When a birthmother relinquishes her rights to her child, she also signs an invisible paper, one she may not even be aware of for years, that states that she will struggle with many issues as her life goes on. Mental health issues, trust issues, secondary infertility, the list goes on. Some of these issues don't rear their head for years but the truth is many women who choose to relinquish later find themselves dealing with some sort of impact from the adoption experience.
It's important that we are honest with women who are making an adoption plan. We should be seeking to be involved with agencies who are well versed in the aftermath of an adoption for all those involved. The internet is full of stories from all sides of the adoption constellation that indicate the long term ramifications of this initial interaction- one that entails loss for two out of the three participants. We should be learning how best to deal with the side-effects of adoption, and pursuing actively a culture that will allow us to support all of those who have been impacted.
Commonly, mothers who have relinquished do not feel any sort of residual effect until several years after the adoption. In the early years of adoption, when open adoption can be difficult but still do-able, it can be easier to ignore the loss. For some, it starts immediately as their child grows and they realize that they are not witnessing things they would want to see. Of course, there are even some that find themselves grappling with the intensity of the loss. This comes from the culture that perpetuates the idea that adoption is the easy answer. Certainly, for the birthmother, it's not the easy answer.
For adopting families, seeing this sort of pain can be difficult. Often, they are unaware of just how raw and intense this grief can be for the woman who relinquished. This can lead to misunderstandings and further insecurity over roles from all those in the dynamic. Even in the happiest of adoption scenarios, grief will always be present, and it doesn't negate the decisions made, or the roles therein. Realistically, where one has gained, another has lost.
When you are looking at an open adoption plan, seek out resources that understand and embrace this reality. After placement, you will want to make sure that there is a place for the birthmother to go should she wish to seek therapy. In fact, she should have access to the agency's resources for at least a year. Any agency or individual that makes light of the loss for either the original mother or the adoptee should be avoided. These are realities, and especially as the child grows, there will likely be conversations regarding behaviour that will center on the loss. Unmistakeably, adoption is a traumatic loss that should be handled similarly to any other sort of loss that one may face in life.
How do you facilitate a relationship that will open commutation regarding loss? Speak openly and honestly about the things you do or don't understand. Allow the mother, and the adoptee room for their own grief, and don't take it personally. Again, seek out resources that will help you understand, and be willing to admit that you may not fully grasp the enormity of the loss. Share the feelings together, don't negate them, or wish them away, as these sorts of responses engage a feeling of invisibility; empathy can go a long way in the adoption constellation.
Learn about the “side-effects”, which can be delving into waters that might be uncomfortable. It's been said that it's comforting to preach to the choir because they understand you, but they won't be able to help you grow. Seek out online resources, blogs, articles, and forums that offer a different perspective. Read the books that don't center on the adoption triad from the adopting family's perspective. Talk to adult adoptees, or mothers who are more than just a handful of years out of the adoption process. Find real experiences, and real stories that will allow you to understand just how diverse the sense of loss can be, and how you can cope with it as a family dynamic.
We shouldn't be scared by the side-effects of adoption. These issues are part and parcel of the adoption decision, and though our society documents strongly that they don't understand the inherent grief associated, we can change that. We should be eager to change the often dysfunctional dialogue and expectation that surrounds adoption, a move that will encourage activity in the adoption reform spectrum. We should be embracing the full reality of adoption, even the rough, uglier sides of it. When we open ourselves to see the full picture, rather than just our own, we allow for an atmosphere that will foster opportunities of growth.
We all know, whether we are adopting couples, birthmothers or adoptees, this is not an easy journey. It's a tough road, and we shouldn't be ashamed to admit that.
Credits: Danielle Barsley-Cervo
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Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.