Sway by Naomi Ernest
My views on grief have evolved since my teen years. I’ve learned a lot since becoming interested in adoption and pursuing a graduate degree in social work. I have some strong feelings about grief. Dan and I went to see a set of short films at our local film fest this week. The first one was simply yet abstractly about grief, and it’s still on my mind.
I used to think grief was reserved for the death of someone we love. So I was shocked to learn about the ways grief affects adopted children — even those who have not necessarily experienced the death of a birth parent or caregiver.
From the details we know of the boys’ story, we know that they’ve been uprooted from familiarity at least twice, and they will be again when we bring them into our home and culture. We fully expect they will grieve the loss of their foster family and culture. At their age, this grieving will probably be harder for them to understand and harder for us to communicate to them.
We expect their grief will show up in sleep, eating, and possibly attachment, as it does with many adopted children. We don’t know what they have been told about us, but no matter what they understand, they’re going to be very sad to lose the country they’ve had for 2.5 years and the foster family they’ve had for almost two years now.
We also except this grief will resurface throughout their lives. Three-year-old T + E will grieve the loss of their birth family, foster family, and birth culture. Thirteen-year-old T + E will grieve the loss of their birth family, foster family, and birth culture. And 25-year-old T + E will, too. Whether they’re fully conscious of it or not, and despite how much they love us or they don’t, they’ll grieve what could have been and what they’ll never know.
I, too, am feeling myself grieve what could have been and what I’ll never know. We (naively) set out to adopt with the belief that our child would be home before his or her first birthday. We were (and are) young, and we wanted to experience almost as many firsts as our friends get to with their babies. Instead, we’ve seen the boys walk, run, and reach developmental milestones through photos and videos.
A couple of months ago, I carefully packed up the 12- to 18-month and 18- to 24-month clothes we had for the boys. We had the foresight to buy cribs that transition nicely into toddler beds, but I’m starting to wonder if the boys will be past the weight limit for their car seats by the time they sit in them.
But here’s the thing: I’m finding I can handle wondering what could have been and what I’ll never know. I know the end result will be greater. Our prayer as we set out parenting adopted children is that they’ll feel the same.