In May, just before Grace’s 16th birthday (and Mother’s day), I pulled back from social media. Within 24 hours, I was flooded with messages and calls from friends concerned something had happened. (It was an especially hard day, admittedly.) However, I never meant to imply that I was pulling away because things were worse than they had been. I realize, in reflection, I made a lot of assumptions about the world’s understanding of adoption & our story with Grace.
The assumption is this: once adopted, a child’s world is safe & wonderful, and he/she should respond with gratefulness (and often respectfulness) to everything that has been done to “rescue” them.
We spent this week away, and again, I was reminded of those assumptions. Assumptions I find myself sometimes reverting to, and often needing to remind my brain to re-think in a trauma-sensitive way.
Because holidays & family time are anything but easy & fun for kids from hard places.
There remains, always, the sorrow for what ought to have been. Even while the gratitude for what is may be fully alive in their hearts.
Adoption begins with loss. Anyone who thinks that adoption is a win-win situation for (adoptive) parent and child, neglects the heartache inherent in that child’s story (and we won’t even touch on the pain birth parents often experience). This does not mean that adoption is not a win. It most certainly is.
However, adoption is trauma.
Since my husband’s father passed away in 2010, holidays have not been the same. There is, and perhaps always will be, in the excitement of Christmas morning, that pause, followed by the look, and the sigh. There is a longing for what will never be. We have experienced loss, and our hearts do not forget.
Now, consider you are a child, and you lose the two people who gave you life
It doesn’t matter if they were neglectful or abusive. It doesn’t matter if you remember them. Studies are now showing an unborn baby’s brain is impacted by the mental health of his mother as he develops. Even, that skin-to-skin bonding between birth mom and baby (for at least one hour following birth) is monumental for healthy attachment and brain development as baby grows. But, for an older child, losing a parent who was less than what they should have been is even harder – because there are no happy memories to soothe the pain of loss.
Adoption is trauma. Trauma is a special need.
No one tells you when you’re young and energetic and full of hope for this grand calling God has placed on your heart that you are about to undertake the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. No one talks about adoption being special needs. But it is.
We have friends whose son was born weighing less than 2 pounds. Today, he is a happy, hilarious five year old, but he can’t play on a playground like my boys can. His physical limitations will impact him for the rest of his life.
Adoption is like that. Anna Voscamp puts it so eloquently,
“I just know that no one gets to mug for the camera with a flash of pearly whites and their newly adopted family without stepping into a story of trauma. The only way a family is made through adoption — is for someone to lose a family first. The only way anyone gets to adoption is through a door of loss and unless you fully feel the depth of that loss, the door you’re walking through leads to nowhere honest….”
I can’t take Grace on a family vacation and expect her to embrace everything and everyone as fully as my boys do. I can’t expect a birthday to approach with the same eagerness and expectancy. I know I may never be able to make Christmas morning magical for her.
“I want to touch her and take away all those fears and all those scars and there’s no way I ever can.
There are scars you can’t erase —- all you can do is write more love into them. ” (Voscamp, again.)
But sorrow & gratitude are not mutually exclusive. Some days the sorrow shows more, that’s all.
But we know that sorrow isn’t the end of the story. The best is yet to come.