Friday, January 7, 2011

Honoring Grief

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 (, 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. 


  1. These are really good thoughts, Jodie. Thanks so much for sharing. I really appreciate your perspective six months in.

  2. One persons gain is another one's loss .... won't heaven be wonderful - no more of this horrible bs - hugs to you!!

  3. Tara - Amen sister. Love that perspective!

  4. OK, sorry I'm a commenting freak on this post! I've been thinking a lot about it. I'm probably feeling defensive, since I'm one of those waiting parents excitedly (and publicly) counting down our wait. But...i don't know. Does excitement for our future child equate selfishness or ignorance of the tragedy that necessitates the adoption in the first place? There's no way we waiting parents can truly understand what it's like to parent a grieving child or especially the grief itself--any more than a first time pregnant woman can comprehend the sore nipples and sleepless nights to come. But can't we be excitedly longing for a referral or placement, while still mourning our child's loss? Can they co-exist? We're preparing as much as possible, reading like crazy, scared out of our minds, feeling like we'll never truly be READY, and yet? I'm excited. I feel such a peace that this is our family's path, that I'm excited to begin our story with our newest child. As messy and bittersweet as that story will be. And I do need reminders from those who are walking ahead of us that it is the beginning of the story when we bring him home--not the happy ending. :)

  5. Jen,

    Oh my word - yes, yes, yes excitement for your child and acknowledgment of their grief can co-exist! They should! You're doing it right! And, yes one can never truly be ready. I wrote this post after hearing about several disrupted adoptions - from adoptive families that really didn't consider any of the hard, painful parts of adoption.

    I am SO pro-adoption - such a believer in the Redeeming power of it. After all, we've all been adopted into God's family, right?

    Excited to see pictures of your new kiddo. Excited to be on this journey with you!

  6. Thank-you for sharing.... We brought home our daughter, Charlotte, from Ethiopia in '09 and are in the process of waiting for the referral for twins - into our 11th month of waiting. Charlotte was only a year when we came home but despite her young age she too had issues from her short past that we faced together with her... she may not have been able to articulate her pain with words but it was visible in her eyes and her actions.

    There is grief in our joy that as adoptive parents we will all need to address at some point with our children... and this pain will most likely be on going. Congrats on being so aware of your son's pain and the loss endured by his birth family... you seem like an amazing adoptive mum... an amazing mom!


  7. You may like this blog... It is by a friend tracking her family - they brought home their son from ET just before we came home with Charlotte... She documented all of their triumphs and joys with George as he was older when he was adopted...

  8. Why didn't you read any blogs by birth families?

  9. Dear Anonymous -

    I've read plenty of blogs by birth families, and there's incredible grief and loss, there too. Didn't mean to to leave that category out - in my son's case, no birth family has come forward. But, I pray for his biological family every day.

    I so love Tara's comment above.....

  10. I really appreciate this perspective. I have no adopted children and no plans to adopt at this time, but this just opened up a small window into that experience that I wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

  11. I admire all of u. I Fostered my son from 3 days old till we adopted him 2 years later. It was a very tough process but I don't know if I could handle all the baggage of adopting over age 3. God bless you all.

  12. Thank you for this post. Jen linked to it on her blog. I am too one of those families who is excited about bringing my child home, but I want to remember in my excitement to pray for her biological family and foster family while she is still waiting for us to come to her. I really appreciate your thoughts and wisdom and plan to continue to watch your family's story unfold.


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