Birthmother research -Birth Mom missions
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  • Fascinating article!!! IMHO.....
    This is a properly researched and well thought out perspective, and reads as an educationally sound paper; encompassing the popular and loosely used term, 'primal wound'. It delves extensively into the adoption communities widely accepted concept, turns it on its head, and really gets down to the 'nitty gritty' of a very personal reality in adoption, with an honest, true to life, applicable definition. The excellent, in depth explanations of the psychological trauma that allegedly occurs, becomes palpable, even for those not personally connected to adoption. It allows the female majority in our society the opportunity to relate to the notion of intuitive connections and early traumatic loss by simply being a mother who has given birth. Mothers are the ones with the intimate knowledge that comes from carrying and birthing a child. I believe researchers would be hard pressed to find new mothers who would refuse to admit that an undeniable intuitiveness exists about their babies immediately from the moment of their birth and their bonds to their 'birthed' child. Although this article is a it more cerebral then I would like; at least it gets it right in such a way, that the adoption outsiders who usually argue against the existence of such life altering trauma, will find it that much more difficult to stand behind whatever ideals the cracker-jack psychologist of the month, who happens to be on the same payroll, can muster in research and educational background, to even try to prove otherwise.
    Candice Johnn
    Guardian Ad Litem Volunteer
    Founder of:
    Catholic Charities Triad @
    Relinquished- Searching & Reunions @
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Birthmother research -Birth Mom missions Birthmother research -Birth Mom missions Document Transcript

  • Birthmother Research Project J. Kelly M.A. Chapter II. Literature Review "All of our loss experiences hark back to Original Loss, the loss of that ultimate mother-child connection. For before we begin to encounter the inevitable separations of everyday life, we live in a state of oneness with our mother. This ideal state, this state of boundarylessness, this I-am-you-are-me- is-she-is-we, this 'harmonious interpenetrating mix-up," this floating "I'm in the milk and the milk's in me,' this chillproof insulation from aloneness and intimations of mortality: This is a condition known to lovers, saints, psychotics, druggies and infants. It is called bliss." (Viorst, 1998, p. 34) THE MOTHER-CHILD BOND Against the backdrop of our complex, fast-changing, technological society, evolutionary theory provides a counterpoint of simplicity. Primal -- bound by natural laws -- with changes occurring ever so slowly over millennia, the evolutionary process remains in sharp contrast to our environmental process. As described by Bowlby, ". . . [I]t is usually fairly safe to assume that the habitat occupied by a species today is either the same as or close to its environment of evolutionary adaptedness. For man this is not so. . . . [We can ] be fairly sure that none of the environments in which civilised, or even half-civilised, man lives today conforms to the environment in which man's environmentally stable behavioural systems were evolved and to which they are intrinsically adapted." (Bowlby, 1982, pp. 58-59) Our evolutionary system holds within it countless life cycles of procreation - the maternal body - collective heartbeats maintaining the life of the species. We are only beginning to grasp the intrauterine and neonatal physiological and behavioral systems that have evolved to ensure the survival of the infant, i.e., mother-child bonding. In order to understand the impact of relinquishment, it is necessary to explore both the intrauterine and extrauterine dynamics of the mother-child relationship. According to Verny and Kelly, there exists ". . . a human intrauterine bonding system at least as complex, graded and subtle as the bonding that occurs after birth. Indeed, they are part of the same vital continuum: What happens after birth is an elaboration of, and depends on, what happened prior to it" (1981, p. 75). Most of the research on mother-child bonding has focused on attachment theory. Differentiating between the formation of attachments and bonding, Verrier (1993) describes attachment as "a kind of emotional dependence"; while bonding "implies a profound connection which is experienced at all levels of human awareness" (p. 19). Bowlby (1982) defines attachment behaviour ". . . as seeking and maintaining proximity to another individual" (p. 194). Bowlby examined attachment behavior in terms of its "evolutionary adaptedness" (p. 58). Hence, maintaining proximity to the mother protected infants from predation in primeval environments. Attachment behavior, such as an infant's clinging to its mother, can be seen in many non-human primates as early as at birth. However, a human infant is not strong enough at birth to cling and requires support by its mother (Bowlby, 1982). Bowlby proposed that attachment behavior begins at approximately six months of age; consequently, in human beings, attachment theory is by definition limited to the older infant. Bowlby's conception of attachment theory is predicated on the existence of biologically-based behavioral systems that mediate attachment and proximity to the primary caretaker, e.g., the distress signal emitted by a baby's cry (Crain, 1992).
  • According to Bowlby, these primitive neonatal systems predispose the infant to develop attachment behaviors later. Mahler (1994) describes a state of undifferentiation in the first few extrauterine weeks of life during which the infant is unable to differentiate between inner and outer reality. Mahler proposes that this phase is followed by a state of symbiosis between mother and infant, during the second through fifth month, and a separation-individuation phase beyond the fifth month. Mahler asserts that "the biological birth of the human infant and the psychological birth of the individual are not coincident in time. The former is a dramatic and readily observable, well-circumscribed event; the latter, a slowly unfolding intrapsychic process" (Mahler, 1994, p. 120). Mahler's separation-individuation phase appears to coincide with Bowlby's timetable for the manifestation of attachment behavior. Bowlby (1982) writes that attachment behavior is one-half of a "shared dyadic programme" (e.g., attachment behavior/mother-retrieval behavior) and that the mother child relationship is comprised of multiple "shared dyadic programmes" (p. 377). Bowlby points out that "the study of caregiving as a behavioural system . . . is an enterprise calling for attention" (p. 377-378). While much theory-building and research has been formulated around the developmental stages of attachment behaviors and the impact of maternal separation on the child, the vast majority of it is oriented toward the developmental impact on the child. Very little attention has been placed on the "mother-child bonding" behavioral systems of the mother and the impact of separation on the mother. Where research has been conducted (such as, Ainsworth's maternal attunement), the emphasis is nearly always on it's impact on the child. Winnicott (1995) has attempted to differentiate between the mother's identification with the infant and the infant's identification with the mother. Winnicott has identified a "primary maternal preoccupation" which occurs during the pregnancy and enables the mother to "identify" with the infant (1995, p. 15). After birth, Winnicott proposes that a "weaning" process occurs enabling the mother to recover "her self-interest. . . at the rate at which her infant can allow her to do so" (1995, p. 15). According to Winnicott, there exists "a mother-infant partnership in which the mother by one kind of identification meets the infant's original state of undifferentiation" (1995, p. 15). During this stage, the infant's self is described by Winnicott as only "potential" and is actually merged with the mother's self. Winnicott describes two types of maternal disorder affecting primary maternal preoccupation: (1) in the first case, the mother's own self-interests are compulsive and unable to be shifted to the infant, and (2) in the second case, the mother becomes pathologically preoccupied with the infant and unable to recover her own self-interest. Although Winnicott does not address the situation of relinquishment and loss of the infant, it seems plausible that the birthmother who relinquishes might also suffer from a "primary maternal preoccupation" disorder affecting the recovery of her self-interest. In this case, the process of recovering her own self-interest is no longer guided by the ongoing interaction with her infant. Rather, the infant has been abruptly separated from the mother while the mother's ego is "attuned" to supporting the needs of the infant. As posited by Judith Viorst, "Yet the yearning to restore the bliss of mother-child oneness - that ultimate connection - is never relinquished. All of us live, at some unconscious level, as if we had been rendered incomplete. Though the rupture of primary unity is a necessary loss, it remains 'an incurable wound which afflicts the destiny of the whole human race.'" (1998, p. 42) Referring to Winnicott's theory of individual development, Verrier states that ". . . at the beginning of life there is no such thing as a baby. There is instead a mother/baby - an emotional, psychological, spiritual unit, whose knowing comes from intuition. The baby and the mother, although separated physiologically, are still psychologically one" (1993, p. 17). If we do indeed yearn to restore the primary unity of "mother-child oneness," does the expectant mother temporarily do so via "primary
  • maternal preoccupation?" And to carry this thought one step further, what might be the effects of severing the connection outside of the rhythm of nature's progression? Stiffler (1992) reports that "evidence of an archetypal longing of mothers and children for each other is exhibited in all mammals and is pathetically demonstrated on those occasions when behavioral scientists attempt to separate them" (p. 94). According to Verny and Kelly (1981) , the optimum timeframe for intrauterine bonding is in the last trimester of pregnancy during which time the fetus is capable of sending sophisticated messages to the mother. Verny and Kelly identify the first hours and days following birth as optimum for extrauterine bonding. Verny and Kelly propose that a highly involved sympathetic communication system exists between mother and child - one which supports the theory of extrasensory communication. Ehrenwald (1977, cited in Stiffler, 1992) postulates that communication between the mother and child during the symbiotic phase may be intrapsychic and telepathic - "that there is no psychological gap between them, due to a continued fusion of the neonatal with the maternal ego" (p. 105). While the telepathic link is believed to diminish over time, it has been observed to spontaneously appear in later years -- particularly in time of crisis or when other communication channels are unavailable (Stiffler, 1992). Most of the literature concerning mother-child bonding has focused on extrauterine bonding - with little emphasis on intrauterine bonding. The discovery of a "bodywide communication system," which communicates across cellular barriers, informs our understanding of mother-child communication in utero. Recent research in the area of psychoneuroimmunology lends support to the ease with which both sympathetic and physiological communication is facilitated between mother and fetus. Quoting from her original journal article, Candace Pert writes: "Neuropeptides and their receptors thus join the brain, glands, and immune system in a network of communication between brain and body, probably representing the biochemical substrate of emotion" (1997, p. 179). Additionally, psychoneuroimmunology explains how memories may be stored "in a psychosomatic network extending into the body, particularly in the ubiquitous receptors between nerves and bundles of cell bodies called ganglia, which are distributed not just in and near the spinal cord, but all the way out along pathways to internal organs and the very surface of our skin" (Pert, 1997, p. 143). Are the memories and emotions of the mother-infant union indelibly-imprinted, somatically upon the cells of both mother and child? Are state-dependent memories and behaviors reflective of the mother-child symbiotic relationship encoded in our neural networks? This section has explored various mother-child bonding theories - emanating from the disciplines of ethology, biology and psychology. The meaning of the mother-child relationship lies in its social construction. Pertinent to this study is the social construction of motherhood, adoption and relinquishment. THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF MOTHERHOOD, ADOPTION, AND RELINQUISHMENT "What makes a mother? Is it the child birth? Is it the bearing and nourishing and sustaining him for the first nine months of his life? Is it the raising of him, spending his growing years with him? When do women become mothers? Does some thing [sic] magical happen during or after childbirth? Is this the forging, the test by fire, or do mothers become themselves under the gentle pedagogy of the tiny teachers who make them feel too much too soon? Are we the mothers when we begin to care, to wonder, when we realise we are moved by a child we can't even see? When does motherhood begin,
  • when does it end - or does it have beginning and end? Is it time bound?" (Connolly, 1987, as quoted in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999, p. 21) Several definitions are presented here in order to lay the groundwork for this topic, namely: postmodernism, deconstructionism, and social constructionism. Postmodernism has been described as: "A philosophical movement across a variety of disciplines that has sought to dismantle many of the assumptions that underlie the established truths of the modern era. It is marked by acceptance of plurality and the challenging of norms. In particular, postmodernism tends to reject the view that science and technology necessarily provide hope for human progress." (Monk, Winslade, Crocket & Epston, 1997, p. 304) Imbedded in postmodernism is the ideology of deconstructionism. Referring to this worldview, Woodhouse (1996, p. 22) writes: "The assumption is that an objective evaluation of competing points of view is impossible since all points of view are to some extent biased by race, gender, and culture. All that's left to do is to describe different perspectives, including those formerly considered inconsequential, and attempt to balance past biases--which might entail leaving Plato and Shakespeare out of the curriculum altogether." Similarly, social constructionism is defined as: "The movement in the social sciences that stresses the role played by language in the production of meaning. A central tenet is that people produce through discourse the social conditions by which their thoughts, feelings, and actions are determined. In this way, meaning is made in social contexts rather than given." (Monk et al., 1997, p. 305) Freedman and Combs (1996, p. 22) present the following ideas as fundamental to the "postmodern view of reality": "1. Realities are socially constructed. 2. Realities are constituted through language. 3. Realities are organized and maintained through narrative. 4. There are no essential truths." Within this context, the reality of motherhood, adoption, and relinquishment is socially defined, manipulated by language, reproduced by stories, and subject to transmutation and redefinition. By challenging the assumptions of reality, normality, and prevailing beliefs, infinite alternative realities become possible. Motherhood In my attempt to deconstruct the meaning of motherhood, I challenge myself and the reader to unearth the cultural, social, economic, and political assumptions by which motherhood is constructed. In ancient cultures, the Great Goddess was worshiped and revered as the embodiment of the life cycle continuum: birth, death, and regeneration (Kahn, 1995). In her book Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, Erma Bombeck writes: "'Mother' has always been a generic term synonymous with love, devotion, and sacrifice. . . . Immediately following birth, every new mother drags from her bed and awkwardly pulls herself up on the pedestal provided for her" (1983, pp. 2-3). Chodorow (1978) provides an informative description of the historical changes affecting motherhood that have taken place in the preceding two centuries.
  • Two centuries ago, marriage, especially for women, was essentially synonymous with child- rearing. . . . Parenting lasted from the inception of a marriage to the death of the marriage partners. . . . In this earlier period, the household was the major productive unit of society. Husband and wife, with their own and/or other children, were a cooperative producing unit. . . . Women carried out productive and reproductive responsibilities, as they have in most societies and throughout history. . . . [Over the last two centuries,] production outside the home became identified with work as such; the home was no longer viewed as a workplace. Home and workplace, once the same, are now separate. This change in the organization of production went along with and produced a complex of far-reaching changes in the family and in women's lives. . . . Women's family role became centered on child care and taking care of men. This role involved more than physical labor. It was relational and personal and, in the case of both children and men, maternal. . . ." (pp. 4-5). Perhaps the social construction of motherhood is most clearly visible when examined under the lens of patriarchy. Chodorow (1978) ascribes women's mothering to be "a central and defining feature of the social organization of gender and is implicated in the construction and reproduction of male dominance itself" (p. 9). Traditionally, economic systems have depended upon the continued reproduction of "labor power" within the family by women's reproduction and mothering (Chodorow, 1978). Historically, both prior to and during the years of this study, income inequalities based on gender fostered a sexual division of labor -- with mothers serving as primary caretakers and fathers, primary wage-earners (Chodorow, 1978). Chodorow asserts that the "social organization of gender. . . is socially constructed, subject to historical change and development, and organized in such a way that it is systematically reproduced" (1978, p. 8). In The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd Ed.), the term mother is defined as "a woman who conceives, gives birth to, or raises and nurtures a child" (1993, p. 890). However, in Western society, the satisfaction of all four conditions are often implicitly assumed. As Chodorow (1978) points out, a man can "mother" a child, but a woman can not "father" a child. Chodorow asserts that "being a mother, then, is not only bearing a child - it is being a person who socializes and nurtures. It is being a primary parent or caretaker" (p. 11). Hence, in the "lived" definition, an otherwise childless woman who miscarries, aborts, delivers a stillborn, relinquishes, or adopts may not be viewed as a mother in its fullest sense. Adoptive mothers Betsy Smith, Janet Surrey, and Mary Watkins report having been asked the following questions by strangers: "Are you her 'mother'?" "Is she yours?" "Does she call you 'Mom'?" "She can't be your baby. Where does she come from?" (1998, p. 194) For members of the adoption triad, the term "real" mother is emotionally loaded. Smith, Surrey, and Watkins (1998) claim that adoptive mothers may fear that without the opportunity for mother-infant bonding at birth, their relationship may be less "real." They argue that, in spite of the evidence supporting the prenatal development of an infant's familiarity with its biological mother and the potential effects of severing that relationship, adoptive mothers are able to develop attachment relationships with the child. Smith et al. (1998) assert that ". . . in a culture that values blood relations over others, the parents considered 'real' are the birth parents, despite any acts they have committed that are antithetical to 'parenting'" (p. 206). In this context, Smith et al. have used the term "to parent" in the sense of "To act as a parent to; raise and nurture" as specified in The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd Ed.) (1993, p. 992). An alternate use of the term "to parent" is "To cause to come into existence; originate." Once more, we are presented with the dilemma of defining terms in the exceptional case of adoption and relinquishment. Smith et al. have demonstrated their bias and "lived experience" by choosing the term "parenting" to represent "raising and nurturing," They advocate for the "continued development and reinforcement of nonblaming, nonjudgmental language to describe members of the adoption triangle. . . for example, birth mother, biological mother; instead of 'real' mother, 'natural' mother, or 'abandoning' mother. . ." (p. 212). Others, however, argue that there is no judgment intended in the term "natural"
  • mother and that biologically the woman who gave birth to the child is in fact his/her natural mother. Birthmothers often claim that they relinquished their "parenting" rights to raise and nurture the child, but they did not relinquish their "motherhood." Relinquishment instruments often used terminology such as the "relinquishment of parental rights." This is evidenced in the language expressed in Washington D.C.'s relinquishment document (circa 1956-1960): "Relinquishment of Parental Rights - Mother I, (insert BM name here), legal mother of (insert Bname of adoptee), born at (insert city/state of birth) on (insert DOB) hereby surrender and relinquish all parental rights in the said child and do permanently relinquish and transfer the same to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, and their designated agents, under provisions of Section 6 of the Act of April 22, 1944, (58 Stat. 194) as amended by Section 5 (b) of the Act of June 8, 1954 (68 Stat. 248), with full power and authority to the said Commissioners or their designated agents to consent to the adoption of the said child." (cited in, 1997) Terms such as birthmother, first mother, other mother, biological mother, and natural mother have been coined in order to describe a woman who conceived and gave birth to a child but did not raise and nurture the child. Motherhood is also in some cases endowed with attributes of ownership - my son, my daughter. This too can be magnified in the atypical case of relinquishment and adoption and may create an underlying competition between birthmothers and adoptive mothers. As emphasized by one birthmother, "What we have to realize, all of us, is that children are not possessions. They don't belong to any of us. Children are their own beings, adopted or not. At best, we can guide them. The birthparents have guided them into the world, the adoptive ones guide them through childhood. But we do not own them. We are not in competition for deeds or titles. We are united in love." (Jones, 1993, p. 283). Smith et al. (1998) refer to the "multiplicity of mothering" as those situations where more than one mother parents a child, as seen in lesbian families or extended families. In other cultures, language exists to describe such relationships, e.g., African American "blood mothers" and "other mothers" and Latino "madres de sangre (blood mothers) and madres de crianza (childrearing mothers)". Having multiple siblings, we are able to refer to all as brothers and sisters. We have no need to differentiate other than by name, or sometimes birth order, when necessary. However, in the case of relinquishment and adoption, there appears to be a need to distinguish between the two mothering roles, as evidenced by distinctions found in language. Discussing the "confusion about status" in the post-reunion relationship, Gediman and Brown (1991) assert: "The problem of what to call whom also reflects the anomaly of the post-reunion relationship, which is often described as both a yes and no at the same time. 'I'm his mother but not his mother,' one says. 'My daughter who's not my daughter,' another puts it. 'I won't be her Mom but she is forever my daughter,' according to someone else. Strictly speaking, such sentences don't make any sense, but somehow because of the circumstances, they do." (p. 154) Additional insights into motherhood may be found in identifying some of the psychological and social reasons for wanting children. Hoffman and Hoffman found the following reasons why people wanted children: "Becoming a parent marks the official passage into adulthood. A child is seen as an extension of the self, and having a child is a way to give birth to the unborn self. A child is seen as an heir apparent, someone to carry on the family line and traditions, and to insure social status. A child can realize the
  • parents' dreams, and also can have a childhood full of the opportunities and love that the parents feel they have been deprived of during their own childhoods. Women especially may look upon having a child as a way of showing up their own mothers in the job of mothering: 'I'm sure not going to raise my children the way my mother raised me.' Having children is the morally and socially correct thing to do, and pressure from friends, family and the larger culture cause parents to feel they must procreate to be accepted. Becoming parents may provide people with the illusion of having control over their own lives. They may feel powerful in comparison to the helpless child who is so dependent upon them. Or they may believe that the child will save their faltering marital relationship. Economic utility: Children can help out with the family business, and also can be counted on to take care of the parents in old age. Having a child is seen as a way for the parents to celebrate their love, and raising children is seen as one of life's major challenges. Child rearing is yet another area in which success-oriented parents can excel and prove their worth." (Sanford & Donovan, 1984, pp. 32-33) Each of these reasons may become threads in the fabric of motherhood and add additional layers of meaning. Our understanding of motherhood is further enlightened by exploring what it means to be childless. Sanford and Donovan (1984) describe the social stigma that may accompany childlessness. Childless women may be characterized as "deficient, aberrant and even pathetic" and pitiable (p. 148). They may be seen as "immature, selfish, unable to give to others" (p. 149). Women who desire to become pregnant and are infertile may suffer greater social stigma (Sanford & Donovan, 1984). Sanford and Donovan further state that "a woman who does not have children must prove herself exceptional in achievement in order to compensate for her failure to be a 'real' woman" (p. 149). Cultural, social, economic, and political changes within the last fifty years have dramatically influenced the role of mothering. Surrogate parenting, whereby a surrogate mother can be artificially inseminated for the purpose of carrying and relinquishing the child to a childless couple, further challenges our cognitive schemata that shapes, makes sense of, and gives meaning to "motherhood." Multiple mothering and single parenting likewise challenge our staid assumptions. The recent rise in reunions of birthmothers and adoptees (and its media coverage) has implicitly made apparent the disparities in the meaning of motherhood as it applies to adoptive mothers and birthmothers. The next section addresses the historical underpinnings of adoption as a social institution. Adoption "The tensions inherent in keeping secrets affect all aspects of the adoptive process. Everyone involved in adoption must confront at one time or another questions about secrecy and disclosure. Should a child's birth certificate indicate that he or she has been adopted? How many details about a child's birth should social workers disclose to the adoptive parents? When and how should adoptive parents tell their children they were adopted? Should adoptive parents impart to their child all the information that social workers have given to them? When adult adoptees return to an adoption agency, should social workers give them all the facts in the file, including the names of their biological parents? When birth mothers return, should they learn how to contact the children they relinquished? Disclosure is also fraught with anxiety. Adoptive parents worry that they will lose their children when the children seek and find their biological family. Some adult adoptees worry that they will hurt their adopted parents if they make deeper inquiries into their past or want to meet biological family members. Unwed mothers who have married and started new families worry that the child they relinquished for adoption, now grown, will appear unexpectedly on their doorstep. Others worry the opposite: they will never again see the child they gave up for adoption. "It was not always this way." (Carp, 1998, pp. 2-3)
  • Adoption is a social organization. As such, it is shaped by society, culture, religion, politics, economics, etc. An examination of its history portrays a multidimensional portrait of its social construction. Although adoption most likely pre-dates recorded history, it is the adoption practices of the last few hundred years that are most pertinent to this study. Adoption practices have taken many forms over the centuries and across cultures. Carp (1998) contrasts how adoption is currently practiced in the South Pacific, Africa, Asia, and in Western societies: "Whereas in Western societies modern adoption is infrequent, private, formal, and involves a complete transfer of parental rights, on some South Pacific islands adoption is common, public, casual, and characterized by partial transfer of the adopted child to the new family and dual parental rights and obligations. In contrast to Western societies, where parental ties are always broken, in Africa and Asia, adoption is a method of enriching and strengthening ties between two family groups. Similarly, in the South Pacific, it is common for adopted children to maintain a relationship with their biological parents." (p. 4) In Western societies, adoption has undergone a number of cyclic transformations. According to Carp (1998), by the seventeenth century, adoption was perceived as "unchristian" and "unnatural" and had practically disappeared in most European countries due to several salient factors. Prevalent factors included: (1) the Church's disapproval of the use of adoption as a mechanism for inheritance, (2) the denouncement of adoption by religious leaders and reformers who held that sex and procreation should only be practiced within the confines of marriage and intended to discourage the practice of biological fathers bringing their illegitimate sons into the family through adoption, (3) fears of inadvertent incestuous unions, (4) the public stigma of infertility, and (5) a belief that adoption was contrary to the "natural order" (Carp, 1998). Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, adoption was unregulated by law. In fact, adoption was not even recognized by English Common Law. Carp (1998) attributes this to the primacy of kinship and the protection of inheritance property rights for blood relatives, the prevailing moral repulsiveness toward illegitimacy, and the existence of "quasi-adoptive" practices of apprenticeship and voluntary placements. Departing from the European adoption practices and attitudes, colonial Americans "showed little preference for the primacy of biological kinship, practiced adoption on a limited scale, and frequently placed children in what we would call foster care" (Carp, 1998, p. 5). Indenture and apprenticeship were widely practiced - in both voluntary and compulsory forms. These practices provided mechanisms to reduce vagrancy and to assist the poor. Carp (1998) notes that "church and town authorities involuntarily 'bound out' orphans, bastards, abandoned children, and impoverished, neglected, or abused children to families to labor and be educated" (p. 5). Contrary to indentured servitude (where the child performed labor in exchange for support until attaining adulthood), informal adoptions offered "some hope or expectation that children placed in informal adoptive settings would receive care, support, and perhaps education from their new home" (TxCARE, 1994, p. 1). Informal adoptions occurred without legal proceedings. Informal adoptions often served economic purposes by supplying an inexpensive source of child labor. Another practice, known as testamentary adoption, enabled children placed with families to be provided for in their wills. Carp notes that: "Under the impact of large-scale immigration, urbanization, and the advent of the factory system and wage labor, the compact, stable, agricultural communities of colonial American were giving way to crowded, sprawling, coastal cities. One of the effects of these wrenching economic and social transformations was that both urban and rural poverty became major problems" (1998, p. 7).
  • This led to the development of almshouses and private orphanages to provide relief for the poor. Failure of these institutions to provide adequate care of the children prompted a shift away from institutional solutions to an emphasis on "the ability of a family environment to shape and reform dependent children" (Carp, 1998, p. 8). Carp writes: "By 1900, breaking up families had become practically taboo, at least in theory, and family preservation had become a fundamental principle among all child-savers. . . . While they continued to extol the family as superior to the institution, the 'family' they now meant was the child's natural parents, the family of origin" (1998, p. 16). Poverty was no longer viewed as a sufficient reason to break up a family. State laws were enacted to facilitate keeping the child with the mother, e.g. pensions for widowed mothers. The prevailing attitude concerning adoption is evidenced in this 1927 report by the Children's Bureau concerning ten child- placement agencies: "[They] were unanimous in their opinion that no child, whether of legitimate or illegitimate birth, should be placed for adoption if there were decent, self-respecting parents or other family connections who might later, if not at the moment, provide a home for him" (Carp, 1998, p. 17). For some time, in the early part of the twentieth century, eugenics played a part in discouraging the adoptability of illegitimate children. A connection between inherited feeblemindedness and unwed mothers was being espoused. Adoptions during the first quarter of the century were reportedly low due to cultural, medical, and social stigma associated with adoption (Carp, 1998). State legislation of adoption began to appear in the mid-nineteenth century. Massachusetts passed the first adoption statute in 1851 wherein "adoption pursuant to the Massachusetts statute required judicial approval, consent of the child's parent or guardian, and a finding that the prospective adoptive family was of sufficient ability to raise the child" (TxCARE, 1994, p. 2). According to Carp, the Massachusetts Adoption Act "codified earlier state court decisions that had transformed the law of custody to reflect Americans' new conceptions of childhood and parenthood, which emphasized the needs of children and the contractual and egalitarian nature of spouses' rights of guardianship" (1998, p. 11). However, the implementation of the newly enacted statutes were not strictly enforced. The statutes did not address issues of confidentiality; practically speaking, these were open adoptions. Due to changing "attitudes, mores, and myths of the times," the practice of sealing adoption records began in the 1930's (TxCARE, 1994). The inclusion of confidentiality clauses in state legislation was originally intended to prevent the public from viewing adoption records for the protection of the adoption triad. In New York, the legislation, known as the "Nosey Neighbor Law," was designed "to shield the details of an adoption from the public. The NNL did NOT seal the records from any of the parties concerned - birth and adoptive parents OR the adoptee" (, 1997). However, during the 1930s, some states had changed the wording to exclude the natural parents from accessing court adoption records. In 1939, a U. S. Children's Bureau spokesperson reported that: "We have about concluded that the only persons who should have access to adoption records without specific approval of the court are the adoptive parents, the child when he becomes of age, and representatives of the State Department responsible for investigation of the adoption" (Carp, 1998, p. 42). By the end of 1941, confidentiality safeguards to secure all or part of adoption court records from public inspection had been enacted in 24 states (Carp, 1998). It was not long before confidentiality safeguards were expanded to restrict all members of the adoption triad from access to adoption court records. Additionally, adoption agencies extended confidentiality to agency records.
  • The following reasons were influential in the move toward full confidentiality: "The birth parents were protected from the stigma of pregnancy without the benefit of marriage. The adoptee was protected from the stigma of illegitimacy and the concerns of 'bad blood' which was loosely connected to what we know about genetics today, but carried with it overtones of the 'sins of the father.' Secrecy would also prevent the confusion of having two different sets of parents and the conflict that might arise should contact occur. The adoptive parents, often an infertile couple, were protected from the stigma of raising an 'illegitimate' child. They were protected from dealing with their infertility and from facing the differences between being a parent through adoption vs. being a parent by birth. Closed records also precluded the possibility of birth relatives seeking out the child, an event associated with potential kidnapping." (TxCARE, 1994, p. 3) Additional reasons noted are: protection from intrusion into the privacy of all parties; protection from blackmail; protecting the adoptee from disturbing acts surrounding their birth - incest, rape, etc. enhancing the adoptee's feeling of permanency; enhancing the family's stability and preserving the nuclear family; encouraging the use of adoption instead of abortion, black market placement, child abuse, or neglect." (TxCARE, 1994, p. 4) Adoption practices and ideology underwent significant changes following World War II. According to Carp (1998), "The baby boom was both the cause and the effect of a profound change in the national political culture that tied the security of the nation and personal happiness to an ideology of domesticity and the nuclear family. Parenthood during the Cold War became a patriotic necessity. The media romanticized babies, glorified motherhood, and identified fatherhood with masculinity and good citizenship. The consequences of this celebratory pronatalist mood, as the historian Elaine Tyler May has written, 'marginalized the childless in unprecedented ways.' Uncomfortable with being childless and the subject of public opprobrium, many of these childless couples sought adoption in record numbers as one solution to their shame of infertility. Contributing to the unprecedented numbers of childless couples applying for children to adopt were new medical treatments - semen examination, tests for tubal patency, and endrometrial [sic] biopsies-permitting physicians to diagnose physical sterility more easily and accurately early in marriage." (pp. 28-29) It is estimated that in the mid-1950s one million childless couples were attempting to adopt an available 75,000 children (Carp, 1998). In this context, "white, pregnant, unmarried women and their babies became market commodities" (Solinger, 1992, p. 154). Prior to World War II, motherhood was considered immutable. As Solinger notes, " . . . for most unwed mothers, black and white, through the 1930s, illegitimacy was a shame that carried with it shamed motherhood" (1992, p. 152). Since the child was believed to be both the offspring of a mentally deficient, morally weak mother and a "child of sin," the adoptability of the child was largely diminished. Likewise, the mother was viewed as deserving of punishment for her sinful actions and not capable of rehabilitation, nor was her marriageability or community standing likely to be restored (Solinger, 1992). As a result, initiatives were taken to prevent the abandonment of these infants. For example, regulations were instituted either by the state or by maternity homes requiring mothers in maternity homes to breast-feed for at least
  • three months in order to establish mother-infant bonding (Solinger, 1992). In contrast, in the post-war era, the ideology of illegitimacy underwent major change. Psychological explanations replaced the biological interpretations of unwed mothers - transforming her into a "maladjusted female" rather than "genetically tainted" (Solinger, 1992). Motherhood was no longer considered immutable. Within this context, the infant was perceived as adoptable; and the mother was capable of rehabilitation and future marriage. Solinger points out: "In postwar America, social conditions of motherhood along with notions about the psychological status of the unwed mother became more important in defining white motherhood than biology. Specifically, for the first time, it took more than a baby to make a white girl or woman into a mother. Without marriage first, a white female was not considered to have achieved motherhood." (1992, p. 153) However, this was achievable only through relinquishment. Through relinquishment and adoption, the mistake was undone (Solinger, 1992). In the 1960 Child Welfare League's Standards for Services to Unmarried Parents, it was stated that: "In our society, parenthood without marriage is a deviation from the accepted cultural pattern of bearing and raising children. It represents a specific form of social dysfunctioning which is a problem in itself and which in turn creates social and emotional problems for parent and child. . . . It is generally accepted in our society that children should be reared in families created through marriage. The legal family is the approved social institution to ensure sound rearing and development of children." (Solinger, 1992, p. 166) Solinger (1992) asserts that unmarried mothers were "defined by the state out of their motherhood" de facto as unsuitable for parenting (p. 166). Adoption was clearly mandated as the recommended action. The social construction of adoption has over the ages been built upon the terrain of gender, race and class prejudices and inequalities. According to Solinger (1992), unmarried black and white women of childbearing age were disempowered by the prevailing public policies and practices. Solinger (1992) notes that: "Among single women, unwed mothers were most vulnerable to this strain of public opinion partly because they had violated multiple rules concerning femininity and sexuality, marriage and maternity, and were thus a powerful testament to the wages of uncontained female sexuality, dangerous as a threat to the integrity of the family" (p. 22). In some states, women who bore more than one illegitimate child faced imprisonment or sterilization (Solinger, 1992). Those who kept their illegitimate children faced community ostracism. One unwed mother describes her experience as follows: "I am an unwed mother who kept her child. And I fear no hell after death, for I've had mine here on earth. Let no man or girl deceive herself-hell hath no punishment like the treatment people give a 'fallen woman.' The heartache, tortured thoughts, recriminations, fear, loneliness could not be put on paper. Neither can the scorn, insult and actual hate of self-righteous and ignorant people." (as quoted in Solinger, 1992, p. 33) In the 1950s and 1960s, the prevailing belief held by the professionals was that the unmarried woman's decision to keep her illegitimate child was in itself evidence of immaturity and unsuitability for
  • motherhood (Solinger, 1992). Although the unwed mother and her child were socially stigmatized, the father generally escaped social punishment. Culpability was placed upon the woman who "got herself pregnant." As Solinger (1992) comments: "The traditional expression 'he ruined her,' archaic by midcentury, had been meaningfully replaced by 'she got herself in trouble'" (p. 35). Society exacted its price for gender insubordination and uncontrolled female sexuality. An analysis of the racial determinants of adoption is complex. The institution of adoption during this era was indeed race-specific. Solinger writes: "Race, in the end, was the most accurate predictor of an unwed mother's parents' response to her pregnancy; of society's reaction to her plight; of where and how she would spend the months of her pregnancy; and most important, the most accurate predictor of what she would do with the 'fatherless' child she bore, and of how being mother to such a child would affect the rest of her life." (1992, p. 18) While pregnancy among black single women was defined "as the product of uncontrolled, sexual indulgence" to be constrained by "punitive, legal sanctions," white single mothers were deemed to be "socially productive breeders whose babies, unfortunately conceived out of wedlock, could offer infertile couples their only chance to construct proper families" (Solinger, 1992, p. 24). The institution of adoption primarily served white females. In 1960, it is estimated that 70% of white babies born to single women were adopted; compared to only 5% of black babies born outside of marriage (Solinger, 1992). Maternity homes often refused to accept black residents. Although the civil rights movement made inroads into desegregation and the provision of services to black communities, adoption agencies often refused to accept black babies for placement (Solinger, 1992). Cultural and community support for black unwed mothers and their children was significantly stronger than in the white community. However, Solinger (1992) notes that black unwed mothers did not escape stigmatization within the black community. The relationship of class to adoption is racially driven. Although adoption is not class-based per se, the level of services provided is. For unmarried white women, race was the overriding factor (i.e., the availability of a white baby). For unmarried black women, however, socio- economic class was often racially influenced and an implicit factor in adoption (Solinger, 1992). The 1960s and 1970s ushered in an era of liberation movements, among them, the women's liberation movement, the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, and the adoption rights movement. Solinger (1992) and Carp (1998) both refer to 1965 and onward as turning points in the stigmatization of unmarried pregnant women and their offspring. The 1960s attributed white unwed pregnancy to "social-structural breakdown, a phenomenon that could be traced to the disintegration of values previously guiding the family, youth, and the media," rather than to individual genetic or psychological pathology (Solinger, 1992, p. 218). Gediman and Brown (1991) write that ". . . during the 1950s and 1960s, there was no greater disgrace than to become pregnant before marriage. The very term 'unwed mother' hissed with social disapproval and the label stuck fast until the permissive 1970s, when the less accusatory 'single mother' worked its way into our vocabulary" (p. 9). Prior to the 1970s, as many as 80 percent of infants born to unwed mothers were placed for adoption. However, only 12 percent were placed for adoption in the 1970s, and only 4 percent by 1981 (Carp, 1998). The emergence and greater acceptability of single parenting, coupled with the legalization of abortion in 1973, has greatly reduced the availability of adoptable children. Current statistics are not available; however, the trend toward unwed mothers keeping their infants has continued. In fact, today, many women are electing to become single parents through planned pregnancy. Since the 1960s, the institution of adoption has witnessed: (1) the advancement of open adoption whereby varying degrees of information are exchanged between the adoption triad members; (2) the growth of the adoption
  • reform movement and lobbying for open records; and (3) the creation of voluntary adoption registries for search and reunion (Carp, 1998). As adoption continues to evolve, as laws change, as boundaries become more fluid, the social organization of adoption is injected with new meaning. Relinquishment and the Marginalization of Birthmothers "For language is a social medium that gives an account of the human world over time while constructing and reconstructing it in the process of these accounts" (Kahn, 1995, p. 58). The social construction of relinquishment is tightly coupled with the previous sections on motherhood and adoption. However, in the literature, relinquishment and adoption are often treated as one. In fact, adoption is generally the research domain - with relinquishment being one attribute of adoption. Therefore, the effects of relinquishment on the adoptee has received research attention; while consideration of the effects on the birthmother has been much neglected. In the closed adoption system, the birthmother is excluded from all aspects of the adoption. Relinquishment holds an interesting relationship to adoption - for it is in the act of relinquishing that adoption becomes possible. The child is relinquished for adoption. It is what links the birthmother to the adoption triad inasmuch as birthmothers are not actual parties to the adoption. As a "shadow" mother, the birthmother is affected by the social construct of motherhood, as well as adoption. Therefore, many of the issues concerning relinquishment have already been introduced in the previous sections. This section will focus on the marginalization of women who relinquish and is drawn from published birthmother interviews, birthmother research, and/or narratives written by birthmothers. Kirby and McKenna (1989) describe "the margins" as follows: "The margin is the context in which those who suffer injustice, inequality and exploitation live their lives. People find themselves on the margins not only in terms of the inequality in the distribution of material resources, but also knowledge production is organized so that the views of a small group of people are presented as objective, as 'The Truth.' The majority of people are excluded from participating as either producers or subjects of knowledge. One of the characteristics of living in the margins is the frequent necessity to perform a kind of doublethink/doublespeak in order to translate our experience into acceptable and understandable terms for the status quo." (p. 33) Kirby and McKenna's description of "the margins" is deconstructed below as it applies to birthmothers and relinquishment: 1. The margin is the context in which those who suffer injustice, inequality and exploitation live their lives. An unwed, pregnant woman in the 1960s was subjected to injustice, inequality, and exploitation levied upon them by the dominant culture. "Women are the group most victimized by sexist oppression. As with other forms of group oppression, sexism is perpetuated by institutional and social structures; by the individuals who dominate, exploit, or oppress; and by the victims themselves who are socialized to behave in ways that make them act in complicity with the status quo" (Hooks, 1984, p. 43). Within society, social status and power are often defined by such factors as gender, age, and economics. Young women without wealth or education are disempowered within our society. Societal
  • rules govern how one's role is defined and entered into. Jones (1993) writes that since the survival of society depends on women becoming mothers, rules are defined to assist women in this process, i.e., mating and reproduction. For instance, Jones identifies adulthood, marriage, and independent financial resources as prerequisites for motherhood. Lacking these requirements places a pregnant woman "outside the norms and, therefore, outside the margins of 'acceptable' society" (Jones, 1993, p. 13). Jones asserts that in order to reenter 'normal' society, a young, single woman's only option was often to conceal her unplanned pregnancies and relinquish her children. Of 79 birthmothers interviewed, Jones reports that "most of the birthmothers interviewed relinquished not because they wanted to, but because their pregnancies broke the rules, opposed social standards, and threatened to leave them forever isolated from respectable society" (1993, p. 13). Another birthmother writes: "I was willing to do anything in order to keep my child and live by my own standards. . . I was not ashamed of myself or of being pregnant. But I needed to think about the child. I had to give him his best opportunity, and that meant protecting him from the judgmental hordes. But I've never gotten over it, never forgiven society for forcing me to make that choice. I've alienated myself. I've become forever an outsider. . . ." (Jones, 1993, p. 36). Shawyer (1979, as quoted in Logan, 1996) writes, "Adoption is a violent act, a political act of aggression towards a woman who has supposedly offended the sexual mores by committing the unforgivable act of not suppressing her sexuality, and therefore not keeping it for trading purposes through traditional marriage. . . the crime is a grave one, for she threatens the very fabric of our society. The penalty is severe. She is stripped of her child by a variety of subtle and not so subtle manoeuvres and then brutally abandoned. . . ." (p. 609). 2. People find themselves on the margins not only in terms of the inequality in the distribution of material resources, but also knowledge production is organized so that the views of a small group of people are presented as objective, as 'The Truth.' In previous decades, birthmothers were advised that relinquishment was the best course of action for the baby. However, in a recent survey of 264 birthmothers, "the results strongly suggest[ed] that a number of the respondents believed the act of relinquishing their child was not the right thing to do, not in their best interest and not in the best interest of their child" (De Simone, 1996, p. 65). According to Lauderdale and Boyle (1994), birthmothers in their study felt 'like pariahs,' and were prevented from feeling "like normal mothers after the birth because all believed society expected them to behave 'as if nothing ever happened'" (p. 216). 3. The majority of people are excluded from participating as either producers or subjects of knowledge. According to one birthmother, "Everyone automatically assumed that babies born out of marriage in the 60s and the early seventies should be adopted; Our parents assumed it, the medical profession and the adoption workers not only assumed it but strongly advocated it. It was as if we did not exist. Many of us were offered no support, no counselling, no information." (Wells, 1990, as quoted in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999, p. 21)
  • Lauderdale and Boyle (1994) report that birthmothers in closed adoptions "described their fear and lack of information about their rights as patients and mothers. Fearfulness and being unknowing increased their sense of isolation and feelings of powerlessness" (p. 215). Logan (1996) describes the marginalization of birthmothers, as follows: "Historically, birth parents have been the most neglected party in the adoption triangle; both in the literature and in practice they have been afforded little attention compared with adopted people and adoptive parents. Furthermore, the proposed changes in legislation offer them little hope for the future. The proposals in the White Paper (Department of Health, 1993) indicating greater emphasis on openness and contact have been welcomed and would suggest a recognition of the importance of birth parents. However, the failure to follow the recommendations of the Adoption Law Review and allow an independent worker to be appointed to assist birth parents again suggests the marginalization of their needs" (p. 610). 4. One of the characteristics of living in the margins is the frequent necessity to perform a kind of doublethink/doublespeak in order to translate our experience into acceptable and understandable terms for the status quo. "What 'decision?'" one birthmother demands. "There was no decision. The word decision doesn't apply to relinquishing a child. In fact, the word reflects the prejudice of society toward birthmothers. We are supposed to be unfeeling, inhuman trash, who decide to give up our children because life would be more fun, less expensive, and easier without them. That's hogwash. No mother in the world, human or animal, would decide to give up her baby. It isn't normal or natural. It wouldn't happen if mothers had the power to decide. It only happens when they don't." (Jones, 1993, pp. 11-12) Jones (1993) reports that use of the term decision may be misleading with regard to relinquishment because of the implication that there was active participation in the decision-making process or that other options were available for consideration. The birthmother may not have played a role in the decision-making process and may not have had an alternative option to choose. Lauderdale and Boyle (1994) found that birthmothers whose children were adopted through closed adoption "recalled having little control or input into the adoption" (p. 214) and "reported that the decision to give up their babies was made by family members, particularly the women's mothers, who often enlisted the support of clergymen" (p. 215). While Lauderdale and Boyle repeatedly discuss the "powerlessness" over decision-making experienced by these birthmothers, they twice referred to this group as "the women who chose closed adoption" (pp. 214-215). Usage of the term "chose" appears unrepresentative of the findings and exemplifies the difficulties in translating experience for the status quo in light of the following: (1) the birthmothers reported a lack of input into the decision-making process, and (2) the availability of open adoptions is fairly recent and was probably not even an option for all interviewees. As asserted by bell hooks (1984), women "are socialized to behave in ways that make them act in complicity with the status quo" (p. 43). During the years 1965-1972, a common reason why women relinquished was to provide the politically and culturally-sanctioned nuclear family for their child. However, it was only shortly thereafter that the divorce rate in America began to soar and never- married mothers could easily merge with divorced mothers - and be categorized as "single parents" (Solinger, 1992). Language, once again, can be seen as a primary producer of meaning. In the margins, birthmothers have been using "doublethink/doublespeak" in their social intercourse with non-birthmothers. On the
  • Internet support groups, the language utilized by birthmothers in communicating with each other differs from that used by society-at-large. In the language of birthmothers, they did not relinquish or surrender their children to adoption - they lost their children to adoption. As long as their experiences are misrepresented by language, their marginalization continues. The preceding sections have attempted to merge theory, research, literature, and birthmother stories in order to deconstruct motherhood, adoption and relinquishment. This study explores the trauma of relinquishment utilizing a biopsychosocial model. What follows is a brief review of trauma literature and theory as it relates to relinquishment. TRAUMA Trauma Theory "Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality: 'It is indeed the truth of the traumatic experience that forms the center of its psychopathology; it is not a pathology of falsehood or displacement of meaning, but of history itself" (Caruth, 1995, p. 5). However, the critical element that makes an event traumatic is the subjective assessment by victims of how threatened and helpless they feel. So, although the reality of extraordinary events is at the core of PTSD, the meaning that victims attach to these events is as fundamental as the trauma itself. People's interpretations of the meaning of the trauma continue to evolve well after the trauma itself has ceased" (van der Kolk & McFarlane, 1996, p. 6). Of the many varying definitions of trauma, for the purpose of this paper, I have selected the following from The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd Ed.): "1. Medic. A serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident. 2. Psychiat. An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial lasting damage to the psychological development of a person" (1993, p. 1439). Trauma may be in the form of natural and technological disasters, war, or individual trauma (Aldwin, 1994). Emotional trauma occurs when "the psychological pain of a traumatic event involves damage or threat of damage to an individual's psychic integrity or sense of self" (Carlson, 1997, p. 29). Various stress- related disorders may result from the trauma experience, e.g. PTSD, depression, phobia, attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, somatization disorder, attachment disorders, conduct disorder, dissociative reactions, eating disturbances, and substance abuse (Pynoos, Steinberg & Goenjian, 1996). Trauma effects may also be evidenced as: "multiple personalities, paranoia, anger, and sleep problems; tendencies towards suicidality, irritability, mood swings, and odd rituals; difficulty trusting people and difficult relationships; and general despair, aimlessness, and hopelessness" (Root, 1992, p. 229). Mind-body research has opened up many new vistas in the study of trauma - among which are psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and the concept of cellular memory. Relative to trauma research, PNI and cellular memory help to explain the somatization of trauma. Pert (1997) writes that "memories are stored not only in the brain, but in a psychosomatic network extending into the body, particularly in the ubiquitous receptors between nerves and bundles of cell bodies called ganglia, which are distributed not just in and near the spinal cord, but all the way out along pathways to internal organs and the very surface of our skin" (p. 143). Conger asserts that traumatic events are recorded in "contracted musculature and energetically withdrawn tissue" (1994, p. xvi). Eckberg (1998) describes traumatic events as being "laid down as
  • perceptual, somatosensory experience, or as implicit memory" (p. 23). Through somatic therapy, the traumatic experience can be reorganized neurophysiologically, emotionally, and cognitively. Aldwin (1994) writes: "Stress refers to that quality of experience, produced through a person- environment transaction, that, through either overarousal or underarousal, results in psychological or physiological distress" (p. 22). Root (1992) expresses the qualitative difference between stress and trauma: "Negative stressors leave an individual feeling 'put out,' inconvenienced, and distressed. These experiences are eventually relieved with the resolution of the stressor. In contrast, traumas represent destruction of basic organizing principles by which we come to know self, others, and the environment; traumas wound deeply in a way that challenges the meaning of life. Healing from the wounds of such an experience requires a restitution of order and meaning in one's life" (p. 229). The role that culture plays in the provision and/or withholding of support from an individual is described by deVries: "Culture may in many ways be viewed as a protective and supportive system of values, lifestyles, and knowledge, the disruption of which will have a deleterious effect on its members. . . . [Cultures] are powerfully resilient to the stresses of the environment and resistant to change. Culture thereby buffers its members from the potentially profound impact of stressful experiences. . . by means of furnishing social support, providing identities in terms of norms and values, and supplying a shared vision of the future. . . . Provided that the individual does not interfere with the group's capacity to reproduce or remain viable in its niche, cultural social roles, shared values, and historical continuity will act as key stress managers. If the individual does not fit, social extrusion and stigmatization may result as a cultural defense reaction to the unwanted information or behavior" (1996, pp. 400-401). Root (1992) posits that "the interpersonal and political context in which a trauma is experienced further determines how blame is attributed, the support one receives, and how the survivor is able to reconstruct his or her life following trauma" (p. 244). According to Root, the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s may be viewed as a "generational posttraumatic stress response" emanating from the "experience of profound betrayal by authority figures (the 'establishment') of a generation of young people crossing the threshold of adulthood" (p. 231). Root (1992) provides a construction of trauma theory from a feminist perspective, emphasizing its sociopolitical, phenomenological, and psychosocial components. Root argues that the development of trauma theory has been largely based on the experiences of white males and does not represent those of women and minorities. Likewise, Root asserts that the APA's classification and diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder describes a single syndrome representative of specific male experiences. Recently, however, the study of trauma has expanded to include a more diverse group of trauma experiences and syndromes, such as: the battered woman syndrome, the rape-trauma syndrome, the postsexual abuse syndrome, and the battered child syndrome (Root, 1992). Root suggests that what is labeled as a single trauma may actually reflect a constellation of multiple traumas. Root reframes and redefines trauma. Rather than categorizing trauma according to natural and technological disasters, war, or individual trauma, Root classifies trauma as direct, indirect or insidious. In this scheme, direct trauma includes "certain forms of maliciously perpetrated violence, war experiences, industrial accidents, and natural disasters" (1992, p. 239). In contrast, indirect trauma is experienced vicariously (such as the witnessing of direct trauma), and insidious trauma is associated with the devaluation of an individual resulting from an intrinsic identity characteristic that differs from that which the dominant
  • culture values (e.g., color, sexual orientation). By opening up the definition of trauma, Root argues that traumas that would have remained unrecognized are made visible. The feminist perspective attempts to "depathologize normal behavior" (Root, 1992, p. 248). In this light, Root identifies the following processes as trauma survival patterns, rather than pathological behaviors: self-referencing behavior, egocentrism, perseveration, anger, withdrawal and shutting down, and splitting. Root proposes that we construct our world in terms of "dimensions of security" (physical, emotional-psychological, and spiritual) and that the destruction of a single dimension constitutes a trauma. The dimensions are categorized as follows: Physical (stimulus deprivation, pain, injury, permanent injury, starvation), Psychological (confrontation with mortality, loss of significant others(s), perceived malicious intent, isolation, helplessness/loss of control, witness/participant to death or destruction, crushing of spirit, dislocation), and Interpersonal (betrayal, abuse of power, violation of personal space, rejection, invisibility, loss of significant other(s)) (Root, 1992). The effects of trauma are profound. Root writes that: "Trauma permanently changes a person. In contrast to a stressful experience, which challenges an individual's capacity to cope, trauma destroys multiple dimensions of security and exceeds the limits of human capacity to process and integrate horrible experiences into a coherent perception of self and self-in-relationship to others and the world. The disorganization created by this upheaval motivates the individual to attempt to find meaning in the experience so that she or he can reorganize the experience and integrate it into her or his perceptions of self, and self in relationship to others and the world. The greater the number of dimensions of security that are shattered, the bigger the task of reorganization" (1992, p. 260). Relinquishment Trauma "The age at which trauma occurs, the social context, and the support and resources available will all influence the outcome" (deVries, 1996, p. 409). That relinquishing a child is a traumatic experience is alluded to over and over again throughout the literature (Barton, 1996; Carlini, 1992; Jones, 1993; Lauderdale & Boyle, 1994; Lifton, 1994; Verrier, 1997). Unresolved grief, guilt, and shame are signatory of many birthmothers (Gediman & Brown, 1991; Lauderdale & Boyle, 1994; Logan, 1996; Stiffler cited in Davidson, 1994). There has been surprisingly little research conducted in the area of birthmother trauma. However, the number of books written by birthmothers about relinquishment continues to grow. Logan (1996) questions whether the omission of literature on birthmothers may be "due to a misconception that the 'voluntary' nature of relinquishment, considered by some to occur before a mother has bonded to her child, means that adverse consequences for the birth mother are unlikely" -- or are birthmothers perceived as having "sinned" and deserving punishment? (p. 610) Unresolved grief has been cited as a major component of the relinquishment experience. De Simone (1996) conducted a survey of 264 birthmothers whose mean age was 45 years old. In this study, the following social and psychological factors were identified as contributing to unresolved grief among birthmothers: "a) absence of social recognition regarding the loss; b) perceived absence of social support from family and friends; c) lack of opportunity to express feelings about the relinquishment; d) uncertainty over the loss due to the continued existence of the child; e) feelings of guilt and shame regarding the decision to
  • relinquish; f) perception of coercion by family, friends, or professionals to relinquish the child; and involvement in search behavior" (De Simone, 1996, p. 66). A significant positive correlation was also identified between the birthmothers' involvement in search behavior and unresolved grief. De Simone suggests that "search behavior by the birth mother, unless it ends in reunion, often does not result in the realization of the finality of the loss due to the continued existence of her child. Instead she may be driven to continue to search until information or reunion brings some degree of closure to her grief experience" (1996, p. 72). The study also indicated that in some cases reunion was conducive to the resolution of grief; while in others, reunion may have triggered unexperienced grief feelings and initially intensified the grief process. Some of the limitations of this study included potential recall bias due to the elapsed time since the relinquishment, the inability to obtain a random sample among the overall population of birthmothers, and the possible impact of repression and denial. Lauderdale and Boyle (1994) interviewed 12 women who had relinquished their infants within the previous 4 months to 24 years. Their analysis indicated that the type of adoption (open vs. closed) was a critical factor in how relinquishment was experienced. For the seven women who were involved in closed adoptions, the following themes emerged: (1) nonattachment to the pregnancy, (2) powerlessness in decision making, (3) passive participation in the adoption, and (4) anger and nonacceptance of the loss. For both groups, feelings of shame, detachment from the fetus, loss, identification of relinquishment as a moral decision, marginalization, and shadow grief were described. Weinreb and Konstam (1996) found the occurrence of depression to be significantly greater among birthmothers than in the general population of women. In their study, 49.9% reported depression (compared to 10% among all women). In a study by Logan (1996), intermittent depression, guilt, anger, sadness, and grief were characteristic of all participants. 89% of the participants described their depression as significant. This study, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, examined the experiences of a sample of birthparents seeking post-adoption assistance. Lack of support, suppression of feelings, significant life events, the impact of searching, and the impact of contact were identified as contributing factors impeding the resolution of guilt, loss, and unresolved grief. It was also found that a greater percentage of the birthmothers suffering from depression were referred to specialist psychiatric services by their GPs than is found in the general population. This prompted questions concerning whether there is a higher incidence of mental illness among birthmothers or whether birthmothers are being "inappropriately pathologized and constructed as mentally ill, victims of a patriarchal society which pathologizes women who fail to conform to society's expectations?" (Logan, 1996, p. 622) According to Weinreb and Konstam, "the dearth of existing literature suggests that the act of surrendering a baby for adoption has profound psychological effects on the birthmother, including longstanding feelings of loss, grief and psychological pain" (1996, p. 60). In a survey by Wells (1993, cited in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999) of 300 birthmothers, it was suggested that relinquishment constitutes a trauma - the duration of which may be lifelong. In this study of posttraumatic stress in birthmothers, nearly 50% reported that relinquishment affected their physical health, and nearly 100% reported a mental health impact - the effects of which rippled down to their interpersonal relationships and parenting. Wells reported that the following psychological and behavioral pathologies associated with PTSD are found among birthmothers: splitting themselves from the trauma, avoidance, drug and alcohol abuse, precocious sexual activity, psychogenic amnesia, pain and "intense psychological distress" emanating from anniversaries or events associated with the trauma, psychic numbing, difficulties forgiving parents for their perceived role in the relinquishment and impaired family relationships, and recurrent dreams and nightmares (cited in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999).
  • Enduring effects of relinquishment on the birthmother reported by Condon (1986, cited in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999) include: chronic grief reactions, guilt, anger, sadness and depression. In one study, birthmothers rated "feelings of sadness or depression at the time of the relinquishment" as intense and "the most intense ever experienced" (Condon, 1986, cited in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999). As other studies have shown, alcohol and drugs are often used by birthmothers as coping strategies. In Condon's study, over half of the birthmothers reported using alcohol and drugs to help cope with the relinquishment. This study also found that for the majority of the participants, there was no reduction of sadness, anger or guilt since the relinquishment; and, in many, these feelings actually intensified over time. Van Kepple, Midford and Cicchini (1987, cited in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999) compare the loss of a child by death to the loss of a child through relinquishment and contend that both are significantly traumatic. However, in the former case, there are established outlets for grief reactions; and in the latter, the birthmother "suffers in silence" (p. 17). Several birthmother syndromes have been postulated by counselors and researchers. Jones (1993) has identified the following traits: unresolved grief, symptoms of PTSD, diminished self-esteem, dual identities, arrested emotional development, self-punishment, unexplained secondary infertility, and living at extremes. Carlini (1992) has defined a set of "core issues of relinquishment" which include: low self-esteem, grieving the loss of the child, forgiving oneself and others, being out of touch with one's feelings, difficulty giving and receiving love, codependency, self-hatred, and dysfunctional sexual problems. Gediman (1991) asserts that a number of myths have been constructed concerning adoption. One such myth is that: "The distress birthmothers feel at relinquishment will go away. They will be able to go on with their lives as though nothing ever happened. They will forget about the child. They will not feel guilty" (p. 33). For many birthmothers, this is not so. During the years under study, counseling of birthmothers was virtually nonexistent. Nave (1989, cited in Arthur & Jacobs, 1999) reports that "part of the rage [birthmothers] feel is no one warned them of the severity of the depression that follows relinquishment" (p. 23). For the years under study, culture did not buffer birthmothers from the effects of relinquishment. Rather, it would appear that the social, political, and cultural forces collaborated in the traumatization of birthmothers This study, focusing on the long-term impact of relinquishment on birthmothers, questions how the trauma of relinquishment manifests itself in birthmothers and seeks to add additional birthmother voices to the body of literature and to further define the existence of a birthmother syndrome. Copyright © 1999-2005 Judy Kelly, M.A., C.P.A.C., All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author Next: Chapter Three: Methodology
  • Note: The words "birthmother" or "birthparent" are derogatory terms utilized by adoption "counselors" and "facilitators" in order to diminish a mother into playing a solely reproductive role in her child's life. The terms "birthmother" and "birthparents" are used on this site as a consession to search-engine requirements for a North American audience. The terms "mother", "single mother", "natural mother," and "exiled mother" are acknowledged to be accurate, respectful, and nonderogatory terms. See "Why Birthmother Means Breeder" by Diane Turski for more information.