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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Should Secondary Infertility Rates of Birth Mothers be Disclosed in Adoption Counseling?

I came across a very recent study that was published in the journal Psychoanalytic Inquiry and conducted/written by Isabel Andrews titled "Secondary Infertility and Birth Mothers."  Isabel Andrews is affiliated with the Adoption Jigsaw, an entity that has provided search and reunion services, counselling, and support groups for mothers and adoptees separated by adoption in Western Australia.  Andrews was extremely respectful to mothers and recognized the deep loss that many of these mothers feel and expressed it eloquently in her article.

Why Look Into First Mother Infertility?
It was actually two books by Nancy Verrier and finding other research that repeated/supported Verrier's finding that 40-60% of mothers who have lost children to adoption did not go on to have other children that prompted Andrews to conduct this study.  She too found that 40-60% of the original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw did not go on to have other children and wanted to determine if this percentage was accurate.  She conducted a study that recorded (1) secondary infertility of original mothers seeking support from Adoption Jigsaw (2) secondary infertility reported from data recorded during the search and reunions conducted through Adoption Jigsaw and (3) information that was returned on questionnaires sent out to original mothers.

Andrews categorized her findings by listing three distinct groups of original mothers.  Of original mothers who attend support groups, 40-60% had not had other children.  Andrews feels that in society, original mothers may not necessarily be regarded as being "mother" to the children they relinquished for adoption which may cause a more profound feeling of loss if they have not experienced motherhood and parenting by having more children.  However, when they attend a support group with other original mothers, their motherhood is acknowledged which is supportive and uplifting.  13-20% of the randomly selected group of first mothers had not gone on to have more children.  23% of original mothers who searched for their surrendered descendants have not had other children. 

Though a small sample in WA, Andrews feel that these findings can apply to first mothers universally or at least extend to the first mothers in the rest of Australia.

Andrews speculated that since stress has had ties to infertility that perhaps stress is also a factor in why some original mothers do not have additional children.  She does state that there is no way to know for sure without doing individual case studies.  Some respondents to her study confided that the relinquishment of their child impacted their lives and that they did not find men they wanted to have children with or did not want to have any more children.  Over 60% of the respondents to the survey chose a 9-10 (on a scale of 9-10) on how much their surrender had impacted their "decision or inability" to have additional children (Andrews, 2010, p. 87).  Andrews acknowledged that medical infertility does not encompass all mothers who have not had additional children; most of the mothers who did not chose not to.
"Losing a baby is one of life's greatest traumas; losing a baby to adoption is just as traumatic, if not more so.  When a baby dies, the parents receive enormous support, love, and understanding,  A funeral is held, cards, flowers, and visits recognize their devastation.  When a mother or couple lose a baby to adoption, particularly in the past, there is no recognition of birth, and thus none of loss" (Andrews, 2010, p. 91).
When this study was reported in the adoption community in the U.S., the headline introducing the abstract and link to the article (which the general public cannot access without paying about $30 or having a membership to the journal) stated, "Most Birth Mothers Have More Children."  From the actual text of the study, this was clearly not the implication that Andrews drew from her own research. Andrews concluded by nodding toward the United States, urging a change in how we counsel expectant mothers.  Andrews holds that secondary infertility (whether by a medical issue or simply unintentionally never having anymore children) is a real issue in this population and that counselors are compelled to disclose this in adoption counselling.  This current pregnancy may be a mother's only opportunity to parent and it is unethical, as is so often done in counseling, to tell her she is guaranteed to be able to parent other children in the future.

(Andrews, I. (2010). Secondary infertility and birth mothers. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 30(1), 80-93.).


Von said...

Great you have drawn attention to this important report and it's findings which are consistent with everything that has preciously been known about relinquishment and it's effects on a mother's subsequent fertility.Evelyn Robinson writes on this aspect of adoption.It is sometimes not a choice to have no further pregnancies but the fear of loosing another child causes infertility..try getting the medics to go with that one!
Just one teensy picky comment, as you'll have noted from the quote you used, we call it counselling here in Australia and those in the business are very particular about not using an Americanised spelling.Good wishes.....

Amanda said...

I didn't know that Von, thanks for telling me. :-)

Vanessa said...

I became pregnant with my second son 10 years after I lost my first born to adoption. He too, was unplanned, but there was no way I was letting him go. Not a snowballs chance.

I was not as financially stable as I would have like to have been (due to the self-destructive behavior I imposed upon myself due to losing my first child) but I was going to make it and I was going keep and raise my child.

My child and I are doing wonderfully, some 9 years after he graced me with his beautiful, gregarious presence on this earth. His mom is gainfully employed and he is well fed, clothed with a roof over his head. He has everything he could ever want or needs. That is all that matters. He told me once that he did not care if we lived in the street, as long as he had me, his mother. That made me cry.

In saying that, it has all been bittersweet for me. Why? Because it brings home the fact that I did not have to let my first son go. We would have been fine. I could have made it. WE could have. I know this now after experiencing it with his brother. Nothing could ever convince me otherwise. I believed the lies that were spoon fed to me that the older couple who were married would be better for my child than me, his mother could and would have ever been. That is tragic.

My heart goes out to those who have experienced secondary fertiltiy due the trauma of losing their children. As traumatic as my adoption experience was for me; I so greatful for the second chance at motherhood.

CullyRay said...

Amanda... when I saw the title I was excited because I took "infertility" to mean "unable" physically and I had just read a blog where some natural Mothers had been discussing the things that had been done to them in maternity homes and hospitals by the "care takers" (?? NOT)... which could have caused such damage that they would have been rendered 'infertile'. Of course I didn't save the blog and now I can't find it again (sometimes the internet is like a rabbit hole!!).
Venessa - God Bless You, Sweet girl!! BIG hugz!

Lorraine Dusky said...

Thanks for writing such an informative intelligent blog...

I'm one of the women who never had another child. Life just did not work out that way. My daughter, whom I relinquished, however did have two daughters; one she also relinquished; one she was able to keep. As you know, Amanda, I'm looking forward to meeting the one who got away next week! Can not wait! In her emails she sounds so much like me...I could have written them, as she talks about her writing career and what she's going to wear to perform in at a jazz joint where she reads her poetry.

Love you blog, it's always interesting and smart.

Amanda said...

@Cully, we ARE kindred spirits aren't we?? :-) I thought the same exact thing when I saw the title of the article. I plan on emailing her to ask her about that and will let you know. It's probably not the blog you were referring to but here's one I found a while ago: http://mississippiappendectomy.wordpress.com/ I believe it was Roe v. Wade or another similar court case where women testified about having botched births, forced hysterectomies, and secretly placed IUDs for the purpose of keeping them from having children again as well.

@Lorraine, thank you and ((hugs)). I can't wait to hear about your up-coming meeting with your granddaughter. I know it will be everything you're dreaming of :-)

birthmom1986 said...

Thanks for bringing this up. I had one more son after I was forced to relinquish my daughter. The only difference was I had a wedding band on my finger.

I had only him after that because I felt that I was unable to bond like I should have for the first few months. Until after the "OMG someone is going to take him away" fear left me. By then, I had my mind made up. It would be only him.

Fortunately, I have since reunited with my daughter and I'm so glad to have both of them in my life now.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those infertile women after losing my daughter. I did get pregnant again a couple years, and miscarried after waking up from nightmares of losing this baby to child traffickers, just like my first daughter. It is looking pretty grim in terms of being able to get pregnant in the future. So many regrets...

Robin said...

"So why is it then, when a woman is making probably the most life-altering decisions she could ever possibly make based on the needs she (*thinks she) can't fulfill for her child, that she is asked to consider the needs of couples?


Unknown said...

Interesting column. I noticed the same in a Dutch Foundation of birthmothers. Many of them had not had other children after relinquishing their first-born for adoption. Of course it is hard to say if the birthmothers who contacted us are an accurate representation of the total Dutch population of birthmothers. I also noted that many of them seemed to have weightproblems (just like me) which are known to be connected with being out of touch with your feelings. Repressing your feelings is all too familiar to birthmothers!