Book review: Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief
by Evelyn Robinson OAM
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2018 ISBN 971729816882
Reviewed by Miriam O’Shea
Evelyn Robinson is a retired social worker, post-adoption counsellor, author, and mother to five children – the eldest of whom she lost the rearing of to adoption. She has experienced post-adoption services from every perspective, as a client from 1989 to 1993, as a volunteer to the present day, and as a professional social worker and counsellor. She is also an accomplished educator and public speaker and has presented many training sessions and seminars on adoption loss and recovery. I met Evelyn in 2005 when she came to Cork to talk to us about the first edition of her book. I was also present when she spoke to social workers in the adoption department in Cork.
Her revised published book is an important resource for psychotherapists working in the area of adoption and all those affected by adoption separation. Her principal aim in writing this book has been to increase awareness and understanding of the loss and the resultant grief experienced by the original mothers of adopted children and the impact of disenfranchised grief, which she links to Kenneth Doka (1989) on their ability to mourn on p.170 of her book.
What she hopes to have made clear with this book is that many of those mothers, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the separation from their children, have suffered grievously from their loss. She talks about Silverman’s (1981) bereavement theory of impact, recoil and accommodation and how supplementing professional help with mutual help experience is important. She has also explained that their grief is the expected outcome of their experience and that once it has been acknowledged and understood, it can be addressed in an appropriate way and incorporated into their lives. She feels that personal rituals can aid grief resolution. When she signed the adoption agreement she did not give up her right to love her child, to care about her child’s future or to have a relationship with her child. Contact is a contributing factor to the resolution of grief. Grief resolution is a process. Evelyn reminds us how any problems in relationships will be about the adoption and not the reunion.
She describes the Adoption Iceberg on p.125 of the book. The iceberg represents the hidden values and judgments which undermined and threatened the relationship between an unmarried mother and her child in the twentieth century. It was during the period when so many adoptions took place and ultimately resulted in the separation of mother and child. She talks about society’s positive perception of adoption and how Bowlby’s theory of attachment reinforced adoption. She believes that her book has relevance for anyone whose life has been affected by adoption separation, and that what we have learned from the adoptions which have already taken place should lead us to a future where children who are unable to be raised by their original parents will be cared for by way of arrangements, such as guardianship orders, which are more child-focused than adoption is.
In her revised edition she tells the story of her experience of becoming pregnant and losing the rearing of her son to adoption and the impact this had on her life. This revised edition now includes her son Ferg’s contribution which is powerful and moving. Ferg encourages all adoptees to search for and find out both about their original mother and father’s side. This is similar to Betty Jean Lifton (1994), another adoptee and author who encourages adoptees to take control of their lives by making the decision to search and to be strong enough to reclaim their heritage. Ferg states it is his choice about who he should know. Searching gave him a sense of belonging that he had not realised he had been missing. Fear and secrets are destructive, honesty and openness is empowering. He describes how sad it is that his adoptive family fought so hard to deny him his most basic desire to know who and where he comes from and to deny his mother, Evelyn, the opportunity to know her son. The outcome for every adopted child can be a tug of war. He describes how he can walk away from people controlling him. The impact of the counselling he received was a game changer. Reunion can strengthen the bond, not weaken it. In post-adoption counselling, he realised that he had been soaking up a lifetime of negative emotions and not processing them, which Lifton says, creates much psychosomatic illness and has a high psychic cost.
Evelyn states that it is in not forgetting our children but remembering them, that allows mothers to get on with their lives. She never forgot about her son and thought about him constantly. Meagher (1989) states how in denial feelings grow in intensity. Breaking the silence, Nichols (1989) states, is the start of the process of grief resolution. Counselling helped her understand how and why she lost her child. Through the counselling she learnt to channel her anger at the loss of her child and to appreciate that her loss would be always be with her. David Meagher advises on the productive expression of anger rather than it becoming ‘pathological’. The long-term impact of separation, referred to as the primal wound by Verrier (1993), for both mothers and babies is feeling isolated, lonely and uncomforted and having difficulty in forming and maintaining significant relationships. Separation affected all aspects of her life and the experience is lifelong. She ends by including the Australian Apology for Forced Adoptions in 2013 and how adoption belongs in the past not the future.
This new edition is a vital read, containing important and useful insights for all psychotherapists wishing to support those who are recovering from adoption loss and their families. All Evelyn’s books can be found on www.clovapublications.com
Miriam O’Shea is a pre-accredited member of IAHIP. She is also training to be an ecotherapist. She facilitates groups on Selfhood by the psychotherapist Dr. Terry Lynch and is a trained SHEP group facilitator in bereavement in loss, with a degree in community education and development. She has personal experience of adoption. She runs a small practice in Midleton and facilitates activities with MindFreedom Ireland. Miriam can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and has a webpage http://www.talkwithmiriam.simplesite.com
Doka, K. (1989). Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow. Lexington MA: Lexington Books.
Lifton, B.J. (1994). Journey of the adopted self. New York: Basic Books.
Meagher, D. (1989). The counsellor and the disenfranchised griever. In K. Doka (Ed.), Disenfranchised grief (chapter 27). Lexington MA: Lexington Books.
Nichols, J. (1989). Perinatal loss. In K. Doka (Ed.), Disenfranchised grief (chapter 11). Lexington: Lexington Books.
Silverman, P. (1981). Helping women cope with grief. California: Sage Publications.
Verrier, N. (1993). The primal wound. Baltimore: Gateway Press.