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Ambiguous Loss and What Birth Mothers Feel

Like a first-time mother, she anticipates the birth day of her son. Her anticipation, though, is laced with angst. When she feels the first contraction, she slows down. Her thoughts wonder. She is ready to birth the baby. Yet, she is not ready to see his face.

The contractions grow stronger. She knows it’s time to go. Her mother drives her to the hospital. They are taken to the delivery room where her midwife is waiting.

After hours of hard labor, a failed epidural, and hours of pushing, the baby boy is delivered. His cries pierce the air. All breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The hardest part hasn’t even come.

One day. Just one day. She spends that day cuddling the precious boy. She kisses his beautiful eyes, caresses his little cheeks, and counts his perfect toes. She takes photographs to remember, because, as the adage states, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The baby is not placed in the nursery at night. He stays with his momma. She needs that time, that precious, elusive, time to be with the darling.

The dreaded day has arrived. The day she has feared since the beginning.

But, she could not deny the whisperings of the Holy Ghost telling her this was the best thing for the baby.

So, she takes the angel. With her mother by her side, she places that little boy, that precious child, inside the adoptive parent’s arms. With tears of sorrow rolling down her cheeks, she says good-bye.

Unlike other first-time mothers, she is not going home with a new baby. No. She is going home with a hole in her heart.

That girl is my sister.

I think, to help me understand her pain, I started researching teen pregnancy and adoption outcomes. Yes, there were many good outcomes for those who place their babies for adoption: Higher educational attainment, higher income, and far less financial assistance. Yet, the pain is still present, overwhelming these poor girls.

Through my research I found a term that perfectly described what these girls experience: Ambiguous loss.

Pauline Boss defined it as “that uncertainty or lack of information about the whereabouts or status of a loved one as absent or present, dead or alive.” The more I read, the more I nodded my head in assent. Yes, this is what my sister feels.

• The consuming thoughts wondering about how that child is progressing, who they look like, and what they are becoming.
• Doubts about the decision.
• Guilt over what the relationship could have been.

The crushing pressure of doubt, guilt, and wonder makes for some tough days.

My research did not yield any textbook answers on how to help someone cope with this pain. It did, however, provide me with more insight. It educated me on how my sister is feeling, on how I need to change my thinking to better represent her emotions.

I take comfort in knowing that the Atonement can bring my sister relief, relief that I am not capable of offering. I know that Heavenly Father understands her pain. He has experienced it more than we can imagine. He has also given her, and us, a means to find peace: Prayer.

I am proud of my sister. She is my hero.

To read more on this subject, read Pauline Boss' books.
Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief
Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss


Ambrosia is the proud mother of two little kids. She is working hard to support her husband through his schooling and blogs to remember the little moments in her life. You can find her at Making the Moments Count.

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