' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoption Loss: Unrecognized grief that mothers endure alone

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Adoption Loss: Unrecognized grief that mothers endure alone

In a New York Times opinion piece, Hope Edelman's vivid  description of still grieving at the loss of her mother 38 years earlier when she was 17 (New York Times 8/25/19) brought to my mind how much losing a child to adoption is like losing a loved one to death  Edelman wrote: "At the time, I thought grieving was a five stage process that could be rushed through and aced like an easy pop quiz. When I still painfully missed my mother three and five and even 10 years later; my conclusion was that I must have gotten grieving wrong." Her words echoed what Lorraine wrote 40 years ago in Birthmark about her 13-year-old daughter adopted at birth: "Of course I knew I would always remember her, but I didn't think it would be most of the time. She pervades my being."

I too believed that "I'll forget" (or the memory would at least float to the back of my mind) and move on with my life. I couldn't shake the sadness and so I thought there was something wrong with me.

First widely published memoir
from a woman who relinquished
her child to adoption
Edelman goes on to write that the pain of  loss "often flares up around anniversary events, such as birthdays and holidays; makes appearances at life milestones, like graduations and weddings; and sneaks up at age-correspondence events, such as reaching the age a parent was when he or she died. That's a big one." As Lorraine wrote: "The child was everywhere. True I stopped thinking about her every hour, and maybe sometimes several days would manage to slip by when she didn't come floating into my mind. But then something: Forsythia painted on a greeting card, baby clothes in a store window, commercials for gentle Ivory Snow.... All of these things would fill the secret pockets of my heart and head."

I thought about my daughter when she turned 24, the age I was when she was born. I thought of her every fall when media reports of children returning to school filled the news. Since she was born in November I wondered if she had started school as a not yet five-year-old or an almost six-year-old. Would she be in the fourth or fifth grade this year? As my three raised daughter opened Christmas presents, I tried to imagine my lost daughter opening presents at the same ages. Would she want dolls or trucks or both? I tried to place her in family photographs.

There are of course distinct differences between childless mothers and the women Edelman wrote about in her 1994 memoir Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss Combined with our loss is guilt. Lorraine: "I would always be a woman who gave away a child." I recognize that many women had no choice--they were teens at the mercy of their parents, clergy, and social workers-- while others like myself and Lorraine believed (or wanted to believe) that we were doing the right thing. We signed the papers and walked out of the hospital without our babies.

Unlike those who lose a loved one to death, our grief goes unacknowledged. No sympathy cards, no funeral--disenfranchised grief some call it. We bear our loss in silence.

Most of us do have what Edelman cannot have, a chance at reunion, or perhaps at redemption. We can't change the past but we can impact the future. We can search for and find our child (as Lorraine did) or accept our child when she contacts us (as I did). We can work hard at having a positive relationship--accepting our responsibility, accepting that our child has other parents, and not expecting our child to be responsible for our well-being. Sadly, some adopted children will reject their first mothers no matter how kind and giving they are. Even sadder are the mothers who find their child dead. Still for many knowing--who and where our children are is at least a salve.--jane.

I Couldn't Say 'My Mother' Without Crying 

Concerned United Birth Parents (CUB) will present a panel of therapists on disenfranchised grief at it annual retreat October 25-27, Redondo Beach, California https://www.cubirthparents.org/retreats.php

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By Lorraine Dusky
5.0 out of 5 stars
In 2012, when I found the son I had given up for adoption in 1968, I hadn't read any books on adoption in many years, and those had been about international adoption primarily (I adopted a son from Vietnam in 1974), but if I am anything, I am a reader, so when I came across Lorraine Dusky's memoir about being a "birth mother," I knew I had to read it. Published in 1979, it remains as fresh, as moving, and as relevant today as it was over thirty years ago. As momentum builds to finally unseal adoption records that have denied adoptees and birth mothers access to each other and their own information, this book is an important reminder that much still needs to be done in the area of adoption reform.

Beautiful book, so far! I need to keep taking breaks from reading this, not because its a bad book (its an amazing book), but because if you are anything like me, the truth is hard to swallow. And this book brings out a lot of truth, and makes you question your entire grieving process, while still being comforting. I could never explain the depth of this book to you, but if you are reading this review, you need this book. Because obviously, you're looking for an explanation for what you're feeling. If I could meet this Author, I would give her the biggest hug ever and thank her from the bottom of my broken heart

Adoption and Loss - The Hidden Grief
by Evelyn Robinson
5.0 out of 5 starsGreat book.
As a mother who relinquished her son to adoption in 1973, I found this book extremely helpful and interesting. All of the emotions and questions I have lived with for the past 32 years were addressed in a manner which gave my feelings validity and reassurance. It is remarkable how similar my experience is to that of Ms. Robinson. From pregnancy to reunion I feel like I have lived a parallel life on the other side of "the pond", or the world as it turns out


  1. My daughter who is adopted often brings up her loss, and by often, I mean it's usually at least once a week. We are in an open adoption but her parents have decreased their level of contact with her extensively, and that is really hard on her.

    I think the general public lacks the empathy to understand the supreme level of grief that comes with the severing of all genetic familial relationships. I would be content if they could at least attempt it, but I don't think most are even willing to do that. In my experience, there is so much positive propaganda around adoption that I have to work really, really hard (and this is as an AP even!) to get people to understand that it HURTS to be adopted or to give up a child for adoption. I would have thought with the recent obsession with DNA and places like Ancestry.com and such, people would have a bit of a dawning moment of realization that genetic connection matters to humans. But nope. There appears to be a cognitive disconnect between empathy for mothers and children who have lost one another through death and those who have lost one another through adoption. I understand they are not the same, but I don't understand why we cannot see the general similarities and have compassion for each situation.

    1. Tiffany, I just read your comment all the way through--yesterday was a crazy day for me--and again, your level of empathy for first mothers and adoptees, and disgust with the way adoption is accepted in society, made me want to reach out and give you a big hug. Of course, I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished.

      You are so rare.

      We mothers who have paid with buckets of tears and a lifetime of grief fully understand how rare you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my worn-out heart. Thank you for being a presence here. If you are ever in the vicinity of eastern Long Island, please let me know. I would love to meet you.

    2. I hardly know what to say, Lorraine, except that it makes me really sad that mine is a rare viewpoint from APs. I don't want to be in the minority here, and while I absolutely appreciate the sentiment from you, it feels uncomfortable and frustrating to be so unusual in my compassion as to generate that kind of a compliment.

      You and Jane are amazing, and I cannot fathom what it is like to carry your own losses and yet also hold space for others experiencing the same. You are both a gift to adoptees and natural parents.

      I was hoping to get to Redondo Beach for the CUB conference, but we were lucky enough to spend the summer in Europe (our jobs offer sabbaticals), and when I returned to my project at work, it was (to put it mildly) a disaster. I can't see how I can take off time again so quickly. We also already planned a trip to Mexico in November since it is one of our adopted daughter's ethnic backgrounds, and over the next few years, we are traveling to her countries of genetic origin to help her feel connected to her roots. That's a super round about way of saying I would have loved meeting you there, but don't think I will now. If I ever get back to NYC area (which we are discussing actually, since both girls are Broadway obsessed!) I will definitely let you know! I would love to meet you and give you a well-deserved hug for all that you have done for others, all that you have opened my eyes to, and just for being an amazing person that I feel I know without ever having met.

  2. This column had me bawling. Thank you for your words and Lorraine's. Sometimes just knowing that there are other first mothers who recognize our grief, is balm to a shattered heart.

  3. I know this is somewhat off topic but I just wanted to thank all you lovely ladies (all of you are so brave)for sharing your stories,All of which have encouraged me to search again for my Mother,it has been a long 30 year search but I still hope to find her,I was adopted at birth from my Mother who was 17 at the time during the 60`s in so called swinging London, and spent 5 months without a bond with anyone, it has been somewhat of a stop start process,the usual things fear of rejection,confusion not wanting to disturb her life and what to tell her about my life as an adoptee (not good),and what if she does not like me.But this great blog has managed to address all my fears to allow the pull of the very special bond between child and Mother to be expressed fully and drive me into searching again.It is still early days and I have had to hire a PI to search as I`ve come to a brick wall,they have found some information and I have requested it, but they are delaying and have held onto the info for over a week now,very annoying,still at least something is happening I just wanted to say a huge big thank you to you all.

  4. As I just started, finally, to read your book, Lorraine, I often think about the times people have pushed me to write my story. My daughters objections to it. The painful truths, mine and societies, that my daughter has forbidden me (which I find ridiculous) to share. And the pain of never having a day when she was not one of, if not the first thing I think of daily. Maybe it is time to share the whole story... and let the chips fall where they may.

  5. There are some similarities in the way that some people/families refuse to recognize grief, in both situations.
    In adoption: there are people like my family who say: "think of the joy you gave those people who adopted your child!!" Of course, I respond, by saying," i didn't give them the joy, I was forced against my will. I was trying right up until the last minute to find a way to keep him and raise him myself."
    I asked caseworker what she would do if I refused to sign papers she had in her hand. She smiled and said,"oh, we will terminate your rights in court. It will take longer of course. But we will do it(because you have no way to support him). One way or another"

    When my son died, decades later, after a mostly happy reunion for which I am grateful, there were people who said," but you should be glad that he is in a better place!!!"

    What??Somehow, that sounded very familiar...like the happy adoptive home refrain...that I was supposed to be grateful for, and also, distracted from my own pain and loss in the process. But my son did not get a "happy adoptive home." He got a rather unhappy adoptive home.

    I know where his ashes are....but that is not the essence of him.
    I miss him every day..loss from the death of my child has not gone away for me.

  6. Hello everyone i was hoping to ask you all a question having found my first mother i am being somewhat railroaded into using s mediator to make contact with her (they have not given me her contact details) and want me to explain to them how being adopted has effected me and what i am expecting from contact,this I`ve been told will take about an hour and a half and they will do the same with my first mother (she is 71 and we are not in the same country) I have already had my counsel session before in order to receive my adoption records and birth name with the original adoption agency .I personally feel this requirement is intrusive, however i would like to ask all the first/birth mothers how would you prefer to have been or would like to be contacted? directly or via an agency and your feelings on having to have counselling before contact could be made?
    many thanks and good wishes to you all. Oh and the mediator does charge ...surprise surprise the way that they have been able to do this is by tying in their search service with mediator services.


    1. Directly! I would not wanted to have counseling before contact.

    2. thank you Jane my feelings also ,looks like I`ll lose her contact information still at least I`ve found the right country I`ll have to find a way round getting her address

  7. 20 years ago I gave birth to a baby boy, I named him Marcus. I was a single mom trying to balance between work, my alcohol and cocaine addiction, and being a mom. I really tried to be a good mom. I would hire a babysitter or leave him with family when I worked or went out, I never had him while I was using. I convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by protecting him from that. Well, others didn't see it my way.
    On the day he was taken, I was on my way to see his dad out of state. Either I get back within an hour or they'll put him in a foster care. There was no way, so they took him.
    During the next year, I worked and got visitation with him while my parents supervised. I was going to AA, counseling, and for a while I passed all my drug screens.
    Dealing with the Dept of Family and Children's Services was hard at the time, or so I thought. So I began using again, missing our visitations. It was tough. I eventually moved 1 state away and got back on track. Manager of a hotel, nice home, a room for my son, attending church, meetings, counseling, passed all drug screens and had positive character references from my boss, my church, and my AA sponsor. I even sent pictures of my home and his bedroom.
    A few weeks go by and nothing. A few days later I received a phone call from the case manager telling me that she had a couple who wanted to adopt him and that she wasn't going to be doing our reunification because it was too much paperwork.
    At that point, I gave up and got lost in my addiction once again. What was the use? In 2006, He was gone at the age of 5.
    Fast-forward to 2017. I am incarcerated at a federal prison doing 6 years. I received a email from my mom telling me that they located Marcus. In 2018 I had my first phone call with him, it was very emotional for me. He said," mom, it's ok. I know things happen. It's ok. By now he has been welcomed in our family and visits with them often.
    It's now July 25, 2021 and THE DAY I finally meet him. His sister, my oldest daughter Chelsea, drives 2 hours to pick him up. When they pulled up, I waited until they got to the steps and I opened the door and waited for him to see me. When he did, he stopped, "hands on face" shaking his head saying," Momma, OMG, it's really you and gave me the biggest hug, telling me he loves me. I start crying. We talked for a few hours then he left with my niece, his cousin to her house. Plans to come back to where I'm staying for a few days at my parents house cause my dad is dying and I live out of state. They come over the next evening, we hang out then we decided to go for a drive, just the two of us. I tried explaining what happened while he's telling me that his adoptive parents beat him, punished him and treated him bad and finally kicked him out of the house. I'm hurting inside, blaming myself for his life of pain and heartaches.
    There's so much I want to tell him but can't find the words. Can anyone tell me what's going to happen now? I want to write him a letter, it's easier for me to express things on paper but don't know where to start or what to say. Please help. Thank you and God Bless



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