Joy From Loss – The Grieving Side of AdoptionPosted by Kim
One of the comments on Friday’s post left me thinking about one of the paradoxical truths about adoption: that while it can be a beautiful thing, it is nonetheless a thing born out of grief and loss.
Just so you don’t have to flip back to the post, the comment was about how the boys looked happier in their more current pictures than they did in the pictures from the first day we met them.
It made me revisit the story of that day from their perspective. And of course they look happier now! There was nothing happy for them that day! They lost a beloved foster mom, their familiar language, familiar-looking caregivers, familiar food, the bed they’d been sleeping in for eight months, the toys they’d played with, the clothes they’d worn. Everything changed, all of a sudden. They didn’t know us. They’d been told we were coming and had pictures, but they were 2 1/2. They didn’t understand what that meant. That they would be handed off to us and never see Xiomara again. That we’d take them far away on a plane. They weren’t sure they’d like us or that we were safe. They certainly didn’t love us. And here we were, strangers, now changing their diapers and carrying them around, telling them it was time to eat or time to go to bed. Most of the time speaking in a language they couldn’t understand.
All this on top of losing their birthmother, eight months prior.
I pulled out another picture of that day that really says it all:
I’m smiling. This moment is the culmination of a year and a half’s worth of a process – eight months of which was spent waiting for these two little boys specifically. I already love them, and I’m ready to have them.
But Xiomara’s trying not to cry (she broke down in the lobby when I walked out with her). She really loved them while she fostered them for us, for which we are tremendously grateful.
Jose’s uncertain but holding on to her, and Bear is indifferent, leaning away from me (because why would he lean in?).
It was Bear who noticed she’d left, Fred said. He cried while I was still returning from the lobby. A few hours later, he heard one of the housekeepers in the hallway and went running to the door, calling “Maya!” (their attempt at her name). But it wasn’t she, of course. His big brown eyes stayed “blank” for the whole week as he tried to figure out whether he was going to accept this new Mamá and Papá to whom he’d been handed off.
José, meanwhile, had a complete meltdown about having to take his shoes off at bedtime every night that week – as if he couldn’t take one more thing being taken from him. He sobbed “zapatos!” over and over again till we rocked him to sleep.
That’s not to say they were unhappy the whole time. We have great pictures of big smiles at the Guatemala City Zoo (Day #3 with them), and we did play and run with them all day every day. And they did follow us around and cuddle up with us. But it was cuddling up in hope that we were going to turn out to be ok. NOT the same as now.
So yes, NOW we all look back on the day we met with joy and celebration. Not only do we all love each other, but we also all really like each other. But to say “Well, see, it all turned out for the best.” Or to say they “have opportunities for a better life here” and to dismiss the Cost… that would be horribly insensitive. Because we asked for them, we knew what was happening all along, we wanted them. They didn’t; it just happened to them. And it was scary, and they will always have little spots in their hearts that miss their birthmom and Xiomara. They’ll always be Latino men raised out-of-culture, whether they come to care about that or not in the future.
Are they happy and secure little guys? My goodness, yes, especially considering everything they’ve been through in their short lives! But does that mean the sad parts of how they came to be here have been erased? No.
We still brush up against emotional “echoes” of that loss – insecurities, fears, or visceral reactions they have sometimes, when the present situation doesn’t warrant them. And whenever we talk about traveling back to Guatemala, they always say they want to see Xiomara and their birthmom. So even though they don’t have a lot of clear memories, they’re still attached to where they’re from and who they’re from. And I’m fairly sure the four of us will be searching for their birthmom sometime down the road. Sometime when we’re all ready to handle it if she doesn’t want to see them (we don’t know how she’ll feel).
For them: joy from grief, blessing from loss. And for us, because we love them: a more mature joy. The kind that realizes the price of what we have. And compassion for the birthmom who’s out there and probably wonders if they’re ok. I would if the story were switched.
So therein lies the paradox of adoption. Beauty with a little twinge of sorrow thrown in. Even in the best of cases. Even years after the fact. Is it worth it? Definitely. But it’s not the “happily ever after” it’s sometimes made out to be. Much more complicated, but somehow more valuable for all that.