Five Lies About Grief & What No One Tells You about Birthmother’s Losses

if you hear the pain in a woman's voice, and choose to shut it out....that says something about you. it says nothing about the voice you choose not to hear

What if it is Impossible to Heal from Adoption Trauma?

I am re-posting this here with some edits because it is so damn true. Granted, the original post which you can read here  in “5 lies you were told about grief” is discussing “grief” in general like the loss of a loved one to death so I have removed the strong death references. Without the death implications, it certainly pertains to birthmother grief.  Please note: I did not write the majority of this, but added some bits so that it applies more to adoption.

The original is from written by  Alison Nappi.

if you hear the pain in a woman's voice, and choose to shut it out....that says something about you. it says nothing about the voice you choose not to hearIt isn’t true that you have to get over adoption losses. It isn’t even true that you have to want to. No one else can understand what you have lost when your child is relinquished. No one else can bear the burden of your tribute to a love, to a life, to an identity now gone.

Something happens when you entwine your fate with someone else’s, when you create another being. If they go somewhere you cannot follow, part of you goes with them, and what is left behind is something new.

You are helpless as you watch the labor of your deepest love, your most sacred creation disappear to another without you.

You want to hold them in your arms , you want to claw at the boundary between the two of you with your fingernails, but someone grabs you and pulls you away, and all you can do is wail.

You become hollow. You are missing a chunk of yourself, and no one can really see it once you put on your creamy lipstick and your designer dress, and you pluck your eyebrows and paint your fingernails and toenails to match. No. No one can see what you are missing; you look so well put together.

Birthmother’s cannot be spotted by sight.

“The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see — the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it. A section withered and became a scar on the part of your soul that survived. For people like me… our souls contained more scar tissue than life.” ~ Katie McGarry

Maybe your closest friends think you are overreacting, but it is worse than that: you have lost the part of yourself that you loved most before you even got a real chance to express that love. The last period has been stamped onto the page, and yet somehow you were left behind, running your fingertips over a leather bound cover slammed shut.

As a birthmother now,  you are a character in a story that is over, and since this never happens in the fairy tales you were fed in your most formative years, you are lost. You no longer fit in the world, and there is no star that can grant your truest wish. There are no birthmother role models. No one will understand except, perhaps, another mother who has relinquished.

Your sadness becomes all you have left and you begin to cherish it, to worship at its feet so you never forget the most important thing that ever happened to you. Sometimes the sadness is all we have left of our children.

You hold it in your body and you feed it all your love, all your light, so that it stays, so that you can be closer. It will never sneak up on you again, because it never leaves your doorstep.

And they will tell you that you’re expected at the office by nine. They will recommend that you still go to church. They will expect you still to celebrate at birthdays, and pretend it doesn’t pain you when you hear happy adoption stories or see other mother’s with their babies.

Well-meaning friends and family will repeat the lies repeated to them by the media fed adoption industry. They have no idea what to say to a real live birthmother in their face feeling the depth of loss. They will not reveal the truth because they have no clue what the truth is. They know no other way. There were things they valued more than their grief: unsmudged eyeliner, making their friends feel comfortable, staying unemotional at work. The truth is, your sadness makes them uncomfortable. They do not understand it at all. Maybe your relinquishment makes sense to them. Maybe they think adoption is a good thing. Maybe they just don’t understands what kind of mother considers adoption and then how the adoption industry snow blinds mothers with doubts. Maybe they think all sorts of stereotypical crap.

Their platitudes won’t help you at all, but you’ll hear them so often from so many directions that you will begin to wonder why you can’t heed them. Instead of realizing the obvious truth: that the advice is terribly flawed, your conditioning will tell you that it is you who are flawed, adding the burden of guilt to a heart already gasping for air.

There are many lists of trite advice you can read about grief and adoption, but they will only add to your confusion about why you can’t seem to sync your feelings with the grief map sanctioned by the industry. You will see that your feelings are not described by the nice adoption agency and it makes others uncomfortable too.

The adoption professionals are supposed to tell you what is normal, but that map was not made for you. It was made to keep the engine of the adoption machine running. It requires your numbness, your complacency, the silence of your voice, your ability to take in all the Kool-Aid that they give you. . Refuse, my friend. Refuse with all your might to be quiet.

I have no trite advice for you. I have nothing prolific to say. I’m not going to tell you to get therapy or accept how life has changed. I offer you this in the spirit of “you-are-not-aloneness” and “there-is-no-scheduledom.” I give this freely from a place of “I-don’t-know-how-you-feel-but-I-sure-as-shit-know-what-it’s-like-to-be-devestatedism,” and “This-is-how-I-feltity.” I give you:” I know adoption sucks and I am here with you”

1. The Lie: You Should be Over It By Now

The Adoption Truth: No one has the authority to tell you how you should feel, when you should feel it or for how long. Do you hear me? There is no normal when it comes to grief. There is no quantifiable estimate of how much value who and what you have lost has added to your life or for how long you should be sad about that loss. You are not a machine. Numbers: days, weeks, months, years are meaningless.

You and your child, you and adoption, are inextricably linked. You may stop weeping (or not), but you will never forget the immense love for your child, the loss, the grandiosity of the effect that this loss has made upon your life, and your character. In this way, adoption will guide you for the rest of your days.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly — that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott

Your life has changed forever. The loss  is a part of you now, woven into the tapestry of your new and unfolding experience. You will go on, even if it just days of reminding yourself to keep breathing, but you will never get over the loss of your child to adoption.

2. The Lie: You Should Stop Talking About Adoption / Stop Living in the Past

The Adoption Truth: The only people who cannot bear to hear you speak of your child and loss are those who cannot accept the reality of the horror you have lived.   Those who would have you silence yourself, choke on the words that you must speak, are people who do not know their own souls.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ~ William Shakespeare

3. The Lie: You Have to Move on With Your Life (Right Now)

The Adoption Truth: This advice is an act of violence against a grieving mother’s heart. It is a kick in the ribs while you lie hopelessly seized by despair. Whatever it is your child would want, it is unlikely that he or she would want you to dance off happily into the night.  Your child is worth this sadness.

In many ways, you are restarting your life from scratch. You were not a birthmother before. You did not have this child before. Now you do. You are newly born as a mother, as THIS  mother, for THIS child and that mother has been relinquished as well. She is gone. You mourn not only your child, but the mother you would have been, the girl who did not live with this sorrow, the woman who didn’t hold sadness in her eyes.

For many of us, there is no life to get on with; the lives we were living are irretrievable.

We must begin again, and we don’t want to begin our new lives on a foundation of unacknowledged, disrespected grief, but we have no choice at all. The unacknowledged, disrespected grief is never going to go away. That is the lot of life for a birthmtoher.

Being with your grief may require you to sit amongst the rubble. You may have to watch a city crumble. You may have to let go of who you thought you were, in order to make meaning out of the meaningless tragedy of adoption. Someday you will rebuild this city, but it will be new, updated, your tastes will have changed, you will be more wholly yourself and your kingdom will reflect that.

4. The Lie: You Could Have Prevented This Tragedy, You “Choose” Adoption

The Adoption Truth: The “choice” on adoption relinquishment is more than implied, it is what the industry is built on,. They need you to feel that you have “chosen” this path, that you are OK with it.  Yet, somewhere inside you is a voice asking what you might have done differently that would have changed the course of events that led to the loss of your beloved child.

The truth is that the factors that influence the course of our lives are bigger and more insidious than what we did and did not do. It is OK to hold yourself accountable for your part in it. It is Also OK to be angry for the roles that others have played. Yes, maybe you have failed, so have others failed you. Do not eat all the reject pie, just your piece.

These are also big questions to ask:  How will I live with this loss? Will I survive this sadness? Who am I now? In what manner will I go on? How do I want to spend what’s left of my life?? How can I find fulfillment now?

What the fuck did I do? Why did I think it was a good idea to give my child away?

“Watch the ones whose only option left is to lean into the questions. The ones who are uninhibited by the unknown because they’ve jumped into that gaping hole and found themselves, by grace, unswallowable. Watch the ones who willingly stand with Feist and say, “I feel it all” even when it scares the shit out of them. It’s not brave to have answers.”~ Mandy Steward

5. The Lie: Time Heals All Wounds

The Adoption Truth: The truth is there are losses you never get over. They break you to pieces and you can never go back to the original shape you once were, and so you will grieve to your own death with that of which you will never get back.

Adoption relinquishment is not a onetime loss. Yes, at first it is just a baby that is gone, but then you lose the first smile, the first tooth, the first step, the first day of school. Years go by and  realize that you have often also lost the right to be called “grandma” or to see your child get married or even to be invited or told about their death.

Your grief is your love, turned inside-out. That is why it is so deep. That is why it is so consuming. When your sadness seems bottomless, it is because your love knows no bounds.

Grief teaches us about who we are, and any attempt to crush it, to bury it with the body is an act of vengeance against your own nature as a mother.

If everyone felt, honored, respected and trusted their true feelings, this world would be a different place. Instead of reacting, we would respond. Instead of judging, we would see ourselves in everyone. Instead of consuming, we would notice that we cannot fill the gaping wounds inside of us with trinkets.

If instead of pretending we are okay, we would take the time to wail, to weep, to scream, to wander the woods day after day holding hands with our sadness, loving it into remission so it doesn’t turn cold inside of us, gripping us intermittently in the icy fingers of depression. That’s not what grief is meant to do.

Grief has a way of showing you just how deep your aliveness goes. It’s a dagger shoved down your throat, its handle bulging like an Adam’s apple protruding from your neck, edges pressed against both lungs, creating a long, slow bleed in your chest that rolls down the edges of your life, and you get to handle that any fucking way you want.

If you have been sitting on, burying this sadness, wishing it away, denying the loss, trying to focus on the positives,  this left-over grief will also come through the broken damn. It will come back. It will hit you again and again.  Let it.

“Grief does not change you… It reveals you.” ~ John Green

And herein lies the gift that cannot die. It changes the course of your life forever. If you allow yourself the chance to feel it for as long as you need to — even if it is for the rest of your life — you will be guided by it. You will become someone it sould have been impossible for you to be, a mother separated form her child, and that is all you have now.

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About the Author

Claudia Corrigan DArcy
Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has been online and involved in the adoption community since early in 2001. Blogging since 2005, her website Musings of the Lame has become a much needed road map for many mothers who relinquished, adoptees who long to be heard, and adoptive parents who seek understanding. She is also an activist and avid supporter of Adoptee Rights and fights for nationwide birth certificate access for all adoptees with the Adoptee Rights Coalition. Besides here on Musings of the Lame, her writings on adoption issue have been published in The New York Times, BlogHer, Divine Caroline, Adoption Today Magazine, Adoption Constellation Magazine,, Lost Mothers, Grown in my Heart, Adoption Voice Magazine, and many others. She has been interviewed by Dan Rather, Montel Williams and appeared on Huffington Post regarding adoption as well as presented at various adoption conferences, other radio and print interviews over the years. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, Rye, children, and various pets.

7 Comments on "Five Lies About Grief & What No One Tells You about Birthmother’s Losses"

  1. Sadly, people -especially those closest to us- tell us these things. Sometimes even our lost children who we meet again as adults tell us these things, as my adult son did almost three years ago: “At least you have two other children and a husband now. Can’t you be happy about that?”

  2. anil kumar mehta | December 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm |

    Amazing , it is a truth but bitter

  3. Oh wow. Thank you so much for this post. This is 100%…me. I am so confused in my emotions right now even though it has been 19 years…its all bubbled to the surface for me and I am on a roller coaster that will not stop. I really needed this. I needed permission to be angry and sad because my birth-mother pedestal is growing weak and tired and no longer feels right or ok. Thank you. I really needed this.

  4. I thought I was crazy, the grief and deep pain I have felt ever since that day I gave my beautiful son up for adoption has driven me to the edge on more than one occasion. Your blog has given me hope, I am not alone, this blog post could have been my own words, it’s exactly how I have felt. The roller coaster I have been on for 30 years has been a nightmare. Thank you for sharing and giving me the courage to comment. I am relieved to know I am not crazy, others feel this unspoken deep cutting pain and whilst it doesn’t take it away, it’s comforting to know I am not alone.

  5. Michelle G. | May 26, 2015 at 4:06 pm |

    I thought I was the only one who had these feelings. It has been 40+ years since the adoption. I buried the pain but when she ‘found’ me several years ago, it all came rushing back with a vengeance. While the reunion started out well it ended on a sour note after seven years. This has changed me forever.

  6. Connie West | May 10, 2016 at 11:33 pm |

    Healing to know I am not alone. People, family included, can say the most ignorant and insensitive things without even realizing how uncaring their comments are. People love to judge. I relinquished in 1967, part of the “baby scoop”. I was TOTALLY abandoned by the birth father, my parents, Children’s Aid (Ontario, Canada) and society. It has taken my whole life to “get over it”, which started 3 years ago with the reunion with my daughter who is a wonderful woman. She has made all the difference to my emotional health. I am very lucky.

  7. Scott La Vergne | July 10, 2016 at 8:27 pm |

    As a father, I too loathe the estrangement of adoption. Four years of union have been a trial & a blessing. To have her love…..I am her dad, yet, I am just a man they say who did not get to raise her, my daughter included. Their words are spoken, but their meaning carry no weight, they did not know they say, yet they did know very well mother wanted very much to keep, and yet, isolation was their choice. My daughter feels her mother must have known what adoption meant. There is no end to grief, yet there are wonderful moments to be cherished.

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