Archives > June 2017

Postpartum Grief: Placing a Baby for Adoption (Part Five of Six)

In this fifth article of our six-part series on Postpartum Grief, our focus is on “Postpartum Grief in Mothers Who Place Their Child for Adoption.”  Although the emotional implications of placing a newborn for adoption can be lifelong, the emphasis of this article is on the postpartum period.

We cannot imagine that making the decision to place a baby for adoption is an easy one.  There are a number of reasons why a woman would choose this option for her baby including, economic circumstances, their age, or the hope of offering their child better opportunities for the future. Whatever the reason, these mothers are likely to deal with a variety of postpartum grief issues.

Background Information

The number of mothers who have chosen to place their baby for adoption has decreased in the past several decades; particularly single mothers.  From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, nearly 9% of single mothers placed their baby for adoption, and since that time, the number has decreased to about 2%.  Not only do single mothers choose adoption, surrogate mothers and committed and married mothers do as well.

In the past, the vast majority of adoptions were “closed adoptions”.  In these cases, the birth mother had little to no involvement with their new born baby after birth and after placement. Today, more mothers are electing to have some form of an “open adoption,” which offers them the opportunity to learn more about the adoptive family and/or to have regular updates and even some form of contact with their child during his or her life.

Logic vs. Emotion

No matter the circumstances, the emotional impact of placing a child for adoption can be enormous, and extend well beyond the initial postpartum period.  From the logical standpoint, most of these mothers feel that they made this choice in the best interest of their newborn’s future.  Family members, friends, partners, and even adoption agencies will often use this logical reasoning to encourage new mothers to make this choice. In truth, it is simply a statement of fact! No matter how true this may be, no amount of logic can fully address the emotional pain of giving up your child to be raised by someone else.

This is a Different Kind of Grieving Experience

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any major change in life.  Giving birth to a child is a life changing event!  In previous articles in this series we have discussed how childbirth can lead to “the baby blues” and, in some cases, even “postpartum depression.”  In each of these situations, these mothers are dealing with the many impactful changes these new infants bring to their daily life.  These changes, in and of themselves, can include elements of grief.

The new mother who has placed her child for adoption is dealing with a wide variety of grieving experiences which are often overlooked and ignored.  Despite having gone through the physical and emotional experience of a successful pregnancy and childbirth, they are moving forward without this new child being physically a part of their daily routine.

In researching this article, we have come across the accounts of a number of women who have shared their personal stories of grief.  The common thread in many of these stories is that despite knowing that their decision was the correct choice for their child, they are still dealing with their own broken heart.

The Postpartum Period for These Mothers

Few, if any, women imagine being in the situation where they will give birth and then place their child in the arms of another family, perhaps to never see them again.

A web search will find multiple references regarding the children and adoptive parents, when it comes to the issues they will face.  Sadly, there is a remarkable lack of information that is readily available to these birthmothers concerning the emotional challenges that they may experience.

There can be an intense sense of loss and emotional pain in surrendering parental rights of a child.  It is in this early period that friends and family are often encouraging them to “move on” with their lives.  This is similar to telling someone dealing with any major grief experience not to feel bad.  There are no words that anyone can say that will heal the emotional pain of the loss; it only encourages them to hide those feelings from others.  This is one of the most common bits of bad advice given to any grieving person.

It is normal and natural to want to express one’s emotional truth to others and have it both recognized and heard.  When those expressions of pain are analyzed, judged, or discounted, grievers tend to build walls around their feelings and sometimes even emotionally disconnect.  Those feelings do not go away, just because they are suppressed.

Adopt Ontario notes that birthmothers who give up the legal custody of their children may tend to isolate from their friends and family, which can lead to depression.  They note that this sense of grief and loss is often not recognized by physicians, social workers, or therapists.

The American Adoption Congress also indicated that many of these mothers are also dealing with intense feelings of shame as well.  Shame, in this case, is another word for grief.  These feelings may be related not only to placing their child for adoption, but also even becoming pregnant in the first place.

Another piece of advice that is given to birthmothers is that if they wait for time to pass they will feel better.  The concept that “grief just takes time” is a major myth.  Time does nothing to heal the pain of emotional loss.  If anything, time only intensifies the feelings of loss they experience, since they spend much of that time wondering what is happening with their child and all of the missed opportunities to watch them grow up.

Help is Available

As is the case in any grieving situation, taking action for recovery is the best solution.  Having someone listen to what these mothers are experiencing and offering them direction is the key to moving forward and preventing these feelings of loss from becoming a permanent part of their lives.  They need to have assistance in dealing with and “completing” their relationship with their child.

The Grief Recovery Method offers proven direction in helping people deal with emotional loss.  It gives these mothers not just the chance to express their feelings without analysis, criticism, or judgment, but also the tools to make it possible to move forward.  “The Grief Recovery Handbook” is a guided journey to dealing with all of those things they might have wished had been different, better, or more in their relationship with their child.

Birthmothers who choose the route of adoption are even more susceptible to the many grief issues associated with pregnancy and birth.  They desperately need people to stand beside them and help them through their postpartum period, reassuring them that whatever they are feeling is completely normal and natural and should be expressed openly and honestly with trusted others in their lives.

This article was written by Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute and Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Postpartum Grief: Single Motherhood (Part Four of Six)

In this fourth article of our six-part series on Postpartum Grief, our focus is on “Postpartum Grief and Single Motherhood.”

Transitioning into parenthood for new mothers can be very overwhelming in the best of situations. Most new mothers have the support of their significant other during this transition, lessening the amount of responsibilities and stressors they may carry.  What about a single mother who does not have the support of the other parent? How does she manage this transition into parenthood?

Statistics

The incidence of single mothers giving birth has dramatically increased since 1940.  Approximately 40% of babies born in The United States are to unmarried mothers; 42% of those mothers are single and facing childbirth alone.  A majority of these new mothers are in their 20s, living in poverty, and have not obtained any formal education beyond a High School diploma.

Although statistics provide us with information about national and demographic trends, they tell a colorless story. They don’t provide any context regarding a new mother’s circumstances; every situation is unique and individual.

Circumstances

A majority of single mothers do not intend on facing their transition into parenthood on their own.  In most cases, a divorce, break-up, brief relationship, or death of the father are responsible for this outcome. In many cases, these women are not only grieving the end of the relationship with the baby’s father, they are also left to manage the many stressors of pregnancy, delivery, and bringing their new baby home alone.

Women who are grieving due to a death, divorce, or break-up from the baby’s father may experience a number of conflicting feelings including, pain, isolation, loneliness, and fear.  These feelings are likely to be amplified when they bring their new baby home.

A small percentage of women become single mothers by choice. Many of these women are over the age of 35, and due to varying circumstances, have decided to become a parent on their own.  Even having made the decision to enter into single motherhood, they are not immune to the emotional impact of parenting a new baby.  Without the emotional, physical, and financial support of a significant other, this transition could be very overwhelming for them too.

In our two previous articles we discussed “The Baby Blues” and “Postpartum Depression.”  Given all of the factors we have discussed, single mothers are even more prone to facing these conditions.  It is imperative that they remain aware of the symptoms, regardless if they made the choice or not, so that they are prepared to take action if it is needed.

Single Motherhood and Grief

As discussed in previous articles in this series, every major change in life can bring forth the emotion of grief.  We are certainly not saying that motherhood is a grieving experience, but rather, the transition from pre-birth to after-birth can create the feelings of grief. Where life may have once revolved around work, friends, and going out, it now revolves around feedings, nap times, and changing diapers.  Every element of a woman’s life changes with the birth of her child.  Without the support of the baby’s father to lighten the load of the new responsibilities, the mother’s loss of self, loss of independence, and loss of freedom may be significantly heightened. Her grief may deeply impact her ability to be a functional and emotionally stable parent.

Taking New Action

Parents.com offers a number of helpful suggestions to help single mothers deal with the grief and stressors of motherhood. Here are a few:

  • Manage finances accordingly
  • Create a support system
  • Maintain a daily routine
  • Be consistent with discipline
  • Abolish “guilt” from their vocabulary
  • Take time for their children
  • Take time for themselves

Another valuable tool to help process and address the mass of emotions experienced through this transition is the Grief Recovery Method. This method provides the tools on how to effectively grieve and complete relationships that have ended or changed due to death, divorce, break-up, or any other circumstance.  This approach would be especially helpful in addressing any unresolved emotional business with the baby’s father.  Saying goodbye to the hopes, dreams, and expectations of that relationship would not only benefit the mother but also the child.  It would allow her to be emotionally present for her child and fulfill her capacity for happiness in her new role as a parent.

In taking the actions of the Grief Recovery Method, new mothers would also be equipped with the tools to teach her child correct information about grief and to help her child learn how to effectively grieve and complete relationships in his or her life that end or change.

How You Can Help

Most single mothers have their hands full, adjusting to motherhood and accessing available resources and supports on their own.  If you are a friend or relative of a mother in this situation, we encourage you to reach out to her to offer any support available.  Some small but significant ways in which you could help out include bringing her groceries, preparing meals, offering to watch the baby while she showers, takes a nap, or a runs an errand, and helping with household chores like laundry and dishes. Even the smallest gesture can make a significant difference in her day.

We also encourage you to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression so that you can be aware of them, should they become apparent to you.  New mothers want and need the emotional support of significant others in their lives, especially during the tough times.  Engage in honest conversations with her and tell her you will be checking in with her every week to see how she is managing.  Express to her that she is not alone, that her feelings are normal and natural, and that you care about her emotional well-being.

You may also encourage her to take the actions outlined in the “Grief Recovery Handbook”.  One of the foundations of The Grief Recovery Method is to provide assistance without analysis, criticism or judgment.  Many single mothers experience all three, sometimes from the people they thought they could trust the most.  This may be another way to support and connect with her on a heart-to-heart, emotional level, while she transitions into her new role as a mother.

Over the years I have had the honor of assisting a number of single mothers deal with the emotional losses of their past so that they would not transmit those issues to their children.  Each of them has told me that it was one of the best choices that they had ever made for themselves!

This article was written by Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre and Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.