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

Posted on
June 24, 2017 by

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.

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