Back when we were going through the adoption process, we attended an optional educational program offered by our agency. It dealt with loss in adoption and also featured a speaker who specialized in sensory issues that adopted and/or institutionalized children could face. I am glad that our agency offers things like this and I wish everyone would take advantage of these types of programs when possible.
I still remember a number of specific stories that were shared by adoptive parents that day, but someone in the audience asked a question that I will never, ever forget. It was during the discussion of loss. Loss was discussed from many angles, even to the point that some adoptive parents go into the process because of loss due to infertility, but for the most part, it was discussed in reference to the long list of losses that the child has experienced and will experience. If I remember correctly, our social worker had taken the podium to discuss the time when you first meet and take custody of your child in-country.
I love our social worker–she is so tender-hearted. Her voice cracked and she choked back tears through her entire talk. I will never forget at our last homestudy meeting when she had this discussion with us (at that time we were planning to adopt from China). She told us as lovingly and kindly as she could with tears streaming down her face (and mine) what a complete trauma this was for the child. She made the point, calmly but clearly, that this is downright soul shattering what is happening for them, no matter how happy you are. And I truly thank her for reminding us of that…because it is true. Anyway, her part of the presentation was to relay this information again to the audience, because let’s face it, we (prospective, at the time) adoptive parents DID need to be reminded of that a lot. Frankly, it probably wouldn’t hurt for us all to at some point get a tattoo to remind us, “It’s Not All About You”. Believe me, I could use one of those. Big time.
At some point a question/answer session began. Here is the part I will never forget: a man raised his hand and introduced himself. He and his wife were preparing to adopt a sibling group from Ukraine. He asked (unashamedly, I might add):
Shouldn’t they just be grateful to be leaving the orphanage? I mean, now they get to have a family. Why can’t they just be happy that they get to come to America?
Oh yes. He did.
I don’t know what other people were thinking when it happened, but for me it felt like all of the air got sucked out of the room. In my mind, I pictured his social worker walking swiftly towards him with her face down, grabbing his arm till her fingers turned white, and ushering him out of the room. I imagined her revoking his homestudy then and there. Obviously that didn’t happen. People politely answered his question and RE-reiterated the point.
On the drive home, my mom, my husband and I talked about it. Can you imagine? Don’t you think his social worker wanted to die??
While it still makes me shudder to think about that question (and especially about how their adjustment period might be going–YOWZA!), I have to admit that at times my attitude might not have been much better.
I have to say that I would truly, truly listen to all of the speakers when we attended these events, knowing full-well that the things they were saying were true, and I would think: Yes, that is all awful, but we will be fine. Because I will do whatever it takes. If my child is angry and hits me, I will sit there and take it and return only love. If he grieves I will hold him and rock him and show him with my actions that I will never leave him, that I will always love him.
And now, I look back at my sweet, little, naive self and shake my head. Not because I haven’t done all of those things. But because I thought that I would do them all gladly. I didn’t realize that my own heart would be ripped up about all sorts of things during that time as well. I didn’t realize that it is HARD to comfort a child that you just met through night terrors and tantrums and grief. I didn’t realize that I would think, I’m not up for this on some days.
Did they tell me all of this during our educational classes? I have to think at some point they did, at least some of it. But I chose not to hear it…..because I was special, immune to the bad stuff, or so I thought. As it turns out, I am only human. Bummer, right?
I guess I’m trying to say that until you “live” something (and I can only “live” it through my own experience as an adoptive parent), you can read all you want, you can go to as many educational classes as you want, but you still have no idea. It does help, but you can’t really know. Until you remove your child from loving arms and have to walk away. Until your heart breaks in half when that plane leaves the soil of their birth country. Until you comfort them through night terrors for a month or more. Until you watch them lose their language.
These are the things that you just can’t know after attending a seminar.