Adoption Grief: A Loss Worse Than Death?

the weight of loss

photo by Jensen Twite, used with permission

I stumbled upon a forum discussing birth mother grief and loss from adoption, and as we are approaching Mother’s Day and Birth Mother’s Day I have found myself perhaps unconsciously or consciously asking myself the same question the forum posed: is the grief and loss from choosing to place your child for adoption worse than the grief experienced through death? I feel I may be at a place in my life where I am getting an answer to this question.

My son, who I placed for adoption, recently passed away. I was fortunate to have known him, having met him in his early adulthood. It wasn’t always a great relationship but we were both very honest with each other about our feelings. Meeting him and knowing him filled a huge gaping hole in my heart that was present from the day he left my arms to go to his adoptive family. It was my choice, and it was the best choice I could make for him, I know this and will never second guess that decision. But it was hard. I feel like there are more colorful words I could use to describe just how hard, but I will say that missing him and not knowing how he was for the first 20 years of his life truly felt like a heart break worse than death.

Since he passed away, I sometimes feel confused. I miss him, my heart is broken, but the sense of closure gives me a strange sense of peace in my grief. Maybe it’s because he was very ill and suffered quite a bit in the last few years of his life. Maybe it’s a more acceptable grief. Maybe it’s a grief that others including his adoptive family share and understand.  In this grief, I’m not alone. Maybe there is comfort in this shared grief. But in looking at the grief I feel now, and the grief I felt then, it is different.

Placing a child for adoption is not a decision to take lightly, and it is one that a birth parent should enter knowing the emotional cost. That said, it is also true that everyone experiences grief and loss differently, depending on the situation.  With adoption loss, there are no rituals, no memorial services, and no public acknowledgement and support of loss. This grief becomes disenfranchised and the result can be guilt and shame. This guilt and shame can then lead to birth parents cutting themselves off from sources of emotional support and questioning their decision. This is why, whether you chose to parent or place your baby for adoption, it is important to have emotional support either way.

Any adoptive family who has experienced a reclaim can probably relate. Even though they know that during the “legal risk” period, things could change, there is still loss, and when it happens it also can feel worse than death. And again, it is the kind of loss that society doesn’t understand. I think we can all agree that grief without support and acceptance is the worst kind of grief.

Families waiting to adopt struggle with a type of grief too. They may wonder why there aren’t more babies available to be adopted. I hope that they understand this isn’t an easy decision. I also hope that those families who have adopted recognize and support their child’s birth parent’s feelings.

Birth Mother’s Day is May 9, 2020. Take time in the next month to acknowledge the birth mothers in your life. Send them a note of encouragement and gratitude for their difficult choice. Recognize also that their type of grief may also manifest in different forms, so be gentle. Bless you in your journey, what ever role you live!

-submitted by Joyce Twite, Pregnancy Counselor/Admin. Support Specialist

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