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What Helped Me Through My Grief When I Lost My Daughter to Adoption Because of Mental Illness

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I just finished my yearly visit with my 16-year-old daughter that I placed for adoption when she was 4 years old.

You ask why would I place her for adoption?

I was sexually abused throughout my childhood. I had not completely processed all of that by the time I had a child. I did not know what kind of baggage I was carrying until she became the age I was when the abuse started.

She turned two and was potty training and I fell apart mentally.

I knew since my early 20s that I had bipolar II, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID). I thought I had it under control and could do things that other people do. Like have a child on my own. I was wrong.

All the pain and suffering of my abusive childhood came roaring up and I was inept in addressing it.

I had thoughts back then that I would dare never mention in public, but it was bad. I guarantee you. I was drowning and could not see a way out.

After two years and alternate care for my daughter, I gave in to all the advice I had been getting from my therapist, psychiatric nurse, and my daughter’s therapist. I placed my daughter for adoption.

No one prepared me for the separation and the debilitating grief. The agonizing days and nights. The loneliness. The fear of judgment. The shame. To this day, I cannot scroll Facebook around holidays and back to school without crying. I am supposed to be posting those photos. I am supposed to have walked her in for the first day of kindergarten. I should have driven her to her first dance. Been suspect of her first boyfriend.

I missed all of that and more. I will never get those lost moments back no matter how many visits we have now.

Losing your child because of mental illness is hard. I blame myself. I think I should have known better. I should have been better prepared. My treatment team should have warned me. I should have been more honest about what was going on with me. I blamed myself for my mental illness. For my trauma.

In order to survive, I had to end the downward spiral I was in and pull myself up. I realized no matter how much help I sought, no one was going to do it for me. So, I acted. So can you.

What has been helpful for me in this situation:

1. Communicating with friends and family my regret and sadness and clearly asking for the proper support.

2. Having my pastor do a service with me and my friends that celebrated me as a mother and acknowledged the transition in my role as a mother. It was a meaningful moment in my loss of my daughter.

3. I joined birth mom support groups and attended retreats and it has made all the difference. It is great to be around people who understand without you sharing a word. (Your state adoption reunion agency may provide a group you can investigate. Most everything is online so check out other states as well.)

4. My attendance in the support groups led to an adoption competent therapist. They are hard to find but worth the effort. Make sure it is not someone who is not going to tell you how lucky your child is and how you are a blessing for helping make a new family. You want someone who is competent to help you through your grieving.

5. Surround yourself with people who do not tell you, you are selfless and brave, and she is in a good place. All that is good, but I know you do not want to hear that when all you feel is shame and guilt for this perceived failure. Sometimes you must educate your friends who are in the adoption fog and feel adoption is beautiful and there is no consequence.

6. I became open about the reason why I relinquished. It was a result of my trauma as a child, and I was finally able to put the blame where it belonged with the abuser.

Doing all of these things helped me tremendously. I am in a better place now, but I accept the wound will never heal. I am scarred forever and will never get back what my daughter and I have lost. I am grieving in a way that I never imagined, and no one understands.

If you are in a similar situation or about to be:

1. Take care of yourself. No one will fully understand so keep your needs at the forefront and soothe yourself.

2. Talk to your treatment team about your loss (whether it was last week or 30 years ago) and the depth of your grieving.

3. Join birth mom support groups, Facebook groups, and attend retreats (search online, use Google and Facebook to find them).

4. Read books about adoption and birth mom grief (there are some but not many books).

5. Take care of your mental health and look for early signs of being triggered such as being anxious around the child, having flashbacks, losing time, fearing to toilet train, panic that someone is abusing child and/or fearing certain development stages.

If your child is taken from you or placed for adoption, I suggest having an open adoption and ensuring the agreement allows you to have access to your child on a regular basis. These documents in most states are not legally binding, but it does give the adoptive parents some idea of how involved you want to be (even if you do not feel up to it now, please ask, I did not, it was a mistake).

A diagnosis of persistent mental illness is often used to “fast track” the process of taking a child into care, with rates of custody between 38% and 89%. The bias in the child protective services is pervasive and prejudice against people with mental health conditions. You may not be able to avoid having your child removed from your custody.

I know when all this is going on, you may be sick and possibly losing your will to live. If you cannot do it, get someone to help you, but from my experience, I encourage you to keep in contact with your child, insist on it. Your child needs you any way you are. They love you and care for you and want to know they matter to you.

I am here for you. Other birth moms are here for you. Even in your grief, you are stronger than this illness and can overcome to be there for your child.

I am getting better now, so can you.

You are and will always be a Mighty mom and no one can take that away from you!

Getty image by martin-dm

Originally published: August 26, 2022
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