Thursday, April 7, 2016

Adoption Related Grief

I wanted a second child. I wanted more kids and, as a result of having both a good childhood friend and a cousin who were adopted, I had very positive experiences with adoption. Troy and I had talked about adopting before we were ever married. It was always something we thought we'd do. That said, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

We needed a home study. Check. We needed to choose an agency or a facilitator. Check. They gave us a list of things to do. Check. Then we waited. Check. We found out a month before Matthew was born that we'd been chosen. It was hardly enough time to learn all there is to know about adoption and adoption related issues. He was placed with us at birth so I naively assumed that we wouldn't struggle with some of the things we've encountered.

I've chosen not to share much about Matthew's family on the Internet because I want to be sensitive to them and, of course, to him. I've chosen not to share most of the adoption related issues that we deal with because I want to protect my son's privacy. But I do want to share what happened last night for two reasons. The first is because I want you to know that, while we have it really good, the struggle is real. The second is because parents approach adoption in a myriad of ways. What works for my family might not work for yours and that's okay. We need to be free to parent the way we feel is best. That being said, I firmly believe that there's only one wrong way to do this thing and that way is to silence your child's voice and to squash his feelings.

If you believe that they're never thinking about what they've lost, you're wrong. If you disallow them to share their feelings about their grief, you're wrong.

We fought for Matthew. It was a drawn out legal battle that pitted his father's wishes against his mother's. In the end, all four parents agreed that our home was the place for him. Looking back, that custody battle was the easy part. The hard part is navigating Matthew's grief. It comes in waves--as grief does. It's inconsistent and we go months at a time without mention of his sorrow. But when he's communicating his sadness, it breaks every heart in our home. And it should.

The reason Matthew shares his grief is because we've worked very hard to create an environment where he feels like he's allowed to. He knows we won't judge him. We won't get mad at him. He won't wound my mama heart by saying that he wishes he could be with them. He knows that sharing is safe.

It was easy when he was little. We told him his story and he knew he was adopted and that was that. We shared pictures with him. We told him what we knew about his first family. We talked about how so many people love him and that makes him very special. As he's gotten older, we've encouraged him to share his feelings with us, in his timing, when he wants to. No feeling is off limits. No question is off limits.

I believe that all adoptees grieve. It may never be overt. It may be relatively unknown. We all grieve and process things in different ways and I don't believe that adoption is any different. But I firmly believe that, in some way, what is lost is mourned*. For Matthew, at this stage of his life, his grief has manifested in a very precise way.

Matthew's grief is currently camped out in a place of desperately wanting both worlds and knowing that, for now, he cannot exist in them simultaneously. His dream come true would be for all four of his parents and all of his siblings to live together under one roof. As an adult, he is absolutely free to share as much of his birth family's world as he wants to. But, for now, we live in three different states. His idea of a shared home where we all live happily ever after is never going to happen.

Last night, he and I drove home from our church. He began telling me about a creature that he wanted God to make. As we talked, it became obvious that this "creature" was pretty much just a human baby. I pointed this out and he began to tell me that he really wants to be a big brother. He is a big brother because his birth mom has a little girl who is younger than him. He began talking about her. One thing led to another and soon we were smack in the middle of big grief.

I listened. I let him say what he wanted to say. "I know if I lived with them I wouldn't be able to live with you and that's what I hate!" he cried. When we got home, I let him punch a pillow and I held him tightly while he sobbed. Then I asked him if there was anything else I could do to help him. "I want Garrett!" he wailed. It was barely intelligible.

"What?" I asked.

"He wants his brother," Troy said.

"I want Garrett! I want Garrett!" he cried over and over. Garrett was in the shower. He begged us to let him sleep in Garrett's bed. Now, Garrett is a great big brother but he absolutely hates to share his bed with Matthew. This is because Matthew has historically been a tosser, turner, kicker. Troy went into the bathroom and explained to Garrett that Matthew was dealing with sadness. The big brother acquiesced to the little brother's request. Matthew immediately calmed down and, minutes later, fell asleep next to his brother--his non-biological brother--the only one who could make it better.

Why? I don't know. I don't know why Matthew needed Garrett last night. Apparently, the one who longs to be a big brother so badly, needed his. This is where he is sometimes. Grieving over the parents and siblings he doesn't get to live with, knowing he would grieve over us if the situation was anything else.

So I share this to say that I might not always care if my child is a genius or a sports star or the President of the United States. I might not even care if he pulls straight E's on his report card. These are the real issues we sometimes deal with and it breaks our hearts. We want to make it better and we can't fix it. Because adoption related issues are real. And understand me when I reiterate that WE HAVE IT EASY.

I also share it because I've seen more than one parent silence their child when it comes to adoption issues. I've seen more than one parent quiet the grief**. I want to know my child. I want to know what he's feeling even if it's sadness. I want to hold a pillow and give him permission to punch it. I want him to know that he's safe here, in this space, to feel it all. And I want other adoptive parents to give their children the same right.

*Please feel free to correct me IF you are an adoptee and this is not your experience.

** And, given the nature of Matthew's grief, I'd wager that every child in a divorced family feels the same way. We need to stop making kids feel like they have to choose a side.


  1. Yes, yes, yes. We are right there with you - mostly with our youngest navigating where she fits with us, her birth family and her sister's birth family who we see regularly.

    1. Thank you for commenting and for being kind. You wouldn't believe the anti adoption hate mail I get. Well, maybe you would. Keep fighting the good fight!