I’m a very shy and self-conscious person, and I hate making public speeches. While still employed, I used to present at meetings and on training days, or talk during conference calls as part of my normal working day. But I just dreaded it. That was what of my job I hated the most.
So, when our Local Authority called and asked me to talk to an adoption information evening to some prospective new adopters, I hesitated.
I thought long and hard and finally decided to go ahead with it. There is so much about adoption that I wasn’t told, and that only an adopter can try to explain to someone who is considering embarking on this life-changing journey.
I think back at myself four years ago when I attended our introduction evening. I was full of hopes for the future, enthusiastic and ready to climb mountains, if necessary. Or so I thought. Looking back to it today, I have to admit I wasn’t ready to adopt, I wasn’t ready to listen, and I wasn’t ready to really assimilate what I was told.
Back then I was looking for a child, I wanted to be a mum. In my dreams everything would have worked out fine eventually, we would have been the perfect smiling family you see in magazines. Adoption was only a short stop on the way there, with no real part in our daily life, and only mentioned on Family Day.
I was wrong, very wrong, and it took me some time to start assimilating the multiple realities of adoption. And this makes me wonder what to say to potential adopters in a way that makes sense to them, and that can be of value for them.
Adoption comes from a place of loss
Adoption comes from a place of loss, and that’s true for everyone involved. Most of us look into adoption because we cannot have biological children, for medical or other reasons, but it’s the sense of something missing that pushes us closer to adoption.
We need to grieve this loss, we need to make sure that we don’t hold anyone responsible, that we don’t have remorses and regrets. Your adopted child is not a replacement for the biological child you couldn’t have, and it’s important you’re honest with yourself before continuing.
You child will come with his own loss, a loss that is too big for us to even begin to comprehend. Adopted children lose their birth parents, extended family, home, friends, familiar places, school, toys, clothes. They are placed in foster care and again, once adopted, they lose their foster parents, extended family, home, friends, familiar places, school, toys, clothes… and more.
And both the birth family and foster family needs to overcome the loss of a child they love. The assumption that birth parents are unloving bad people, and foster families are unaffectionate and emotionless is just wrong. Us, the adoptive parents, need to accept this love, and be sensible and respectful of their loss.
There is no adoption without trauma
There is no adoption without trauma. Trauma permeates adoption. At the beginning of my adoption training, I tried to convince myself that if I was adopting a very young child the trauma suffered would have been negligible. Let’s be clear: trauma is trauma. Whether you’re adopting a newborn, or an older child, they have experienced some degree of trauma, and removing the child from the source of trauma doesn’t erase the trauma from the child’s memories.
Healing from trauma is not a quick easy fix, it will take time, and your child will need a great deal of help in the process. This will put every members of the family under considerable stress, and feeling overwhelmed or depressed can be a common response to it. You need to know that is OK to feel that way, and that self-care and seeking support are a key priority for adoptive families.
Equally, you also need to remember that you’re not a victim of circumstances, and blame the system, the professional, the adoption support or anyone else for that matter, won’t take you very far in living an healthy and happy life.
Adoption training doesn’t teach love
Adoption training can be a long and demanding process. The more you are into the process, the more you will want it to be over.
And then the day comes when a child is placed with you. You are over the moon, you cannot contain your joy. You find yourself deeply caring for your child, at times you care even before meeting face to face, but deep down you feel something is still missing. There is an enormous pressure to feel love towards the little stranger who is now part of your family, but sometimes love is just not there. Not yet, at least. You love the idea of your child and the idea of what your child represent in your life.
This can be a discouraging thought, and it can make you feel inadequate, scared, guilty, and ashamed. Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of “The Connected Child”, wrote “adoptive parents become the biological parents through connection”, and a loving connection needs time to form and strengthen. So forgive yourself, and give love time to find his way into your family.
The prospective adopters I will meet at the information evening don’t need to be reminded how amazing adopting a child can be, but they need to find a way to accept what I was not ready to accept: adoption is not a drop-in replacement to a birth child, nor a close approximation.
Being a parent to a child should be considered a privilege, regardless how the child became part of the family. In that sense, adoption is not different to any other option.