Guest Blog by Lynn Sollitto
ALL adoption begins with loss.
That is how the instructor started the workshop* my husband and I attended a month ago. The class was called Talking About the Hard Stuff. This six-hour course addressed the difficult subjects that lead to adoption, such as mental illness, substance abuse and abandonment. It teaches parents how to address these delicate questions, understand the child’s feelings and help her work through these feelings.
The instructor kicked off the workshop by putting notepads around the room, with a heading on each: Adoptees, birth parents, birth relatives and siblings, adoptive parents, adoptive relatives and siblings. She told us to go around the room and write down whatever came to mind about loss with respect to each subject.
As I walked around the room, I found myself writing the same thing in each notebook: Loss of dreams.
The biological family, especially the parents, and adoptee, are normally the ones who come to mind when I think of loss in adoption. Who dreams of having a child and placing her for adoption? How many grandparents dream of standing in as parents or losing their grandchild to strangers? What child dreams of being unplanned and abandoned? No matter how many times my brother ticked me off, I never dreamed of being happy if we were separated.
But the people in the adoption equation who I didn’t think of as losing something are the adoptive parents because they, after all, they are the ones who gain a child. Excluding the catalyst of infertility, what about adoptive parent loss?
Adoptive Parent Loss
It’s a little discussed topic because adoption is considered a gain for the adoptive family. If the adoptive family loses the dream of what will be because what actually happens is different, it can be difficult for others who aren’t touched by adoption to understand and validate those feelings.
But when I think about our journey as an adoptive family and my journey as an adoptive mother, loss is a big part of it. And loss of adoption dreams is the blanket term for what I feel.
My dream, pre-adoption:
We would take in a child who would be healed by our love. She would learn to trust us as we proved ourselves trustworthy. She would love us as she learned the meaning of love. Things would fall together, for the most part, seamlessly, until she felt like part of the family and her past was a distant memory.
My reality, post-adoption:
My youngest daughter has anxiety, sensory challenges, and the inability to soothe herself when upset. Basically, she could get the diagnosis of autism if she weren’t so social. (see https://bittersweetadventures.com/2015/04/21/i-wish-my-daughter-had-autism/).
My other daughter has not learned to trust us or learned to love us. All our love, consistency, follow-through, and provisions for her wellbeing have not healed the hold Reactive Attachment Disorder has on her.
Basically, what I have learned is that it takes more than love, and that knowledge means I have lost my belief that true love conquers all. And that was a belief I based my whole adoption dream on.
So, what now? Do I chuck all my hope out the window and give up? Quite honestly, there are days I feel like doing just that, counting the hours until the day is over and the kids are in bed.
But then there are days where I see a glimmer of hope and maybe my love is making a difference. Such as earlier this week when my youngest expressed her needs by writing them down because she was too upset to verbalize it.
Or the day last summer with my older daughter spontaneously told me she loved me, a few times in the same day. I was so happy that I wrote this blog post:
And those are the times I try to remember on the days when it seems like love doesn’t help and I’m losing the battle. Those days I can say the part of the Serenity Prayer accept the things I cannot change and actually feel serenity. Those are the days I can tell myself it not so much as the loss of a dream, but a different one.
May is foster care awareness month. If you’re adopting through foster care or have already, I want you to know you’re not alone. It is okay to feel you’ve lost something, even something so small as being able to take the family out to eat, or something as big as thinking: This isn’t what I expected…
If you have not taken a class about discussing adoption and the accompanying tricky subject, I highly recommend it. Not only will you acquire tools to help your child when the questions arise, you will also meet others who are probably in your own boat, and having others around to help row is very important.
* The course was taught through a foster-adoption agency so unless noted otherwise, I am referring to foster adoption. Although many of these things can be generalized to all adoption, there may be things that don’t apply.
Lynn Sollitto lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and three children. She has been featured on Carrie Goldman’s 30 Days of Adoption at Chicago Now. Lynn is blogging her story, Born in My Heart: A Bittersweet Adoption Blessing at https://lynnsollitto.wordpress.com. She also blogs about foster adoption each Thursday at http://bittersweetadventures.com. Lynn advocates for foster care adoption on Twitter and Facebook. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.