My children are five and six years old and I still sneak into their bedrooms after they are asleep and admire their sweet faces. I know many parents do this. When they are babies, many moms will watch them sleep and marvel at the fact that this child is theirs! It is a blessed, beautiful miracle. But years pass and as soon as kids are in bed there is a list of 20 things that need to get done and maybe then there is a half hour of television to wind down. It takes you months now to watch a show that was once binged on a weekend. So the novelty of how precious this miracle of parenthood is eventually wears off and life goes on. One of the gifts of adoption is also one of the hardest parts: grief.

I never got to hold my children as babies. I never got to kiss their baby cheeks and rock their tiny bodies to sleep. I didn’t hear their first breaths. I didn’t see their first steps or their first words. I didn’t get to feed them their first solid foods. I missed so much and I have to grieve that. The beauty of that painful grief is that I still get to feel the miracle. So I sneak in and watch my children sleep and I marvel at what a blessed miraculous thing it is that out of the millions of orphans in the whole world that I am the mom to two precious sweet little children.

Birth Mother Grief

It is not all rainbows and butterflies in our home. Some days are a fight from sun up to sun down. Some days I want to pull my hair out, cry, and eat my weight in chocolate. Sometimes this is just because it is hard to be a parent of young children. Sometimes it is because we are working through the trauma of losing a biological family and not having a mom and dad in the formative years. Sometimes the trials of life are just that: trials. And last time I checked, trials are trying! 

On top of all the normal craziness of life, there is an underpinning of grief. It is like having a pot of boiling water on a back burner. It is close to boiling over and I am aware of it, but it can be background noise for a while. But all ll it takes is a slight temp change and there is a boiling mess all over. 

Grief is tolerable and survivable most of the time. It can just be quietly hanging out in the background, but if stresses come in, it boils over. These are normal stresses like a bad night’s sleep or eating too late in the day. Maybe someone was especially short with me or I lost something. On a normal day, this wouldn’t faze me, but when there is background grief sometimes that is all it takes. 

My kids are happy and healthy for the most part, but they have grief in the background from all the losses in their lives too. Adoption is many blessed things, but it starts with a trauma. The first trauma is losing their biological family. Even if this was the smoothest transition and happened at birth, there is still trauma. Some children who were adopted lived in orphanages, group homes, or with foster families. Even in the most loving homes and orphanages, there can be trauma responses from lack of staff, turnover, limited resources, access to medical care, and more. In too many cases, these places meant to protect the most vulnerable are where the child could experience abuse and neglect. This is not always the case, but it does happen. 

Adoption doesn’t heal all these early traumas, but having a safe, loving, and steady home can be the start of the healing journey. Anytime there is an injury there will be a painful recovery. The more painful the wound the more painful the rehab. That grief is complicated because it can come out of nowhere and be hard to pinpoint what it is. 

reFRAMED: Reframing Grief

Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Why am I crying over the fact that there is no milk?” If I dig deep, it is really because I want to give my children everything they missed in early life and I can’t even remember to buy milk! “What kind of mother am I?” 

While I am trying to create a safe home for my children who are healing, I am grieving too. I grieve with them for all they have lost. I cry and pray for their birth families. When I see a new mom at church with a baby in her arms, I grieve the time I missed with both my kids. (I only have a few baby pictures of them.) When I fill out the medical history forms and leave most places blank or when women share their birth stories, the list of what I missed goes on and on. 

But I would not trade one painful step of this journey. I choose to believe that the hard parts made us stronger. The pain made us a family. Childbirth is similar! My grief and pain are nothing compared to what my children have survived, so I will carry this and I would carry all their trauma and pain if I could.

So, we carry it all as a family. On grief days we cry and give each other grace. On happy days we do not take one second for granted. When I look into the backyard on a chilly late winter afternoon and see my children running and laughing, I almost lose my breath I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. These children who had no family, and no future in a faraway land are here living a simple and gorgeous life. Their smiling faces have faced too many evils of this world and yet they can still look into my eyes and chose to love me. That is the bravest thing anyone can do. So I will keep my grief from boiling over and take the joy with pain and try never to miss a moment of this sweet journey again. 

Spreading Adoption Love