In Episode 8 I talk about going back to university where I learned that mothers who lose a child to adoption become hidden and hard to reach, and under-researched. What little research there is consistently conveys their depth of loss and shame, and the subsequent physical and mental health problems they suffer. Many experience a major illness or injury post-adoption, or other chronic health problems such as: migraine, obesity, asthma, eczema, self-neglect, unexplained abdominal pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s quite a list! Their grief is unique and complex with a lot of variability within studies. This means that in the same study, some women are suffering many of these health issues, whereas others are reporting few or none. It’s difficult to unpick what’s going on, and to understand why some suffer more than others.
My research explored the grief experienced by mothers who have lost a child to adoption. I analysed forty-one narrative accounts, written by women who had lost their child (or children) more than twenty years earlier. As far as I could tell, this type of narrative approach hasn’t been undertaken by researchers before and, when I looked at the mothers’ experience of grief, four different groups emerged. I found that the largest group, which included half the women, had suppressed their grief however, the real insight was that these were also the mothers who talked about experiencing physical and mental health problems. In short, my research revealed that suppressed grief and poor physical and mental well-being are correlated.
While I was doing this research, I also qualified with Cruse Bereavement Care and volunteered as a grief counsellor. This training taught me that, although grief is a process of learning to live with loss and that everyone’s process is their own, typically receiving comfort and support is helpful. For mothers who lose their child to adoption there are no established grieving rituals and the shame of the loss adds to the difficulty of seeking and finding comfort.
Throughout the podcast, Laura has mentioned aspects of her grief journey. She spoke about how, if she’d known that she would see the boys again, then that would have helped her grief because now she sees the boys, there is no longer any grief, only a sense of loss. We get glimpses of key moments in her grief journey, for example, when she comments that seeing the boys gave her closure she didn’t know she needed; closure that she found bitter sweet. Later, in episode ten, another key moment is shared; this time it is something that I say that helps … something that she didn’t know she needed to hear.
It pains me that so many mothers are left with life-altering emotional and physical problems, yet provided with so little (if any) post-adoption support. I cannot see any advantages to not providing appropriate therapeutic support; in fact, I can only see the benefits. When a mother walks out of court, having lost her child to adoption, what happens next profoundly impacts on her life. Laura’s friends disappeared, and it was almost thirteen years before she even met another first mother. She was isolated in her grief and would have benefited from the company of other first mothers, who could support her and share any rituals they have created for themselves.
Wouldn’t it be great if every mother who lost her child to adoption was quickly directed into the arms of other women who understood the experience, and could provide comfort and support? What if, instead of suppressing her grief, she was offered therapeutic support to process her loss? I wonder if, as Laura suggests, a post-adoption plan for her to see her child again would have lessened her suffering? Surely it’s better for the child, when they see their mother again, to see her healthy and well.