This month of November is National Adoption Month. We love to celebrate with our family and friends by spreading awareness about adoption and foster care. This month has been a bit different for us. We have one family that is in the process of reunifung their foster son with his birth parents and a family who was just informed that the country they were adopting through has closed it’s boarders. Both have presented different sets of challenges and both are a different type of heartache.
In November I usually find myself writing about adoption and how wonderful it is and how you and your family can get involved in foster care but this month I wanted to talk about something a little deeper. I want to talk to you about adoption and foster care loss.
When we met our adoption attorney for the first time it was shortly after we had lost our first foster baby C. We walked into the meeting and she said I am so sorry for your miscarriage. I said we didn’t have a miscarriage. She said well I attribute foster and adoption loss to a miscarriage because it’s different than the loss of a child. It’s the loss of something that could have been, the death of a dream.
Adoption loss is hard to rationalize in your mind and even harder to explain to people. You didn’t actually lose a child that you held in your arms or grew inside you so how can it be so difficult to grieve. Foster care loss is even harder to explain because “you knew what you were getting into when you signed up for it”. People don’t understand the emotional toll that adoption and foster care take on a person and a family. It’s an endless waiting game and when it ends the thoughts of starting over are daunting.
In my life I have lost three babies. Baby C, Baby R and my sweet Peyton even though it was only for 60 days. Baby C was with us for three days. She came home with us the Friday before mothers day. She was little and sweet and had the darkest hair I had ever seen on a baby. She was everything I had dreamed for in this tiny little body and I loved her from the second I laid eyes on her. I knew what I was supposed to do, love with detachment, but it is so much easier to say than do when they place the world in your arms. I saw everything in her eyes. Her first steps, her saying mom, going to school, dances, late night talks, graduation, wedding day. It all flashed in my mind. I saw my sweet husband holding her and caring for her. Cooing with her and falling asleep on the couch with her. She was everything to us and we were consumed. It only took seconds to fall in love and 5 years later we still have not forgotten her. Two days into the placement they called and said they had fund a family member and she would be going home with them within the next two days. She left as quickly as she came but her impression will forever live in our hearts.
My second loss came in the form of Baby R. Drug addicted and born way too early I spent 48 hours with him in the hospital while he detoxed from methadone and caffeine. My attachment with him was immediately different than it was with Baby C . He needed me. He was lost and abandoned and if I hadn’t been there to hold him no one would have. I was more like a mother bear with him. I didn’t have dreams with him. I didn’t see in the future. It was more in the present. He was so tender I guess I wasn’t sure that he would even make it or what his long term life would be like with the damage that had been done to him. I watched his body twitch and shake while he was in my care. I wiped the sweat from his brow. I taught him to drink from a bottle because he was too jittery to keep his latch for long periods of time. We bonded but it a totally different way. I was the caretaker and he was the wounded little mouse. I was tender and I was affectionate but when they called to take him I was cool and calm. I had learned from the first experience to be somewhat detached. However that does not mean my memories of him are any less vivid. I remember his smell, his hair and the touch of his skin. I remember his tremors. I think of him often and pray for him weekly.
Which brings me to my sweet Peyton. Peyton’s departure was a blow to that I was not equipped to handle. In my heart I knew it was coming even though we had been reassured it wasn’t. I had a feeling they were going to send him home with his parents but I pushed it down in my mind. When Justin called me from court he just said they were taking him but he didn’t know when. I received a text message about 30 minutes later stating that they were on their way and would be to the house within the hour. Have his things packed and ready to go the message read. He was napping and when Justin got home we woke him up to hold him for the last time. I had so many dreams for him. SO many things that I had thought about and wished for him. Going home to a family we didn’t think was ready to take him on was not one of them. I remember thinking about how hard I had worked at his sleeping schedule and eating and all of the other things I had done and how was I ever going to be able to do that again. We took turns holding him and then we prayed for him. We anointed his head with oil and we prayed that he would forget us and that he would not be scared or sad. They came and took him and we said goodbye to our boy. That night was the loneliest night I have ever had. Empty, soulless grief. It was consuming. Looking back I don’t remember much from the next few days or even weeks. I was empty. I had nothing else to give.
You know going into it that the goal is to reunify a child with their family is always the first goal. As it should be. As a foster parent you hope for the best for your placement. You want them to be able to go home to a good situation because to not be able to do that means they will be losing their biological family. It’s heavy. Being a part of something where a biological parent is told by the court that they are not fit to raise their own child is the heaviest thing you will live through. Because of this in your mind you know that you need to and want to cheer these families on. However your heart is a different story. Your heart falls for the child. How could it not? You are raising them as your own. You are doing all the things a biological parent would do. Caring for their needs, feeding them, clothing them, wiping away tears, holding them when they are sick. It’s foolish to think that you won’t bond with them and that you won’t start to picture them as a part of your family. It is inventible.
When Peyton left the loss was the greatest I had ever experienced. Unlike the loss of a child when they die he was still out there but I had no idea how he was or what was happening to him. I attributed it to him having been kidnapped. My heart worried about him constantly. I thought about what he was doing daily. What he may be thinking or was he scared or were they making sure he had his buddy each night when he went to bed. What I wasn’t prepared for were the calls from doctors or therapist who were checking in and had no idea he had been placed back with his family. Every phone call was a punch to the gut having to repeat the story and give them his forwarding information. I did not handle Peyton’s leaving well. I tried to just move on without dealing with it. I tried to focus on Paxton without healing my heart from the loss of Peyton. It didn’t go well and really was a dark time for me.
Loss is hard. The truth is that most of us aren’t prepared to deal with loss on many things we expect and can understand. Adoption loss brings another layer to the table because it is the loss of what could have been not of what was. Remember this the next time you hear about someone missing out on a placement or having their international adoption terminated because of a closed boarder. It won’t always be something that they can put into words but your friends or family will benefit from your purposeful prayers and listening without trying to offer help. Many times they won’t even know what they need yet so being there to say, do you know if there is anything I can do for you today, may be the kindest thing you can do.
But most of all pray for those babies and those children. Even if you don’t know their name. God knows each one of them and the hairs on their head. Pray vigilantly for their safety and for their stability. Pray for their health and for their well being. Pray for their hearts that the pain of not having a family or the pain of being moved around does not jade them and harden their hearts. Pray for them to have healthy attachments to their caretakers, parents, friends and potential life partners and to the children they may have one day.
The pain of adoption loss is hard and it is far reaching.