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Two Must-Reads for Adoptive Families

December 15, 2011

Adoption costs a lot. Money is only the beginning.

While the adoption community recognizes the trauma  and loss that predicate adoption and often shadow adopted people across their lifespans, we’ve barely begun speaking honestly about the trauma and losses sometimes attendant on a family’s decision to adopt.

I’m not equating one type of trauma with the other.  Only observing that if we hope to support adoptive families, we need to begin grappling with the reality that some are blindsided to find that –glowing homestudy and good intentions not withstanding –their parenting skills are no match for the unexpected ways adoption affects their family system.

Recently, I re-read a poignant adoption memoir, Disrupting Grace,  in which Kristen Richburg, an adoptee and adoptive mother, “describes [her] journey through mothering and relinquishing an adopted child, and how through that experience, her shallow and small understanding of grace was enlarged and forever changed. It is in heartbreak that she learned about love, in loss that she experienced spiritual gain, and in brokenness that she was made whole.” (jacket copy)

The same wholeness, I might add, she and her husband pray her daughter will find in the family in which they placed her. Richburg’s book should have a much wider audience than families contemplating or experiencing disruption. Most adopting families cannot imagine they might ever be at such a point –just as Richburg and her husband did not at the beginning of their journey. Yet a 2007 study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found:

“Individual studies of different populations throughout the United States are consistent in reporting disruption rates that range from about 10 to 25 percent—depending on the population studied, the duration of the study, and geographic or other factors (Goerge, Howard, Yu, & Radomsky, 1997; Festinger, 2002; Festinger, in press).”

Disruption is not as uncommon as our collective silence suggests.

Yesterday, Lisa Qualls of One Thankful Mom linked to Giving Voice to Our Other Children, an article she published on Empowered to Connect. Lisa candidly describes how the trauma experienced (and being experienced) by a child spills over into trauma on other family members. She also supplies some hope in describing the ways her family is learning to cope and heal together.

If the other moms who contact me and who I know are any indication, the truth is that many of the children who come to our families via adoption carry with them lasting trauma and the path to healing (in cases where healing is possible) is steep, long, and rockier than we ever imagined it could be.

But because we believe our experience is uncommon, we don’t talk about it. When we don’t talk about it, we cannot support each other. And when were not supported, we’re isolated and alone and feel even more “stuck” in the dysfunction that we dimly remember was once our family.

Moms like Qualls and Richburg show us another way: candid yet modestly guarded honesty about adoption experiences. Even if we have not personally been there, stories like these can help us become the understanding adoptive-mom friends our adoptive-mom friends need.

Like my friend who didn’t bat an eyelash when I shared that one of my girls has written “noise-cancelling headphones” at the top of  her wish list. My friend volunteered that the kind sold to hunters not only cancel noise but are uncommonly durable, too, if someone else hurls them in a rage :).

We both laughed.

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