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Watson. K.W. : 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



Van Kepple. 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 in particular.

    "It is our contention that their grief has been cruelly exacerbated by the long standing conspiracy of silence which surrounded adoption practise".

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.

Many birth 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.

Research has 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.


Gediman. Judith. 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.

In addition 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.

Adoptions 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 other populations.



Lavonne. H. Shiffler. 1991.

Shiffler quotes 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.

Butterfield 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.


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)

Many birthmothers 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