' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: So if Roe is overturned? What happens to women who give up a child? In contrast to women who have an abortion.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

So if Roe is overturned? What happens to women who give up a child? In contrast to women who have an abortion.

Dusky's jacket photo on Birthmark
What happens to a woman when she is coerced--by society or circumstance--to relinquish a child to adoption?

Even though I know a significant number of these women do not wish reunion, a fact that was foreign to me but I've heard from enough adoptees to accept its reality--let's look at the emotional damage that the act of losing a child this way leaves in its wake. I'm fearful that if Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate--and he may well be--Roe v. Wade is in serious trouble. He's called the right for a woman to control her own reproductive system "settled law," which sounds comforting, but as far as I know, he's never added that Roe was "correctly decided," which apparently is key. In fact, I think he's likely to be the pivotal fifth vote on the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe, and give Trump's base what they are so anxious to have: control of women's bodies.

So with Roe in jeopardy--and already had to get in seven states that only one one legal abortion clinic--let's examine what happens to women who lose a child via adoption.

They are left with far more than short-term heartache. The immediate grief of the loss—when a woman’s hormones are screaming for her to love and protect her offspring—often morphs into a sorrow that infuses the rest of our lives, down to a decision as basic as whether we will ever have another child. Many do not. I’m one of them. Fellow blogger Jane did go on to have other children, but I have no idea if I would have, if the circumstances might have offered that. I made it clear to my first husband that I would never ever have another child. While he agreed, and seemed to be fine with that, he did have a daughter with his second wife.

A detailed study of public
attitude in the post-war era
While there are millions of us first birth mothers out there, we are hard to study. We go on and have lives and abide by a code of silence that smothers our shame, a humiliation we feel even decades later. Yet numerous studies suggest that giving up a child can be deeply traumatic for the women who do so, and the effect can linger throughout a woman’s lifetime.

The ongoing “Turnaway Study,” conducted by the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, is tracking women who sought abortions but did not have them, often because it was too late in the pregnancy or restrictive laws prevented access. Of those women, nine percent gave their children up for adoption. Gretchen Sisson, a researcher with ANSIR, says that the women in her sample experienced “high levels of regret.” The research has yet to be published, but her previously published work indicates the same.

A 2005 study done under the auspices of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering located birth mothers through their children, now grownup and seeking their biological mothers, which adopted individuals have been able to do in England and Wales since 1975. The study’s most striking finding is that “while only an insignificant proportion of birth mothers had been diagnosed with a mental health problem before adoption (3 per cent), in the time between the parting and contact, 24 per cent had a psychiatric diagnosis mainly for depression, with half of them having had inpatient treatment.” The researchers concluded that the time between parting with the child and contact “proved to be an unhappy and distressing one for the great majority of birth mothers.” (More on that is included in the book shown here.)
The British Study on the effects of
adoption on the mothers who have
the children. 

The impact on some women’s lives is monumental. When more than 300 members of Concerned United Birthparents were surveyed, over 30 percent had not had another child, either because they chose not to, or could not, a finding that has been replicated by other studies showing secondary infertility among birth mothers and reported in the 2007 Donaldson’s Adoption Institute’s report, “Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents in the Adoption Process.” An unpublished survey of birth mothers in online support groups found that a majority reported low self-esteem and self-punishment. Family pressure to hide their grief exacerbated the woman’s anguish and alienation. In cases where women felt they were coerced, typically by family members, into giving up their child, they were more likely to experience lasting trauma.

Given this kind of data, perhaps it is not surprising that some women reject reunion; reliving the moment of loss--and we do at first, and for a while--is too great a gamble to take. Many women have never told even their husbands, and many who have told them, have not told their children, an even harder conversation to have. I never got over it; I told my first husband when he proposed, and by the time I met my second, I had published Birthmark, and had been on Good Morning America and a national media tour talking about the effect of losing a child to adoption. In some minds, I was a walking scandal. In rereading this the day after I first posted, a remembrance of how some of his friends, women who were his ex-girlfriend's pals, reacted to me once they learned I had written "that book." There had been a nearly full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review with a large photo of my face, after all, so in some lofty social circles (to which the ex belonged), I was a shocking interloper, if not downright crazy. And these women made that expressively clear to me. Yet I know that some of them had had an abortion; how I know this I can't reveal. Their lives had not markedly changed; no one was gossiping about their choice.

In contrast to the data about first mothers, more than three decades of research on the effects of abortion on the women who have them indicate that it generally does not pose a risk of long-term psychological problems. This is the conclusion of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in London after reviewing 180 studies about the emotional impact of abortion that had been published in English between 1990 and 2011. The Turnaway Study also found that abortion does not have long-term psychological consequences that placing a child for adoption does. From this research we know that suggesting that adoption and abortion are equivalent with a glib nostrum makes a mockery of what giving up a child means to a woman.

So while the Senate Judiciary Committee dithers over how to handle the accusation of Christine Blasey Ford--and now a new accuser--and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says to his base, Don't worry, we'll ram Kavanaugh through (even before Dr. Blasey gives her testimony), we should all worry about a woman's right to choose. If a woman reading here is in the position of deciding between abortion or adoption, take into consideration that the child you lose to adoption may be the only child you will ever give birth to.--lorraine dusky
Many footnotes regarding the above are in Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption

Another new source

Are birth mothers satisfied with decisions to place children for adoption?

The Baby Scoop Era: Unwed Mothers, Infant Adoption and Forced Surrender
By Karen Wilson-Butterbaugh
Connie M. Pitts
Finally, an author tells the heinous truth about coerced (forced) adoptions during the Baby Scoop Era. Unwed mothers were ostracized, dehumanized by society, punished severely, and left with no other options but to surrender. It was an atrocity! The damage that was done remains lifelong for both mother and child. If the acts of cruelty and illegalities that occurred during the Baby Scoop Era happened in this day and age, it would make front page news...It is a lifelong sentence without parole. A must read for all!--Amazon review

The Adoption Triangle Revisited: A Study of Adoption, Search and Reunion
By John Triseliotis, Julia Feast and Fiona Kyle
5 out of 5 stars
10 years on - how are we all doing? 
Although there are many books that document the search and reunion process, this book revisits those involved in the adoption triangle, at least 10 years after reunion, through a comprehensive questionnaire and review. The statistics are there, but the qualitative insights and stories make the reading experience enriching and sympathetic. The comparative viewpoints from the diads and the triads (2 or 3 members of the same adoption triangle) make fascinating reading. The summary at each section under review relates the findings to known psychology of adoption and pulls the whole set of stories into perspective. Worthwhile new insights here. --Amazon review. (Yes, the book is expensive, but invaluable for research.--LD)


  1. Becta Meister, the main character in EDEN, my recently published work of fiction, manifests the emotional struggles you describe: low self esteem and guilt and other lifelong consequences of losing her daughter to adoption in the 1940's. My novel compares four unplanned pregnancy scenarios across four different generations as an illustration of how far we've come - and to think we could be going backwards now....

  2. The guilt of losing one child was so horrible I could never have another child. My only regret in life was losing him.
    I do not regret the abortion I had after that.

    1. Definitely! Loss to adoption is there every day of your life. Abortion is over and done with.

    2. Losing my daughter made it impossible to even think that another child would be a good idea or even a dream. I tried, at one point, for my husband. We went through fertility clinic and drug therapy. I had one of the finest fertility specialists in the world. The last time I spoke to her was after another failed attempt at harvesting eggs for invitro fertilization... She stated "there is absolutely no physical reason you can't have a child".... she knew I had an older child, but had no idea what the real story was, and I wasn't telling her.

      When I was 46 years old I got pregnant - it lasted only long enough to make its presence felt.... I woke one morning with little cramps and thought "how very sad" - my husband even knew, though we did not talk about it.

      The loss has devastated my entire being. It never gets easier.

    3. After losing my daughter to adoption at age 16, I had an illegal abortion at a farmhouse in North Georgia at age 20. I was married, about to be divorced, and knew I was in no position to raise a child. I also knew I could never, ever go through another adoption. Suicide would have been easier than that. I had the abortion, ended up hemorrhaging, in a hospital, but it was over. What a relief. I have never regretted that decision. Relinquishing my daughter has affected my life profoundly. I am old now and have accepted that the hole in my heart (thanks, Lorraine, for that perfect phrase) will go with me to my grave. I am used to it now. There really is no healing that wound. I have done both, so I feel qualified to speak to the issue.

  3. Given this kind of data, perhaps it is not surprising that some women reject reunion; reliving the moment of loss--and we do at first, and for a while--is too great a gamble to take. Do not make excuses for abhorrent behaviour, and it is an excuse. Kind people say yes to reunion. Unkind people say no. There is no inbetween.

    1. Unkind or smart?
      I often wish I had said "no" to reunion. It has been heart-breaking

    2. Megan,

      It has nothing to do with unkindess or kindness. If what you state is true - then my daughter is more than unkind, but cruel. Or are you one of those that think only the mother can reject and be unkind? Not a judgment, just curious.

    3. My daughter also rejected my outreach for a reunion. No explanation, no reason - after searching for her for 30 years. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I learned to live with the original loss. So now I have some experience in learning to live with this new loss. Kind or unkind? It really doesn't matter. The devastation of adoption just never ends.

    4. Jesse--
      My heart breaks when I hear a story like yours, whether it's from the first mother or the adoptee, and both things happen. I mentally began searching for my daughter soon after she was relinquished because I always new the closed adoption law was terribly wrong and punishing for both mother and child. Adoption as it is practiced today poisons minds about mothers when it did not have to be this way. The devastation of closed adoption is what a friend not involved in adoption called: failed social policy.

      I don't know if it is easier to keep on wondering, or deal with the shut out. My deepest sympathy.

    5. Jesse Jordan wrote: "The devastation of adoption just never ends."

      I second that.

    6. Agreed. There are times that I think my heart will absolutely break... and I've had a fairly successful reunion.

    7. Lori, unkind, cruel use whatever word you want. Yes, an adoptee rejecting is just as awful in their behaviour.

  4. I had three more children after surrendering my first, but they did not
    replace him, and even though I had more kids, I too have had life-long
    issues related to surrender. I always wanted children, would have been
    devastated I had not had more. But I do not feel it is up to me to make
    a choice about abortion for any other woman, even though I never wanted one.

    Kavanaugh must be stopped; he is a pig, a hypocrite and an attempted
    rapist. As a holier-than-thou "Christian", he is a disgrace. We were in
    Ireland last month when the Pope was about to visit, and there was much
    disgust and protest about the many cruelties of the Catholic Church and
    its institutions, including the terrible Mother and Baby homes run by
    nuns. This was always mentioned right up there with the pedophile
    scandals that have been covered up for years.

    Abortion was made legal in Ireland this year by popular vote, and my
    good Irish Catholic relatives supported this, and the earlier vote for
    Gay marriage. They are country people, they go to church, but are
    disgusted with the Church hierarchy and Church control of most of the
    institutions in Ireland.

    I picked up a book there, "The Adoption Machine: The Dark History of
    Ireland's Mother and Baby Homes and the Inside Story of how Tuam 800
    became a global scandal." It is by an adoptee born at one of these
    homes, Paul Jude Redmond. The "Tuam 800" are the bodies of 800 babies
    thrown away in a cesspool at the Home in Tuam, Co. Galway. I've only
    gotten a little way into the book, but he pulls no punches on the
    mistreatment of mothers and babies for years, or the fact that adoption
    was a money-making business selling babies to the highest bidder.Tuam is
    not far from where my cousins live.

    Our current government here is a disgrace, and more mothers and babies
    will suffer as we have suffered if Trump and Kavanaugh and their rapist
    abuser buddies have their way. Is there any real way to stop them?

  5. Lorraine, you always speak the truth, and I have always admired your courage. Your writing is clearly professional, and even more important is that your ideas cover so many aspects of our sisters' experience.



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