During National Adoption Awareness Month, it seems appropriate to mention that adoption is not always like the feel good, happily ever after, fluff stories the media throws out. Sure, there are stories of overcoming hardship and adversity on the road to the happy ending. After all, who wants to dwell on sorrow, grief, and depression? Who wants to end the story in which they are engaged and be left with an empty, heart-achy feeling?
The thing is, every adoption story begins from a place of brokenness and loss. Every. Single. One. And the best way to move from this brokenness and loss toward the happily ever after is to acknowledge it.
Where then, do we start?
We start by acknowledging that even if the adopted person is placed with loving, stable, and happy adopted parents as a newborn infant, that newborn infant has experienced a loss. This loss is not something the newborn understands and can verbalize, but it is a loss that neuroscience tells us is imbedded deep in the sympathetic nervous system of the brain.
At 18 weeks in utero, the baby begins to hear their first sounds. By week 25, the baby is able to respond to sound. The sense of smell also develops in utero. Placing the newborn with people who do not smell or sound like what they have lived for the past 40 weeks is a definite loss. Nothing is familiar.
Ideally birth and adoptive parents can work together to create a transition from one family to the next.
Adoptive parents can spend time prior to delivery with the expectant mom so that baby can hear their voices. Expectant mom can record a bedtime story to be played back to baby when they are in their crib.
But adoption is “brute-i-full.”
The ideal is replaced by the practical. Parents—both birth and adoptive—do what they must to get through the day. Adoptive parents meet the needs of the newborn baby time and time again to begin the cycle of attachment that bonds baby to them.
We all know that babies communicate through their cries. Babies cry when hungry, when diapers are wet, and for attention. Babies may also be crying because they sense a loss. Adding the act of holding baby close and telling about their amazing birth mother is one way to acknowledge the trauma and loss.
Let’s acknowledge to ourselves that for all its beauty, infant adoption also involves loss. And with that acknowledgement we can find the resilience, love, and joy that makes adoption worth it.