Surrendering a child for adoption is more traumatic than having an abortion, maintains Delayn Curtis, coordinator of the Orange County-Inland Empire branch of Concerned United Birthparents (CUB).
"With abortion you know what happened to your child," Curtis, 38, said during an interview in her Riverside home. "With adoption you don't know if your child is dead or alive; there is no end."
CUB, a nationwide support group formed eight years ago, has a membership of 1,500. CUB primarily serves the needs of birth parents, who compose 65% of the 65 members of the Orange County-Inland Empire branch, Curtis said.
CUB also serves adoptees, who make up 30% of the Orange County-Inland Empire, and adoptive parents (or other people who are involved, such as spouses and siblings), who make up 5%, Curtis said.
They all share a common purpose--seeking information about their backgrounds or those of loved ones and mutual understanding for the emotional turmoil they have undergone.
Even after birth parents finally summon the courage to search for their children, they encounter a seemingly insurmountable problem. In most cases, adoption records are sealed by law, concealing the names and locations of their children and the children's adoptive parents.
Most CUB members who overcome these barriers ultimately are successful in tracking down their children, said Curtis, who in addition to serving as local branch coordinator is also CUB's regional coordinator for California, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii and is a member of CUB's national board of directors.
(Additional information about CUB is available by calling 685-2359 or by writing Concerned United Birthparents, 4784 Horseshoe Lane, Riverside, Calif. 92509.)
The impetus for the formation of CUB chapters throughout the U.S. was the fact that women who give up their babies for adoption often experience long-term unresolved grief that affects their later marriage and family life, according to a study published last year in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
The study, entitled "The Post-adoption Experience of Surrendering Parents," looked at 334 birth parents (321 mothers and 13 fathers) and echoes the findings of three other recent studies.
Of those who married after surrendering their children for adoption, according to the study, more than 70% said the adoption had created stresses in their marriage. Unhappy marriages were especially prevalent among the nearly 20% of the birth parents who had married the other parent of the child they had placed for adoption.
Cement of Relationship
For such couples, according to the study: "The shared loss became the cement of a fragmented relationship; they were united by shared pain rather than by commonality of interest or spirit. Despite unhappy marriages, they seemed to stay together because their common bereavement was a stronger bond than the forces pulling them apart."
Interestingly, 31% of the birth parents reported they never had another child. Some chose to remain childless because of low self-esteem and an overly idealized view of the surrendered child, according to the study.
Others had tried unsuccessfully to have another child. Indeed, such parents stood a 170% greater chance of so-called "secondary infertility"--an inability to have a second child after the birth of the first child--than the general population.
Even among the birth parents who went on to have other children, they reported difficulties with their parenting skills. But the study cautioned that these difficulties "appear to reflect unresolved sadness over past loss and lack of self-confidence rather than active deleterious parenting. Overprotection, overindulgence and overinvolvement may well have a negative impact on a child's development but clearly are not as damaging as abuse and neglect."
The birth parents most likely to search for their children were those who were forced to give them up due to external pressures to do so from family, social workers or lack of money, according to the study. And those who had surrendered their children more than 12 years before were more likely to initiate searches.
There is a widely held view that birth parents initiate a search in order to retrieve their children, but the study found this is rarely the motive.
Actually, the chief reason birth parents search for their adoptive children, according to the study, is to "attempt to resolve a significant loss. Unlike other permanent losses, for which society has constructed supportive rituals, there is no recognizable support following the loss of the child to adoption. Losses inadequately grieved may produce feelings of unworthiness, diminished self-esteem and depression. Search activity may thus be a means of achieving restitution not of the surrendered child, but of the self."
Indeed, CUB's Curtis said that when most birth parents first join CUB, they believe the "myths that they gave up their child because they didn't care, were wicked, were whores or drug pushers. But once they join the group they learn that not only is this not true, but they are amazed to learn that other birth parents are often their neighbors or people they work with."
Birth mothers, Curtis believes, have a greater need to search than do birth fathers because of the bonding that occurs between the child and the mother during the nine months she is pregnant.
Unclear About Relationship
But once birth parents are reunited with their children, they appear to be unclear about what kind of continuing relationship they want. "The relationship won't be much different from the one I have with my other (19-year-old) daughter," said Curtis of her hoped-for reunion with the 17-year-old daughter she put up for adoption.
"It's the kind of relationship you would have with your own grown children," Curtis said. "You're not going to parent a 20- or 30-year-old the same way you would a 2-year-old. But I want my daughter (who was surrendered for adoption) to be a family member, just not a friend or acquaintance."
However, Irvine therapist and CUB adviser May Boyden contends: "Most birth parents are not seeking a reunion with their children in order to become their parents. And their children are not looking for another set of parents.
"Instead, most birth parents are looking for their children just to see how they turned out, and most adoptive children wanting a reunion are looking for their roots. Whether or not they have an ongoing relationship following the reunion is very much an individual thing."