Let’s Talk Collateral Damage : Mental Health

Yesterday we talked about collateral damage as it related to your extended family and the loss of your child from that family. Today I want to talk first mother mental health. Very technically, one could argue, first mother mental health is not collateral damage since it applies to the original target – the mother. I disagree. I do believe it applies. Let me explain why.

As noted, collateral damage generally applies to “unintentional deaths, injuries, or other damage inflicted incidentally on an unintended target. In military terminology, it is frequently used where non-combatants are unintentionally killed or wounded and/or non-combatant property damage results of an attack on a legitimate military target.” (Wikipedia)

Mothers are most often told that surrendering your child will be a non event in their lives. They will “get over it”. They will “move on” seemingly unscathed. This may be true for some but for many this is not at all the case. Many mothers experience secondary infertility, struggle with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation post surrender. Many, myself included, are diagnosed with PTSD struggling to “get over it” as they were told they would. For this reason, I believe mother’s mental health is collateral damage. Intentional or not, our emotional property damage results.

With that in mind, I ask you to consider your mental health post surrender.

Mental Health

Pre and Post Surrender Counseling – Did you receive counseling prior to surrender that informed you that you might suffer from long term mental health challenges? If so, what were you told might happen? How long was the counseling? Were you given recommendations and resources to follow up post surrender should you experience emotional difficulties?

Post Surrender Resources – If you attempted to find counseling post surrender, were you successful? Did you find mental health professionals to be knowledgeable in the area of adoption grief?

Non Traditional Support Resources – Outside of professional mental help, what other sources of support did you find to be helpful? Please be specific, for example, online support groups, in person support groups, books, etc.

Other – Anything else you would like to share regarding mental health?

As always, thank you for your consideration and sharing. You can comment below if you wish or email me details to bluestokking at gmail dot com.

12 Thoughts.

  1. Post surrender—-it took me literally YEARS to find an appropriate counsellor in my geographical area that even remotely knew about adoption loss. I didn’t try at first, because no one seemed to think my depression could be related, or even suggested that I needed any counselling. I gave up trying several times. People in the faith community were rude or clueless. Even people who were “recommended” by others in the adoption “triad” were found to be unhelpful or downright hurtful. One potential counsellor,over the phone, even told me (rather nastily )that birthmothers were “stuck” and they just had to “get over it” and “move on.” Have I found anyone now, 20 years post-placement? Well…maybe. That remains to be seen. BTW, I live in Florida.

    • Thank you for sharing Danni. I fear your experience (similar to mine) is the norm for many. I had a pyschiatrist stare at me like I had two heads only to say he did not understand why I was having any problems, he felt I should consider myself “lucky” and “grateful” that someone wanted to adopt a child born to a woman “like me”. He refused to treat me. I was not worth his time. He referred me to a student that he was mentoring. That guy was useless too. It took me 25 years to find someone who worked well for me.

  2. Here’s waaaayyy more than you asked for:

    I had no counseling pre or post surrender. I honestly didn’t I think I needed it, nor did the agency offer or recommend it. At 18, I had it all figured out. I selected the morally correct, brave and selfless option from little shop of terrible choices – what could go wrong? After all, I was doing the “best thing” for all involved parties. I certainly never invested in thinking about what my future would really look like, including the sacrifices I made and would continue to make, thanks to my “selfless” decision.

    The veil of my mental health stability stood up reasonably well as I navigated through the years, imagining my daughter’s amazing life. When I was 18, living in a dreadful apartment, while thwarting my landlord’s attempts at a favors in trade for rent or my boyfriend’s (her father) drug-fueled disappearing acts , I thought I saved her from an insufferable life. But shortly after her birth, I was able to extricate myself from all of those terrible situations and never returned to them, so what did I save her from? Or did relinquishing her propel me into changing my surroundings?

    It wasn’t until I seriously considered finding her as an adult (age 19 anyway) that I allowed myself to think about the darkness I was potentially facing. When I opened that door, my life became an inescapable nightmare. The day I gave her up was the hardest day of my life, but the months that followed my decision to find her were more gut-wrenching and I can’t encapsulate why.

    I never had another child – a decision I’m fairly certain made (subconsciously) to spare myself of reliving what it would be like to be pregnant again and face any feelings associated with giving up my daughter. I spent all our years apart certain we would reunite and live in glorious harmony for all the rest of our days. But, when I seriously considered finding her, I started to understand how foolish that was. I assumed her parents would honor and respect me for entrusting them with her, but would learn nothing could be further from that truth. I believed I chose an adoption agency that was ethical and placed my daughter with the best, most magical parents alive – I learned the opposite.

    When this crisis occurred, I struggled to locate a post-adoption professional to help me. I saw/interviewed two “therapists”, not field specific, and found zero relief. I went so far as to call adoption agencies to see if they had anyone on staff who would consult, to no avail. I did find a friendly voice at Wide Horizon’s for Children, a child welfare agency, who couldn’t help me directly, but she sensed my anguish and gave me some referrals. I met with them all and finally settled with and received tremendous help from a therapist who specialized in grief counseling. It was then that I realized it was grief that I needed relief from.

    I saw my therapist for 8 months before I initiated contact with my daughter’s adoptive parents. Even though I thought this ‘thoughtful’ approach was the correct path, I subsequently realized I was not welcomed, nor would I ever be. Regardless, this therapist was essential in helping me unravel 19 years of unaddressed heartache. During the weekly visits over a one year period, she helped me be honest with myself. She taught me how to live with the consequences of my decision; how I could not change, but had to accept the actions of others – no matter how heart-breaking. I would not have been able to navigate without her.

  3. Amy…48 years old (ugh)
    Relinquished daughter in 1985. Pressured, coerced, etc. Semi-open turned fully open when daughter was 8. Married her dad…had 6 other kids (4 boys, followed with 2 girls) First son was born 21 months after daughter was born/relinquished. Didn’t know what “semi open” meant…new concept that adoption agency was willing to try when I kept balking at giving up my daughter. I guess it was supposed to make me feel more in control? Not sure. As of now, my children have nothing more than a facebook “acquaintance” relationship with their adopted away sister despite having many visits during their growing up years. My relationship with “A” goes up and down…mainly down as I get ignored for fairly long stretches at a time.

    Counseling at pre-relinquishment was the 60 year old social worker confirming my parent’s shame in my situation, collecting family medical info. and heritage/nationality etc. Of course I was asked to do the “pro/con list” of keeping vs. relinquishing. Group counseling was the social workers teaching us how to go around informing the fathers of a pending adoption. An adoptee (friend of one of the social workers) came to talk to us about how grateful she was to her “birth”mother to have been given such a good life through adoption. All propaganda looking back.

    I have been in and out of therapy for probably nearly 25 years. I am in counseling as we speak. Nothing has completely helped yet. I have good days, many in fact, and will then crash. I have been diagnosed with PTSD by 2 different therapists.

    There’s much more, but hopefully that helps for now!

  4. No counseling was offered. Big surprise, right? Whether in the BSE or after.

    I sought counseling four years after for my depression, while I was in college. After I explained what was bothering me, about having given up my son, dude said, “why did you do that to your parents?” Hello! As if I fell in love and had unprotected sex to hurt my parents! That was in 1975. Still the dark ages.

    I suffered in silence for another two decades. It wasn’t until I was reunited with my son through ISSR that I sought help again, this time through PACER and their support groups. The birthmother group I went to saved me! Meeting with other mothers and finding them to be regular, normal women changed my whole outlook, that I wasn’t some strange outcast.

    After that, I read a lot of books about reunion and the bmother struggle, learned that I was not alone. Went to counseling with those who understood the issues: Nancy Verrier and Barbara Shafer. And that did me world of good.

    Not like there aren’t still issues. My struggle continues because my son didn’t have the ideal life they told me he would have without me. He was turned back into the system at age 13, because he has problems Maybe he would have had problems if I had raised him. But I wish the system kept mothers informed. Perhaps there was something I could have done, like taken him back. Not like that would have been without problems. But I would have welcomed the chance,

    Just want to say that there aren’t near enough therapists with knowledge of adoption issues to help adoptees and mothers. I hope that will change.

  5. I spoke to a mother who relinquished quite a few years ago and she had what she called Secondary Infertility – meaning after she gave up her son, she was unable to conceive again. I don’t know if this pertains to your post, but it’s very real and it has happened to more than one first mother. It’s damage indeed.

    • Yup. Def familiar with it as I mentioned above and know several mothers who have faced it. Stark painful reality that they are not warned about in advance.

  6. Historically, Pre or Post…Social workers are not trained psychiatrists, they cannot address issues of depression. But they can pretend to be empathetic. Social workers are only hired help, the secretary that knows the system and does the appropriate paper work. If any women wanted to keep her child, the social worker does NOT inform her of the welfare services available to her, because social workers are employed by the adoption or welfare agency. A social workers job description includes with holding vital information to the Mom and getting custody of the kid. Selling the kid earns money for the agency, and keeps the public welfare budget low.. EVERY PREG single white women needs an attorney. There are also many Pro Bono attorneys in every city in the US. Call the local court house to find one.
    The psychiatric community never considered women from the BSE would be traumatized for the remainder of their lives. Which shows WW how respected they are NOT. And What really needs to happen in the US, is for a group of BSE women to form a class action law suit.
    One women did go to court and got her kid back.. There are adoptees that are attorneys..find one.
    Google: Methodist Mission Home Texas v. N A B (03/04/70)

  7. Pingback: Let's Talk Management of Collateral Damage | Writing My Wrongs

  8. Please, please, please stop limiting the ‘traumatization for the rest of their lives’ to mother’s of the BSE only! Those practices and horrors did not end with the legalization of abortion so stop continuing the myth that they did. That’s what is done when this lifelong traumatization is limited to BSE. That is playing right along with the ‘myth perpetuators’ that “everything is all better now” and “that only happened to mothers from back then”. That is a load of …NONSENSE! It perpetuates the minimizing of the acute suffering of all the mother’s AFTER that time frame, even though MANY were treated in like manner and worse in some cases, as those in the BSE. Is it any wonder the rest of society thinks, “oh, it’s better now”. Is it no wonder so little progress has been made? Is it any wonder why so many women are being tricked and deceived, deluded and coerced out of their children NOW? There is this damn dividing line that says, it was BAD then. It’s better NOW. NO. just. NO.

    Mental health. Hah. Just a mom who never got over having her only child stolen for adoption. Yeah, secondary infertility…. hey, you have a nice womb wet baby I can have to raise as my very own, you don’t need them, you can ALWAYS have another baby. LYING DOGS and thieves.

    Sorry. Some days it hurts and the pain roars more than others. I will only be content when this nasty practice comes to a crashing halt. … lost a grandbaby to adoption too. It’s easy to do when an adoptee has been told all their life that adoption is “all good”. Yeah, they just keep taking and taking and taking. Because they can. And we’re supposed to smile and say, ‘thank you very much’. I hope that someone watches over grandchild, they are getting close to a vulnerable age.

    I have had the thought that it would be a merciful thing if they would just end the mother’s life in the delivery room and say she died in childbirth. I mean after all, they have no problem with the falsification of birth certificates and other info so just falsify the whole thing. That way the adoptee may suffer less in abandonment issues. Momma died, can’t help that. And this mother wouldn’t have lived in hell for so many decades.

    • Too sad – Not sure who or what you referencing when you comment on the BSE and their trauma. I state that because I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have said this many times myself over the years (that it did not end with BSE) as I am proof of that. I surrendered my daughter in 1986 after five months in a maternity home located 10000 miles from my family home. Interestingly, in my case, I typically hear that from BSE mothers! I can actually name the mothers who have told me that. THe volume of babies may be lower, societal mores may have changed and there may be access to abortion but it still happens. As long as it does, even to one mother, we still have a major problem.

  9. I’m Sorry Suz, I was responding or, I should say, reacting to Virginia’s comments about BSE. I’m sorry for howling at you Virginia. It really hurts me when I hear the dividing line statements (of course I make some myself and I hope others would call me out on it) Sigh.

    Suz, I don’t see that societal mores have changed all that much either. Just take a gander and google “the shame of single motherhood” sometime. There are SO MANY people that still think and follow that way and are teaching others the same, including their children who may find themselves in an unplanned, unsanctioned pregnancy. Isn’t that why adoption is so very popular? “We’re saving you from a ghastly life with a single /unwed mother? I know not always the case, but a great many are single mother pregnancies.

    Virginia, as far as BSE (or other) mothers forming a class action lawsuit. I wonder sometimes if that is a part of the delay, reluctance, refusal to open records, as those who control the records know MUCH of the atrocities that were committed in separating mothers and their children and they are terrified of the possible ramifications if the records (not just the birth certificate) are opened. Or if mother’s and their children can ‘compare’ information. As long as mothers and their children are not given the records or they are kept apart, there is only a mother’s word for what happened (and we all know that “they’re not too be believed”, “they’re just bitter and angry”. There is no written proof en masse. What good is a lawsuit without proof? Not to forget, that NO amount of money, not all the gold in the world in one big pile would make up for the harm done. It would not compensate for the loss. It would never restore what was shattered. Never would.
    What I would like to see is an acknowledgment of wrong done and help (counseling and reunification), an apology, and the practice of adoption severely curtailed or changed to permanent legal guardianship. Those would help greatly in the healing of collateral damage!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ve read a few things on the kidnapping of Polish children (and others’ children) by the Nazi’s and it is troubling to see the things done and “learned” through the process and the timeline being so associated to the ‘beginning’ of adoption as a “child for families that want one” process in this country (WWII) that it makes me FEEL like the Nazis’ practice was incorporated in “the playbook for preferred course of separation of children from their parents/heritage” and falsified records”. I. e. matching children to the adopting parents, destroying / hiding all true origins and certain children being “worth more” than others, reunification with true parents seldom likely, and so on. Maybe it was all a conveniently timed bad coincidence. Maybe I’m making an association with the two and they don’t line up at all. They just look and feel so similar, so ghastly, … to me.

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