reader at Amazon
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler
The title speaks for itself. Fessler is an adoptee.
"Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to keep the baby," says Joyce, in a story typical of the birth mothers, mostly white and middle-class, who vent here about being forced to give up their babies for adoption from the 1950s through the early '70s. They recall callous parents obsessed with what their neighbors would say; maternity homes run by unfeeling nuns who sowed the seeds of lifelong guilt and shame; and social workers who treated unwed mothers like incubators for married couples.
"More than one birth mother was emotionally paralyzed until she finally met the child she'd relinquished years earlier. In these pages, which are sure to provoke controversy among adoptive parents, birth mothers repeatedly insist that their babies were unwanted by society, not by them. Fessler, a photography professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, is an adoptee whose birth mother confessed that she had given her away even though her fiancé, who wasn't Fessler's father, was willing to raise her. Although at times rambling and self-pitying, these knowing oral histories are an emotional boon for birth mothers and adoptees struggling to make sense of troubled pasts."--Publisher's Weekly