' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Birth mother grief is acknowledged at last--Amy Coney Barrett may have done us a favor by acting as if it doesn't exist

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Birth mother grief is acknowledged at last--Amy Coney Barrett may have done us a favor by acting as if it doesn't exist

Jane and Lorraine, 1982
 At last the unending grief of giving up a child to adoption is being recognized by others outside our closed circle! Today's New York Times has a piece vy Meg Bernhard about a social scientist and writer named Pauline Boss. She has been studying and writing about unresolved grief and I'm reading the piece and WHAM, I come upon these words: 

"It [unresolved grief] can take many forms, often quotidian: an alcoholic parent, who when inebriated, becomes a different person; a divorced partner, which whom our relationship is ruptured but not erased; a loved one with whom you've lost contact through immigration; or a children you've given up for adoption." 

At last. 

Later in the piece, Boss brings our issue up again in when she says that ambiguous loss is not a theory for everything, and that how people describe their loss is a key indicator whether it is ambiguous: "'Am I married or not since my husband has been missing for decades?' 'How to I answer how many children do I have when I gave up up for adoption.?'" 


Oh, we all know that question. We mothers have heard it so many times, and each time it's a stark reminder of our unclear status as women, as mothers. 

I've never seen us grouped with others in such a simple, natural way, and I am thrilled. When I tried to explain our unending loss to an editor once, she didn't believe me. The only research she would fully accept was from England where a small group of birth mothers were studied before and after they were found, and how many of them sought help for depression after relinquishing their children--when they had not before.* The woman acted as if I were revealing some amazing secret. In the end, the piece was not published--even though I was told it would be. Obviously some editor higher up quashed it. 

So to see this today--along with a treasure trove of letters from other birth mothers from my era, adoptees, children of mothers who relinquished on the New York Times editorial page--is quietly thrilling, even if it all stirs up my own grief, somewhat more resolved with my daughter's death. I could write "passing," which a lot of people prefer today, but I prefer the harsh reality of the word death. I have come to terms with her death, even her suicide, and I will carry guilt forever that she was adopted. That her unhappy life lead to two other lives that are still playing out the initial adoption in various ways that started with me. 

Our lives as women who relinquished our children are suffused with this ambiguous grief that we normally can't acknowledge in public. Do I tell a stranger or a new acquaintance who asks about children the whole story? Do I say, I had one daughter and she died? Do I say that I had one daughter and gave her up for adoption and then I found her, and then she died? How do I answer the question, Did you have any children? 

Right now my grief doesn't feel very ambiguous. I have always known that losing a child to death had its blessed finality, that one could grieve publicly, get understanding and sympathy from friends and relatives, but that was not extended to us. We had to deal silently with what felt like a living death. I remember seeing "Rabbit Hole"--a film about the impact of a son's death on a young couple--with a friend, and being critical of it. The film showed how the world was able to see their grief, and allow them to be sad; but we mothers of loss were supposed to shut up and move along. I was angry because our sorrow isn't acknowledged in any similar way. My friend didn't understand why I didn't empathize with the characters or the movie more. I couldn't explain. 

Maybe now that is changing. Maybe the reality of losing abortion as a right will give our unending, ambiguous grief some light. 

As for Amy Coney Barrett's asinine suggestion that adoption is the answer to being denied an abortion, it is thrilling to see the blowback from so many and in so many places. Lots of words have been written since she asked why "safe-haven boxes" weren't the answer since they removed the "burdens of parenting" from women.  A few days later, an anti-abortion columnist in the New York Times (Russ Douthat) did the same thing, mentioning the desire for a career as the first reason a woman who avoid the burdens of parenting, and that can all be taken care of with adoption. Fie on them both! --lorraine 


* John Triseliotis, Julia Feast and Fiona Kylie, The Adoption Triangle Revisited: A Study of adoption, search and reunion experiences, British Association for Adoption & Fostering, London: 2005. 


  1. I lost my child to adoption 53 years ago. The pain of loss is so extreme that to label it grief does not equate to the enormity of the suffering. I have never recoverd from the loss of my son.

    1. I never recovered from the loss of my daughter. Feb 1 she will be 54 .

  2. I am a 44 yr. Old adoptee. I believe I have earned the right to tell you that you must forgive yourself otherwise you will have surrendered him in vain. I am adopted and I desperately want to believe that my mom's life would not have been as successful if she had kept me without the resources, circumstances or confidence to raise me. I hope that she was able to make a decent life for herself and the forthcoming family she might have had. God is not looking for your depression or self destructive feelings. He wants you to receive whatever forgiveness you need to move forward So that you will be the kind of woman that your son would hope to meet someday 💛👍🙏

    1. Both Jane, who also writes here, and I have been reunited with our daughters. I have written two books about my journey since my only pregnancy, and have indeed moved forward but never without knowing the great cost of losing my daughter to adoption in 1966. So has Jane, who had other children and is an attorney. You make presumptions about us that is are unwarranted, and I don't pray to a HE god for forgiveness.

    2. Unknown, you have not earned the right to tell the mother who lost her child 53 years ago anything. Your lack of compassion and understanding will be a big obstacle to having any kind of relationship with your first mother or other bio relatives when you meet her or them.

  3. Talk about judgmental! I agree with Jane and Lorraine! I have been pregnant exactly twice in my life. I am very human and yet, my daughter...your age...adopted and found, is unable to accept my humanness...that I am flawed. My loss means little to her or anyone. She, like you, has no right to judge me. She knows me not at all, neither do you.

    There are days when I have to wonder at the arrogance of humans. Sigh.

  4. The Adoption Industry, Culture, Society - the Rules have left me forever a woman that could not have trusting relationships with ANYONE again. Those of you who have not walked miles in my shoes keep your absolute certainty of judgment to yourself.

  5. I swear, adoptees are so screwed up and they think they are helping. You can always tell which ones are still in the fog.

    1. I found my birth mother and tried to contact her. She denied being my mother even though I had given her a copy of my original birth certificate and dna proof. She was hateful. Apparently not all birth mothers grieved. At least mine didn’t. And no, I wasn’t a child born of rape or anything. I don’t understand why she named me when I was born if she hated me so much

  6. I don't know if this will be published but I've been returning to your site Lorriane for a long time. Your book published in 1979 was my first time 'connecting' to another first/birthmother.
    It was like feeling a spark of life, that I was not alone. Thank you. That was over 40 years ago.
    My child was adopted at 3 days old and when she was 25 she found me, but she actually, I believe, wanted to find her sister, my first born child. Since then it's been over 25 years and I do not believe we are any closer to actually connecting. I want very much to be as authentic as I can as the mother who relinguished her and why. I believe now that she is not ever going to be able to confront her own feelings to share at all nor is she able to understand we are both wounded and living with loss and grief, but we are also experiencing different 'roles' in the adoption 'industry' that I believe continues to thrive, though, yes, hallelujah we aren't staying quiet with shame. Thank you Lorraine. I can't find your first book and I gave mine
    to another birthmother and then she another. So it has served many of our hearts.

    1. Like you, I found Lorraine's book comforting. My grief was real, not just some kind of craziness on my part. And inspiring -- going public was unimaginable to me. Lorraine wrote a second book in 2015 -- Hole in My Heart about her reunion with her daughter. She is updating that book and it should be out soon.

    2. Dear Anon--
      Thank you so much for your note. I'm sorry to hear that you have not been able to actually physically connect with your daughter. Yes, both mothers and the children we had who were adopted have their own wounds and grief. It maybe somewhat easier for us to confront out sorrow, as we were not infants when the separation occurred, and and words to express our feelings.
      I am, as Jane says, in the finishing stages of a revise of my follow-up memoir, Hole in My Heart, and it should be out this fall. It covers both the period before I had Jane, my daughter, the publication of Birthmark and how that was received, and the relationship my daughter and I had. It was not easy, often tumultuous, but I was glad to have it. That you so much for writing; it has cheered me up as I struggle with these last pages in galley.

  7. Hey Lorraine - when are you going to come back & put more stuff on your blog? I miss your updates!

  8. I have recently been reunited with my 40 year son. I have trouble calling him that; my son. It’s weird. This man, whom I just met, is my son. Those 40 year old bottled up feelings have smacked me in the face. Yes, depression was a big factor for me, 40 years ago. No support from anyone. I came back home, and family life went on “as usual”. No mention, no counselling, no support; just a lot of loneliness, hurt, quiet tears, devastation, and depression. Not to be discussed with anyone.
    During our recent meeting, I was blessed to see baby photos of him. Now THAT was my SON! A baby. It was comforting for me to see him with his first time parents, first time grand-parents. The excitement that was shared!
    But today, I am left with these feelings again. I was not prepared to face my 40 year old memories when I conceived and the circumstances that followed. The bad memories, the sadness, the embarrassment, my parents’ shame. I been searching to find a support group in Canada. Or a counsellor in that field. Any suggestions?


    1. Dear Diane,
      We wish we had a contact in Canada, but I don't. Yet there must be something. It sounds like you have never met another mother you could share your feelings with--and you need to now! Partly, it's a release of all the bottled up sorrow that was not acknowledged at the time of birth and relinquishment.

      I suggest a couple of things. Locally, reach out to any nearby agency that handles adoption and ask if they have one, or know of any, support groups, for mothers of your generation. Even if they don't, it's a way of letting them know that women like you are suffering. And are reaching out. Canada is no further along in opening the records that we are in the US.

      Second, there is a lot of on-line connection that is available to everyone. The National Association of Adoptees and Parents (NAAP) holds a once-a-week zoom chat group Friday evenings and discusses issues just as you describe--though the topic is different every week. Find the group on line; they are also having a weekend retreat in Indiana at the end of September. This Friday it is about relinquishment, and could be what you are looking for.

      Third, look up Concerned United Birthparents (CUB). They also have zoom chats and support groups.

      Fourth, check out Adoption Knowledge Affiliates, which does a lot of work in all areas, and, are having a zoom conference this November, and ahem, I'll toot my own horn here and point out that I'm the keynote speaker and will be addressing the very topic that you are talking about. We never get over giving up a child, and at the time it happens are supposed to suppress it, which likely makes it worse. https://www.adoptionknowledge.org/services.html
      All the groups above have a presence on Facebook, where you will also find several pages--some closed to outsiders so we can pour out our feelings and feel safe. Just search for pages with these words, Adoption, Birthmothers, Birth mother. Because of the sensitivity with that word, there may be pages for mothers using some other word, but I'd start there. Also checkout the ALMA page, Adoption: Facing Realities; Adoption News and of course--the First Mother Forum, though I haven't been posting a lot there recently. I will post something asking about support in Canada.

      As for the current, try to enjoy that you have reconnected with your son. My advice it is not make him feel responsible for your current pain--he's been worrying about the mental state of his adoptive parents for years, and from you he just wants unconditional acceptance and love. Be well. Peace is around the corner.

  9. Hi Lorraine
    Thank-you so much for your response. I will do some research with the help of your suggestions. I need to reach out online, because I live in a remote northern area of Alberta. Services like counselling of any kind is minimal anxiety difficult to get. If the timing is right, I will participate in that zoom in November.
    One very important message I heard here is to not make my son responsible for my pain. You are right, he’s been most careful about his adoptive mother’s feelings. That was a big reason for the 40 year wait. Thanks for your support. Continue to go what you do best. Diane



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.