|Jane and Lorraine, 1982|
"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."
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.