Secondary Infertility

Thinking about my birthday as the day I separated from my mother understandably led me to think that my mom was separated from her mother twice – when she was born and at approx 6 mos old when she was taken by Georgia Tann for adoption. My grandmother tried to get my mom back 4 days after the papers were signed but was blocked in her efforts by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. My maternal grandmother never had another child, though she doted immensely on her two nieces. I’m certain that she must of thought of my mom when she was with them. Though they called her Aunt Lou and even though I have seen in a communication post-surrender from my grandmother to Georgia Tann pleading for the photograph taken the last time she was with my mom (which I happily now possess), she signed her name Elizabeth.

However on my mom’s birth certificate she is named as Lizzie Lou Stark and she appears by that name in many of my mom’s adoption file papers, she seems to have dropped Lizzie and simply went by Lou. I’ve always called her by the double name – Lizzie Lou – and I am told she was a fun person. But she never had another child.

In learning about all things adoption (huge interest since there are 4 adoptions in my immediate birth family – both of my parents, a niece and a nephew were all adopted), I have learned that secondary infertility after relinquishing a baby is not all that uncommon.

Secondary Infertility and Birth Mothers by Isabel Andrews – Abstract in Psychoanalytic Inquiry (there is a paywall if you care to read further) –

Relinquishing a child has had lifelong consequences for women and for adoptees. This article explores a little-discussed aspect—secondary infertility, birth mothers who did not have other children. To my knowledge, this is the first study to research the incidence of secondary infertility and its impact on the women concerned. I discovered that between 13–20% of birth mothers do not go on to have other children. For a few, this is a conscious decision; however, for the majority there was either no known reason for infertility or their life circumstances foisted it on them, i.e., lack of suitable partner. Relinquishing their child has meant losing their only opportunity to parent a birth child, and that has bought tremendous anguish. Women considering relinquishing a child need to be made aware that secondary infertility is a real and present possibility.

The Declassified Adoptee wrote a blog about it that you can read – Should Secondary Infertility Rates of Birth Mothers be Disclosed in Adoption Counseling? – in which she refers to the article I linked above. The blogger writes – “Andrews was extremely respectful to mothers and recognized the deep loss that many of these mothers feel and expressed it eloquently in her article.”

Nancy Verrier who’s book The Primal Wound I have read, is referenced with this note – Andrews read 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 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. My mom’s cousins when I was finally able to communicate with them did indicate a knowledge that my grandmother had given up a child for adoption. It is true she signed the surrender papers. However, reading between the lines in the approx 100 pages I received as her file, it is clear my grandmother was exploited for her desperation caused by poverty and a lack of familial support to offset that.

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).

This current pregnancy (in which surrender is being considered) 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. (Amanda Woolston, June 26 2010, in her blog)

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