Before our 5 year-old son came home in July 2010, I devoured blogs about adoption, attempting to glean wisdom and encouragement from other families that had been knit together through adoption. I read blogs and articles written by both waiting families and blogs written by adult adoptees and I talked with close friends who were adoptive parents. Since we were adopting an older child with special health needs, our adoption agency required lots of hours of training on issues like attachment and helping children heal from abuse and neglect. I even had a few meetings with doctors in our area.
So, when we entered the adoption process we felt ready. We felt empowered and we quickly grew impatient. Naturally, we wanted our son home as soon as possible. We didn’t want to lose any more time with our precious boy. While we waited for paperwork and visas and permissions and rubber stamps, it dawned on me that our son, Duzi, had no idea we were coming for him. We were prepared and ready, and his world was about to change dramatically, with no input from him. While the situation he lived in was very loving and nurturing (www.ithembalethu.org.za), it was not ideal, not a family, and not a good permanent home for him. Still, it was HIS home. It was what was familiar to him and what he knew. I knew there would be great joy when we were finally united, along with significant grief.
And, now, after being a family for six months (look at the picture above - what a cutie, huh?), we’re working out lots of grief. The depth of the grief has been surprising. The grief comes from missing people he loved in South Africa, from wishing we had come to “fetch” (his word!) him sooner, from realizing that he’ll never meet his birth mother, and from a general sense of loss. In the midst of the grief, we have awesome snuggle time, popcorn fights and some pretty epic wrestling matches. Joy and grief live side by side in our house.
What I want to communicate in this post is that the story isn’t over when an adopted child finally comes home. Too often I get the sense from very well-meaning people and from waiting adoptive families, that they want to hear a story with a neatly wrapped happily ever after bow on it. Let me be clear, our story IS a happy one. We really are basking in the miraculous power of adoption. But, it’s been hard, too.
Lately, I’ve been reading blogs and social networking status updates from adoptive families on waiting lists for babies. Each time the family moves up the waiting list, they tweet excitedly and express how much faster they wish the process was going. When I read the updates, I have conflicting emotions. First, I’m excited for them and join them in wishing that the wait would be shorter. The waiting is so hard, so nerve-wracking, so draining. And then, I realize what moving up the waiting list actually means. It means that a biological mother will be separated from her biological child – usually for reasons that are rooted in poverty and disease – and my heart breaks.
I’m not sure what I want the adoptive parents to say in their status updates instead. But, I can’t shake the feeling that the loss the child will experience is not being considered.
As adoptive parents, we need to honor the grief our future children will experience and the grief our current kids are experiencing. Coming home will not “cure” a child, even if the child is a baby, from the loss that all adoption stories begin with. Coming home is the beginning of the healing process, not the end. Honoring the grief, really acknowledging it, is the first step in helping to heal our kids’ broken hearts.
I’m a brand new adoptive parent and am learning how to love my new son one day at a time. I definitely don’t have his whole parenting thing wired.