Today’s open adoption bloggers round table is about illness and injury in adoption. Initially, I didn’t think I’d be able to weigh in on the topic considering our son is only two and a half months old and hasn’t really been sick or injured (I’m not sure that I can count his girlfriend stepping on this head at this week’s play-date as an injury). And it’s possible that this round table discussion will be a bit of a mystery to some, but that’s why I want to write about it.
In adoption, particularly a situation where there is communication with the first family of a child who is adopted, there can be an extra layer of complication added when your child is sick or injured (and I’m throwing in developmental delays and special circumstances similar, as well).
Guilt, insecurity and shame can hover over the relationship with your child’s biological family if your child was injured over something that was technically “under your control” (say a broken arm from falling off a bed or perhaps something even more serious like a car accident). When I write it out, in black and white, it seems silly. Logically, we know that kids just get hurt. Every parent expects it at some point. And although when you adopt a child, he is yours and you are his, sometimes there are other people to consider as well. If you haven’t adopted, just imagine the emotions that might well up if a child entrusted to your care by someone else fell and busted his lip open or knocked out a tooth under your provision. Imagine making the phone call that you’re headed to the emergency room or cringing as you wait for her parents to get a look at the missing tooth or giant knot on her forehead.
You would apologize profusely.
It’s likely you might say “I’m so sorry…I just feel terrible…”. And it’s likely that you would feel terrible. For a while.
Okay, so multiply that by ten and you may get close to what it can feel like, at least in the beginning of an open adoption, when this happens. Adoptive parents have been put through the ringer and taken steps that most biological parents will never have to take in order to parent. There were times during the adoption process when we felt like we were trying to prove we were capable to parent. We did this over and over again for two years- switching agencies three times. And it’s not over yet. Every month we meet with a social worker who writes a report to send to our agency. Every month we have a form to fill out on E’s development to send to the agency. It seems like the harder we’ve worked to be “ready to parent” in the eyes of someone else, the harder the fall into the realty that we are not perfect parents*.
This guilt and insecurity can certainly rise up in an adoptive parent even outside of an open relationship with the child’s first family. When you’ve crossed the bridges that must be crossed to get to an adoptive child, there is a desperation to protect them. I’m not saying that biological parents aren’t desperate to protect their children. I’m just saying that it can make some of us a tad more protective than someone who hasn’t had to fight as hard to bring a child into their family. I would imagine these emotions might be similar for a mom who endured (or barely survived) a very difficult pregnancy or previously lost children.
The other side of this coin is there are legitimate reasons to be more protective with children who are adopted than most biological children, at least when you first bring them into your family. This is true for infants, older children, domestically adopted, internationally adopted and seemingly well children. If you’re not surrounded by patient understanding friends and family, this can be a very difficult transition and give way to very deep insecurities about parenting abilities, right on the heels of an emotional, long-awaited homecoming.
There can be anger, resentment and bitterness present if your child struggles with development delays or disorders. Regardless of whether or not these issues are related to the child’s previous environment because of something in the first-parent’s control or out of their control, it is heart-breaking to watch your child struggle. While I’m not yet able to relate to watching my son struggle developmentally, or relate to having a biological child (with developmental delays or disorders), it’s a safe bet anger happens in there at some point. If it’s a biological child, you might blame yourself (although you shouldn’t) wondering if it was something you did during pregnancy. Likewise, if you’ve adopted your child- you may blame his first parent or previous care-taker. The web of emotions can become even more entangled if reasons for delays or disorders were caused by choices. Something totally in first-mom’s control.
I am most certainly positive it takes peace beyond understanding, provided by a God much bigger than us, to let go of anger and resentment over something like that. May God grant any of us struggling with this issue the compassion to love that first-parent as best we can (whether an adoption is open or not).
Since I just spent about ten minutes generalizing, I’ll end this by saying everyone is different. Every situation has it’s unique struggles and rewards. So, I’m not speaking for every adoptive parent or every adoption situation. But, for many of us, there is truth in these words- even if the feelings are momentary and fleeting.
*No adoption agency or social worker expects perfection. But, that doesn’t keep some of us from placing these requirements on ourselves.