My last post went over one of our courses that we took through Adoption Learning Partners. The fall season is keeping us busy and we are not quite at the homestudy phase yet. So, in the spirit of sharing our experience and not making readers wait forever for updates, I am writing today about grief and loss in adoption.
The course name in ALP is Finding the Missing Pieces (2 hours). Similar to the previous session on conspicuous families, the lesson was divided into several parts.
This lesson was perhaps the most sobering part of the adoption process to date. There is a lot of loss involved before, during, and even after an adoption has taken place. Not only for the biological or first family (as I have heard other adoptive families use the term) and the adoptive child, but for adoptive parents as well.
We have both known that there would be some measure of grieving on the part of our future child. The loss that is experienced by adopted children seems to be much like the grief involved in the passing of a loved one – minus the closure. According to our international agency, 50% of the children that are taken in by the welfare association we are working with have been abandoned. To clear in what context “abandonment” is used here, that means that there was no plan made by their birth family to place the child with the orphanage, nor was the child taken away by a social services agency. That means there are few or no options to tracking down birth parents, siblings, grandparents. No family or medical history. A thousand questions and no answers.
As someone who has always searched for answers to any of my questions, I can barely begin to imagine how frustrating and disheartening it may be to our child if they cannot track down family.
Neither D or I had ever really considered loss or grief on our end of the adoption. Adding to our family is bringing us a lot of joy, so how was loss at all involved for us? Some of the things that were mentioned in the lesson may not be triggers of loss for us – for example, I have no way of knowing if I will ever regret not going through the process of carrying a child, but that does count as a loss. The loss of a biological connection with our child – none of our kids will have D’s eyes or my skin tone. I think this is hardest on our parents, which was another loss I had not considered. While our parents are delighted with the prospect of grandchildren, they also may not have biological grandchildren. D’s brother and wife have already decided not to have children. So that’s it for our side – our kids will be the only kids for D’s entire family (it’s a small family). My sister is yet to be anywhere close to deciding on children, so my parents may yet have biological grandchildren. It is something to think about.
We have also “lost” the days, months, and years of our child’s life before they were adopted – those many firsts, such as first words, first steps, first foods. Those we very much already feel, though we take those moments to talk about what other firsts we’ll be able to experience as a family – the zoo here at home, first hikes in our favorite national and state parks, first ocean trip, first trips to see family, etc.
The most important thing we got out of this session was to recognize some of the signs of grief, in others and ourselves. Part of the reason we picked our agencies was the promise of support after adoption. There are a myriad of wonderful counselors in this area, lots of adoptive families, and even a summer camp for adoptees. Not that either of us are hoping this will eliminate the hardships and grief – we know it won’t. But preparing ourselves to better understand and get a hand on different ways we can create a safe place for our family to grow and grieve together is the best plan.