The grief of adoption

Some reflections on our initial screening to becoming potential adoptive parents

Celebration. Joy. Permanency. Family. Forever (in faith). These are all words we see and hear around adoption. The past few weeks though as we have journeyed through our initial screening and preparation to be presented as prospective adoptive parents, I have become acutely aware of the grief in this whole process.
My professional world is predominantly child focused, so it has been easy for me to be able to think, focus and identify the grief process for a child whose birth family isn’t the one that they get to do life with. Regardless of how good the reasons are for this.
My grief for the birth mother – whether someone who has signed over their baby for adoption or has abandoned them (whether through leaving them safely somewhere or otherwise) is something I have had to grapple with. No one dreams of having to make an adoption plan. In my circles questions around parenting range from your birth plan to whether you believe in co-sleeping or not to which school do you think that you would like to send your child to and why. What a contrast to not knowing what you are going to do with the small person that has grown in you, but that you can’t (for whatever reason – from age to finances to addiction) care for and having to decide what to do with the small person.
Then there is a grief for us. Our grief is less complicated or compounded in some ways as we are not grieving infertility issues. We are choosing this. In choosing this though, there is still grief.
There is no romantic standing in the hospital while a mother gives birth (thank you Hollywood) for us. Our meeting our small person only happens once there is no chance of it legally not working for the baby or us – once all the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed – such a good thing for everyone actually but so hard in terms of the knowledge that from the time the small person is born until we meet them, they will have had at least a birth mother and one other carer in their little lives that they will have to say goodbye too.
My heart is sore in ways that by the time I get to meet our small one, that he will have been held by many arms, not mine. My heart is okay with the not carrying him. My heart grieves at the knowledge that I don’t get to delight in his initial newness in life (sleep deprivation and all). That’s sad for him and us…it’s a part of the bonding that birth moms and dads have with their smalls. It’s not insurmountable grief. It’s just something we need to process.
I have recently heard more than once the declaration that we are lucky to skip the exhaustion of pregnancy, the birth process and the repeated wake ups of a new born baby.
I have witnessed more than once the surreal reality of friends anticipating the phone call saying that their small is ready to meet them, but none of the ‘natural’ preparation of a visible pregnancy in the future mother for people to be engaging with.
Adoptive parents are expectant but the way in which we process this has to happen a little differently to a set of pregnant parents. Choices to get ready to meet a small person happen along the way too – but our timelines, our bodies, our planning is not benchmarked by bellies and breasts.
Our world is about to be turned upside down. We will have to get to know a small one from when they have already engaged with the world. There are going to be joyful discoveries and heart rendering moments of oh my goodness. Life is never going to be the same again. That’s not lucky though – our journey to the discovery of each other comes with a cost to all involved – one we choose and process. We are still figuring out what this all means – luck doesn’t need any of that work!

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6 thoughts on “The grief of adoption

  1. Hi Alexia,

    I am always in awe of your ability to put into words honest, straight from the heart truth. It inspires me to live a life fully present.

    There is a wonderful Adoption Preparation course that walks through a couples expectations and experiences of adoption. It is based on the Prepare/Enrich Program that you know from Bryanston days. The course is now customized to include wedding preparations, enrichment (as you know) but also Parenting and Adoption. It has an online component (the questionnaire) which allows a lot of customization for each couples unique situation and then of course the program itself is tailor made to each version (engagement, enrichment, adoption, parenting). I am currently doing the engagement version with a couple via Skype from Switzerland. Its great to do and broadens the usefulness of it.

    The adoption version, goes through preparing a couple for the adoption by looking at their relationship, their strengths and growths (similar to the engagement version) but it also looks at expectations, parenting issues, and the like.

    I don’t know of too many people that are doing the preparing of a couple before the adoption process starts or even during it. What you were writing about here is one of those areas many emotions and areas that a couple would possibly experience as well. So I thought I would let you know about it. Some Social workers do use this as part of their Intake and Information gathering but others don’t. So I am not sure where you could find one in Capetown if you were interested. But I thought I should let you know about it.

    Like I said above. Thanks for being honest and open.

    Love Lou

  2. Thanks Lou 🙂 Our adoption process is intense and indepth and works through all of these things…we are in the process and it’s great. Bev Beukes also arranges lots of these kind of things so if you have an interest in this beyond just an interest connect with her! xx

  3. Yes. Alexa. Yes. Thank you for putting it in words. I actually cried while reading this because it’s so true. This is the part people just don’t understand. And when they tell me how lucky I am (or how I’ll never know what it’s like to be a real mom) that I didn’t have the first bit of no sleep and newborn crying, I want to scream saying, do you realise what we missed? Do you know what it’s like to have met your little girl and know she is sleeping somewhere else getting care that is not yours?? So much pain there. Sorry. But thank you.

    • Ah Jacs….I just had a little cry reading your response…. you are a real mom… mom’s are the ones who wipe noses and change nappies and calm terrors and fight for their children…you are one of them. Regardless of how she got to you.. This grief is hard… Big hugs my friend xx

  4. I am a prospective adoptive mother. I thought I was the only person who felt deeply about the pain a child doesn’t have a choice over. The separation due to factors beyond the child’s control. I follow all the South African adoption blogs (I think I found them all) and they all contain the joy, gratitude and happiness of a life with a new member.

    I am glad I found one who shares my perspective. No matter how well the relationship develops between a parent and child, the brain of a child has to go through the deep seated grief one stage or another, and once there it might be there for life. Wish as I might, its impossible to offer my brain in exchange for her/his so she/he can be free of this grief.

    An emotion reserved only for the adopted human. An emotion different from being raised by a single parent, raised by a relative, from being an orphan. An emotion reserved only for the adopted human being.

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