The 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…