Mothers of Loss: Noting the Privilege of Grief and Support

The adoptive mother of an adoptee killed in a car accident has written several powerful, sorrowful posts on Facebook. She has received the support of dozens, in some cases hundreds, of people, and has shared the funeral service, photos, anecdotes, and memories. She has been supported in her grief by her family, her friends, her church, and  her community, both local and online.

How do people recover from the death of a child? Slowly, painstakingly, and maybe never.

How do mothers recover from the more ambiguous loss of a child through adoption? One day the child is here. The next day the child is gone, alive but perhaps never to be seen again.

When someone loses a child to death, we rally. We prepare meals, we pray, we attend services, we send cards, we read Facebook posts, and we type comments of gratitude and support. The parents often receive counseling, medications, and group therapies.

What do we do for the mothers who lose their children to adoption, even when the decision is one of transparency and integrity? How do we as a community support them, through rituals and time? How do we acknowledge their loss?

What about when the loss is one of coercion, or fraud, or shame? Do we show compassion, or do we push their grief and loss out of our minds?

Surely it is yet another manifestation of our privilege that adoptive parents, as citizens in a wealthy society, that grief is shared. In the event of the death of a child, the parents can mourn and share and grieve in both private and public. They can get–as is right–heartfelt support from family, friends, and strangers. People inquire how they are doing, and pray for them, and embrace them in a time of deep, unfathomable loss.

I have never experienced the loss of a child. When my beloved granddaughter turned 6, I couldn’t help thinking that was the age at which her mother had been placed for adoption with our family. I was stopped in my tracks at the idea of losing this child forever, at 6 years old, never knowing where in the world she was. The grief would be overwhelming. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of the loss.

Surely it is yet another manifestation of the inequity in adoption that a first/birth mother placing her children forever does not get the resources and platform of an adoptive mother who loses her child to death. Don’t both experience what we acknowledge is an enormous loss–a child gone forever?

How many first mothers, after placement, never learn if their children are dead or alive?

To lose a child is to lose a part of one’s heart and soul. We in the adoption community must acknowledge the grief and loss of the mothers whose children are placed for adoption, because they have lost a child. To the impoverished Ethiopian and other international mothers walking back to their villages alone and never hearing again about their beloved children–mothers who experience depression, scorn, loneliness, and worse–we must offer recognition and compassion, and provide ongoing services to them. To the mothers who were coerced as teens into relinquishing their children, we must partner with them in their grief, not shame or dismiss them, suggesting they “Get over it. It was a long time ago.” To any mother who has lost a child, we must reach out, acknowledge the loss, and help with the healing. All mothers deserve this. All of them.

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4 thoughts on “Mothers of Loss: Noting the Privilege of Grief and Support

  1. I was stopped in my tracks at the idea of losing this child forever, at 6 years old, never knowing where in the world she was. The grief would be overwhelming. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of the loss.

    Wow.

    My mom said these same words when my adopted daughter, who came to us as a baby, was a toddler. Her work history in child welfare, which included assessments of parents and often referring their babies and toddlers into the foster care system, was lit up for her from behind. At the time she was retired and mentoring new social workers. So this insight arrived just in time to influence the next generation. As she realized that the attachment felt by those children, and their neglectful or abusive parents, was just as real to them as her attachment to her grandchild, she expressed that she finally understood the emotional truth of what child welfare is and does.

    This is so important: In our roles as adoptive families, we have to shout it out–the losses are real, they are traumatic and they must be avoided if there is any intervention that might help.

  2. It is morally incomprehensible for child care to be provided yet the mother and father can not get their child back from the care giver because now the care giver feels attached to someone else’s baby and is legally supported in hiding them.
    I am sorry, but my journey is interrupted, I am now doing search and rescue. I discovered my child’s mother was coerced into surrender by an evil system called adoption.

  3. Excellent! I would like to point out that fathers grieve also. Not many days go by when my husband thinks about the daughter who was adopted out against his wishes. He has some solace because someone involved in the adoption, who kept in touch with the family who adopted her, tells him she has a good life. People in other countries, who had their children adopted by people in this country, may not have that.

    • Yes, of course, fathers grieve too–as well as grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends. The circle is large. I chose to focus on mothers here, and that does not by any means suggest that others aren’t subject to great grief and loss as well. My heart goes out to your husband on his journey.

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