Thursday, October 13, 2011

Adoption Loss and PTSD

Many mothers who have lot children to adoption - especially in the past when there was so much shame attached to an unintended pregnancy - suffer PTSD.

First was the fear of being pregnant and then the shock and disbelief of finding out their worst fear was true! Then came having to tell their parents, knowing thy had committed what was considered THE WORST thing any "good girl" could have done, even if they were raped.  We were subjected to tirades of anger, shock, tears, disappointment and told that we were shaming the entire family!

May were denied marriage, some even denied to see their boyfriends again. others were deserted by boyfriends who denied the child was theirs or turned their backs on young women who loved them and believed their promises of forever love and marriage.

Some of these mothers were locked in their rooms for months. Others were shunned and sent away. many were imprisoned in unwed mothers' homes and forced to use an alias, never  revealing their real name to the other "inmates."  Some were sent to work houses or treated as maids in exchange for housing during their "term." 

When they went into labor, mothers report being tied down. Many were insulted by cold, cruel nuns who told them this is what they deserve for not keeping their legs closed!

At the time of the birth some of these mothers had drapes up so they could not see their own child or even know its gender!  Others had them torn from their arms.

They were told they were undeserving to be mothers and that their child deserved better. And, they were told by clergy of all denominations and social workers to never tell anyone lest they be rejected.

They then spent untold decades wondering if the child they bore was dead or alive, well card for or not...Looking at children who were the same age their child would then be...Annual anniversary depression....fears around having other children....tenseness every time asked the simple every day questions asked every woman: Do you have children? How many?

Many took very seriously the warning to keep their secret and never even told husbands, certainly not subsequent children, if they were able to have any.

Now, a study based on a survey of 566 patients concludes that survivors who had been diagnosed with cancer "can leave lasting psychological scars akin to those inflicted by war" or, in other words they suffer PTSD with symptoms from feeling jumpy to emotional numbness.  One in 10 patients also said they avoided thinking about their cancer and one in 20 said they steered clear of situations or activities that reminded them of the disease.

Researchers estimated that 12 of the 566 patients had "full blown PTSD" involving a trio of symptoms, including avoidance, arousal and flashbacks and many more had one or more symptoms.  Overall, half the patients had PTSD symptoms 13 years after diagnosis and symptoms worsened in 37 percent.

The study echoed the work of Condon who found that for some mothers their anger increased with time.
“A most striking finding in the present study is that the majority of these women reported no diminution of their sadness, anger and guilt over the considerable number of years which had elapsed since their relinquishment. A significant number actually re-ported an intensification of these feelings, especially anger.”

J. T. Condon, Psychological Disability in Birth Mothers. 
“As I grew older, I gradually gained a cruelly clear perspective on what I had done. As I matured enough to think of myself as a possible parent, the ramifications of my youthful act – giving away my child – took on tragic proportions.”
Margaret Moorman, Waiting to Forget, p. 128

For the cancer patients many likewise seemed to have worsening PTSD with time.

It's just very stressful for people to be told that they have cancer," said Bonnie L. Green, a trauma expert who pioneered the study of PTSD in breast cancer survivors at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health.

Sophia Smith from the Duke Cancer Institute in Durham, North Carolina said she had added concern for those with less support resources.

Which do you think is worse - being told you have cancer or discovering you are pregnant in a time when it was totally unaccepted and being told you you cannot keep your child and must give it away and never know anything about your child ever again, and you are expected to simply forget it ever happened and never speak of it again.... Which seem to inflict more powerful devastation to one's psyche?

The patients studied were cancer SURVIVORS. That means their cancer is now in remission or their tumors no longer can be seen on scans. For mothers who loose children to adoption, it never goes away. Our loss is akin to a mother whose child has been kidnapped, albeit, with the kidnapper's assurance that he or she will be well taken care of but with no way to know that it's true. Would anyone expect that kidnap victims have not suffered a trauma and one that would leave lasting effects.

And yes, for mothers ho lose children to adoption there is more loss than just her child. There is the eternal guilt of knowing, in the majority of cases, that she actually signed the papers. And it the loss of her self-esteem and self confidence having been told she shamed her family, needs to keep part of life a secret, and is not fit to parent her own child - without ever being given a chance to in most cases.
The birthmother's primary source of pain has been in the area of loss. She has not only suffered the loss of her child/ren, but the loss of her sense of wholeness, her sense of control over her life, and loss of self-esteem. In some cases she has lost a home or has lost or suffered damaged relationships with members of her family. Often she has lost identification with her mother as a role model. She has suffered loss of being accepted by society and loss of her adolescence, as well as loss of her sense of trust and self-worth.
This magnitude of loss is, to say the least, difficult for her to overcome. Sometimes the best a birthmother can do is to remain in denial and numbness for the rest of her adult life, unconsciously encumbered by her silent sorrow.

Davidson, Michelene K. Healing the Birthmother's Silent Sorrow. Progress: Family Systems Research and Therapy, 1994, Volume 3, (pp. 69-89). Encino, CA: Phillips Graduate Institute.
For more on the Lifelong, Unresolvable Grief of Loosing a Child to Adoption see:


Lorraine Dusky said...

Thank you for this post. I would have gladly chosen cancer rather than pregnant, alone, in 1965. I think most women would have. I wanted to die, hoped to die, thought about suicide a great deal.

lorraine from First Mother Forum

Anonymous said...

There really is no such thing as a cancer survivor. Most cancer comes back (unless something else kills you first)

Mirah Riben said...

Maybe so, anonymous. But you need to take your criticism to Reuters who wrote the article: "Many cancer survivors suffer from PTSD, says study" which I quote herein and link to.

Anonymous said...

I know I am just one voice among many, but in response to Lorraine's comment in which she said she thought most women would have felt the same as her, I can only say I didn't want to die when I was pregnant and alone in the 1960s because that would have meant my child dying with me. I wouldn't have preferred having cancer to being pregnant either.

Mirah Riben said...

Well, obviously each of us has our own personal feelings and the right to express them differently as well, whether literal or not.

The point of this post, however, is about PTSD....the lifelong effects of loosing a child to adoption, o matter how that loss is expressed or felt.

Anonymous said...

As I said, I was responding to the comment Lorraine made in response to your post.

Mirah Riben said...

And I responded to yours.

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

Who Am I?

Bitter Winds

Adoption and Truth Video

Adoption Truth

Birthparents Never Forget