Our every day lives are littered with scenarios that can bring out the best, the worst, and the most complex feelings or emotions within ourselves. An abrupt interaction with a stranger can cause the rest of our day to feel soured. The helpful smile from someone as they open the door for you, or the way your friend or spouse calls just to say, “Hi”. All of these things, even the seemingly small can contribute to our well being.
In adoption culture, grief is a huge participant in the dynamic. Often, it is overlooked as we are told that adoption is meant to be a happy occasion. The reality is grief is an integral part of the process and should be embraced as normal, and completely natural. Like any other loss in our life, it will occur when the individual is ready, though it can often occur even when we aren't aware.
Adoptive parents should take every opportunity available to educate themselves regarding adoption loss. Understanding the sincere reality of loss that a child feels, and how it will impact behavior and interaction among other things, is important to the ultimate growth of the child. Typically there has been a belief that an adoption occurring at birth is less traumatic for the child, but it has been noted that this is not true. Thus, adopting families would be best suited to do everything in their power to prepare to aide their child in the present and future regarding this deep loss.
Grief is never a personal insult to those around us. While our actions from grief can definitely cause hurt to those that are special to us, it's highly unlikely that the behavior is vindictive. When wrapped up in sadness, our emotional self attempts to cope with the stress of trauma the best it knows how. Sometimes this can be attributed to genetics, but it also can be due to our environment. Do we feel that we can safely express our disappointments, our needs or our issues without judgement or dismissal? Have we been taught to express ourselves in a way that is both constructive and appropriate?
When dealing with adoption loss, it can be said that there is no one way that an adoptee or a birthmother will feel. The path each of these individuals can take with their own grief will often evolve. Only recently has adoption become more open and as such, many adults, both adoptee and mothers, have found themselves struggling late into their lives with the shame of secrecy and wanting to know their place of origin. For those not directly involved in the adoptee-mother relationship, it can seem strange that a person would seek out their history. However, it's actually quite the opposite. Wanting to know where you came from, why you are where you are, and how it transpired can be a healthy way of healing.
Even in the most open adoptions, there is a cyclical type of grief that plays out throughout the duration of the relationships. Visits can trigger a negative reaction in an adoptee, and adoptive parents may find themselves reeling from how vivid this reaction is. It's important to stress that these visits are important, even when the “hangover” from it can be emotional and stressful for those involved. These reactions seem to vary, yet there seems to be a familiarity for all families in true open adoption. Keeping communication open and safe for the adoptee post-visit is integral for allowing them the space they need to digest the enormity of the situation for themselves.
Setting expectations on how we expect people to act in the wake of a loss will only set us up for disappointment. Instead, we should be arming ourselves with information and tools so that we can successfully guide birthmothers and adoptees through their own path. Again, it's important to note that their reactions to each other’s loss are never personal. It is the most humane and natural reaction for them to have.
Like the death of a loved one, our sadness at losing them may never go away. Of course, we find new ways to cope, and speak about it, but there will always be an aching in our souls that will remain. It's not necessarily something that we will let go of because when you are connected to someone, by love or biology, losing them can feel like a part of you has gone missing. When adoption loss is not acknowledged by adoptive families, friends or even society, it can force adoptees and birthmothers to mask their grief, afraid that they are not allowed to feel as they do. This feeling itself is isolating and completely avoidable.
In giving them the space to grieve, we are honoring their history together. We can better understand the profound nature of their relationship, and its complexity by observing their emotions in the adoption. It's not up to anyone to dictate how someone should feel about their adoption, or when they will feel it. The ability to freely express ones feeling without shame or judgement will allow trust to flourish, and for emotional barricades to be knocked down.
Credits: Danielle Barnsley-Cervo
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Note: Our authors are dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent, and open conversation about adoption. The opinions expressed here may not reflect the views of Adoption.com.