of Adoption on Mental Health of the Mother
What They Knew and Didn't Tell Us.
courtesy of Origins Inc.
Sister Mary Borromeo. RSM. BA. Dip.Soc.Wk.
OF NATURAL MOTHER.
From the Point of View of the Natural Parents.
this article on many years of work with unmarried mothers. Its purpose
was to draw attention to the grief reaction which the natural mother
experiences after the adoption of her child which both she and her
family are ill prepared for.
the separation of adoption to the separation of a child through
death. The loss is as irrevocable in terms of relationship.
that the surrendering mother knows that acceptance back into her
family circle is dependent on her ability to "put it all behind
her", and so she is under double pressure to do this and suppress
her grief. In cases where this is done it is not unusual to find
a severe breakdown in self control occurring somewhere around the
childs first birthday.
Spaulding.J.G: Hammet.E.: 1976.
reactions are among the most interesting phenomena seen in clinical
practice. These reactions are time specific psychological or physiological
events which occur or reoccur in response to traumatic events in
the individuals past, or in the past of a person with whom the individual
is closely identified. The individual attempts to relive or re-experience
the traumatic event again in a repetitious way, in anticipation
of being able to master the trauma which was not mastered previously.
the first to recognize anniversary reactions in 1885. Pollock. (1971)
describes the anniversary reaction as a response of the mind which
is triggered by the anniversary of a personal loss or disappointment.
Various case histories are described, indicating that a variety
of physical and psychological problems may occur as anniversary
disorders, ranging from very mild depression to psychotic level
disorders, may occur on an anniversary basis. Heart attacks, pleurisy
and pneumonia, suicides, and phobic fear are also attributed to
anniversary reactions. Pollock (1971) has written extensively on
the subject. He believes that these reactions are due to incomplete
or abnormal mourning over a personal loss or disappointment.
has written extensively on anniversary reactions. She reports that
depression or psychotic reactions may be precipitated as anniversary
reactions to childhood sibling deaths.
processes have been described as somatic equivalents or expressions
of anniversary reactions. Weiss et.al. (1957) have described hypertensive
crises, irritable bowel syndromes, and coronary occlusion as anniversary
responses. Rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headache and dermatologic
conditions have also been described as anniversary reactions.
reactions are much more common in medical practice than is generally
recognized. This is true with physical complaints and illnesses
as well as psychiatric or emotional problems.
GRIEF OF NATURAL MOTHERS.
Picton. Lecturer in Social Work, Monash University.
material is drawn from an unsolicited group of fifty one letters
received by the Conference office, Sydney, prior to the First Australian
Conference on Adoption. Feb.1976. One of the letters came from a
hypnotherapist who wrote "many of my patients are women distressed
by not knowing what became of their children who they gave up for
adoption, and adults who were adopted as babies and desperately
wish to know something of their biological parents".
of feelings described in the letters runs the gamut from curiosity
thirteen years after, to "complete and continuing agony and a sense
of loss". Several talk of repeated crying and one woman said she
was in tears as she wrote the letter. One woman who relinquished
her child twenty years ago said, " I have never gotten over it,
it still upsets me". Another, thirteen years later, says she still
looks for the "lost" child and feels deep depression on the childs
birthday. In addition to years of grief and remorse, she now experiences
the fear that retrospective legislation could result in the break
down of her marriage.
In the main
there was strong identification with the child with references to
"my child" and "loving". Six talk of seeing the child and wanting
a meeting, ranging from "I believe he has a right to know me, to
"I will find you one day fair means or foul". One letter contained
disturbing details of desperation and unhappiness and contained
the speculation that "the child will wonder who she is".
on to speculate that most of these women have been left with unanswered
questions and raw feelings and quote, "one is left wondering about
the quality of service given to these women".
Reite.MD. Conny Seiler. and Robert Short. MS.
In a paper
illustrating attachment bonds between mother and child they point
out that: attachment bonds are central to the development of many
higher organisms. In higher primates they are crucial for the maintenance
of family and social structure. The relationship of the individual
to such structures and their disruption may be closely linked to
the development of serious psychopathology.
and losses have been implicated in the etiology of affective disorders
and maternal loss has serious psycho-physiological consequences
in human infants and children.
and infant were used for studying the behaviourial and psychological
consequences of maternal loss and the attendant disruption of the
most important attachment bond. They made observations through implant
systems that permitted psychological monitoring of the unrestrained
infant living in its social group.
of behavioural agitation immediately following separation from the
mother was accompanied by increases of heart rate and body temperature.
Sleep patterns on the first night of separation were characterisd
by increased sleep latency, more frequent arousals, less total sleep,
increased REM latency, and decreased REM sleep. Most often both
heart rate and body temperature showed pronounced decreases the
first night of separation.
monkey at fourteen weeks old was used in an experiment on separation
from it's mother. It starts with the infant and its mother being
removed from their group and separated at 2 pm. The infant was returned
to the group. The infant immediately exhibited increased locomotor
behaviour and vocalisation, characteristic of agitation reaction.
Within seven minutes of its return it was adopted by a childless
lights out that night the infant was monitored. The separated infant
spent all night sleeping in ventro-vental contact with the adoptive
female. During the first night of separation the infants body temperature
decreased 1.4 degrees below its pre-established normal baseline.
The infant also suffered increased sleep latency, more frequent
arousals, more time awake and the total of absence of REM sleep.
Behavioural depression the morning following was manifested by decreases
in activity and play behaviour and impaired motor coordination.
demonstrate the physiological accompaniments of maternal separation
in monkey infants at least in terms of body temperature decreases
and sleep pattern changes. These occur even when the infant is adopted
by another adult female who can provide the infant with body heat,
physical contact and normal sleep enclosed posture.
that they can infer that these physiological changes are not due
to the physical absence of the mother but are instead etiologically
related, at least in part, to the perception of the loss of the
mother on the part of the infant. They suggest that the monkey data
will prove to be of significant value to our understanding with
respect to man.
MOURNING A STILL BIRTH.
It has been
noted in a paper delivered in 1978 that failure to mourn a stillbirth
can cause profound disturbance to the mother. In the hospital bereaved
mothers are usually isolated. This was meant to protect the mother
from the anxiety of the awareness of live babies. On returning home
she was usually confronted by a "conspiracy of silence". No acknowledgement
of the tragedy can seriously affect the mental health of the mother
and her family.
describes the stillbirth as a non event in which there is guilt
and shame with no tangible person to mourn. A still born is a person
who did not exist, a person with no name.
the normal mourning process essential for recovery. With other bereavements
there is much to remember, not so with stillbirth, there is no one
to talk about and no one to talk to about it. The bereaved mothers
may themselves avoid contact with people because of the unconscious
feelings of guilt and shame associated with a sense of being a failure
as a mother.
of stillbirth on the mother can be easily be equated to a mother
who has lost a child to adoption.
BIRTH PARENTS REVISITED AFTER ADOPTION.
R. Baran.A. Sorosky.A. 1978.
of a thousand letters received from the three parties in an Adoption
Research Project revealed that many birth mothers had not resolved
their feelings for their relinquished child that they were told
they could never see again. Many were found to have a lifelong unfulfilled
need for further information and in some cases contact with the
varying degrees of grief, the persistence of troubled feelings,
and no viable alternative that would have made it possible to keep
their child. Their findings reflect the fact that the birth parents
seem to be functioning on two levels. They are functioning well
within the existing marriage or family, but they harbor deep unresolved
feelings and sharp memories of the bearing and losing of the child.
of the birth parents interviewed said they continued to have feelings
of loss, pain, and mourning over their child. Some expressed the
feeling that "I have never got over the feeling of loss, I still
have feelings of guilt and pain when I think about it. Giving up
my child was the saddest day of my life".
by saying that feelings of loss, pain and mourning continued many
years after the relinquishment. An overwhelming majority experienced
feelings of wanting their children to know they still cared for
RELINQUISHMENT AND IT'S MATERNAL COMPLICATIONS.
women in this study were drawn from a population of psychiatric
out patients. The fact that a woman had relinquished a child was
established during psychiatric assessment.
the women had a DSM-111 diagnosis of dysthymic disorder, and eight
had a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder, borderline personality
or dependent personality disorder. No one with a psychotic or schizophrenic
disorder was included in the study.
had lost a child between the ages of 15-19, all were unmarried and
dependent on their families. When they entered the centres for unwed
mothers they all agreed to relinquish their babies. In spite of
this, 19 mothers developed a covert maternal identification with
the fetus. This was manifested more in the second trimester with
time the subjects developed an intense private monologue with the
fetus, including a rescue fantasy in which they and the new born
infant would be "saved" from relinquishment.
All the women
dreaded delivery. All remember labor as a time of loneliness and
painful panic. All received general anaesthesia at time of delivery,
which heightened the extirpative quality of their last contact with
their baby. Eighteen of these were not allowed to see their babies
after delivery. All reported the signing of the adoption papers
as being traumatic, all felt a feeling of numbness and disassociation
during the hospitalisation.
All the women
left the hospital with the question of what happened to the baby.
Use of general anaesthesia during the final stage of labor and post
partum period inhibited the open expression of mourning and intensified
the fantasied attachment to the lost child.
All the women
returned home, they all reported dreams concerning the loss of the
baby with contrasting themes of traumatic separation and joyful
reunion. All experienced curiosity when seeing a stranger with a
baby as to whether this was the baby they lost. When there was "enough"
physical resemblance they would follow the baby as if to visually
retrieve it. Underlying fear, was a constantly acknowledged urge
to get pregnant, an overdetermined need to undo the act of relinquishment.
All of the
subjects continued to experience symptoms of mourning at the anniversary
of the relinquishment and presented the co-existent themes of sadness
regarding the loss, and joy in the conviction that the child was
happy and well.
the women's fantasies and behaviour related to the act of relinquishment
may be viewed as compensatory, allowing a sustained internalized
attachment and maternal identification in spite of its external
ANGER IN THE NATURAL MOTHER.
(1982), talks about the anger of the natural mother following the
loss of her baby. Anger at her helplessness and the officialdom
that represents the power to decide what happens to her baby, a
power she is without. Anger at all those known and unknown persons
who could not and would not rescue her. Anger at her prolific body,
so at odds with her circumstances. Anger at her parents, anger at
friends, anger at the "unfairness" that allows the man involved
freedom from the experience she must endure and integrate.
Anger at the
adopters for all they have and all she needs. Anger at the
world that elevates motherhood to sanctity but failed her as a mother.
Anger at her discovery that "approved of and supported motherhood"
is very rigidly defined and excludes her. Anger on behalf of her
baby who she feels is defined as unwanted unless she is removed.
Anger that must be suppressed and contained that could provide a
list of causes and directions too immense and personally derived
for us to take account of.
She may, if
the common numbness described by such mothers does not lift for
many years, only come to anger years after her lost baby is grown
up and the specific persons involved are far distant or dead in
her present life. She may begin her pregnancy in anger and resentment
and continue for years with a randomly placed rage.
WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN. MARCH 5-6. 1983.
SUFFER AFTER ADOPTION.
Quote. "Research has found that the forgotten natural mothers of
adopted children are suffering serious psychological problems up
to forty years after being parted from their children".
financed by the Institute of Family Studies has found that many
mothers never get over the trauma of giving up their babies.
also found that of at least 50% of the women studied, a deep sense
of loss had never left them since the time of relinquishment of
their babies. In many of these mothers their sense of loss only
got worse with time and in some cases lasted forty years, Professor
found it difficult to cope and some needed psychological help to
come to terms with their sense of loss.
Winkler and fellow researcher Ms. Margaret Van Kepple were struck
by the enormity of the response the women gave to the study and
were alarmed by the strong emotions expressed.
FEAR IN THE NATURAL MOTHER: AFTERMATH OF ADOPTION.
and extent of fear expressed by the natural mother as the aftermath
of adoption can relate to:
- Fear that
the adoptee will never know of his adoptive status.
- Fear that
the adoptee has suffered negative feelings and had other problems
related to his adoption.
- Fear that
the adoptee has hateful and angry feelings toward his natural
parents. Natural mothers often question how they will cope with
this if contact occurs, although one recently stated she would
prefer to hear negative feelings voiced directly rather than never
have the opportunity to meet the adoptee face to face.
- Fear that
the adoptee will believe his natural mother did not want him,
and never know she did and still cares and continues to be concerned
about his progress and welfare.
- Fear that
the adopters have told the adoptee lies, "your mother
is dead", or painted a very bleak picture of his natural parents.
- Fears that
the adoptee is dead or fears for his welfare should his parents
die while he is still dependent.
- Fears that
the child relinquished for adoption was not placed and instead
grew up in an institution.
- Fears that
the adoptee will not search, despite his desire, because of his
adopters opposition or because he feels they will be really
hurt if he searched.
GRIEF IN THE NATURAL MOTHER: HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION PAPER. 1984.
Dr Kathy Mc
Dermott: July 1984. Sec. 55. The bereavement experienced by the
natural mother and her continuing concern about the fate of her
child, can take many forms. Some mothers report posting unaddressed
birthday cards to their children each year.
is that the bereaved mother will attempt to "replace"the lost child,
either by adopting or getting pregnant again as soon as possible.
In either case, she is likely to realize too late the new baby is
not a substitute for the lost one.
quotes from (Shawyer) "The emotional havok wreaked on the natural
mothers of adopted children is frightening and it reaches into every
other relationship they have with subsequent children and partners"
and the mother who repeats her pregnancy in order to recover her
adopted child becomes evidence of "the kind of woman" who is unfit
to raise a child.
PSYCHOLOGICAL DISABILITY IN BIRTH MOTHERS.
1986. Existing evidence suggests that the experience of relinquishment
renders a woman at high risk of psychological (and possibly physical)
disability. Moreover very recent research indicates that actual
disability or vulnerability may not diminish even decades after
how the relinqishment experience differs from perinatal bereavement
in four crucial psychological aspects.
construed as "voluntary" most relinquishing mothers feel the relinquishment
is their only option in the face of financial hardship, pressure
from family, professionals and social stigma associated with illegitimacy.
their child continues to exist and develop while remaining inaccessible
to them, and one day may be reunited with them. The situation is
analogous to that of relatives of servicemen "missing believed dead".
The reunion fantasy renders it impossible to "say goodbye" with
any sense of finality. Disabling chronic grief reactions were particularly
common in the war in such relatives.
lack of knowledge of the child permits the development of a variety
of disturbing fantasies, such as the child being dead, or ill, unhappy
or hating his or her relinquishing mother. The guilt of relinquishment
is thereby augmented.
the women perceive their efforts to acquire knowledge about their
child (which would give them something to let go of) as being blocked
by an uncaring bureaucracy. Shawyer describes poignantly how "confidential
files are tauntingly kept just out of reach, across official desks".
Thus the anger that is associated with the original event is kept
alive and refocused onto those who continue to come between mother
On a study
of twenty women who relinquished their baby, all but two of them
reported strong feelings of affection for the infant, both during
the late pregnancy and in the immediate post partum period. None
reported negative feelings toward the child.
sadness or depression at the time of relinquishment were rated on
the average as intense and "the most intense ever experienced".
Anger at the time of relinquishment was rated at the time as between
"a great deal and intense". Only 33% reported a decrease over time,
and over one half said their anger had increased. Guilt at the time
was rated as "intense" with only 17% reporting a decrease over the
the women reported they had received little or no help from family,
friends or professionals. Over half of them had used alcohol or
sedative medication to help them cope after relinquishment. Almost
all reported that they dealt with their distress by withdrawing
and bottling up their feelings. One third had subsequently sought
A most striking
finding in the present study is that the majority of these women
reported no diminution of their sadness, anger and guilt over the
considerable number of years which had elapsed since their relinquishment.
A significant number actually reported an intensification of these
feelings especially anger.
the evidence suggests that over half of these women are suffering
from severe and disabling grief reactions which are not resolved
over the passage of time and which manifest predominantly as depression
and psychosomatic illness.
of factors operated to impede the grieving process in these women.
Their loss was not acknowledged by family and professionals, who
denied them the support necessary for the expression of their grief.
Intense anger, shame and guilt complicated their mourning, which
was further inhibited by the fantasy of eventual reunion with their
child. Many were too young to have acquired the ego strength necessary
to grieve in an unsupported environment.
Few had sufficient
contact with the child at birth or received sufficient information
to enable them to construct an image of what they had lost. Masterson
(1976) has demonstrated that mourning cannot proceed without a clear
mental picture of what has been lost.
that maternal attachment can be avoided by a brisk removal of the
infant at birth and the avoidance of subsequent contact between
mother and child is strongly contradicted in recent research. Condon
and others have demonstrated an intense attachment to the unborn
child in most pregnant women.
There is a
strong impression from data that over-protectiveness is part of
the phenomenon of unresolved grief and serves both to assuage guilt
and compensate for the severe blow dealt by relinquishment to the
self esteem in the area of being a "good mother".
high instance of pregnancy during the year after relinquishment
invites speculation that this represents a maladaptive coping strategy
that involves a "replacement baby".
: Birth Families: Living with the Decision. 1986. Birth parents
who place children for adoption are expected to live a lie the rest
of their lives. The adoption eliminates the public record of the
childs birth, and the birth parents are counselled by family, friends
and social agencies to go on with their lives as if the pregnancy
never occurred. This socially sanctioned denial not only interferes
with the resolution of grief, but intensifies the parents' poor
self-image by reinforcing the idea that what they have done is so
heinous that it must be concealed forever.
THE PARENT AND FOETAL RELATIONSHIP, OF MALE AND FEMALE EXPECTANT
In a questionaire issued to 54 first time expectant couples. Three
of the major findings were. (1) thoughts and feelings about the
foetus are strikingly similar between pregnant women and expectant
fathers: (2) the behavioural expression of this antenatal attachment
is considerably attenuated in the men, most likely due to perceived
conflicts with the sex role stereotype of masculinity: (3) Attitudes
towards the foetus per se are not necessarily correlated (in either
sex) with attitudes towards "being pregnant".
and Morris. observed that a group of fathers , first presented with
their neonates, exhibited "engrossment" which was virtually identical
with that of their spouses. The authors concluded that the encounter
with the infant "released an innate potential" for fathering.
writer (Condon) has observed profound grief reactions in fathers
bereaved by stillbirths, suggesting a significant antenatal attachment.
BIRTH PARENTS AND LOSS.
M. Midford.S. Cicchini.M. 1987. In a paper presented at the National
Association for Loss and Grief, Van Kepple, Midford and Cicchini
state that perhaps the most obvious loss experience in adoption
is the loss of the child relinquished by his/her birth parents.
The significance of this loss, however has either been denied or
grossly underestimated by society in general and by adoption practices
is our contention that their grief has been cruelly exacerbated
by the long standing conspiracy of silence which surrounded adoption
The loss of a
child by death is generally accepted to be a very traumatic event
for parents and family, and is followed by traumatic and complicated
grief reactions. The loss of a child through relinquishment is similarly,
for many birth mothers, a tragic event but is complicated by the fact
that the birth mother suffers in silence.
mothers have reported extended periods of depression, anxiety, feeling
suicidal, as well as alcohol and drug use, and poor physical health
immediately following the relinquishment. In many instances the
mother didn't necessarily attribute these physical and emotional
disturbances to the loss of their child, primarily because they
had been led to believe they would not suffer and if they did, it
would be short lived.
demonstrated that in the long term relinquishing mothers are more
susceptible to a variety of physical and emotional difficulties:
they experience an on-going sense of loss, which for some fluctuates
according to events such as anniversaries.
PRIMARY PROCESS THINKING IN PREGNANT WOMEN.
1987, in his paper on the Altered Cognitive Functioning in Pregnant
Women, refers to Raphael-Leff (1980) who has provided one of the
few detailed descriptions of analytic psychotherapy with pregnant
women. She writes: the pregnant woman has immediate and direct access
to her well of fantasies, her earlier modes of symbolic thinking.
. . she is in touch with her unconscious, and at times feels most
overwhelmed by the power of the irrational within her.
finds herself different from others, and unable to communicate the
"mad" content of her experiences, which she recognizes and is embarrassed
by. Her dreams too, have become extremely vivid with often explicit
symbolism and with little attempt to "censor" or disguise forbidden
PARENT AND INFANT ATTACHMENT IN THE EARLY POSTNATAL PERIOD.
1988, Says that inquiry into the early development of mother-to-infant
bonding has been heavily dominated by the "critical period" theory
or "bonding hypothesis" of Klaus and Kennel (1982). In its simplest
form, the theory states that skin-to-skin contact between mother
and infant during the first 24 hours after delivery is necessary
for the normal development of maternal-infant bonding. Conversely,
the absence of such contact during this "sensitive period" carries
a significant risk of deficient bonding that may endure throughout
early childhood and exert potentially detrimental effects on the
view, the critical period theory, with its strong overtones of animal
behavioural psychology, provides a very limited perspective on the
richness of a human mothers cognitive and emotional experiences
during the early postpartum period and the complexity of the factors
that determine these experiences.
Twenty five years ago, Gerald Caplan (1961) wrote:
You can predict
this time lag ( between the mother seeing the neonate and experiencing
attachment) by paying attention to her attitude to the foetus. In
extreme cases there is no time lag at all: she continues to have
the relationship with the baby which she had to the foetus, interrupted
only by the mechanics of delivery ("Now he's outside. . . but he's
the same person").
Brown.D. Van Keppel.M. Blanchare.A.: 1988.
It has been
conservatively estimated that one in fifty women in Western countries
in 1988 will have placed a child for adoption since the beginning
of the twentieth century. Approximately half of these women will
have experienced much pain and suffering as a result of their decision
to relinquish their child (Winkler & Van Keppel).
It is only
in more recent years that birth-parents have "come out" and talked
publicly about their private anguish. There is also a growing body
of recent research data which has supported their claims that relinquishing
a child is a profound loss experience, and this life event can have
long term deleterious results.
While a considerable
number of birth fathers are not aware of their role in the adoption
process (because the birth mothers chose or were unable to disclose
such information to the fathers of their children), those who were
involved, also suffer. While fewer birth fathers seek professional
services in an attempt to alleviate their suffering, those who do,
appear to have similar experiences to the birth-mothers.
birth parents have stated that they felt pressured into relinquishing
their child for adoption by adoption workers (and others). They
felt that they were not given accurate or adequate information about
their rights and the adoption process. Almost none expected the
strong emotional reactions which they experienced and were not encouraged
to actively mourn the loss of their child.
incidental to the adoption process and felt the major focus of attention
was to the child and the adopting family.
difficulties have resulted in additional, more complicated psychological
and social difficulties than might have otherwise been expected
to result from the relinquishment process.
For most women,
pregnancy and childbirth are universally recognized as physically,
emotionally and socially stressful events, requiring a substantial
period of adjustment.
- A sense
of powerlessness and betrayal that has permeated subsequent relationships,
not only with the professionals but also with family and friends.
to mourn the loss of their child, because they had no memories
of the actual child: there was often no saying goodbye, nor memories
of seeing or touching the child which would have assisted the
parents to shift the experience from the realm of fantasy into
the realm of reality. Denial of the experience was promoted as
an effective coping strategy.
self-esteem and a strong sense of worthlessness (complicated by
shame and guilt) resulted from the way in which their needs and
experiences were ignored by members of the adoption community.
GIVING UP THE BABY.
1963. In her article "Giving up the Baby" notes, "what I have learned,
from researching the reunion phenomenon and the interviewing of
the birth mothers, is that contrary to what these young mothers
were advised by humiliated parents and adoption social workers,
the fact that being a mother, did not disappear with the surrender
of the child. Vast numbers of them were not able to put the experience
behind them, "get on with it" and "get on with their lives."
The need to
know what happened to their child seems almost universal and does
not disappear. One birth-mother after another talks about the pain
of going through life wondering whether the child is alive or dead:
Is he well? Is he happy? What kind of life has he had? Where is
he. Not knowing is compared to having a loved one missing in action.
So birth mothers
find themselves looking involuntarily at every boy or girl they
pass on the street and feeling a part of themselves is missing.
to the impact on their feelings about themselves and their lost
children, birthmothers report still other kinds of consequences
resulting from long ago adoptions. Some reveal that the psychic
strain of living with such a secret over the years has taken a profound
toll, consuming energies which might have otherwise have been put
to more constructive educational, career oriented or other pursuits.
have also influenced subsequent childbearing. Some mothers, for
example, became pregnant shortly after the relinquishment. The reverse
effect also exists, with secondary infertility found to be higher
among women who have surrendered a child to adoption than among
BIRTH MOTHER SPEAKS.
a birth mother says in her article: "What has happened to my child?
Is she well and happy?" These are questions that plague all birthmothers
who, like me lost their children to strangers through adoption.
Some mothers will never know. Some dare not dwell on the subject.
Some have sought psychiatric help to cope with the anxiety of not
knowing, or succumbed to physical stress. Some are still searching
and hoping for a reunion. I am lucky I have found my daughter. We
have found each other.
Everyone automatically assumed that babies born out of marriage
in the 60s and the early seventies should be adopted; Our parents
assumed it, the medical profession and the adoption workers not
only assumed it but strongly advocated it. It was as if we did not
exist. Many of us were offered no support, no counselling, no information.
We were told
to "go away and forget" and that we could make a fresh start, as
if nothing ever happened. But what they forgot to tell us was that
we would never forget the child we bore and gave birth to, in spite
of the various ways we may have tried. They also forgot to tell
us it would affect us the rest of our lives.
The loss of
our children does not fade with time and is exacerbated by a lack
of information about them.
THE ABSENT CHILD.
says: What makes a mother? Is it the child birth? Is it the bearing
and nourishing and sustaining him for the first nine months of his
life? Is it the raising of him, spending his growing years with
him? When do women become mothers? Does some thing magical happen
during or after childbirth?
Is this the
forging, the test by fire, or do mothers become themselves under
the gentle pedagogy of the tiny teachers who make them feel too
much too soon? Are we the mothers when we begin to care, to wonder,
when we realise we are moved by a child we can't even see? When
does motherhood begin, when does it end - or does it have beginning
and end? Is it time bound?
p47) Why did I want to look at my child when I knew it was a look
of impossible opportunity? We had a momentary meeting, a cheat,
really, because no relation could come of it, and yet there was
something. The look that said, "your mine forever", wistfully from
mother to baby but, more significantly from baby to mother, and
I was absolutely correct. I am his forever.
What is it like to live with an absent child? Perhaps more than
anything it is one-sided. The bond and the bonding are felt by one
time that a mother and baby have with each other is nonetheless
long enough and strong enough to forge a togetherness that cannot
be forgotten, regretted, or denied, a togetherness that is remembered,
relived, and lived with excruciating fondness and tenderness. She
is his mother, an unalterable, irrefutable, recurring, unending
awareness, wondering, missing. How strange that one can miss utterly
someone one has known so briefly. It was and is the quality of the
knowing that makes the missing and the absence so intense.
It is the
"not knowing" which is the most painful at times. All the authorities
will tell you: It's better not to know; but then how do they know?
IMPACT OF GRIEF TO BIRTHMOTHERS.
H. Shiffler. 1991.
Butterfield and Scaturo (1989), therapists who specialize in child
bearing loss and who recognize a pattern of stages in birthmothers
grieving process: denial, shock, disbelief, and numbing: guilt:
anger: yearning: longing and searching: depression, disorganization,
despair and integration. They (Butterfield) emphasize that this
is an ongoing nonlinear process.
continues, a birthmother does not just grieve for a few months and
it's over. She may not feel her grief initially, but will find it
surfacing later in her life cycle (i.e. at a reunion or the birth
of a grandchild). She may not start grieving until as many as forty
years later, in a support group, where she is free to talk, to open
the closet and take out the grief piece by piece.
IMPACT ON SEXUALITY.
There is a
heart breaking trauma in an adolescent who becomes pregnant in her
early sexual experience. She may go through a post traumatic stress
reaction in her later relationships, associating sex with loss,
shame and loss of control. Why should she ever want to have sex
again? (Kaplan, 1989)
who marry find their earlier birth experience affects the marital
interaction (71%), with problems in committment, allegiance and
jealousy heightened. Birth parents who are married to each other
have a high risk of marital unhappiness and fragmentation in their
relationship, but stay together because their shared bereavement
is a stronger bond than commonality of spirit or interests (Deykin
IMPACT ON SPIRITUALITY.
experience in its cultural-religious milieu has had a profound spiritual
impact on birthmothers. Nave (1989) found that many birthmothers
had gone to their churches for advice and support during pregnancy
and were counselled in a manner they now regard as anti-ethical
to Christianity, shame based rather than love based. The results
were feelings of demoralization, lowered self esteem and estrangement
from the church.
reported "The attitudes and actions of individuals and institutions
representing the church are what caused me to leave and stay away
for many years". Another said "Adoption and the church are very
much intertwined. . . . they explained what adoption was and how,
if I really loved my baby. I wouldn't think of keeping him".
Part of the
rage they feel is no one warned them of the severity of the depression
that follows relinquishment. Some were deceived by social workers
who promised them the baby would be placed with parents of a particular
denomination: the truth was found out later after reunion.
Christian birthmother may compensate after relinquishment by becoming
super-spiritual, devoting her self to church work, being judgemental
of herself and others and avowing a strong belief in the power of
prayer. Yet inside, she may have grave doubts and feel spiritually
frozen, because her primary request to God, to know the whereabouts
and welfare of her child (as mothers in biblical accounts of adoption
were privilaged to do) has never been answered.
If the day
comes when she has been reunited with her child, it is a miracle
of the highest order. It may have the power of her original encounter
with God, like being born again. She may report the restoration
of feelings of closeness to God which may result in the development
of a genuine compassion for other people as human beings. She may
feel that the real self she acquired in her original salvation experience
was lost at relinquishment and restored at reunion with her child,
but only birthmothers understand or care.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS IN BIRTHMOTHERS.
giving extracts in her presentation to a conference in Amsterdam
based on her research into post traumatic stress (PSTD) which is
defined as the development of symptoms following a psychologically
distressing event that is outside of the usual human experience.
Serious attention is now being given to the trauma attached to the
separation and loss of the mother and child through adoption, and
the profound and long term effects this can have on both of them.
A survey conducted
on 300 birthmothers suggested that the loss of their children constitutes
a trauma which may be life long. Almost half of them say it had
affected their physical health, and almost all say it affected their
mental health. This in turn has affected their interpersonal relationships
with family, partners and the parenting of subsequent children.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many birthmothers say they split
themselves off from their trauma as a coping mechanism. This avoidance
as a strategy is one of the key symptoms of PTSD which Allison says
may be caused by the trauma being internalised to avoid immediate
pain. Many say they escaped into drugs and alcohol or precocious
sexual activity, especially in the year or so after relinquishment.
Most say they felt numb, shocked, empty, sad and many said they
felt the same way many years later.
associated with the loss may cause Psychogenic Amnesia which many
mothers have verified by saying they are unable to recall important
events associated with the birth or adoption.
for reducing distress means that exposure or events associated with
the trauma, e.g. anniversaries, childs birthday, Christmas, family
gatherings etc, are experienced by all the birthmothers in the sample
as painful or causing "intense psychological distress".
where the birthmother feels detached or estranged from others who
have not been through the same experience is also substantiated
early on. The burden of secrecy can perpetuate this.
in forgiving their own parents whom many saw as instrumental in
the loss of their babies has affected their subsequent family relationships.
Lack of a
positive image of their future is another symptom described by Allison
where guilt feeling about what they had to do in order to survive
is very much an issue with many of the birthmothers.
dreams or nightmares where the trauma is relived is characteristic
of some mothers experience, especially early after the relinquishment.
it is stated that symptoms of depression and anxiety are commonly
associated with PTSD.
THE HOSPITAL EXPERIENCE. "I REALLY AM A MOTHER". Lauderdale.J.:
Boyle. J.: 1994.
Many of the
birthmothers recalled that the other hospitalized mothers were showered
with flowers and candy, while video cameras recorded the happy event.
The experience of the relinquishing mothers, particularly those
in a closed adoption group, was far less of a celebration. While
they valued the occasional physician and nurse who treated them
like real mothers, they could recall very few of these situations.
poignantly described how she sneaked out of her hospital room late
one night and made her way down to the nursery.
was scared to death that they would catch me. I just stood there
at the nursery window with tears rolling down my face, looking at
all the babies trying to see which one of them was mine. I thought
I would die when a nurse opened the door and asked me what I wanted.
I just cried and cried and told her my baby was in the nursery and
was being placed for adoption. She said to come in, that wonderful
woman took me into the nursery and let me sit in a rocking chair
and hold my baby. I just sat there crying and rocking."
from the family, nurses, physicians, and social workers included "pretend
the adoption is a miscarriage", or "Oh, you'll get over it". "Why
you'll forget it after you have another baby."
experience culminated with the birth mother signing the adoption
papers. This experience was described as "numbing" and "amnesic".
Many described feelings of "checking out" and "leaving my body",
or not even remember signing anything.
1996, reports on the findings of a study conducted by the Mental
Health Foundation which examined the experiences and needs of birthmothers
who relinquished children for adoption.
a violent act, a political act of aggression towards a woman who
has supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable
act of not supressing her sexuality, and therefore not keeping it
for trading purposes through traditional marriage. . . the crime
is a grave one, for she threatens the very fabric of our society.
The penalty is severe. She is stripped of her child by a variety
of subtle and not so subtle manoeuvres and then brutally abandoned.
How many are set free? How many (birthmothers) remain trapped inside
an emotional nightmare with unresolved death as a lonely companion?
birthparents have been the most neglected party in the adoption
triangle: both in the literature and in the practice they have been
afforded little attention compared with the adopted people and the
showed that birthmothers are deemed to have wronged, need to be
punished and are therefore not worthy of attention. A study by Baran
et al. . (1977) revealed bias and ambiguity in the attitudes of
mental health professionals towards women who relinquished their
mental health staff they were told that these women had sinned,
suffered and deserved to be left alone. While Baran's research was
conducted some time ago, the findings in this study indicate little
most important findings of this study and one that has not been
reported elsewhere, is the way in which the medical profession responds
to birthmothers. Research has shown that relatively few women who
suffer depression are referred by their GPs for specialist psychiatric
help. Yet this study has demonstrated that a significant proportion
of birthmothers (32%) were referred to specialist services. The
referral rate of relinquishing women therefore is considerably higher
than that of women in the general population who suffer depression.
some interesting questions: given the pivotal role of GPs in defining
the boundaries of mental illness, are birthmothers more seriously
mentally ill than other women that suffer depression? Is this therefore
an indication of the impact of relinquishment or an indication of
the way they are perceived by the medical profession?
MULTIPLE PERSONALITY & DISSOCIATION.
is a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a persons
thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity. During
the period of time when a person is dissociating, certain information
is not associated with other information as it normally would be.
during a traumatic experience, a person may dissociate the memory
of the place and the circumstances of the trauma from his ongoing
memory, resulting in a temporary mental escape from fear and pain
of the trauma and in some cases, a memory gap surrounding the experience.
Because this process can produce changes in memory, people who frequently
dissociate often find their senses of personal history and identity
believe that dissociation exists on a continuum of severity. At
one end are mild dissociative experiences common to most people
such as daydreaming, highway hypnosis, or "getting lost" in a movie
or book all of which involves "losing touch" with conscious awareness
of ones immediate surroundings.
At the other
extreme, is complex chronic dissociation, in such cases of MPD and
DD, which may result in serious impairment or inability to function.
of MPD/DD; may include the following, depression, mood swings, suicidal
tendencies, sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleep
walking) panic attacks and phobias (flashbacks, reactions to stimuli
or triggers), alcohol, and drug abuse, compulsions and rituals,
psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations)
and eating disorders.
individuals with MPD/DD can experience headaches, amnesias, timeloss,
trances, and "out of body experiences" Some people with MPD/DD have
a tendency toward self-persecution, self sabotage and even violence
(both self inflicted and outwardly directed).
reaction unique to the relinquishing mother was identified. Although
this reaction consists of features characteristic of the normal
grief reaction, these features persist and often lead to chronic,
The relinquishing mother is at risk for long-term physical, psychologic,
and social repercussions. Although interventions have been proposed,
little is known about their effectiveness in preventing or alleviating
these repercussions." Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological and
Neonatal Nursing, 1999 Jul-Aug. pp.395-400.
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