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)

I Don’t Really Know

Even though both of my parents are adoptees and even though I have one niece and one nephew who were given up for adoption, I was quickly put in my place in a FB group that is intended to be a safe place for adoptees to tell their truth.  Just stop, I was told.  Stop thinking you know how adoptees feel.

To be honest with you – growing up I knew my parents were adopted and it mattered to me only in the sense that I didn’t know my heritage – what country did my genes originate in ?  After I became an adult, my mom shared with me both that she was searching to learn who her parents were and said “as a mother, I would want to know what became of my child” and was devastated when she was told her mother had died a few years before.  End of my mom’s reunion dreams.  As a practical person, she had learned her father was much older than her mother and figured that even though Tennessee couldn’t determine whether he was alive or not, he was probably dead.  She gave up.

Recently I bought a book by Amanda H L Transue-Woolston titled The Declassified Adoptee – Essays of an Adoption Activist.  I’ve only read two essays so far.  In her second essay, she writes about adoptees who never talk about being adopted.  That would be how my dad was.  I never heard him say anything about it.  My mom once told me that when she was searching he warned her that she might be “opening up a can of worms”.  That speaks volumes to me.  I believe he was afraid to know what the truth might be.

Adoption was just a fact of life in my family. Accepted. The way things were. Not a bad thing and not unusual, though I didn’t have any friends growing up whose parents were both adopted.

It is interesting to note – I have been reading A LOT – from all sides of the issue now.  I want to understand it all – how my original grandparents may have felt, how being adopted may have impacted my parents and my sister’s children and how my adoptive grandparents may have felt.

It may be true that because I am the child of adoptees and because I am the aunt of adoptees that I am absolutely impacted by the adoption experience.  I just wanted to make clear today that I also realize I will never truly know how it feels to be one.

In in the words of Transue-Woolston – “There is no one cookie cutter mold that defines what being adopted is or that can be used to exclude other adoptee narratives from ‘counting’.”