The following post, written by Libba Armenta, an adoptive mom in our community, invites us to consider how loss shapes adoption.
The set up
We are all wired to dodge hard things, to minimize suffering and self-protect.
Even when it comes to adoption, which by its very nature teems with hardship and difficulty, it's tempting to think we can manage risk: "just one child or maybe two, only within this age range, yes to these medical conditions, no to that list of substance exposure, etc."
Our culture prizes tidy, quick and easy.
It's tempting to impose those ideals on our adoption paths, forgetting that struggle and suffering are both inevitable and necessary for adoption to take place.
Loss birthed our family's adoption journey.
After losing a full-term newborn daughter in 2012, we intended to end our childbearing season. God had other plans and surprised us with another biological child, born healthy, but following that pregnancy we closed shop. Two years passed, and still, we longed for another child.
Our children, then aged seven, five and two, were no strangers to grief. Could they survive more loss if our attempts to adopt didn’t result in adoption? Could we?
We decided on international adoption, which felt like a sure thing, only later to face drastic changes in country requirements that would stop us from moving forward. We re-routed to domestic adoption and were immediately matched in May 2016, with a 3-and-a-half-year-old little girl.
We traveled quickly to transition her into our care; however, a week after she joined our family, her mother changed her mind.
I couldn't stop wondering how this little girl’s heart could weather such confusion and change. As we focused on this little girl and her mother, we could hardly stay upset over how the loss had affected us.
How could we grieve fully while a mother chose to parent her daughter?
We prayed daily for this mom and her brave decision to parent, believing that our God can restore anything! No amount of mess or fear or dysfunction is impossible for him. We trusted Him to be the Father this little girl was missing and the rescuer that this mom seemed to be searching for. Our self-protective shell was being peeled away.
By August our sadness had died down, and with our youngest having turned three, we had enjoyed a delightful, easy-going summer. It was tempting to close the adoption door, but how do you weigh the pros and cons of whether or not to love again?
And is ease even the goal?
We came to the decision that while it may cost us the smooth-sailing life we'd gotten a taste of that summer, it was worth risking our sanity, our money, our plans and our timeline to love again. We dove back into the process to be matched a second time.
The second possibility
Four months passed, and a few days after Christmas, we were matched with a pop-up scenario, traveling immediately because the expectant mom was already in labor! Our plane landed minutes after the baby's birth, and we rushed to the hospital and into our mother-baby suite, tossing our bags in a heap as we were desperate to meet mom and baby.
The door opened, but instead of escorting a bassinet, the nurse ushered in a social worker, who explained that the mom needed more time. We moved into the Ronald McDonald house nearby until the morning, which turned into the afternoon, which turned into the following morning, and so on.
Three days later, we found ourselves in a rental car, driving nine hours home through the night, through the snow, through the tears. We never set eyes on that baby girl, but our hearts were bruised nonetheless. Adoption is always so complex. Life sure throws a mean curve ball.
We arrived home before the sun rose on New Years’ Day. Our greatest fear had come true twice. We were emotionally and financially exhausted.
We felt the tension of gratitude for a family not separated and our desire to grow our family through adoption.
Again, by God’s grace, our grief coexisted with heartfelt prayers for the new mom as she waded through those first days of unanticipated parenting. I folded tiny baby clothes and packed them away. Part of me wished we could somehow get them to this new mom, since we wouldn’t be using them.
I pulled my knees to my chest and cried hot, heavy tears in the nursery rocking chair as I called our agency to tell them we were done. Our sweet children were confused and crushed. They'd ridden the roller coaster of longing and preparation with us and grieved each time that it wasn't meant to be.
So what next?
The very next day the phone rang. A baby girl was born, and even though we'd asked them to leave us alone, our agency coordinators pleaded with us to reconsider. They had a really good feeling about this one, and they were right. In the days that followed, we met our beautiful daughter Quinn and spent time with her strong, brave, incredible first mama.
The heartache we had faced in getting to that point was not erased, but the long, winding road to call Quinn ours felt purposeful and worthwhile.
What loss and grief can teach us
Loss is a universal language if we are willing to speak it. It's woven throughout each of our histories, if we have eyes to see it. It connects us to one another, if we allow ourselves to share it.
Struggle and suffering together birth empathy and compassion for others facing loss: for birth parents, foster parents, wishful adoptive parents, parents who have lost pregnancies, or hopeful parents battling infertility, people whose loved ones are ill or dying or gone.
Being well-versed in grief prepares us to support our adoptive children as they wrestle with their loss of first family, loss of birth culture, loss of racial identity, loss of trust and innocence, loss of closure, all the missing pieces of their history.
Our adoption and parenting journeys may begin with jumping on board. What’s most important, however, is that we don’t jump off when things get risky, messy, costly, or take longer than we pictured.
At some point each of us face devastating losses, and our emotions beg to take us for a ride as the path grows foggy, taking turns we didn't see coming. May each of us have the faith and courage to stay on board, holding tight to hope.
If you’re facing an adoption disruption or another form of loss:
-Give yourself time to grieve before looking to the future.
-Reach out to other families who are willing to share their experiences with loss.
-Recognize that your spouse and your other children may grieve in different ways.
-Fight the urge to figure out where things went wrong. Consider how you are defining “wrong”.
-Receive support from the people who love you and tell them what kind of help you’re able to accept.
-Seek out a mental health professional or grief counselor who specializes in loss.
-Deal with the nursery/bedroom and clothing in your own way when you’re ready.
-When and if it’s time to consider another try, hold on tight to the hope that led you to this journey in the first place.
Adoption Support Alliance offers both individual and family counseling as well as support groups. We would love to walk alongside you as your adoption story continues to play out. For more information on these services, please email us at email@example.com.
Libba Armenta lives in Charlotte with her husband Jorge with whom she has five children: Ruthie (10), Wright (9), Glory (in heaven 7), Yates (7) and Quinn (2). In addition to working as a busy homeschooling mom, Libba has worked as a postpartum nurse and grant writer.