Let’s Talk Management of Collateral Damage

We have talked about collateral damage and how to mitigate it pre surrender. Now let us move to management of collateral damage. Consider this scenario, one that is all too real for many of us:

Mother was sent away to give birth alone. She received little or no options counseling. Her only info on adoption was provided by the agency that stood to profit from the sale of her child.  Informed consent was limited to an explanation of the final and irrevocable surrender to adoption. She was told she would “get over it”, have other children and move on with her life.  Post surrender she experiences something vastly different.  Immediately she suffers from nightmares, anxiety and depression. She finds it hard to be around children or see images of children.   Relationships are difficult for her to maintain.  She finds herself drawn to men that abuse her and is unable to keep a regular job due to her anxiety and depression.  Her relationships with family and friends at home are strained.  All refuse to discuss her child.  Her own mother gets angry at her when she brings up the subject. All she wants is her child back.

Where does she go for help and support?  What would you tell her to do?  What has worked for you in attempting to “heal” from the loss of your child to adoption?  Please be specific.    For example, instead of “get therapy” please share what type of therapy you recommend (or not).


4 Thoughts.

  1. Wow, your scenario is/was me. Since all of that happened in 1972 there wasn’t any therapy and since it was something that absolutely couldn’t be spoken of I never did until reunion 41 years later.
    I was fortunate that my current husband saved me from a life that had been full of abusive, short term relationships. I went to high school with him and he knew about my pregnancy in real time. Over the years there were I few friends I told about how much I wanted my baby back but no one really ever understood.
    Reunion is what helped me heal. I am fortunate to have had a son who is kind, understanding and really wanted to help me heal. It’s still a process 3 years later. I can’t believe the crap I’ve had to work through quite honestly and there are very, very few people that know how to help you.
    A secret that was pretty much held in for 41 years was out, it made me more than uncomfortable to talk about it – to introduce my son to his siblings, his aunt and uncle and their children. Family parties made me physically ill but I soldiered through – for him. Now things are better than I ever thought they could be.
    I still have PTSD, but have found with the telling of the story – little bits at a time – takes away the power of the memories. It just turns them into stories with the telling (over and over again). There’s still so much to tell, that I’ve never told anyone. Each time a piece comes out I seem to lose it but find my way back. Memoir may be the answer. Write it all. Over and over again.
    The funny thing is the people I tell listen with fascination but have no idea what it takes for me to tell them these stories. Or I burst into tears telling about leaving my baby behind and they can’t understand why it’s still so upsetting.
    It’s a part of who I am now, and I know that and accept it. It’s still a work in progress and I’ve come to accept it always will be.

    • Thank you for sharing Joanne. I think this scenario is many of us. Love the remainder of your comment as well.

  2. Joanne, your comment inspired me. Reuniting with my son was the beginning of my healing. Even though it was a very rough road. It brought up all the buried feelings, and then I dealt with them, slowly but surely. It was hard work, but without finally meeting my son I probably would have stayed stuck forever.

    So yes, part of my advice is to seek reunion, whatever it takes. For those in open adoptions, I’d say fight for what was promised you. I don’t know the ins and outs of that, but I have to hope that some level of contact/information about your relinquished child is better than not knowing, having gone through the not knowing myself.

    I would also add, don’t keep it a secret. Share, talk about it, don’t let the secrecy of shame take over. My mother convinced me that people would scorn me, that no man would ever love or marry me, if they knew. And that stunted my healing, kept me in hiding, from being real with people. Just like adoptive parents are now encouraged to tell their adopted child right away (my son’s a-parents kept it a secret from him and he found out by accident at 12), I think the same should be encouraged in mothers. Don’t let the shame keeping you from being real. Don’t live with what happened alone.

    Keep a journal. Write your feelings instead of holding it all inside. I didn’t start writing about my feelings until I was in reunion. I wish I’d done so earlier. Eventually I wrote a memoir, and that was very healing. But even if you don’t want to do that, share with the universe, write for yourself.

    I think supportive groups with other mothers are very important, probably more important than therapy (since most therapists, even today, aren’t aware of the impacts of adoption and can’t counsel us at the level we need). I didn’t attend a support group until after my reunion, and that was once I was struggling, so deep in emotions I didn’t know if I would survive. I realized at that first meeting that the group was my savior, that I could talk about my grief and be heard, understood. The group met monthly, and I wished it was every day, or at least every week. It meant that much to me. So I would say, don’t assume you can handle it all on your own after losing your child. Talk to others, let your feelings out, hear what they are going through.

    These things early on might have saved me from years of hooking up with abusive, non-committal men, which I did to punish myself. Like Joanne, I eventually found a man worthy of my love, who didn’t judge me, who supported me through reunion. I wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t found him. I was on a downhill spiral for so long.

    Different things work for different people. I hope that those in the practice of dealing with adoption will begin offering all kinds of options for mothers who surrender. And stop saying, “you’ll move on and get over it.” Because, no you won’t. Not without honesty and places to share.

    Suz, you convinced me that there is some level of hope if the adoption industry will just listen. I hope those in the business will hear and heed you at the conference. We have to try.

  3. What helped me was getting involved in adoption reform groups early on, realizing i was not the only mother devastated by giving up a child, and finding out that some adoptees wanted to know their birthmothers. I never kept it a secret that I had given up a child, right from the beginning anyone who knew me at all well knew, so I was not really dealing with a dread secret, but guilt and grief. Finding my son when he was very young alleviated the fear that he was dead and the uncertainty of not knowing where he was. Adoption reform activism gave me something to do, a sense of taking back some power and using my bad experience for good to help others. Joining CUB and other early support groups helped too. I would recommend activism and support groups to all mothers who surrendered, also get rid of the secret, you will find most people sympathetic, and you lose the fear that “someone will know” when everyone knows and nothing bad happens.

    My very brief experiences with therapy were mostly a waste of time, but an adoption therapist who became a personal friend helped me informally to make sense of what happened to me, and encouraged my writing, especially poetry, was very supportive and kept pointing me towards hope when i despaired that my son would ever want to know me in the long years I thought I was rejected. He is Dr. Randolph Severson, a fine writer, human being, and still an email friend.

    The most healing thing was my son finally accepting me, without that, I fear I would still be bitter and obsessed. When he said “I love you too” and called me Mom, that all evaporated like morning dew, leaving only peace and love and joy.

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