Adoption, loss, and openness

Lately, some of our kids have been wanting to talk a lot about their birth parents.  None of our adopted children have open adoptions because of the circumstances…three were adopted through foster-to-adopt scenarios and two were adopted from Ethiopia.  In our family, adoption is viewed as something to be celebrated and we have always discussed it openly with our kids and given them age appropriate information regarding their birth families.  To be honest, none of the five of them have histories that do not carry heartbreak or hardship and there will be parts of each of their stories that will be difficult to share with them when the time comes.  They also each have beautiful pieces in their stories and those are the ones that are of course much easier to share with them.

We’ve noticed over the years that because we have been so open with them and have validated their feelings of loss, our kids find it easy to be able to talk to us about their thoughts, ask questions, or bring up their adoptions.  This week, there have been a few times when Eliana, who is 5, has cried, missing her birth mom.  Eliana has lived with us since she was one day old, so some might assume that it is impossible for her to miss someone she has never really known, but I acknowledge that for her, the loss is very real.  Not only do I believe that she did form a bond with her birth mom in the nine months prior to her birth, I also think that there are some huge losses that come along with not being raised by her.  Many adopted children struggle with feeling rejected or feeling like they don’t quite know where they belong.  So when she cries for her birth mom, I hold her and say things like, “I’m sure you do miss R.”, “I think she probably misses you too.  I know that it makes her feel happy to know that you have a family who loves you very much but she will always love you too.”, “let’s pray for her”, or “I know you love R. a lot and it must make you feel sad not to be able to be with her”.  In the situation of Eliana’s adoption, there is very little chance that she would ever be able to have healthy contact with her birth mom.  I try to point out what a blessing it is that she is able to be in a family with her birth sister and that her birth mom is also glad that they are being raised together.  Knowing what to say in these circumstances is difficult, but I have enough friends who are adult adoptees to know that these feelings of loss are real and need to be validated.  Eliana (and all of my adopted kids) need to be able to know that it is normal for them to grieve and to have questions and that we are here to answer their questions and help them work through their loss.

Of our five adopted children, four of them make up two sibling sets, but all five of them unfortunately share something in common.  All of them have other siblings out there in the world who they are not being raised with.  This is another huge loss.  We would love for each of them to be raised with all of their biological siblings, but that cannot happen, so we have to accept what is and help them to accept it too.  Josiah has regular contact with his older biological brother and it is a relationship that we nurture and encourage.  He also has two biological sisters he has not seen since he was five months old and another he has never met.  Gracelyn and Eliana have a biological brother and sister they have not met, though we hope to someday have them meet their sister, as we have the names of her adoptive parents.  Elijah and Sedaya have a brother in Ethiopia who they have not seen in almost two years.  When Mark and our oldest son Mackenzie travel to Ethiopia later this winter, they are hoping to meet him, give him pictures of his siblings, and get pictures of him.  That is, unfortunately, the best we can do.  None of these scenarios are perfect.  In a perfect world, siblings get raised together, parents don’t get sick or die, and only parents capable of caring for kids give birth to them.  Therein lies the loss in adoption.

For me, when I think about adoption, the words that usually come to mind are “miracle”, “gift”, “blessing”, “God”, “beautiful”, “forever”, “love”, “claiming”, “family”, and “beginning”.  All of those can be true, but before they are spoken, other words like “orphan”, “abandon”, “loss”, “heartache”, “choice”, “broken”, “separate”, “give up”, “taken”, “empty”, “infertility”, “grieve”, “addiction”, “waiting”, or “end” need to be.

The truth about adoption is that, though it is beautiful and a miracle, it is, at its root, about loss.  It, by nature, is imperfect.  In God’s perfect plan, mothers can care for the children born to them and there is no infertility, no need for adoption to exist.  Yet, we live in an imperfect world and the need for it does exist and God is able to work that into His plan.  The families who are brought together through adoption are not done so by accident.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’m still working through the hard stuff, like what I’m going to do when my kids start asking me the really hard questions.  Most days, I wish that their adoption stories were simpler, where there was a wonderful birthmom who chose to lovingly give them to a family who could take care of them, a birthmom who they were still able to see and ask her some of their questions.  But I know that even those adoptions carry loss and are not easy, for the birthmom, the adoptive mom, or the kids.  I do believe though that in most cases, the more open you can be with your child about adoption, the healthier they will feel about it and the more secure they will grow up being.


7 responses to this post.

  1. You have written beautifully such a truthful post. Thank you for opening your family life up as you have. Thank you for speaking the words we think & feel but can’t always speak on.


  2. Thanks for writing about this – it’s such a complex issue…platitudes stink, and it’s just not always easy to know what to do! I’m with you that being open leads to a healthier outlook and a better adjusted child!

    I found this blog ( really interesting and thought-provoking…it’s from the perspective of an adoptive mom who was adopted herself.


  3. This is beautiful, Sharla. Honest yet positive. That you are secure enough in your role as their mother in allowing them to speak honestly about their feelings will bless them with the security they will need to weather life’s storms. Beautifully written.


  4. I think it’s beautiful that you are so aware of and respectful of your children’s feelings in regards their adoptions. You are right that loss is part of adoption… that part is sadly forgotten by many adoptive families.

    I have five cousins that were adopted by my aunt and uncle; they are a sibling group. There has been so much loss in their lives; it’s very sad. And yet, there is hope.

    Thanks for an honest, insightful post.


  5. Posted by Mary-Lynne on September 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    This is a beautiful post. Sharla, you have such a caring heart.


  6. Posted by timbuck2mom on September 22, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Your adopted children are so fortunate to have someone so understanding and caring of their feelings even when they seem too little to know the loss. I think it must take so much wisdom and understanding to be able to do what your family is doing.

    I enjoyed this post.



  7. This is a beautiful post. I have sent a link to a friend of mine who is in the adoption process.


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