Thursday, May 19, 2011

Adoption is built on trauma, pain and loss

The first time I heard the phrase "adoption is built on pain and loss," I literally lost my breath.

I was horrified.


I was sitting in a training session at a lovely Baptist adoption agency, meeting requirements so my husband and I could adopt a child. I had heard so many sermons over the years comparing adoption to God adopting us into His family. My husband and I both had fathers who were adopted. It was this beautiful, glorious, self-sacrificing gift of life-long service to adopt a child.

"Adoption is built on pain and loss."

It was my first exposure to the underlying current of adoption ... the truth that my children and their first families would experience pain and process that pain throughout their lives. I was raised by an adoptee. I had many, many friends who were adopted or had adopted. I had friends who were first mothers and made adoption plans for their children. I thought I knew it all!

I was a very sincere idiot.

On that day, these lovely women at this lovely agency with lovely snacks ... broke us wide open. I'm not sure if I was more angry or terrified. Okay, I was more terrified. The anger was simply covering up the terror. I could no longer avoid putting myself in the position of my future children. I could no longer just NOT think about their first parents. My brain and heart had to go there and it HURT. Yet, I knew that it could not begin to touch their experiences.

We deal with the trauma and pain and loss of adoption regularly in our home. I was foolish enough to think that my child who experienced the least amount of trauma in their adoption would somehow be "easier." I basically categorized their grief. I made an assumption that I desperately wanted. Of COURSE I wanted it to be easy for them! I'm their mother! Yet, it's not.

On behalf of every adoptee and every first parent (not individual experiences, but everyone as a whole), I will always stop occasionally to remind us all about the loss in adoption. One easier grief process for one individual does not negate the very difficult journey of pain for hundreds of thousands of others. It is swept under the rug all too much. It is rarely a topic at adoption conferences. It deserves our time and attention.

Let's all educate ourselves more, and provide a safe space for those in our lives to work through the pain and loss of adoption, regardless of their place in the triad. Here are a few places to start:

"The Seven Core Issues of Adoption" presented by the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

"When I told the director that I thought adoption was trauma I about lost my job because we do not normally think that adoption at infancy is trauma but it is. It does not mean that it is a bad thing. I am an advocate for adoption. I’m an adoptive mother and I think it is a wonderful way to build a family and to create connections. I also think we do a disservice to our children by not acknowledging that adoption is trauma, simply because an infant and an older child has lost everything that is familiar to them." (Interview with Heather Forbes)

"So, no matter what way things happen, the kids who are at GLA (God's Littlest Angels in Haiti) already have gone through trauma. For some of them they have been through a lot more than others, but they have all experienced significant loss. It’s not painting a negative picture, just a realistic picture." (from TomVanderwell's post titled "Which is better? It’s not black and white – question from the blog ...")

"At yesterday's "Beyond Consequences" presentation by Heather Forbes a mom came forward to ask a question about some very difficult behaviors that were taking place in their home. Heather asked this mom if the children had experienced a lot of trauma before coming to her and the mom said, "No, not really...they were in a lovely orphanage."

We don't get it."

(from Coffee Catharsis' post "Adoption is Trauma")

"It isn’t like there is a giant balance inside adopted kids with pain and loss on one side and love and acceptance on the other. You can’t just pile on enough love to tip the balance away from the pain. That pain might be like a splinter that resurfaces through out their lives, sometimes hurting more sometimes hurting less. Just because you don’t want it to be there doesn’t mean it will go away." (from Amber's very raw and honest post, "On Adoptee Blogs")

"My daughter appears to have made some “peace” with loss, but deeper inspection tells me otherwise. She is moving into another phase of grieving—denial of her race and culture." (from Judy Miller's post, "Loss: The Well of Grief")

"Once the pain of adoption is acknowledged, it can be understood and the healing process can begin. You cannot heal something you do not admit exists. Acknowledging the pain can be as simple as allowing yourself to feel sad and not judging yourself for your feelings." (from Birth Psychology)


LindsayDianne said...

This was a really interesting read. I don't have very many adopted people in my life, but I can definitely see how adoption can be very loaded.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your continued honesty and compassion.
Something about this post has clung to my heart--I am not adopted but my mother abandoned me as a baby--she came back, but the relationship has always been overshadowed.
Being human is very complicated....

Shonda said...

This post is heart wrenching and oh so true. Do you mind if I share some of this on my blog? We are in process to adopt our youngest son's 5 y/o bio brother from ET, and his loss, both of their losses, are a mighty weight these days.

Christine said...

Shonda, you can always link to my posts with approximately one paragraph of text as a teaser (much like what I did with the posts at the bottom).

Of course, those links I referenced are from other sources. You can link to those as you see fit. They are not my material.

Sarah said...

Thank you for this! We have had a rough week, and I am continually reminded of how much pain and grief is still inside my child. He has been with me 2 and a half years, and I am just starting to see glimpses of the funny, smart, kind child he was meant to be before all that trauma. I had no idea when I started on this journey how much his grief would affect me, and that we would spend years together learning how to manage all that loss. It is so hard to explain to people outside who thing adoption is a "blessing". It is. But it is also so much more.

CherubMamma said...

Nancy Verrier wrote a book called The Primal Wound. In it she describes adoption like this: (it made me think of your situation)

One might metaphorically think of the discontinuity of the mother/child unit as the breaking of a plate. If one breaks a plate then glues it back together, although there should be a good “fit” because the same pieces are used, there is now glue separating the two parts…In the case of adoption, not only does the plate have to be glued back together, but the other half of the plate is different, so that the pieces will not quite fit together. There is always a feeling of “not fitting.” For the child who has experienced these “breaks” in the continuity of bonding, his trust in the environment has been shaken and his sense of Self has been compromised. Something is broken; something is missing, and it will never be the same again.

Sunday Koffron said...

"No, not really...they were in a lovely orphanage."
You know people make comments to me like, “I am sorry that you had a bad experience in foster care” to me all the time. The truth is I did not have a “bad experience” in foster care. I was not taken care of and abandoned by my family, what more needs to take place for a child to be scared for life? Really?

Beth said...

This is a great article!! Thank you from one idiot to another:)

Last Mom said...

My daughter is ten and summed it up perfectly on Mother's Day, "Adoption is complicated." She loves me, but griefs for what she should have had - biological parents who could take care of her the way she deserves.

Anonymous said...

I am just REALLY glad your agency told you these things. Seriously NO ONE told us anything but rainbow and unicorns stories about adoption, including our SW and agency.

Molly said...

thank you for bravely going into a difficult subject. you educated me and changed my perspective and I am grateful.

kristal said...

five years after adopting our precious baby and trying to be open and understand his grief and loss i now had a bio baby and am floored at how much my adopted baby missed. i love them with equal voracity and they are both my sons, but the experiences and stability and beauty my bio baby gets to have that i just couldn't give my adopted baby; that only his bio mom could give, make me weep. he lost so. very. much. she lost so. incredibly. much. and i love them both deeply so their loss is so painful for me. everyone lost. everyone must grieve. celebrate, too. but grieve. a lot.

Anonymous said...

We had a bad overall experience with our adoption agency, but the reason we originally picked them is because they were honest with us, just like yours was. They told us how difficult it would be and urged us to make sure we were committed and serious before moving forward.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

I haven't experienced adoption personally, however I admit that I didn't consider the pain part of adoption before.

Annie said...

You are so right. I hear about my daughter's pain and loss every day.... But,then, I am STILL getting new pieces from my husband's history of trauma,pain and loss....and part of his loss is that his mother did not allow him to stay in his adoptive family (kinship adoption)...but took him back into a life with multiple violent "fathers", multiple moves, multiple school changes. The most recent revelation - he came home frm his HS graduation [which of course only his grandparents attended] to find that the house was empty and stripped. So - I think while adoption IS trauma, pain and loss - it is in most cases going to prevent FURTHER pain and loss in the future. Which is something.

Scribbles said...

Christine, this is such a timely post for me. Our two adopted children are just starting to grieve openly for their losses, after a couple of years of it all coming out sideways. It's heavy on the heart to help a child grieve, and I thank goodness for the supportive friends I have around me, but family ... everyone in our extended family wants to think the children are 'over' what happened to them, and that it's all roses around the door here.

It's not. We deal with the children's loss and trauma on a daily basis and it's hard work. For all of us. And it's not helpful to have someone invalidate that work by saying things like 'all kids do that.'

I'm going to save up your post for when an appropriate time comes along, to show my children's adoptive family and help them understand them better. Thank you.

J. said...

trauma, loss, adoption, not words that most agencies want to use in the same sentence, so glad that yours had the courage to be honest. My sister and I have argues this as she thinks infant adoption is not traumatic, I disagree, regardless, you said it so well, as always.

Ten Beautiful Years said...

Adoption IS built on trauma, pain and loss.
And hurt people hurt people.
I can't thank you enough for being REAL enough to share your experiences so my husband and I can know we are not alone, even if it is in hindsight of parenting our RADs to adulthood.

RasJane said...

Thanks so much for saying it again. We adopted 2 of our children. It hurts every time I think of what they lost. While we adopted them as infants, I too have had bio children and understand just how different it is for everyone to have that "break". Its not fair. It's especially unfair if it goes unaknowledged. I don't know if I'm doing a very good job overall in parenting my kids, though I hope I am, I do give them space to talk about and feel their loss. It kills me to see the hurt.
Thanks so much for your blog and the service you give to families by talking about this stuff and being open and honest about it. you do so much good.

elwayjohnbroncos said...

I'm 42 and was adopted from S. Korea when I was 4 yrs. old. For many years afterward I was punished by my adoptive parents & people (with westernized views) for not being thankful enough to be adopted. I have grieved for the loss of my mother, my country, my identity and will continue to until the day I die. It is important to respect the life your child had before entering yours. Respecting and honoring their genetic ties will help them form a strong identity-strong enough to withstand the strong feelings that are felt by adoptees. Ignoring a child's past is denying them a vital part of who they are and they will suffer for it.

Ellyn said...

I am adopted and still fractured. I'm just over 40, have four amazing daughters and a decent life. I unfortunately feel like I'm dying half the time. I have never felt whole, or safe, or completely loved. I have a huge heart--I am more than capable of love. In fact I think I may love others too much--it can hurt too.
But the hole in me where my past is supposed to be, where my mother is supposed to be, where my father is supposed to be...the hole is dark and cold and alone or sometimes, on fire but I'm still alone and scared and in such pain and grief. It never @#$$%^^$#!@!! ends. And I wish it would. I cant take it any more.
No, I am not a depressive person. I can't stay in bed for days and dont spend hours and days wallowing or crying. I live my life, work, take care of the kids, cook, etc. That's partly why I am in such conflict. There is a huge piece of me that wants to live and enjoy and feels happiness and looks forward to grandkids, etc. And the rest of me is fractured, and in constant pain, wanting to be rid of all of it, wanting peace and security.
I don't have many friends. I have (virtually) no family--none that I keep in touch with or who are at all supportive to me. I have no where to go where I am takwn care of. I don't know how long I can hang on like this if my doesn't change for the better somehow soon. And I don't know how to fix it and have no one to lean on or to help me. What do I do? I fight with myself because I could never forgive myself for abandoning my own children but I cant live like this anymore. I wonder what it feels like to feel whole.

Ariel Miller said...

I placed my son for adoption on Mother's Day 2002 almost 11 years ago now. I can say that pain comes and goes and is always changing. I get an email about my son about once a year with pictures and a letter. We live half way across the country but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him. Some seasons have been easier than others. His birthday is the hardest time of year (May 10th). Right next to Mother's Day. I wouldn't change it for the whole however and I don't regret my choice. When I see how happy he is all my pain is worth it.

Kylee Michelle Fraser Atkin-Janes said...

my ex and I placed 2 children for adoption. she deals with feelings of being a bad mother. I deal everyday with feelings of failure as a parent. I've held my daughter a few times but never had the chance to meet my son whose birthday is less than 2 weeks from today (I didn't even know his BIRTHDAY until 12 hours before this post he was born in 2006)

at least there are resources for birth mothers. we birth father get ignored. like we don't care about our kids. sure, SOME don't, but for some of us, it was a childhood dream to have and raise children and for some of us, that is no longer an option (I cannot conceive children anymore)

pain and loss is a daily struggle for many birth parents