I’m convinced that the more I expose myself to the pain of adoption, the better adoptive parent I will be. My goal is to try to see adoption from all three sides – as impossible as that may sound.
I’ve just finished reading Bastards by Mary Anna King, on the recommendation of my friend, Barbara, an adult adoptee. The author is the second oldest of seven children, raised partly by her biological parents, adopted by her grandfather and step-grandmother, and eventually reunited with other siblings who were adopted. During one of her reunions with a sibling, she writes:
“I had always told myself that adoption was a kind of triple-win scenario – birth families relieve the pressure of a child they are unable to care for, adoptive families gain a much wanted child, child gains a stable, loving family – but I was beginning to see that there was a flipside. There can be no winners without losers. So in a triple-win, there must be a related triple-loss. Once adoption was on the table, everyone has already lost – lineage, origin, the vision of the future lives they thought they would live – and all our losses were attached to someone else’s gain in an endless, confusing loop.” (p. 203)
Confusing? Yes. I feel like I am in a continuous state of not-knowing if my child’s pain is a usual stage of development, personality unrelated to adoption, mental health issues that need “treatment,” responses to adoption trauma, or something caused by an outside force (e.g. a bully or abuse). Most of these are variables faced by the typical parent. But the typical parent has intuitive knowledge, I think, that the adoptive parent may lack. They have access to personal experience with similar behaviors and emotional responses to life and/or the library of extended family behaviors and emotional responses.
I think about my three daughters and their current struggles. I can’t help but believe that some of their turmoil is adoption-related. One daughter is wrestling with wanting to be included as a full member of her two families. But it is impossible to be in two places at the same time. It is impossible to share the ups and downs of day-to-day living with both families. Miscommunication or lack of communication are hurtful to her. She’s trying to put all the pieces of two puzzles, two families, into one composite that will show her who she is.
Emily, shortly after her birth, with her oldest sister
Emily with all three older sisters a few years later in Nebraska
Another daughter is pushing our adoptive family away to embrace her biological family as the “real” family. Yet, she can’t quite leave this nest and the comforts she has grown accustomed to. She has the desire but not the willpower. She wants clear-cut answers. But there are none here.
Skye with her adoptive parents and birth mother, nine days after her birth
Skye eating dinner with one younger brother while her birth mother feeds another brother in the background
The third daughter is sad – inexplicably sad. She says, “I don’t know why I cry. I don’t know what is making me sad” – at school, at home, in other places. Her adoption is opening more. She will meet her grandmother and older half-sister in a few weeks. She clings to me. But she is also easily disappointed by me.
Journey with her two mothers before she flies home to start life with her adoptive family in Georgia
Journey with her two mothers and aunt on a visit to Oklahoma
My salvation is to read. I read books by first/birth parents. I read books by adoptees. Occasionally, I also read books by other adoptive parents and remind myself that my feelings are real and justified too. I live in the push-pull of joy and pain, biting my tongue not to announce how much I cherish the moments I have with my children, but also prepared to lose them to their other families or their anger, frustration and sadness about adoption.
Publicly, I operate much like any other custodial parent. I nurture and support, discipline and redirect, organize and carryout. But as an adoptive parent, I keep “Don’t take anything for granted” in the front of my brain. Always.