Things You Only Know If You’ve Experienced Post-Adoption Grief

When Claire Moruzzi, 39, gave birth to her son, it unlocked unpacked painful feelings about her own adoption.

Claire Moruzzi

by As told to Isabella D'Emilio |

I cried every day for 30 days after my son was born. The birth was traumatic, I struggled with breastfeeding, and I felt I wasn’t coping. I was diagnosed with postnatal depression, but the waiting lists for counselling were too long, and I was given antidepressants. After a few months, I decided to have some private therapy, which I found very helpful.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realised my reaction to becoming a mother may have had something to do with me being adopted. I was two weeks old when I was adopted, straight from hospital. It had been arranged before I was born. My mum and dad were open with me about it from a young age and, at 18, I applied to see my files. I felt it was my right to have all of the information about myself, my birth parents and my origins. My parents were really supportive.

Mine was a closed adoption and I didn’t know much more than my birth mother’s name, so getting the file was like a ‘big reveal’. It contained my original birth certificate, some information about her and social worker notes about my first year. But I didn’t know what she looked like until I made contact a few years later. I wrote a letter through an intermediary and we emailed for a year or two before we met. She sent me a photo of herself at the age she had me – the resemblance was uncanny.

After we met, in my early twenties, there was a honeymoon period where we were in contact a lot. It was almost like when you first meet someone you’re really interested in, and you’re constantly messaging. She was really honest about her reasons for not keeping me. She was 18 at the time; being a young, unmarried mother in the late 1970s would have been very daunting. It was her decision: she was just too young.

I was always open about being adopted – I’d been told all of my life that it didn’t make a difference. When I met my husband Dan, I told him early on in the relationship. Two and a half years later, when I became pregnant, I googled ‘pregnant and adopted’, hoping to find information and support about becoming a mother in my situation. I wanted to know if other people who had been adopted felt the same as me, but there was nothing that answered my questions.

'I don't know if my biological mum held me or even said goodbye. I'm too scared to ask.'

The truth was, being pregnant was bringing up emotions about how my birth mother might have felt carrying me. People would tell me that the unborn baby can pick up on your stress, which made me wonder what I had picked up in the womb. Being pregnant, unmarried, looking for an adoptive family – what would my biological mother have been going through? She had probably been scared and I wondered if she’d had negative feelings towards me. I felt empathy for her, but also sadness about my arrival into the world. I also started to understand that there was a chapter of my life before I came to my parents, however brief, that was important for me to acknowledge.

Meanwhile, I was thinking about other pregnant women, and their links with their mothers and grandmothers. Even if you don’t think about it, you know your mum was pregnant with you – but the mum I grew up with hadn’t been pregnant with me. In my NCT classes they’d say things like, ‘Just ask your mum how long she was in labour for,’ as that might help us know what to expect. I would feel a prickle. I didn’t speak to my biological mother about it; I didn’t feel I could speak to anyone.

It was after I had my son that I realised, gradually, that I was feeling a type of grief. I started thinking about how long I’d spent in hospital without a mum. It was two weeks before my adoptive family collected me; when you have a baby you realise everything a new family experiences in that time and how precious those early bonding moments are. I don’t know if my biological mother held me or fed me, or if she even said goodbye; I’m too scared to find out. When I looked at my son and his mannerisms, I also couldn’t help feeling that I had lost my genetic lineage and that generational link – things that people who grow up in their biological families take for granted.

My adoptive family have been supportive and, although we don’t speak about it much now, I was eventually able to talk about my feelings with my mum. I started reading blogs and books, and went along to some local events for adoptees. It was speaking to other people who were also adopted that made the biggest difference, because it validated what I was feeling and helped me to recognise my grief.

It also made me realise that there is a lack of information and support out there. What little help there is for adopted people stops once you’re an adult, even though it’s an issue that affects your whole life. That’s why I started my blog, howtobeadopted.com, to help others like me.

My son is now six, and I’ve since had a daughter, four. My birth mother is still a part of my life and has met my children, although she’s not integrated with my family and friends. It’s not a relationship that you have a blueprint for and it isn’t necessarily going to be like a parent-child relationship; it’s something that has to find its own place. When you adopt a child, you may not think about how that’s going to play out when that child starts their own family. I had been told all of my life that being adopted was a gain, but having my own family made me recognise that it’s also a loss – and it’s OK to let myself feel that.

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