As a cultural category, a social group, the unfit mother occupies a position of insistent invisibility across different historical periods in the modern era. Whilst mothering as a practice has assumed a foundational importance in the production and regulation of ordinary citizens, the unfit mother has been a shameful and marginal by-product of the normalizing regimes of family life, an excessive figure whose experience has been sparsely documented, under-represented and, most importantly, unrecuperated.

This chapter is an exploration of how a certain category of mother – those whose mothering has been judged to be sufficiently unfit for the permanent removal of their children through adoption – has entered the narratives of adoption through a change in adoption practices in the contemporary era. Whilst these changes have led to a greater representation of birth mothers’ lives and experiences, this representation has not so far produced a position from which their invisibility and exclusion can be reworked. The chapter will link the lack of social recognition that birth mothers experience with the centrality of loss and depression that these women commonly report in their daily lives. For these women, motherhood, far from being a source of creativity, is a source of enduring pain and stigma.