Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Communication Studies

First Advisor

Erin Willer

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Suter

Third Advisor

Mary Claire Loftus

Fourth Advisor

Michele Hanna


Adoption, Ambiguous loss, Birthmother, Family communication, Metaphor, Narrative


Birthmothers are a population with unique experiences and challenges. Among those challenges is the difficulty understanding and managing a loss for which they do not have a readily available coping strategy. As a birthmother, the author of this dissertation was uniquely situated to connecting with, and understanding the ways in which, birthmothers expressed their narratives. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the ways in which birthmothers make sense of their experiences with ambiguous loss by examining the metaphors they employ when narrating their adoption story. The use of metaphor in the birthmother narrative was especially important because metaphor often allows us to “express the unexpressable” (Young, 2008, p. 365). It is important that communication scholars better understand the dynamics of ambiguous loss within the context of adoption, particularly within the birthmother experience since birthmothers are often the least represented and understood member of the adoption triad. By better understanding how birthmothers experience, and interact with, ambiguous loss, a better understanding of how adoption has a life-long effect on birthmothers can be achieved. The scholar analyzed the narratives of 19 birthmothers, who had placed a child for adoption between 4 and 18 years prior. The scholar first conducted a narrative interview with each birthmother by simply asking her to tell her adoption story. Then the scholar asked a few follow up questions centered on ambiguous loss. The scholar utilized Owen’s (1984) method of extrapolating metaphors based on recurrence, repetition, and forcefulness. The author then utilized Owen’s (1985) methodological framework of categorizing metaphors into main metaphors, subsequent relational themes, and further sub-themes. The author found six main metaphors including: “Missing Piece”, “Physical Suffering”, “Disconnection”, “Emotional Conflict”, “Forces of Nature”, and “Personal Growth”. Analyses of those extracted metaphors revealed that birthmothers continue to experience ambiguous loss even years after the adoption event. Many birthmothers experienced feelings associated with pain, grief, loss, suffering, and uncertainty. However, a few participants also experienced a form of personal growth. Implications of those findings, along with strengths and limitations to the study were included. The author also suggested future research in the field of family communication.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Melodee Lynn Sova


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

156 pgs