The news has been filled with of heartrending images of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents by U.S. immigration officials.

But what about the parents – and in particular, the mothers? Far less attention has been paid to the impact of separation on them.

“Our compassion lies with the child, and rightfully so,” TC psychology faculty member Aurélie Athan tells Broadly, an online news platform centering on the lives and experiences of women, gender non-conforming people, and LGBT individuals. “They are the vulnerable other of the dyad – but it’s only half the story when we leave the mother out.”

Auelie Athan

TC psychologist Aurelie Athan

Athan also raises the concern that some parents separated from their children may be at risk for suicidal thoughts. “It’s just like maternal deprivation of children,” she explains. “We know that there’s something called ‘failure to thrive’—they can literally stop growing. Mothers can succumb to losing their will to live ... they can stop eating or sleeping or [have] poor self care.”

Those issues can be compounded the longer the separation remains in effect – particularly the children are very young and may, as has happened, “forget” the parent or shift allegiance to new care-givers.

Athan, a member of TC’s Sexuality, Women & Gender Project, is an authority on “matrescence” – an anthropological terms that refers to a woman’s transition into parenthood.  

Read the full story in Broadly.