Another Mother Gone
This weekend, news broke of a tragic death that has left two little girls with another mother gone.
September is national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which makes the reported suicide of adoptive mother Michelle Rounds all the more poignant.
Michelle Rounds was just 46. Best known for her brief marriage to and contentious divorce from Rosie O’Donnell, Rounds had adopted her first daughter with O’Donnell and was reportedly forced to terminate parental rights to that child as part of the couple’s divorce settlement in 2016. Since then, she was said to have married another woman and adopted another little girl.
Our hearts go out to both children, to their birthfamilies, and to the family and friends of Michelle Rounds. We know that Ms. Rounds’ untimely passing leaves a compounded loss in the lives of all of them.
Don’t let suicide tragically destroy that which adoption can potentially fix
Adoption being so focused on new beginnings, it is understandable why we cringe at any discussion linking it with a tragic and painful end like suicide. The factors that lead to suicidal actions are varied and complex, but we know that mental health issues such as depression, substance abuse and genetics are leading causes; all of which are concerns in adoption, as well. Adoption does not cause suicide, of course, but for those who are emotionally-fragile to begin with, the losses so prevalent in the adoption process can pose special risks.
The adoption community shudders at the fact that adoptees are more likely to make suicide attempts, although those with open adoption can take comfort in the research that documents that high family connectedness is identified as a “protective factor” decreasing the likelihood of suicide attempts in all adolescents, whether adopted or not. (Curiously, international adoptees seem to be at lower risk for conduct disorders than domestic adoptees, although they are more prone to anxiety and depressive disorders than are non-adopted persons.)
Suicidal ideation can present a lethal risk for birthmothers, as well, when they are struggling with post-partum depression and post-placement grief and do not have adequate support from adoption professionals nor continued contact with their children’s adoptive families. One late mother who placed, only to be shut out by her chosen adoptive family, was Cindy Jordan, whose tragic post-placement suicide should serve as a cautionary tale for any adopting parents who may be approaching adoption as a means to their own ends and discounting the potential impact of broken promises. Amber Sanders, the American birthmom of a son adopted by Hugh Jackman and Deborah Lee Furness, likewise took her own life, after addiction and broken adoption promises destroyed her ability to hold out hope that things would get better for her.
And adoptive parents (although statistically the least likely triad members to succumb to suicidal thoughts,) are also subject to post-placement depression, of course. Homestudies do (or should) address whether or not adopting parents have family histories of mental illness and explore support systems and coping skills as a means of assessing how effectively any family may deal with the stressors of parenthood and adoption; however, adoption professionals should continue to carefully monitor adoptive family adaptation after placement– not just beforehand.
Four years ago, in Belarus, a highly-honored psychologist and adoptive mother named Katsyarnya Onakhava inexplicably took her own life, leaving her husband to fend for their 11 children. She had been the recipient of the coveted Order of Mothers prize, but found her efforts to promote foster care and adoption were leaving her feeling depleted, as she’d written in her blog, prior to her death: “I no longer have the strength to stand at the barricades, smiling and waving.”
If only these mothers had known they were not left to stand alone… and if only every adoptee, birthparent and adoptive parent knew there truly are better days ahead, when depression threatens to get the best of them!
Help for those feeling hopeless
It is essential that those whose lives have been touched by adoption know they are not alone, that there is support available when they feel unable to carry on, and that they know where to turn for help. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and can be reached any hour of the day or night.
How can you help? Take the time to ask how someone is doing, and to listen without judgement. Learn what warning signs to look for, and contact authorities such as local police or suicide prevention organizations if you believe that someone you care about is at risk and has a plan for how they will take their own life. (For more helpful advice on preventing a family member or friend in crisis from harming themselves, click here.)
And if you are a birthparent or adoptive parent of a child who is at risk, please know that reaching out for help and telling someone that your son or daughter needs help does not make you a “bad parent”… rather, it means you’re one of the better parents out there, because you are willing to go the extra mile to help your child and keep them safe, no matter what.
All through September and in the months that follow, let’s dedicate ourselves to the cause of suicide prevention, within the adoption community and beyond it. After all, if doing so helps to save even one child from the sorrow of another mother gone, any efforts we can make will surely have all been well worth it.