Adoption comes with complex emotions. Often, the emotions are consuming and misunderstood. One of the emotions that a lot of adoptive parents unexpectedly find themselves feeling is guilt. It can come as a surprise if you find yourself suddenly overwhelmed with emotions that you translate as guilt after you have adopted. It is not uncommon to feel adoption guilt.
Guilt is a charged word. The definition of guilt to most people is that you have done something “wrong.” However, I think these people are just looking at the word guilt differently. Some people may use the term “guilty” to describe the new feelings they are experiencing, but other words could easily be used in its place. Empathy, affinity, compassion, appreciation, sympathy, pity, etc. Depending on the person, the word “guilty” could be interchanged with one of those words very easily to express the emotions they feel in their adoption situation. Some people are overwhelmed by the feelings of guilt. Some people rely on the good in a situation survive through it. Others are lucky enough to know that they do not need to feel guilty or can replace the word “guilt” with something more fitting to the emotion they are feeling.
When we were going through the adoption process, I felt a variety of emotions. I experienced sadness, loss, stress, excitement, fear, happiness, dread, buried, eagerness, zealous, organized, disorganized, and guilt. I felt guilt that I was going to “sell” myself to an expecting mother as someone with more resources for parenting a child. Guilt that I would get to be called “Mommy” by a child she loved so much. Guilt that I would experience all the child’s firsts and milestones. Guilt that I would never understand how tough her decision was. Guilt that I would not be a perfect parent. Guilt that I would let down these people that were entrusting us with their child.
It was hard to put myself in the position of allowing myself to feel guilt. I feel that the empathy that comes along with sensing the hurt others are going through will help us learn and grow. Ezra’s birth mother is an incredibly strong woman, but I know this hasn’t been easy for her. Ezra’s birth father has always shown more emotion when it comes to the struggles he faces with the adoption. These things just show me how much they care. Watching the yearning in their eyes makes me feel guilty. They have their own personal reasons for creating an adoption plan and I was just a willing recipient with wide open arms to accept their gift. It makes me feel guilty to know that we have the ability to provide “more” and because of that we were chosen to parent their child. It is normal to celebrate success, but when it contributes to someone else’s pain, it can be more guilt-inducing.
The feeling of guilt fades with time as the open adoption relationship blossoms into a healthy, loving extension of your family. Understanding that these people chose you to parent their perfect little creation is something you should not feel guilt over. The feeling of guilt evolves into other emotions like gratitude, love, appreciation, and attachment. But just because it is okay to not feel guilt does not mean it is okay to feel indifferent or not want to ease their pain. Sharing an open adoption and open communication is good for all members of the adoption triad. However, if you allow guilt to consume you, you may begin to suffer in other areas, and in turn, your child will also suffer. You want to be a shining beacon of good example to your child. Feeling negative emotions will make your child feel negative towards his or her adoption, too. I would never want my son to feel that way. I will do everything in my power to continue to learn, grow and love.
Do you feel adoption guilt? Have you experienced any of these emotions?