These are studies detailing the long-term consequences to natural
mothers (”birthmothers”) of surrendering a baby for adoption. This is
information that is in standard and widely-known social work and
psychology articles and research reports. Adoption “professionals” are
familiar with these studies — the findings are common knowledge.
To give informed consent to adoption, mothers need to be informed of
these risks. Adoption “professionals” have an obligation to provide
mothers with this information. Often they only provide information from
studies that show short-term positive educational and financial
“outcomes” from surrender (and these “positive outcomes” are debatable
in the long-term*).
If you are a mother who surrendered your baby since 1978 and you were
not informed of these risks (below), then you did not give informed
consent to the adoption, as this information was deliberately withheld
Pannor, R., Baran,
A., & Sorosky, A. (1978)
- Half of mothers surveyed said they have continued to feel loss,
pain, and mourning over the child they lost to adoption (even many years
later — this included mothers who had surrendered up to 33 years
- Only 30% expressed “comfort” about the adoption (thus 70% were not
comfortable with the adoption and/or felt it was not the outcome they
Rynearson, E. K.
- Eight of the 20 mothers were so traumatized by signing the papers
that they were amnesiac of it.
- All reported recurring dreams of the loss of the baby, with
contrasting themes of traumatic separation and joyful reunion.
- All had unresolved grief, continuing to experience symptoms of
mourning at the anniversary of the relinquishment.
Winkler, Dr. R.;
and Van Keppel, M. (1984)
- 45% of mothers surveyed stated that their sense of loss had
intensified over the period since surrender and 6.4% stated it had
remained the same. For the sample as a whole, this loss remains
constant for up to 30 years.
- Compared to a carefully-matched control group, mothers who had lost a
child to adoption had significantly greater psychological impairment
- 53% of the Western Australia respondents and 58.8% of the National
Survey respondents stated the surrender of their babies was the most
stressful thing they had ever experienced.
Condon, Dr. J.
- “over half of these women are suffering from severe and disabling
grief reactions which are not resolving with the passage of time and
which manifest predominantly as depression and psychosomatic symptoms”
- Over half had used alcohol or sedative medication to help them cope
after relinquishment. (p. 118)
- Feelings of sadness and depression at the time of the surrender were
rated on average as between “intense” and “the moist intense ever
- For 67%, these feelings either stayed the same or intensified in the
years since surrender, they did not diminish.
Blanton, T., &
Deschner, J. (1990)
- Natural mothers registered significantly stronger symptoms than
mothers whose babies had died in 8 of the 14 bereavement subscales.
- Comparing natural mothers in both open and closed adoptions with
parents whose babies had died shows that natural mothers suffer more
denial, atypical responses, despair, anger, depersonalization, sleep
disturbance, somaticizing, physical symptoms, optimism vs despair,
dependency,and vigor. (pp. 532-533)
- “Relinquishing mothers have more grief symptoms than women who have
lost a child to death, including more denial; despair, atypical
responses; and disturbances in sleep, appetite, and vigor.”
Weinreb, M. (1991)
- Mothers’ scores averaged in the mild to moderate range of
depression at the time of the study, which was done a number of years
post-surrender, significantly higher than the population average..
Indicates that surrender can lead to long-lasting depression.
- 40% were still experiencing at least moderate acute grief.
Wells, Sue (1993a
- 136 out of 262 mothers (52%) found that thoughts about their
children increased rather than decreased over the years. Unlike a
normal loss or bereavement the child is living elsewhere. Many liken it
to a “living death.”
- Half stated that the trauma has affected their physical health.
- Many experience symptoms of PTSD.
- 207 out of 262 (79%) indicated that depression and anxiety, as well
as difficulties with relationships and trust, as prolonged and profound
consequences of surrender.
Edwards, D. S.
- … found a range of poor psychological outcomes. The women studied
frequently described the experience of placing their children for
adoption as the most traumatic event of their lives; and related
multiple symptoms of posttraumatic stress
Logan, J. (1996)
- 21% of mothers had made attempts on their lives
- 82% reported significant depression as a result of surrender
- 68% described themselves as having a significant mental health
- 32% had been referred to specialized psychiatric treatment on an
out-patient or in-patient basis and 18% had received treatment for a
continuous period of 5 years or longer. This compares to a normative
statistic of 3% of all women in the U.K. who were referred in 1993 to
the same treatment service.
Kelly, J. (1999)
- 89% of mothers answered “Extremely true” to the statement
“Relinquishing my child was a traumatic experience. 96% answered either
“Extremely true” or “Very true.”
- 95% selected the “most frequent” or “most severe” response to one or
more items measuring unresolved grief.
- In response to items concerning depression, 51% reported
experiencing severe depression since the relinquishment, with 97%
reporting some degree of depression (mild, moderate, or severe).
- 63% have had thoughts about killing themselves.
- 85% stated it was extremely true that “I was either misled or not
informed of the effects that relinquishment would have on me”
Askren, H., &
Bloom, K. (1999)
- “A grief reaction unique to the relinquishing mother was
identified. Although this reaction consists of features characteristic
of the normal grief reaction, these features persist and often lead to
chronic, unresolved grief. CONCLUSIONS: The relinquishing mother is at
risk for long-term physical, psychologic, and social repercussions.
Although interventions have been proposed, little is known about their
effectiveness in preventing or alleviating these repercussions.” (p.
- “comparable to losing an infant through death, it is a very
stressful event for the relinquishing mother. This stress, combined
with a powerful grief reaction, can predisopose these women to a number
of long-term adverse effects” (p. 395)
- “A woman who goes through the birth process and then relinquishes
her child is a risk for the additional emotional stress of lifelong
grief” (p. 395)
- “The reaction of relinquishing mothers to the loss of their children
have profound effects that can last for the lifetime of each woman.”
Carr, M. J. (2000)
- “all were traumatized by the act of relinquishing their child for
adoption” (p. 341).
- 82% of mothers suffered depression after the surrender
- 80% had feelings of inadequacy
- 68% trust issues
- 57% anger
*The outcome of a longitudinal comparison
study of mothers who surrendered vs. those who kept their children,
thus putting into doubt the common adoption agency promise to expectant
mothers that they will ‘benefit’ (socially, financially, and
educationally) if they surrender their children:
“The results from our 5 year follow-up lead us to the conclusion that …
relinquishment is not a panacea for the problems of adolescent
childbearing. Although parenters give birth sooner than relinquishers,
almost half of the relinquishers continue to bear children. therefore,
many relinquishers assumed the same parental responsibilities as the
parenters in this study. “The educational difference between the two
groups is small, and few from either group attend college. Earnings for
both groups remain depressed.” — Winges, Barnes, Rader, Grady, and
Manninen: “Long-Term Consequences for Adolescent Mothers Who Decide to
Either Parent or Relinquish their Firstborn Child” (June 30, 1998).
Downloadable for free from SSRN: (http://ssrn.com) or DOI:
- Askren, H., & Bloom, K. (1999) Post-adoptive reactions of the
relinquishing mother: A review. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological and
Neonatal Nursing, 1999 Jul-Aug; 28(4):395-400
- Blanton, T., & Deschner, J. (1990). Biological mothers’ grief:
The postadoptive experience in open versus confidential adoption. Child
Welfare, 69, 525-35.
- Carr, M. J. (2000). Birthmothers and subsequent children: The role
of personality traits and attachment history. Journal of Social Distress
and the Homeless, 9, 339-348.
- Condon, J. (1986). Psychological disability in women who relinquish a
baby for adoption. The Medical Journal of Australia, 144, 117-119.
- Crowell, G. (2007). Sisters from the society of secrets and lies:
Why Women Chose Adoption between 1950 and 1979. Honors Thesis,
University of Texas at Arlington.
- Edwards, D. S. (1995). Transformation of motherhood in adoption: The
experiences of relinquishing mothers. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, University of North Florida, Jacksonville.
- Kelly, J. (1999). The trauma of relinquishment: The long-term impact
of relinquishment on birthmothers who lost their infants to adoption
during the years 1965-1972. (Master’s thesis, Goddard College, 1999).
- Logan, J. (1996). Birth mothers and their mental health: Uncharted
territory. British Journal of Social Work, 26(5), 609-625.
- Rynearson, E. (1982). Relinquishment and its maternal complications:
A preliminary study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 139(3), 338–340.
- Weinreb, M.; The psychological experience of women who surrender
babies for adoption. Dissertation Abstracts International, 52(6-A),
- Wells, S. (1993a). Post-traumatic stress disorder in birthmothers,
Adoption and Fostering, 17(2), 30-32.
- Wells, S. (1993b). What do birthmothers want? Adoption and
Fostering, 17(4), 22-26.
- Winkler, R. & van Keppel, M. (1984). Relinquishing mothers in
adoption: Their long-term adjustment. Institute of Family Studies
Monograph No. 3. Melbourne, Australia.