Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories – Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents (2013)


Greenlee, Brandie. “Birth Mother Interview: 1994.” E-mail interview by author. November 20, 2016. 

This source is presented by the United States Children’s Bureau as a resource for birth parents and those close to birth parents in the wake of and in preparation for adoption.  The Children’s Bureau acknowledges that “Each birth parent has faced a unique experience and dealt with the situation in his or her own way, but certain themes emerge in the literature, including grief, guilt, and resolution” (2).

One of the most difficult things for birth parents in the twenty first century (it seems, after study of this pamphlet) is a general lack of validation for the birth parent’s loss. It says on page three of the pamphlet (bold added for emphasis):

Birth parents may feel a sense of ambiguous loss, or the loss of someone who still is or who may be alive, which is different than the loss of someone who has died (Powell & Afifi, 2005). Friends and family of the birth parents may attempt to ignore the loss by pretending that nothing has happened, or they may not understand what the birth parents are experiencing (Aloi, 2009; Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007). Although many people view the loss of a child as the most traumatic event one can experience, they may not accord birth parents an appropriate level of sympathy because the loss is viewed as a “choice.” In some cases, the secrecy surrounding the pregnancy and adoption may make it difficult for birth parents to seek out and find support as they grieve their loss. In addition, the lack of formal rituals or ceremonies to mark this type of loss may make it more difficult to acknowledge the loss and therefore to acknowledge the grief as a normal process (Aloi, 2009).

“Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents” offers other information that can help historians study adoption and motherhood in contemporary America. As another example, statistics on grief in relation to the loss of their child. “In a study of birth mothers 12 to 20 years after placement, approximately three-quarters continued to experience some feelings of grief and loss, and one-quarter reported no current grief or loss (Henney et al., 2007)” (3).

The US Children’s Bureau  defines “secondary losses… which add to the grief the parents feel” that may occur after the adoption of their child:

They may grieve for the loss of their parenting roles and for the person their child might have become… These feelings of loss may reemerge in later years, for instance, on the child’s birthday, or when the child is old enough to start school or reach other developmental milestones. Some clinicians report that birth parents may experience additional grief when they have other children because it reminds them of the loss of this child on a daily basis or, if they encounter future infertility, they may perceive the loss as a “punishment.” (3)

“Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents” notes (page four) the social stigma that currently surrounds putting one’s child up for adoption, the evidence of which we have see in the interview offered by Brandie Greenlee regarding her experience as a birth parent in 1994 wherein people close to her accused her of “abandoning [her] baby” and “taking the easy way out” (Greenlee, 2016).

“Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents” represents an effort on behalf of the United States Government to be an ally to birth parents– recognising that they have needs that must be met at this emotionally trying time in their lives in order for them (the birth parents) to move on and have successful lives following the loss– and it is a loss (see page 3)– of their child.  

On pages 7-10 interested parties can find more information on how to cope with adoption and assistance in making adoption decisions.


11 thoughts on “Blood and Water: American Adoption Stories – Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents (2013)

  1. When considering the readings we did on the 1950s and how teen pregnancy was handled back then, did society have any awareness of the trauma and sense of loss that birth mothers felt when giving up their children (especially given that it was probably forced on them to do so)? Are there any statistics on girls who gave up their children and their mental/emotional health in the years that followed?


  2. I have never really thought about the impact of adoption on the parents. Most discussion is always concerning how the child might like they have been abandoned, but never that the parents might miss the child. Has the social stigma surrounding adoption improved over time? Or do people still see it in a negative light when a parent gives up a child for adoption?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As we discussed in class, adoptions are becoming less common. Who, today, are the parents giving up their children for adoption and what resources are available to them? How is helping birth parents deal with loss a gendered experience? How do birth fathers today often feel about adoption? In adoptions are birth fathers more aware of the child then perhaps they were in the past?


  4. Birth parents often seem to be left by the wayside, especially back in the day when closed adoptions were more common. Were there any resources available to them (perhaps provided by the adoption agency) to help them cope, or was it completely up to them to deal with giving their child up for adoption? How did the experience differ between married couples who gave a child up for adoption and single mothers who gave a child up for adoption?


  5. Adoption has historically faced many taboos. And from the readings that we’ve done for class, women took the brunt of the blame. It was interesting, then, that this pamphlet addressed “birth parents” and not just “birth mothers.”


  6. Although it is important to discuss the effects that adoption has on birth parents, it seems that these passages are trying to manipulate mothers using guilt so that they reconsider giving their child up for adoption. What updates have been made by The Children’s Bureau to these pamphlets, if any? Has the language changed over time?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. These are topics I have rarely considered, so thank you for posting. The idea of a ceremony for the loss of a child through adoption seems like it may be helpful to some parents. But then the ultimate hope of adoption is often that the child will have a better live, so it seems difficult to reconcile grieving this loss with the comfort that comes from knowing the adopting parents will be there for the child.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The impact of adoption on birth parents is honestly something that I have never considered, but after reading your article I have realized how heavy the impact can be, especially on the birth mother. I always wonder about how adopted kids feel at the same time, it would be interesting to look into.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I knew that giving up a child would be hard on a mother and have read pieces by women who have given up a child for adoption. It is surprising that this is a new consideration and that people are talking about how family should be supportive during this time and throughout the years. It makes sense that women would be sad in giving up a child but would still be supportive and understand that the child is better off. In many cases I think adoption is bittersweet.


  10. I know that adoptions tend to sever ties between the birth parents and their child, but I wonder if situations would be different if there was more focus on reuniting the parents and children when the child is older (even an adult). Would that give the birth parents hope and make it easier to handle the emotional challenges of giving a child up? Or would that simply cause more unforeseen challenges on all sides? Have their been any studies done on the impacts of communication between children and their birth parents, on both the children and the parents?


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