Why do so many people believe that we birthmothers, natural mothers, original mothers, first mothers – whatever you want to call us – forgot about, stopped caring about, our children lost to adoption?
Why do they imagine that loss doesn’t bother us, even decades later?
When I found my son I’d given up in 1964, a man at my Bible Study group asked me in all seriousness, his face creased with surprise, “Do you still think about him? You still miss him?”
The other day, I saw a tweet from an adoptee. She said that if her whole family had been killed on her birthdate or if she’d been abducted from her original family, everyone would be shocked and sympathetic. She said that when she complains of her adoption loss, she is met with surprise. People ask her if she had a bad adoptive family. How else could she be negatively affected by the very fact of adoption, they want to know. Or maybe they don’t want to know.
I think there are a lot of parallels in the case of birthmothers who lose their children. Since I’ve found my son, I’ve told a lot of people of my loss. Not a single time has anyone expressed the kind of shock or sympathy I’m sure they would if I told them my son was kidnapped or killed. People don’t seem to recognize that I’ve been traumatized. Their main reaction seems to be that they’re surprised that I even feel the need to mention it, much less write about it.
It was the year 2000 when I discovered my lost son’s identity and location and continuing existence, and I was employed as a psychotherapist in outpatient psychiatry seeing people with depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, and all manner of presenting psychiatric problems. I’m ashamed to say that I never asked a single client if he or she might be an adoptee or a birthparent. That’s because in my profession, despite its mental health focus, this question was almost never addressed. Not on the assessment forms, not in the interview. I’m sure I saw dozens, maybe hundreds, of people affected by the loss of a mother or child through adoption and never knew it. I’m sure my colleagues did as well and still do.
Only after I opened to my own adoption loss and became involved with adoption related groups, did I realize that adoption posed trauma to me and to my clients. I proposed to conduct a training in my department to raise my colleagues’ awareness. Convincing my boss and co-workers that everyone in our department needed to learn more about the effects of adoption was an uphill battle, though I eventually succeeded. The training, in which I brought in a panel of birthmothers, an adoptee, and an adoptive mother, was well-received, but why is it not a required part of all professional mental health experts’ training?
Recently, I discussed with a social work colleague some of my grief experiences from losing my son that I’m including in my memoir, River of Connection. This colleague, who has years of experience working in international adoption, commented, “I don’t think the mothers in China or other countries have the same grief you did.” I was stunned.
Once I went to a meeting which included many prospective adoptive parents. A slogan bandied throughout the gathering stated, “Adoption Creates Families.” During a question and answer period, I stuck my neck out and commented, “Well, for adoption to create one family, it has to destroy the original one.”
One of the prospective parents turned and asked innocently, as if they’d never considered it, “Oh, you mean when we adopt children, someone else loses them?”
Why is there so little understanding of the grief, loss and trauma experienced by birthmothers? And, for that matter, by adoptees? I believe there are many reasons, but the biggest one seems to me to be the fact that our voices are only recently being heard. Our silence has allowed our pain to be invisible to the larger culture.
It’s time to change that. That’s why I’m writing my memoir, River of Connection. It’s why I’m starting this blog.
I hope you’ll write your own story. I’d love to hear it. And I look forward to your comments.