I don’t remember anyone talking about this in my foster parenting training classes. I don’t remember it from any of the recommended books. But I do remember feeling acutely and desperately guilty once I received a placement… for missing out on my child’s first years.
In 2016, my husband and I adopted an older child from the U.S. foster care system. He was seven and had already lived through every “first” a parent looks forward to early on. There was no skill for us to teach outside of cursive letters and swimming on the deep end of the pool. We missed out on the special glow of Christmas awe on his face. We missed teaching him how to ride a bike. I missed being able to toss him in the air and catch him, like in all the pictures posted, well, everywhere.
Initially, this was all just matter-of-fact and we entered into our parenting roles very much like an adult relationship: you pick up from the moment you meet and go from there. But eventually, in those quiet moments, I began to grieve. And… by this, I mean I sobbed hysterically. Sharing the baby years of my son with another family hurt me to the core and I needed help coming to terms with this.
No one tells you that it feels like a death. And no one tells you that it’s only a sliver of the grief a biological mother may be feeling for the rest of her life. I began to grieve for her as well. It was simply too much for me to handle. This was my wake up call to raise my white flag and start getting professional help.
Post-placement grief, or “post-adoption depression,” is becoming more widely recognized in the mental health field. As parents adjust to their new roles as parents, the devastating knowledge of childhood trauma, loss of control in one’s life (especially as one parents through the foster system), and the potential for major shifts in one’s natural support system, are a few of the reasons new parents should take advantage of the clinical, therapeutic supports available to them.
Did you know? In the state of Arizona, mental health care is completely covered for both the child… AND the caretaker of the child through the AHCCCS insurance program? Family therapy is an identified support service that is paid for through the child’s insurance by a qualifying counseling provider. Biological children are also able to benefit from this as a “peer” support.
As a parent, I learned there was no “our son” or “their’s.” He’s both. This child is always our’s from now on, but will always also be their’s. Out of this honest reflection, I was able to expand on my compassion and forgiveness. With the help of a trusted and knowledgeable counselor, I was able to release those baby days and find joy in the moments I did have with my son without the shadow of loss. As he gets older, I am adjusting my expectations and looking forward to a new round of “firsts,” such as a first trip to Disney World, a first driving lesson, or a first girlfriend. Those milestones are precious and deserve to be celebrated with fresh eyes and an unburdened heart.
If you think you might be experiencing a situation similar to what I did, please do not hesitate to talk to a therapist, and soon.
About the Author:
Janelle Molony, M.S.L., is the author of Un-Adoptable? Faith Beyond Foster Care. In her book, she challenges readers to consider what they are capable of when fueled by either love or fear. She dethrones many legalities associated with foster care and adoption, but her goal is to demystify common fears associated with adopting children who have experienced significant trauma or with special medical/developmental needs. The author confronts status quo, system barriers, faith, and science to get to the heart issues which matter the most. Paperbacks and e-books are available on Amazon.com now. For more information on the author and her writing, visit www.JanelleMolony.com or follow her blog at www.AdoptionToLife.com (@AdoptionToLife).