Today seems like a really good day to write about grief and loss. We completed the Hague training on this topic a few days ago, but it’s weighing heavily on my mind today. My granny passed away this morning, and while she was very ready to go, I still find myself grieving. I feel low energy to do big things, but at the same time I have kept myself busy all day doing little things around the house. I’m a little irritable (moody might be a better word), and a wave of sadness will hit me from seemingly nowhere.
My granny was 93. She lived a long and full life. While her passing is sad, it is not tragic. It’s the natural order of things. And yet, I am sad.
Tonight, I’m thinking so much about how much more intense the grieving process will be for our child’s birth mother, foster family, and of course, for our child him or herself. If it’s this hard for me to lose my grandmother, how much harder will it be for a young toddler to leave the only mother-figure he or she has ever known, to be separated from the smells, sights, tastes and language of his or her birth country, to be handed over to strangers who speak oddly and don’t understand anything and to be expected to suddenly belong to their family with a new name in a new alphabet in a new country.
Adoption are always bittersweet. A child gains a forever home. Parents gain a child to love and raise. But adoption begins with loss, and grief is inevitable.
Unlike the loss we associate with death, adoption has no single moment or cause for the grief. Our child won’t be able to remember the moment he or she was separated from his or her birth mother, and yet part of his or her soul will long to know more about her. There aren’t obvious triggers — former vacation spots, a family photo, the memory of a funeral. Instead, it was explained to us that it’s like you lose your wallet and you’re trying to remember everything important that’s in it. You make a list, check it and double check it, but you still have that niggling feeling that you’re missing something.
Two-year-olds don’t have words for that sensation. They just know something isn’t right, and as a result, they feel anxious, overwhelmed, scared, sad or angry. This feeling is magnified as the grieve the attachment to their former foster caregivers. Even though families have well-thought-out reasons as to why they chose to be foster parents and not adoptive ones, those reasons are far beyond the scope of what a toddler can comprehend. They just know they have been ripped from their home and sent to a new one.
There’s no identifiable stages of grief for adoptive children. We’ve all seen the whole Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance model. But for adoptive children, they’ll begin to understand a little bit more about their adoption as they get older. Grief will occur at different times and in different ways as they progress through stages of development. And for some adoptive children, the full weight of grief won’t “click” until they begin thinking seriously about having children of their own.
Of course, every child is different, and every story will look different. Perhaps our child will be one of the few who are seemingly unphased by his or her former life, family and heritage. But research and anecdotal experience tells us to prepare for an unpredictable, yet intense grieving process.
For children who infants to age 3, grief looks similar to attachment issues. Children may have changes in eating habits, trouble sleeping, lethargy, crying, separation anxiety, or developmental regression. We have covered extensively strategies to cope with each of these challenges.
You may think it’s incredibly early in the process to begin thinking through these specific issues. However, this is the aspect of adoption that actually makes me the most nervous (aside from this irrational fear that we will be fatally injured in Seoul before the adoption is finalized, leaving our biological children as US orphans and our Korean child with an incomplete adoption to be returned to the care of the Korean state without every legally becoming a part of our family. Irrational, I told you.) I don’t know how grief and attachment will play out in our child’s life. I can’t know until we all experience it together first hand. All I can do is prepare as much as possible so that I can comfort my child to the absolute best of my ability.
That’s not the real reason I want to talk about grief now though. I”ll probably write a separate post on attachment soon so that can be covered too.
The real reason is: our child’s story is his or her own.
I want people we will see regularly to be aware of possible issues for adoptive kids in general, but I do not intend to lay our child’s grief out bare for the world to see. I may allude to general challenges, but specifics are not mine to tell. It will likely be similar to Jackson’s speech journey. You’ll see the triumphs and a bit of the occasional update on the journey as a whole, but the specifics are for our family to process internally until Jackson is old enough to decide what to share and when.
Anyway, I took about 11 pages of notes, so this is barely scratching the surface. But the point is: adoption begins with grief, and ours will be no different. We are aware and preparing for it as best we can. We long for your prayers as we get ready now and your grace when we are living it out day-to-day at home in the future.