The waiting time is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about adoption and some of the issues that may need your attention as your child grows. We hope you use this as a learning tool to enhance your adoption journey preparation. Feel free to click on the embedded links for more information. Don’t forget, after you have read and reviewed this material, log onto www.myadoptionportal.com to complete a summary in the Domestic Education section.
Understanding Grief and Loss
When we think of grief and loss in adoption, our minds often jump to the grief and loss experienced by the birth mom. But grief and loss actually affect each member of the adoption triad. ADOPTION IS A BEAUTIFUL THING, but it is important to recognize that it is also born out of brokenness.
Birth Parent Grief
Birth parent grief is a common occurrence – birth mothers especially need to grieve the loss of their baby. Shortly after the birth, a birth parent may go through a period of numbness before the intensity of grief kicks in. At some point – often when a baby is between six months and two years old – the birth mother may withdraw from the adoptive parents because of her grief, or because she is not sure whether she is still welcome.
While your focus will, understandably, be on the baby, it’s important to send your child’s birth mother a “thinking of you” note, baby pictures, or a report of the baby’s milestones during this time. This can help her feel cared about and can reassure her that the baby is doing well. Many birth parents say that such gestures helped them through the grieving process.
Following a period of emotional chaos and grief, most birth mothers reach a level of acceptance in their lives. As your child’s birth mother becomes more at peace with her decision, she may gain renewed energy for her current life, and more clarity about her role as a birth parent and her relationship to you.
To help your child’s birth mother move through the difficult period after birth:
- Ask her how she feels. Be aware of the stages of grief – shock and denial; sorrow and depression; anger; guilt; and acceptance – and realize that her feelings are complex.
- Stay in touch. Even if you never hear from your child’s birth mother, keep sending pictures and letters. She may be in an emotional state where she can’t respond, but she will appreciate your efforts.
- Don’t give up. Sometimes, birth mothers don’t want to overstep their boundaries, so they don’t call or write, even if they’re thinking of you. If you have gone weeks or months with no contact, go ahead and break the ice. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, ask a third party (your agency or counselor) to tell your child’s birth mother that you’re thinking of her.
Many of us have the misconception that adopting an infant spares that child from feeling grief and loss, “He is young enough that he won’t remember the loss.” But even those children who come right home from the hospital with the adoptive couple have experienced loss. There is pain and hurt and loss in relinquishment, and that is where your child’s story will start…not at adoption. We cannot forget the relinquishment part of our child’s story or we miss the very beginning of who he or she is.
Because an adoptee’s life begins with loss, she is likely to feel the inevitable additional losses in life more keenly. Helping children as they struggle through their grief and loss is a lifelong process. Learning to cope with grief and loss is not something that a child or family does once. Even if it is grieved over, a loss does not disappear. It may be revisited over and over throughout adolescence and into adulthood. By understanding and accepting the losses that are an inevitable component of adoption and employing strategies to deal with them, you, your child, and your family will be stronger.
It’s hard to imagine grief when bringing home a new bundle of joy. But adoptive parents have their own grieving process to cope with. Many adoptive parents experience the grief of infertility or miscarriages. And while it is important to process these losses before adoption, since grief is a process, not a switch sometimes it will sneak up on an adoptive parent even after adopting (check out this podcast on Coping with Infertility Grief after Adopting). All adoptive parents have to grapple with the loss of control that comes with adoption. As one author puts it, “For adoptive parents, the intricacies of the adoption process lead to feelings of helplessness.” Additionally, adoptive parents have to watch their child grieve. All parents want to protect their child from grief, and must navigate how to help their child grieve without ignoring it and without being able to fully understand it.
Dealing with the grief and loss that surrounds adoption can be difficult. But as one adoptive dad put it, “I find that there is beauty in the pain and I know there is meaning in the grief. As a result, we will do our best to weave this pain and grief into the story that we tell and re-tell, being sure not to miss the beauty or overlook the meaning. But last night as I fought against my instinct to try to make the pain and grief go away, all I could do was hold my son in my arms and reassure him that I love him – all of him. This includes his pain and grief.”