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!

A Spoken Grief

Sometimes it’s about the things that are hard that people don’t know, that I don’t know – unless I say so, or someone warns me or when the expression of the thing that is hard catches me unaware – and the emotion feels raw. All. Over. Again.

Suddenly in the midst feeling of hopeful and mostly normal it’s hard not be back to the question of “are these PMT symptoms” (after 3 months of none) or are they “early pregnancy” symptoms? Despite a commitment to not think about this until I see my doctor next, I can’t ignore the nagging niggle or monkey on my back that sometimes is quiet, but sometimes is really very loud.

I didn’t know how much I relished being pregnant – 20 HR morning sickness and all. I didn’t know how much I needed things to work out, even when a part of me questioned whether they would.

I am a planner, an organiser of my life. I manage my space. I seek to control my world through understanding what to do next, my work space involves helping others heal and supporting them in the midst of the hardness.

This I can’t control. I can make choices, but there are aspects of this grief that don’t feel controllable some days. Uncontrollable variables – we only get to choose how we respond to them.

I can’t manage how fast the pregnancy hormones leave my body – and should I even want to?

I can’t manage how my quickly body settles back into its own rhythm again.

I can’t manage the things that people say, with good intent but that aren’t helpful.

I can’t not think about this. It’s only been 3 and a bit weeks. I am still grieving and sad AND being hopeful. I am okay with grieving. I need to be allowed to do this. My hormones and mood and sadness are all entangled currently – not forever. Just at this moment. Right now.  On International Pregnancy Loss day. 

I am resentful and saddened by the fact of possibly having to manage monthly cycles again when I would rather be managing morning sickness.

I am resentful of having to consider sanitary ware when I would rather be considering maternity ware.

I am resentful of needing to work hard to get rid of the extra curves that are now there to manage a morning sickness that no longer is (The things that helped me I don’t normally eat at all- but they worked and I was deeply grateful that they did – sadly it was “oat crunchies” rather than cucumber some days).

I got all the pregnancy things people do and don’t discuss – the nausea, the dreams, the tummy issues, the food aversions, the scent sensitive nose of a blood hound, the exhaustion, and the random discovery that foods I don’t usually eat solve morning sickness and foods I used to love make me gag. I got all of that. A good taste of what looked like a healthy pregnancy. And then that felt like it changed in an instance.

AND

I know that this too will pass.

I know that my body will settle.

I know that there is hope.

I know that we will have a family – and that this first pregnancy will always remain a part of that story. The dream to birth babies and the dream to adopt remains.

I know that by focusing on all the things that I can’t control I lose sight of the space and place where I can find healing and rest.

I know that surrender to this next part of the story is needed. And if surrender requires more tears, more expression and more letting go of things that I struggle to, then I am choosing that.

IN the midst of anger, and tears, and heartache and a very normal in this context anxiety, I am back to the place of choosing to let go of my control. It scares me to do this. Yet, it scares me more to stay stuck in this place where it’s hard to love and be loved fully.

Babies, Blighted Ovums & Hope

For the past 2 months my body has been growing, changing, responding to hormones and for the past month, we have known that, according to initial testing all of these things were due to being pregnant: For the first time at forty. Yesterday morning we woke up to go and discover whether it was one or two – not thinking that it was simply going to be the idea of a little person – rather than a little person. The egg had fertilised and implanted, but didn’t develop beyond that – and despite everything that science can tell us, we don’t know why this baby didn’t grow. The gestational sac did – was perfectly sized for 8 weeks. The baby didn’t: I am saying baby because, for us, the moment the egg and sperm fused, that was a developing human being.

Strangely, the week this conception happened, I had a dream that I was going to have a phantom pregnancy (this wasn’t the same thing but the outcome feels the same); I also stopped feeling emotionally pregnant about 10 days ago, but put that down to exhaustion, to nausea and general hormonal irritability. Somehow my body and soul started a conversation that the rest of me is now catching up with.

This morning I woke up with the sensation that the whole pregnancy experience belonged to someone else – yes, I know shock and denial do funny things to one’s mind – except then the sadness kicks in and the tears start again and I am reminded that this is my story. It’s our story.

I am deeply grateful that we chose to share this story with our community, our family and friends from its early days of praying, hoping and dreaming. It meant that people got to share in our excitement, allow for me to struggle through the morning sickness, give me space to be tired and more mindful of germs. It allowed for people to share with us their “pay it forward generosity”. It allowed for a different type of joy within our marriage and our families.

And now… It has also allowed for us to be loved and held and supported in what ranks up there for me with having to say goodbye to a little boy who I so wanted to be mine, but also couldn’t make mine, and watch his initial failed adoption with another family knowing that there was no stepping back in to make him mine; it ranks up there with not knowing whether my mom was going to come back from theatre after a triple heart bypass…. And yet it also doesn’t – for the simple reason that this time around I have learnt how powerful being vulnerable is in this space.

This vulnerability means that we have had a SHARED outpouring and acknowledgement of the loss of dreams and of hopes. In response to our public acknowledgement we have received many private stories, as well as public acknowledgements of shared experiences, shared sadness – and stories, which science seems to support, of hope and little people growing into their full bodies. Beyond the emotion and the science I have been so aware of the prayer covering our family too – for me, Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase in The Message sums it up:

“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath” (Psalm 34: 18)

Today, in the midst of tears, the feeling of being gutted, there is an awareness of deep slow breaths too. Of choosing to see hope and gratitude in the midst of heartache and knowing that in the midst of grief there is still hope.