Monday, February 4, 2013

Understanding Adoptee Loss

If you are an adoptive parent and your journey included infertility, you likely had to mourn the loss of a hypothetical biological child ... the one who would never be born. If you came to adoption by another route, you may have experienced other kinds of mourning. Beginnings are always endings as well. When we choose one path, we walk away from another. Feelings of sadness are normal even in times of joy and new beginnings.

But I'm going to guess (with a high probability of being correct) that you probably didn't have to exchange an actual biological child for the adoptive one you now love and cherish.
Imagine for a moment that you had been required to make this unthinkable exchange. Actually, go further still and imagine that you didn't have any choice in the matter. One child was taken from you and another given in its place.

What emotions might come up for you around this exchange? Sadness? Anger? Confusion? I imagine you might experience a complex mixture of emotions at best. Even if you came to love the replacement child, would you not still feel the loss of the original one? What emotions might come up for you each year near the anniversary of the exchange? Even if you still got to see the first child sometimes, if you knew where he or she was and got to exchange gifts, make phone calls, and even Skype, wouldn't you still miss the child? Or imagine that you were reunited with the original child years later ... would you not you not still grieve the lost years, years you could never get back? Can you even imagine that in some ways, you might never fully recover from the loss of the first child, regardless of how much you might love the second?

When adoptees speak of loss or pain or trauma, we do not do so to be mean to adoptive parents or to make them feel bad about their families. We do so because this is our experience. Even if we appreciate our adoptive families, even if we wouldn't exchange the life we ended up with for another, loss is always a part of the equation for us.

And then there are the original parents ...


  1. Well-said! We would all do well to listen more to adult adoptees and hear the voice of the experienced regarding dealing with loss. I love how you have drawn the parallel here.

  2. I am adoptee and I have an adopted sibling (we are not bio sibs). I can honestly say I do not feel a loss surrounding being "taken" from my bio parents and raised by my adoptive parents. My family raised us to be ourselves without regard to our beginning days.

  3. Great parallel and wonderful way to explain it to people.

  4. Thank you for your comment and for your openness to adoptee voices. :-)

  5. Thank you for your comment, Sarah. It is certainly true that no two adoptees are alike. We each process our adoption experience differently. I LOVED the comment left by JulieG on my last post: "I actually think that there are three camps....those who who have struggled with their adoptedness and want reunion, those who have the temperament to assimilate and actually got pretty lucky in the family they were matched with and/or those who hold more security about who they are, and the third one and most complicated, those who THINK they are fine, who have incredible coping skills and all of a sudden their world is turned upside down...those who dwell in ambivalence but never knew it." You may be in the second category, but I was absolutely in the third. I thought I was absolutely fine and had ZERO adoption-related issues until the day I ended up on the floor of my apartment in a puddle of grief that I hadn't even known existed before that moment!

  6. For me it's the could-have -beens that are so hard. Without my adopted life I would not have the husband I do or the children I do. On the other hand sometimes I think, "i had to leave my adoptive mother for the parents I got?" I don't know if I was "better off" or not, but I certainly lacked so many things kids need. I led a very lonely existence as a child and my parents just did not have the gear to know how to be attuned parents. Stoic, rigid, sterile parents raising a sensitive, inquisitive, intuitive, emotional child. School was my escape...people actually talked to me and showed me they cared about who I was becoming.

    You can get his scenario, too, in a bio family, but there is no alternative to look back toward. I spent so much of my childhood dreaming and wishing for my first parents to come get me.

    I have NO doubt my first mother would have been a great mother to me if only someone would have helped her..someone. Sometimes I do wish I could exchange one for the other...


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