Absence of Grief

Edited 4/14 to fix the link to Nicole's post - sorry about that, Nicole!

I think I scared you all away. I was so proud of my last post, but I'm wondering now if it's heading off to that dark place I was in last year. Or maybe it just stank, LOL. But it's a first stab at a topic that's important - how we talk about and visualize adoption. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of prospective adoptive parents out there who are being told that adoption is a triad, made up of equal members - a nice, pat way of looking at an experience that's clearly nothing like that. Time for this to change, I think.

Which is a good segue into something that has been bothering me recently. Nicole posted a deeply emotional and moving post about her relationship with her daughter. It's a post of questions - whys and ifs and hows about her daughter's lack of interest in adoption, the absence of grief in her life, and the reasons for her apparent disinterest. And one more, which simply broke my heart: How do you live with unrequited love for your child?

My heart goes out to Nicole, and to all of the first mothers who are struggling with the pain she describes. No mother should be asking these questions. No mother should have to wonder if a child she loves grieves her loss.

I had no words for Nicole, and left no comment, but the post has been turning in my head all day, literally haunting me. I would have liked to offer some sympathy and support, but after reading these words, I simply couldn't. It would have made me feel like a fraud.
If something is important to you and you lose it, you grieve. Simple as that. So if you lose something and you never grieve much (or at all), then again, one of two possibilities: either you’re in denial (ack!), or the thing you lost just doesn’t mean much to you.
You see, I've never seen my kids grieve. Through all the discussions about their first families, and the encouragement to seek and find and have relationships with them, I've never seen grief - save the time we had to share the news that one of our children's fathers had passed away.

For all my enlightened talk, I may have missed entirely some important aspect of parenting that has rendered my children incapable of really feeling love for their first parents. Yes, we've talked openly about them, we have even (through an intermediary) made brief contact with one mother. But in spite of this, my children's parents may exist for them only in the abstract - surreal phantoms who live only in their thoughts, but not in their hearts.

I would never want to impose grief on my children if they honestly don't feel it. But I would equally not want to deny them grief if it helped them heal any pain they may carry, or bring them emotionally closer to their first parents. Do I force the issue? Seek counseling when they see no reason? Talk more, and more directly, about their first parents?

At the moment, I have no answers. I just pray - for my children - that it's not too late to find them.


Ryan said…
I found your blog by clicking "next blog" from my daughters and just wanted to tell you that you write beautifully! I myself have not adopted but I have family and friends who have. Your blog is very touching and Baby James is now in our prayers too.
Lisa V said…
I have friends who feel little attachment to their father who left their mother early in life. I think sometimes it's hard to connect with "abstract." But I also think it might be normal for some adoptees to not be ready to deal with it as children. I think they may not know exactly how they feel about a lot of things as teenagers. They may need an adult perspective.
Susan said…
I never felt any grief over losing my birth parents, only a strong curiousity. The grief didn't come until I met her in my 20s and we developed a close relationship and then she decided she didn't want contact with me. (after 15 years of knowing me) Now THAT was grief. But I didn't feel grief as a child or teen and I think it did have to do with the abstract.
Dana said…
I hate to talk for my husband, but he never really had and grief or urge to reconnect with his past until he became a father himself. It peaked last year, when our daughter reached the age (3.75) that he was when he was adopted, and imagined all of the living she had done so far, and how much of his own childhood story he had lost.

Perhaps your kids are still too young to have reached that stage?
Anonymous said…
I didn't post this over at Nic's page -- but I do think that babies grieve -- it is deep, primal and preverbal -- and that for some adoptees that may be all the "grief" they feel. They may develop anger, curiosity, resentment, but may not ever "grieve" again. In part that's because first parents are -- if it is not an open adoption -- an abstract concept. So I agree with Susan that grief may only follow reunion. I don't know how that works in open adoptions. I would like to think that if a-parents and first parents handle it well -- and the child loves all of his or her parents, then grief is unnecessary and his or her adoption is seen as o.k. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, I would not worry that your kids have not "grieved." That they are somewhow not healthy or dealing with their adoptions. Just my two cents.
Heidi said…
Hi! I linked to your blog from 5 Minutes for Mom. I, too, am an adoptive parent of 2 children from Vietnam (ages 6 and almost 1), along with 1 bio child (age 13). I come from an adoptive family~ I have 2 brothers adopted from Korea in 1985.
They were 5 & 7 when we adopted them~ and I think that they have both experienced grief at various stages in their lives~ much of which they keep hidden. But, despite encouragement from us as their family, neither has any interest in returning to Korea. They feel very much Americanized and have no interest in Korean culture or their past (well, except for Kim Chi!)
My children were both tiny when I adopted them. We've answered some questions with our 6 year old, but haven't seen any indication of "grief" (yet). We'll see....
Anyway, your children are beautiful!
(you can see mine at http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/ReviewsbyHeidi
Possum said…
I think that I had my first real sense of 'grief' when I fell pregnant - and had my own children.
Up until that stage I was ultra sensitive to rejection etc - but as my a-mum never knew of these issues - it was never discussed - I just thought i was too sensitive and a bit or a freak.
When my first daughter was put in the special care nursery for a high temp soon after her birth (she was 8 and a half pounds and very healthy looking - but they were a little concerned - to this day I don't know what the problem was) I didn't get her back by my side for 2 days. I was a complete mess. As if maybe my first mother didn't want me - and now I'm not allowed to have another of my own flesh and blood.
Yes - completely ridiculous in adult terms - but it felt so very real to me.
Now - maybe it was worse for me as my mother didn't allow me to talk about my first mother - let alone have sad feelings for her.
I'm positive that if it's all handled with care - the outcome for the adoptee would be far greater than it was for me.
HeatherRainbow said…
I have a mom friend whose relatives just recently adopted.

The baby was crying straight for two months, didn't hardly sleep or eat.

My mom friend said said, "Do you think he misses his mother?" And, the adoptive parent relative said, "No, of course not."

But, I wonder, if just because it is preverbal... if babies are grieving and we just don't see it as grief. And, because we don't see it, as they get older, they test the boundaries of what is okay for them, because they don't want to hurt their adoptive parents, or be rejected again. And, this is because society tells them they should be grateful, and their loss isn't really a loss, its a gain.

Once they understand the messages being given to them, its no wonder they do not grieve.
Mama Nabi said…
In the orphanage where I used to volunteer (in Seoul), I did witness grief... among newborns, the constant searching for warm mommy bodies, among the babies, the reaching and sad eyes, and the older ones, toddlers and children... well, they vocalized grief. At that older stage, however, they were grieving an absence not the presence. (Does that make sense? Kinda comes back to your post title, doesn't it?) I think, once you are no longer able to remember what you were grieving, it resides too deep inside for children to articulate...?
Kathy said…
Margie, the best thing I ever did
for my children was to take them
to the Jane Brown playshops. I
was amazed by what was under the
surface of my children's feelings.
My children met with a first mother
and so did I. To be able to meet
a first mother and hear her story
was so moving. I loved her.
Maybe your children could volunteer
for one of her playshops for the
younger children.
Or what about a PACT camp?
Lizard said…
These feelings of separated children - the loss they've experienced, the grief they need to express - come from real memories. They are not only pre-verbal memories but they are also somatic memories. The memory of the loss is in the body, so it is never going to occur to them consciously. If you wait for that, you will wait forever and it is no proof whatsoever that these feelings do not exist. They do.

Many people still think that babies cry just because babies cry, you know? But the truth is babies ALWAYS cry for a reason - a good reason.

Any of you are welcome to come to my blog and read the articles I have listed on the sidebar. There are many excellent and informative ones, and I won't be offended one bit if all you do is come and read and ignore the rest. :)
Not it most definitely did not stink. My problem with commenting on your blog is the fact that it starts with a "T" and therefore is towards the bottom of my list, and a lot of times by the time I get around to commenting you and those under you get the short stick. Not fair! I'm going to list you as Margie in my reader for a while.

I didn't start to recognize grief as what it was until I was older. Mostly I had anger, but it wasn't until I was pregnant that I started to really understand grief. But even then it was so overwhelming that when I started to tentatively search and not get immediate results, I pushed that all down.
Michelle said…
"Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful"
— The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

This has got to be the best quote about adoption loss that's been written.

Even if adopters present the idea of grieving to the adopted person, I think there is and will always be difficulty grieving or expressing loss to the people who "saved" you. Even if the word saved never comes up, there is an underlying message the adoptee receives from society that they were rescued from a potentially horrible life. Look how we see adoption celebrated around the world - people celebrate family separation. So, if the adopted person is confused about what she/he feels, the mixed messages sent by others makes the whole grieving process almost impossible. It is also difficult to grieve something you don't understand. Our parents didn't die, they are/were missing.

I think I have been grieving my whole life but was not aware of it. It came in various forms.

The actual act of grieving, though, and understandfing that your body is letting go of emotions that had been pented up for so long is different than acknowledging that one has the right to grieve.

Two years ago I had a complete meltdown. It was after being on a list with mothers of adoption loss, and finally, after months of reading and listening to their stories and pain, I relaized for the first time that my mother had loved me (I was 42). I knew that when my mother saw me again after a 32-year separation, that her eyes melted; she was filled with regret and pain, but at the same time relief and joy. I did not understand that my own mother could have really missed me and loved me.

This meltdown was me screaming and crying over the years of not having her, and of course my mother's death after only eight months of finding her. I had not grieved losing her to adoption, let alone her death. After she died (in 1996)I did exactly what I had done for the years growing up without her....I went numb to the pain. I went into shock....I never cried when she died....I didn't know how, I could not allow myself to let her go. I could not blieve that she was actually gone....again!

When I reached the grieving stage, I was able to see my mother as a person who had lost her baby girl (and many other children). I felt her pain for the first time. I saw me through her eyes. It was an extremely painful experience.

My mother was once a little girl....she did not grow up imagining herself losing her babies.
I know that the first time I saw her (again) that she wished with every fibre of her body that she did not lose me to adoption. I felt it.

Pain does not have a face nor does it work on a clock.......grieving is the same. It's a feeling that most people in our culture avoid with all their being. Grieving isn't fun....but afterward is when the new energy arrives and we can let new feelings and thoughts to come in.
Margie said…
I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughts. What you all have told me here is that even if my children aren't verbalizing or displaying grief, it is there, somewhere deep inside, somewhere that they themselves may not be able to reach yet. And it is utterly logical that it may surface when they themselves have children - I'm thinking that just watching other pregnancies might be a trigger, too.

I've sometimes heard friends say that once our kids head to college, the bulk of our parenting job is behind us. Well, that may be true from the day-to-day perspective, but I'm learing that I will have a lot of parenting to do all through their lives. Yes, adoption is indeed a process, a journey that will last a lifetime. And it will be important for me to be there for my kids throughout.

That said, I realize, too, that "being there" for them may be just that - quietly standing by, letting them know I'm there for them when they ask, but not interfering or pushing into this intensely personal experience.

Again, thank you all. This discussion has been incredibly helpful to me.
"I've sometimes heard friends say that once our kids head to college, the bulk of our parenting job is behind us. Well, that may be true from the day-to-day perspective, but I'm learing that I will have a lot of parenting to do all through their lives."

My God Margie that's so true. When ours started off to college, I had this image in my head of them coming back on school breaks but spending all their time with friends... the intensity of parenting is just as much, sometimes even more, when the 2:30 AM sobbing phone calls come over romantic breakups, friends in hospitals, fears of failure.. even my mother in law in her 70's said to me on Easter that the parenting and worrying never ends, no matter how old they are.. and her youngest is 42.
Rebecca said…
Margie, I was never able to label my feelings as grief until I was 28 and blogging. Now that I look back on things I did in my life, emotions that I could not name and know it as grief. This last Christmas my parents shared slides of me as a newborn that horrified me. I have never seen a baby look like that and what's worse, it was me. I didn't ask my parents about it at the time but maybe I should have. It was so weird that they took a picture of me like that. Later when I brought it up, they said I always was like that. Screaming my head off? It hurts me to this day to hear that I was unconsolable and didn't want to be held. My first mother says that she doesn't belive I missed her but I think she tells herself that to make herself feel better. Your kids may never grieve and that's ok too. Just giving them the freedom to have their emotions and validating them is a wonderful thing. Love your blog, Margie. Hugs, Rebecca

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