This article does an amazing job addressing the many forms of
loss and how it can effect so many close to the adoption in
unexpected ways. This article goes beyond the expected and
addresses topics of how adoption effects your extended family and
other unexpected feelings regarding adoption.
Lessons Learned from An Imaginary Redhead
By Elisabeth O'Toole
Not long after I married my husband (a tall redhead), my mom and
I (both short and brunette) developed a plan. I was going to
finally fulfill some long-held desires she'd had for her family -
desires my siblings and I had not successfully satisfied. In the
anticipated daughter I would soon be having (yes, it would be a
girl), my mother was finally going to get not only a redheaded
baby in the family, but, later, a long, lean and very talented
I know this sounds like pressure, so I should admit that I had no
problem with this assumption. In fact, I'm sure I perpetuated it
far more than my mother did. After all, I was fully confident in
my ability to produce this child; the child I imagined for us
That is not how things worked out.
As readers of Portrait of an Adoption well know, loss is a
fundamental and complicated aspect of any adoption. In order for
there to be gain - of a family, of a child - there must first be
loss. Birthmothers and birth relatives experience an often great
and abiding loss. The adopted child experiences loss - no matter
at what age he is adopted or under what conditions he was
adopted. Communities, foster parents, other children who may
remain, and caregivers may experience loss as a result of
As an adoptive parent, I struggled with the loss of privacy, the
loss of control over this aspect of my life -becoming a parent-
and the loss of my imagined child - that redheaded
basketball player I had expected.
Like most adoptive parents, I was counseled to try to understand
the role that loss plays in adoption, and how it may be
experienced by others, birthparents and adoptees, especially.
And I was advised to acknowledge and grieve loss as an important
step toward adoptive parenthood.
I've come to believe that it's also important that we try to
consider how others, outside of the immediate adoption
triad might also experience loss related to adoption. This is
especially common for our closest relatives. Like adoptive
parents, it's not at all uncommon that others have also imagined
and anticipated a particular child or experience, both for us and
for themselves. When that expectation is unmet, other people may
experience aspects of that same loss that many of us triad
A grandfather described for me how his son's adoption plans meant
the end of his family's genealogical line. And the grandfather's
early resistance to the adoption - painful and frustrating for
his son - stemmed from that loss. He needed time to let go of a
lifelong (and reasonable) expectation. And he needed to mourn
that real and legitimate loss before he could welcome the
A grandmother described for me her reaction to her daughter's
announcement that she was adopting. The grandmother couldn't
understand her own lack of enthusiasm, even sadness. After all,
she told herself, she just wanted her daughter to be happy. And
she'd always wanted to be a grandparent. She finally realized
part of what was holding her back was her reluctance to let go of
a dream she'd had, an experience she had long looked forward to.
For years, she'd pictured being with her daughter in a delivery
room, present at the very moment of birth of her first
grandchild. It was something she and her daughter had anticipated
together. That she would not have this experience was a loss
related to adoption that both of them had to acknowledge - and
Neither of these grandparents, nor their adult children,
initially identified the grandparents' ambivalence toward
adoption as related to loss. Instead, their loved ones viewed
them as unsupportive and negative about adoption. But
acknowledging loss and then grieving it were steps these
grandparents needed to take. Just as the adoptive parents had.
In my own life as an adoptive parent, I didn't consider the
losses others might have experienced around my family's adoptions
until years after first adopting. I had begun talking to
adoptive grandparents and relatives from other families as
research for a book I was writing. And so it was, years after my
first adoption, I found myself reconsidering my own relatives'
reactions to adoption with new eyes. I finally came to recognize
that the people around me had lost that redheaded basketball
player, too. And I suddenly understood why one family member in
particular had reacted to our adoption plans as she had.
At the time, feeling vulnerable and still trying to understand
adoption myself, I couldn't understand or, frankly, have much
compassion for what seemed to be her knee-jerk resistance to
adoption. I thought this close relative was narrow-minded,
overly concerned with appearances and tradition. But after
making an effort to consider what this experience had been like
for someone who, like me, had long anticipated a particular child
and experience, I felt compassion for what I now understood was
another person's response to her own loss. I wish I'd had that
insight - and that vocabulary - at the time.
Though understanding loss is a standard discussion topic in
adoption education, we don't typically offer others - who are
also impacted by adoption - that language of loss. I think we
Thinking about loss in this way reinforces for me how adoption is
not just about "us": my husband and I and our children. Rather,
it's about a larger "Us": our parents, our siblings, our close
friends and extended families. And as our family ages and our
circle expands, adoption includes our kids' friends, their
teachers, their caregivers, and the many other people who
comprise our family's adoption circle.
I've come to believe that one of the responsibilities we adoptive
parents take on when we adopt is to include others in adoption,
to bring them in on it. One way we can bring people in
is by acknowledging their own perspectives and experiences with
adoption, perhaps including loss. Other people - besides
adoptive parents - deserve the chance to ask questions and to
share their concerns and fears about adoption. Other people
need and deserve information and preparation for adoption.
Because other people are going to love and want to advocate for
our children and for adoption, too.
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Free Presentation and Get Together: Experiences and Information
on Ukrainian Adoption
Come learn more about this adoption opportunity at this casual
Adoptive parents will have the opportunity to discuss their
personal experiences, and there will be plenty of time for
questions and answers, mingling and a chance to meet the
Bilingual babysitting and light refreshments will be provided.
Bring the whole family!
Registration is required.
Join Us: Sunday, June 2, 2013 from 2:00 - 4:00pm
Location: United Methodist Church, 116 East Washington Ave.
Washington, NJ 07882