Loss: The Well of Grief


The WellThe basic trauma of every single adoption is loss. No matter how young a child is when they join their adoptive family, they have suffered loss—of their birth mother, birth history, and possibly birth father, birth siblings and culture. Loss brings about grief and for many, depending on the situation and child, other issues.

One of my daughters is going to have another birthday very soon. In the past years her birthday has been a trigger for the outpouring of immense grief. As she has become older, she has been able to express how she feels. She often expresses herself to her younger brother, also adopted, in my company, because she wants me to listen and not speak. My two share their opinions about adoption, their birth mothers, and most recently their races and cultures.

My daughter appears to have made some “peace” with loss, but deeper inspection tells me otherwise. She is moving into another phase of grieving—denial of her race and culture. She has also thrown herself into learning about her brother’s race and culture and her knowledge now borders on encyclopedic. I do observe her, in her comparisons, noting the differences and similarities among the races and cultures within our family.

Even in the denial phase of loss she searches for her identity. My husband and I have “delicately” stepped-up the conversation, steering her back to her race and birth culture, something she has in common with her older sister (adopted from the same country), while balancing and merging it with the identity she acquired when she was adopted—adopted, American, and a member of a multiracial and multicultural family.

Adoptive parents can’t “walk in the shoes” of their children, unless they themselves have been adopted. Adoptive parents can try, but we have no idea what being severed from our birth family and being adopted by another truly feels like. We can empathize and be supportive. We can, if open adoption is an option, embrace it. We can be engaged and listen, encourage dialogue. But the ambiguous void of nothingness, the well of grief, still exists for our children who have been adopted.

Parents: School projects can be sticky for the child who has been adopted—the family tree project, “Star” of the Week, timelines with pictures. When I think of the family tree, I think of the form of the tree, the branches. Have you ever seen a branch or leaf cut from a plant or tree and then grafted to another? Is the graft seamless? How healthy is the graft? Think of your adopted child…

~ Photo by Kudumomo

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay October 28, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Our family tree projects have been modified. I find that if you make a big deal of the difference, the child does, too. So I don’t. The teacher understands, the class understands, some things are missing… no big deal. Be honest and upfront. I tell my two (internationally adopted) children that everyone, and I mean everyone, has a story; that theirs is especially unique because they have traveled a long road to come home. We don’t have photos/info of their birth families, so we use mine and my husband’s. Life’s not easy for anyone…. understand and accept.


Judy October 29, 2010 at 5:39 am

I like your approach, Jay.


Pat Bell October 28, 2010 at 11:51 am

Yes, Linda I believe these children no matter what the situation of the adoption do suffer a loss. I have 3 adopted children. My husband adopted them one at a time the first now 4 was adopted when he was 1year even thought he went back and forth to his biological parents for a while from the time he was 1 month old. The other 2 were “abandoned” at the hospital we brought them home at 6 weeks (now 2 years) and 4 weeks (now 10 month). What is ironic is they are all full biological children to parents who are married. We have an open adoption althought the biologicals do not see the children(by their own hands)It took me a long while to feel “worthy” to be completely they mother. I felt I should yeild to the biological mother and wait to make my plans for birthdays, holidays etc. It was a difficult transition for me. Recently my 4 year old has begun to make up stories about his biological parents how they have taken him here or there or have taught him things, etc. Although the stories are not true it is quite painful to see credit of any kind be given over to them by this child but I know that this is his journey and may be necessary for him to process the abandoment issues as they arise for him. It will be interesting to see how the other two children process the same thing as they have had not contact with the biologicals since birth. As adopted parents we must just guide our children through their journey and take nothing “personal” we are who we are and our children will always love us and be grateful for the life we provide for them. Love them anyway and always. pat


Linda Hoye September 21, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Good post, Judy. It’s true that grafts are not always seamless, but often the grafted branch or leaf grows healther and stronger than it might have had it been left on it’s original tree.


Judy September 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I think so too, Linda.


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