A First Mother’s Journey
Placing a child for adoption is a painful and difficult decision, one that you probably thought a lot about without knowing its far reaching effects and consequences. The realization of what happened – giving birth – being a mother yet being childless, may not have taken hold until you were permanently separated from your baby. Because the loss of a child is huge, it is both normal and natural for you to be experiencing a prolonged period of mourning.
For most first parents, the decision to relinquish their child is made as a result of being faced with an untimely pregnancy. Circumstances such as feeling unable to take on the responsibilities of single parenting, feeling too young, lacking monetary or emotional support may have all played a role in your decision to relinquish. Most women who are in the process of making an adoption plan for their unborn child focus on when life will return to “normal”. Thoughts of going back to school or resuming a social life with friends, first mothers are unprepared for the intensity of the loss. Being unable to anticipate these feelings during pregnancy, they may have taken you by surprise.
What We Have Learned From First Mothers Who Relinquished in The Closed Adoption System
First mothers who relinquished in the 1950’s & 60’s, who hid their pregnancies and whose secret was bound in shame, are the hardest hit victims of the closed adoption system. First mothers of this era were shamed by society for being pregnant and unmarried, encouraged to do the “right thing, the unselfish thing” for their baby and then carry on as though it never happened. There was no permission to talk about or grieve their loss. There was no acknowledgement that they were grieving the loss of their baby. Their grief was disenfranchised, not publicly recognized, sanctioned or mourned.
Because there has been very little public understanding and acknowledgement for a first mother’s loss, there is often little private understanding from loved ones either. Family members may have encouraged you to get back to school and back out among friends. Despite good intentions, they have not realized that your loss needs to be shared and grieved for without this first mothers can feel numb or frozen for years and left harboring tremendous feelings of shame and guilt.
Shadowed by a lifetime of sadness, we have learned from these first mothers that unresolved grief is like a cancer growing inside of a woman. Buried deep, it actually grows larger with time affecting future parent-child relationships, subsequent romantic relationships, and one’s sense of happiness and feeling fully alive. Numbness and depression replace spontaneity. Many avoided future relationships as intimacy and loss became intrinsically intertwined. Almost all first parents of this era report that it was only upon reuniting with their adult child, that they began to realize the grief that they had been carrying inside. Reunion allowed the psyche to bring the hidden grief to the surface and for the first time to fully experience their loss and begin to heal the wound.
How to Begin The Healing Process
The first task is to accept the reality of your loss. Unlike a mother who loses her child to death, you may be stuck or lost in the fantasy that your child will return to you. Accepting that adoption is irreversible will help you begin to reinvest in the future instead of being lost in the past.
Learn to forgive yourself. While today’s social climate has become increasingly more tolerant regarding unmarried women raising their babies, first mothers of past eras may hold themselves more responsible for the act of relinquishing. Remind yourself that you made a decision based on the best options you had at the time of your pregnancy and that you cannot go back and remake the decision even if you are now in different set of life circumstances.
Let yourself mourn your losses. Accept that the emotions associated with having relinquished your child will always be with you in some form. Don’t try to avoid or suppress the pain of mourning for it can prolong the cycle. Once you acknowledge the painful emotions you’ll decrease the likelihood that complicated or pathological mourning will develop.
You have the right to heal and bring love and new relationships into your life. By going on with your life you will have more to offer your child and your future relationship. Know that you will always be connected to your child and that the ache in your heart is your connection.
What Makes Some First Mothers Adjust Better Than Others
Doing the grief work and getting support for your grief. Grief that is acknowledged by family and friends, which mourned, supported and shared, is productive. Grief that has been buried only grows stronger over time. In addition, grief that is enfranchised, where the mourner feels responsible and guilty for the loss, is not productive and does not get better over time.
Even if you have a personal support system, you may benefit from attending a first mother support group. For many, a support group is the only place where others understand the issues and where there is full acceptance and understanding.
Individual counseling can help with the aftermath of emotions that affect self-esteem, trust and subsequent relationship. Find a good adoption competent therapist.
Read books written by other first mothers. Hearing stories that reflect aspects of your experience can add normalcy to the emotional aftermath. You can use the internet to find comfort through chat rooms, podcasts and other online sites so that you have an opportunity to talk with other women who have relinquished children.
Express yourself through writing. Start a journal where you can write about your experiences. If you are in an open adoption, send letters to your child. If you are in a closed adoption, write to your child and keep them for a future meeting.
If you are in an open adoption, have contact with your child and the adoptive parents. It will help you know that you and your child will always have a special connection. Seeing each other will validate the relationship between you.
Remember that the effects of adoption are lifelong. Get as psychologically healthy as can, it is an investment in the future relationship that you will have with your child.