Grief & Loss Resolution among Birth Mothers in Open Adoption

By Krahn, Lisa; Sullivan, Richard | Canadian Social Work Review, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Grief & Loss Resolution among Birth Mothers in Open Adoption


Krahn, Lisa, Sullivan, Richard, Canadian Social Work Review


Introduction

DOMESTIC ADOPTION HAS DECLINED significantly as women have more options for an off-time pregnancy. Birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive families have all influenced the social and legal aspects of adoption and contributed to more open and respectful practices which honour all members of the adoption triad (Henney, Onken, McRoy, & Grotevant, 1998; Henney, McRoy, Ayers-Lopez, & Grotevant, 2003; Gritter, 1997). Nonetheless, it has been well documented that a woman who places a child for adoption experiences profound grief and loss (Condon, 1986; DeSimone, 1996; Deykin, Campbell & Patti 1984; Logan, 1996; Rynearson, 1982; Smith, 2006; Wiley & Baden 2005; Winkler & Van Keppel, 1984). This descriptive, qualitative study explores current day, birth-mothers' experiences of grief and loss, and movement towards grief resolution in the context of an open adoption.

Several clinical studies have documented the effects birth mothers may experience after placing a child for adoption. These have included unresolved, prolonged, unacknowledged, and complicated grief, shame, and guilt; negative self-image; difficulty in intimate relationships; challenges in parenting subsequent children; fantasies of reunion; anxiety; and trauma (Condon, 1986; DeSimone, 1996; Deykin et ak, 1984; Kelly, 2005; Logan, 1996; Rynearson, 1982; Smith, 2006; Wiley & Baden 2005; Winkler & Van Keppel, 1984). This study seeks to learn how birth mothers respond to their loss and how they cope in an open-adoption relationship.

The Changing Nature of Adoption

Since the 1960s and 1970s, significant cultural and social changes have affected adoption policy and practice. Social security enhancements, declining stigma, and improved access to family planning all contributed to a decline in adoption relinquishment rates (Ge et ak, 2008). Birth parents and adopted children coming of age began to request information about their birth relations encouraged by new freedom of information legislation in many western jurisdictions. This challenged the notion that adoption could terminate all connections between adopted persons and their birth families (Appell, 2000). These changes shifted the balance of power in adoption as birth mothers gained leverage to assert their wishes for the adoption, participate in family selection, and negotiate ongoing contact (Henney et ak, 2003).

These developments gave rise to almost three decades of research into open adoption, beginning with the seminal work of Pannor and Baran (1982) who describe open adoption as the process by which birth parents and adoptive parents meet and exchange identifying information. Openness in this present study is defined as on-going contact between the adoptive family and the birth percent and/or birth family members. This can be articulated in a verbal agreement, a signed agreement, or an adoption order that incorporates the terms of the openness agreement. It may include in-person visits, emails, letters, phone calls, and sharing pictures.

Present statutory requirements for birth percent service in British Columbia, the site of this research, can be summarized as follows: in a prospective adoption, an adoption agency must provide the birth parent with information about adoption and alternatives to adoption, as well as information about approved prospective adoptive parents. Counselling must be non-directive and explore all options, thus promoting the birth parents' right to self-determination and to plan for their child. Being treated as a parent with the ability to make decisions for their child, and receiving non-directive counselling, is sound social work practice that treats the birth parent with dignity when considering the difficult choice of adoption. Reamer and Siegel (2007) assert that these practices support a better grief outcome.

Methodology

This is descriptive, qualitative research that seeks to present birth mothers' experiences in everyday terms (Sandelowski, 2000). …

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