' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Birth mother grief is acknowledged at last--Amy Comey 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 Comey 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 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 Comey 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.

  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.



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