My heart broke as I read her message of desperation. Also, my blood boiled because I hear about this painful reality all to often.
Here’s the deal. She’s a mom of four and lives in the Ukraine. While reading my Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, she suddenly realized that she didn’t even know what adoption loss was for her children.
The social worker there hadn’t told her a thing about what to expect about her children’s grief.
“I was handed an empty slate,” she said, while grasping for straws and trying to catch her breath between questions.
How would she tell her children? What effect would this lack of information have on her parenting? Would there be long-term repercussions for the children? Could they ever thrive?
This situation doesn’t only happen in foreign countries.
I remember talking to a group of parents for a well-known adoption agency. When I asked them if they had been taught about their child’s loss…their profound loss…they all looked like deer in the headlights.
If you’re parents in that situation, what can you do?
Here are some things that may be helpful:
Forgive yourself. This is not your fault and you must not carry any shame for it. it doesn’t mean that you are bad parents. I know that you love your kids to the moon and back and would even give your lives for them.
Acknowledge You Got Short-Changed. I believe the children need to know this too and that you all will have some forgiving to do together.
Go to your children and humility. I know you will.Tell them that you had no idea of what they have been through when they lost their first family or second or third family….or when they got passed by again and again in the orphanage or foster care. Tell them you’re sad about this
Invite them to begin learning about unresolved adoption grief and loss.Tell them it can be a team effort and that she will do whatever you can to support them. Be their #1 cheerleader.
Create a safe place. As you shed a few tears over this situation, they will know your heart. You can assure them that they can tell you anything, which means they don’t have to clean things up that they share. Tell them it’s okay to hate.The Bible says that. Tell them nothing is forbidden to say. Assure that you are strong and you won’t be offended or shocked.
Offer hope. Present something concrete that you can work on together, or with a trusted therapist. Years ago I shared”The Grief Box” with audiences. I hope to share this practical tool for kids to work through grief soon. Let me know if this would be beneficial to you?
So dear parents, take heart and remember that every day of your life was planned before any one of them ever came to be.
God knows about your situation and He cares…and He will equip you to do what you’ve been called to do.
That’s how some people describe the birth parent reunion of an adopted or foster child/teen/adult.
Some say it is impossible to prepare for such an onslaught of emotions.
As an adoptee veteran , I beg to differ.
We can prepare ourselves.
Here are four things we can do as foster/adopted kids, teens, and adults to prepare ourselves for reunions:
Remember she’s not your fantasy mother. You’re not related because of relationship. Your tie is through blood. If yours was an infant adoption, there is absolutely no relationship with your birth mother. Yes, you grew inside her for nine months, but that’s it. You have fantasized about her since then, believing she is perfect…and that your adoptive mom is the opposite (right?) As you get ready to run off the plane to meet her\ with open arms, remember that she isn’t the mother of your adoptee fantasies. Yes, you grew in her womb for nine months, but that’s it. If you were removed from your home by DCS, you may have had a relationship with your mother, but dysfunctional. Yet, I know, dear one, that in spite of a terribly rough beginning, you still have a loyalty to her that is cell deep. But, don’t put undo pressure on yourself by believing there will be an immediate bond or attachment and that you will run into her arms and the feelings of being an adoptee will disappear. How I wish I would have been taught this before launching into my reunion.
2. Remember you might remind her of your birth father. I often have wondered how my mother could completely change at the point of reunion from prior acceptance and love to rage-filled rejection.
Looking back, I believe when she saw me in person, I reminded her of my birth father, who raped her.
Be aware that if your birth parent hasn’t had help with her own painful life, she may project her unfinished pain on you.
3. Remember you’re not at the mercy of anyone. In recovering from adoption trauma, there probably was a point when your rage felt uncontrollable while considering you had no control over who your parents would be.
Thinking rationally…no one does.
I’m giving you some tough love, here, dear ones.
What do you think when you read the words “at the mercy of others?” Does your anger flare, like a wild fire? “If it wouldn’t have been for my birth mother (her disappearing after I was born, her drug use, her cruel ways, her druggie behavior), I would be normal. I wouldn’t have been placed for adoption.
I remember a time when one of my counselors gave me the assignment of visiting a local nursery and the babies there and trying to discover what I lost when my birthmother disappeared from my life immediately after birth.
A nurse friend and I gowned up and went to the nursery she worked in. What impressed me was the innocence and total their dependence. I concluded they were clearly were at the mercy of circumstances and people. Later on I pinned these words:
Oh little baby, so soft and pure. How sweet and precious you are. How could anyone give you away? How can anyone act like you don’t exist? There you are – so tiny and helpless. Lying there in that incubator. Isolated and cut off from all human touch. Only a bottle to feed you. There is no one for you. Oh, little baby. I feel so sorry for you. How could anyone forget about you? You’re so beautiful, so precious. No one to protect you. No one to care for you. No one to sing lullabies to you.
You have no idea that you will be terrified of abandonment and rejection and that you will prefer isolation to people. You just sleep on, as if there is not I care for you in the world.
You have no idea that volcanic anger has been born in your breast toward the one who gave you away. You have no idea that the seeds of fear planted in your heart, ready to ripen as the years go by. You have no idea what unconditional love and abiding mean. You have no idea… you just sleep on.
I wrote these words before I ever met my birth mother years ago. Talk about being at the mercy of others.
Since writing this, I have learned in unique and clear ways that I never was a victim, at the mercy of others. I have learned that the physician who delivered me was an orphan himself. When I contacted his granddaughter during my search, she said, “Oh, you know that my grandfather was an orphan himself? He cried at the birth of every baby he delivered.”
At this point, you may be yelling…BUT! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT AWFUL THINGS I’VE BEEN THROUGH.
No, I don’t. But I do know someone who was abandoned and abused in the worst of ways. His name was Joseph of the Bible…you know, they guy in whose Dad gave him the coat of many colors? Not only did his jealous brothers put him in a deep well and abandon him, not only did they sell him as a slave, and not only did they lie to their grieving father about his disappearance…yet, Joseph prospered. Why? He chose to constantly look up, trusting God was in control in the midst of abandonment and pain.
So, even though my beliefs and emotions and brain waves told me that I was abandoned in a cruel way, God was there, and He has been with you also, every breath of the way. Psalm139:16 says that “He has planned everyday of our lives before any one of them ever came to be.”
So, are you and I at the mercy of a cruel God who takes babies away from their mothers? Absolutely not! You may not be able to see His providence and goodness with eyes of faith yet, but He has never taken His eyes off you. He loves you dearly and wants the very best for you.
Look up! There is another realm of life beyond this life that we can only see through faith and by reading Scripture. (try reading a Psalm and Proverb a day…corresponding with the day of the month).
4. Remember you’re worthy.
How does the victim feel about himself? Does he believe himself worthy of success, acceptance, and well-being? Far from it. The victim mindset says, ” I am a loser. I’m worthy only of rejection. Therefore, I will set the stage for it and make it happen before others have an opportunity to reject and hurt me.”
Todd, age 29, does this in his relationship with women. He says that he tests to see if they will leave him by saying how much they will take of this passive aggressive behavior. But here’s the clincher. He says, “The end result is always the sameIt feels like I am unworthy and being rejected and in realityI give them no choice but to leave.”
Beverly says that she also tells people to see if there really like her. But she says that they always fail, which builds up resentments about the failures of people she loves and consequently distances herself from.
She says, “Instead of waiting to be rejected, I will most likely do something outrageous so that the other person will reject me.”
5. Remember you can choose to be your own best friend.
Self intervention is possible. Spencer Johnson, M.D., said that one of his clients said this–”Sometimes I start feeling like I’m not getting a fair shake. Usually it’s over something small. I still don’t like it very much when I feel I’m not being treated well. As soon as I stop and see that I’m feeling like a victim, I know who my persecutor is. Myself. Soon I’ll remember that I can either be my best friend or my worst enemy. It all depends on what I choose to think and choose to do
I, Sherrie, chose self-intervention for my thinking thinking when I heard the late Betty Jean Lifton encourage participants at the American adoption Congress to write a letter to the victim the part of themselves.
Here’s my letter
Dear victory be part of me , I’ve used you long enough. You know longer have to be loyal to those who hurt you. You can speak up. You can say it like it is. You no longer have to be the good girl. I’m calling you to grow to maturity. No longer give people power over you. Others have nothing more than you do. Don’t let them take your power away. Don’t let them tell you what to do. Tell them how you feel when they play God in your life and tell you what to do. I’m not healing journey and because of that I feel less like a victim.”
Dear one, right now you might be distressed by the gush of what your mind has been thinking all these years…and you may feel further victimized.
Often we need to be overwhelmed before we’re ready to grow.
It’s hard to believe this initial contact with my birthmother….she rejected me in less than a month.
A voice that sounded like mine said, “Hello.”
“Marjorie?” I said.
“Yes,” she said and we began talking about trivialities.
“What do you look like? How tall are you? Do you have a dimple in your chin?”
I frantically took notes the entire time, not wanting to forget a single detail. Minutes turned into hours as she told me about her successful social and professional life as an interior designer.
“Clients used to send their personal jets to pick me up for jobs.”
Hmmm, I thought. I had always loved interior design. In fact, I almost studied it in college. People tell me I’m good at it. Now I knew where I got the talent. But I kept having to reassure myself, “Sherrie, she’s your mother.
She’s not going to reject you because you are a woman with an unexciting life like hers.” Still, that fear kept popping into my mind.
My mother told me later that she called her priest in the morning and as he listened to her reveal her long-guarded secret (me), he reassured her that I would be a source of blessing.
The next week a hand-addressed envelope came in the mail. I tore into it and found two photos. My first reaction was one of disappointment. She looked so different than I had pictured her. Along with the photos was a note:
Enclosed are two photos — one taken last week and one when I was nearly your age. I didn’t sleep a wink last night, as I’m sure you didn’t. Best wishes to your husband and thank you for the lovely visit. I am reeling from all of it. Hoping to hear from you soon.
She received my letter and photo the same day. Later when we talked she said, “I just got your photo and you know what? When I look at your sweet face, I just know that you’re mine.”
Those words were like those of a new mother adoring her child and I will always treasure them.
I entered the reunion door unprepared for possible rejection.
Adoptive and foster parents can help their kids prepare for that possibility.
It felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall.
No matter how hard I tried to connect with my birth mother, she remained nasty.
Fellow adopted and foster kids, let me give you a loving challenge. I preface it by telling you I am not a biblical scholar, nor do I pretend to have the answers. This was the answer for me and I offer it to you for consideration.
Rejection is talked about much, but it is a common experience for many adoptees and foster kids. Even if it is an open adoption, the child suffers much rejection.
Years ago, my birth mother rejected me one day after I returned home from an Idaho reunion with her.
The moment I heard the tone of her voice over the phone, I knew something drastic had happened. Without mincing words, she announced that she wanted no more contact. Period.
Needless to say, I was crushed, but just as determined to work at the relationship in the future.
At that time, I fell into “repetition compulsion,” which means almost addictively trying and trying the same thing, with no progress. Some call it insanity.
Just think about the need of adopted and foster kids. We are as desperate for connection as a starving man looking for food.
No wonder, we repeatedly try.
But, dear one, we don’t have to.
We can take care of ourselves instead.
One day I was reading about Abraham and Sarah in the Bible. Remember how God had promised them a child? But nothing happened. So, Abraham took things into his own hands and had a child with his handmaiden Hagar and named him Ishmael. Not long after that, Sarah got pregnant and named their son Isaac.
Hagar and her son were causing lots of trouble and dissension in the family. So God told Abraham…the birth father…to send away Hagar and their son.
God actually gave permission to Abraham to send them away… Hagar and his birth son. They were causing incredible conflict.
If it was alright with God for such a Godly man as Abraham to send away these two, then it must be okay for me to send away my birth mother.
I didn’t have to keep banging my head against the proverbial brick wall anymore.
Likely, there is an adoptee or foster child that you love. That's why you stopped by, right?
For more than two decades, I've had the privilege of writing and speaking about adoption and my passion is to help the non-adopted world see adoption through the eyes of adopted and foster children.