(K-LOVE Closer Look) -- Children separated from their biological mothers will inevitably grieve that loss. “That’s trauma, when we lose our first family,” says Jenn Hook co-founder of Replanted Ministry. Hook spent years counseling foster children as a mental health professional. “We’re not always looking at it from the adoptee’s side,” she warns, for example, repeatedly calling one’s adoption a ‘gift’ can unintentionally hurt your child. One young boy confessed to Hook that his adoption party was “the saddest day of my life -- because I’ll never be able to go home with my mom.”
“No one likes to think of their child having trauma, but if you’ve adopted a child, your child has adoption trauma,” says Vanessa Joy Walker, author and lifecoach who was herself adopted as a baby. “The issues of identity and abandonment are interwoven into who I am, they are part of what I call my emotional DNA.” Walker helps fellow adoptees find their own silenced voices. “Trauma isn’t a bad word, it’s not something to be hidden; it’s just something to be aware of.” She offers a practical example of recurring pain. “Some adoptees hate their birthday…birthdays bring up a lot of feelings that are really hard to express…I was always wondering if my (birth) mom was thinking about me, is she still alive? Does she remember me? But then I need to be appreciative of the mom I have.”
Walker says being adopted can put crippling pressure on kids to be grateful.
“Often as adoptees we are given the responsibility to carry gratitude at a higher level for our parents that raised us than other people,” which can lead to a somewhat humiliating sense that their adopted family saved them. She says growing up feeling like you needed to be ‘rescued’ can feed an overdeveloped sense of gratitude and lead to unhealthy suppression of the natural desire for origin. Walker finds people are sometimes uncomfortable hearing an adoptee wonder openly about their birthparents. They sometimes chide her, ‘but you’re so lucky, you had a good experience.’… “yes of course,” she answers them, “I feel very blessed and I love my family…but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of grief still attached to my journey.”
“The grief and the gratitude can co-exist.”
Walker urges parents to let adopted children ask all their “whys” and “what ifs” from the earliest possible age. Not expressing big feelings in her own youth compounded her ongoing shame. Her adoptive father was a pastor and after they would sing together at church, people often exclaimed ‘you and your dad sound so good together, you can just tell you’re related!’ Each time she heard that, little Vanessa would be riddled with guilt. “This little thing inside of me felt like ‘I have to tell them that we’re not really related, like I’m lying to them.” Untrained to cope, she bottled up feelings of rejection, uncertainly and lack of belonging. From her experience she believes parents should coach their adopted children on how to tell their own birth stories with poise and dignity.
Hook says adoptive parents must be ever-mindful of the adoptee point of view. “It’s important when we’re saying ‘yes’ to adoption that we can step in to those really hard parts of our child’s story.. into the questions and the searching and the answers that they might be looking for -- and that we can do that with openness and eagerness.” Get educated, she says. Understand the intricacies of parenting adopted children. Join support groups with other families. Take classes on trauma. “We have this idea when we adopt that’s it gonna create the healing, we’re bringing a child into our family and that’s gonna help the relational wounds heal – and that just not true.” Hooks and Walker insist that true healing is in a child-centric approach.
“Adoption should be about families for children, not children for families.”