Adoption is such a gift. And while that’s true, loss for the adopted child doesn’t stop at placement. Adoptive families know the reality of dealing with loss and longings of their adopted children. But it’s often completely missed by friends, family and those in our community who only know the celebration of adoption. As we mark Adoption Awareness Month, let’s give space for adoption grief. Sharing about adoption grief today is Somer Colbert.
I knelt down to the muddy ground feeling completely helpless as my daughter soaked her peanut butter and jelly sandwich with tears. As calmly as possible, I began to encourage her to take deep calming breaths with me as she gasped for air between the sobs.
This was supposed to be a fun day. A day she had been looking forward to for weeks. Her first school field trip. Her first ride on a “big kid” bus. It was her class trip to the local pumpkin patch.
The excitement of the festivities had quickly been overshadowed by an overwhelming fear that could not be reasoned away. You see, the field trip was only scheduled to last the morning and then another bus ride would take her back to school where I would pick her up in the car line with her older brothers as I always do.
But the realization of this plan was all it took to trigger her and the intensity of her reaction could not be anticipated. Suddenly, my bright, happy and energetic girl could not see past her fear that Mama was leaving from the field trip without her and she panicked.
For my daughter, this is what grief looks like. A recurring fear that manifests itself in her sweet little mind telling her that even though it doesn’t make sense, and it’s never happened before, somehow this time, Mama might not show up.
The thought of it caused her to wither into a crumpled posture while pouring out tears and refusing to listen to reason or comfort.
November is Adoption Awareness Month as well as a month for Child Grief Awareness Day and I find this very fitting as adoption and grief go hand in hand.
This is something I wish I understood when my husband and I said yes to adoption nearly a decade ago. How we desperately could have used an experienced voice of wisdom as we walked our journey!
Nearly a decade of experience has taught us that grief is normal and actually expected in the adoption journey. However, this fact should not deter anyone from answering the call to open their hearts to a precious life in need of love and stability.
Contrary to what people might assume, adoption is not a pretty little package wrapped neatly with a bow but in fact, it is messy, difficult and often leads to grief.
Grief when things don’t work out. Grief that manifests through the adopted child’s behavior such as anxiety and difficulty bonding with a family who walked through literal hell and back to bring them home. Or in my daughter’s case, an innate fear that the people they love and depend on will abandon them.
Families who say yes to adoption are agreeing to step into a lifetime process of healing from grief on behalf of their child. Stepping into what the enemy has broken is not for the faint of heart and adoptive families and their kids desperately need awareness and support, especially from the body of Christ.
We may not all be called to foster or adopt, but every Christ follower is called to serve those in need.
3 Ways to Give Space for Adoption Grief
- Be a Safe Place
Adoptive families don’t need to hide behind the pretty package that others perceive. In order to begin to heal from grief, families walking the adoption journey have to feel safe enough to be honest that things are hard and help is needed. They also need to feel confident to reach out for help through counseling and practical day to day support.
An understanding heart and a listening ear is pure gold for the adoptive family. The body of Christ through the local church should be tripping over themselves to seek out and identify these needs and answer accordingly without judgement.
2. Provide Practical Support
You cannot minister to others if you do not truly see their need. Adoptive families need a massive amount of support as they are choosing to live their lives in the trenches each and every day and facing head on the challenge of helping to heal brokenness they did not cause. While in those trenches, it can be hard to come up for air much less know what support to ask for.
Simple suggestions to help serve and support would be things like meals, toys, groceries, clothes or take action by hiring a babysitter, offering to come do laundry or just sit with them and listen – anything you can provide that will relieve the day to day needs so that parents can focus on the heart work, which is the greatest need. If the Lord is prompting, don’t ask. Just go and help however you feel led.
3. Commit to Continued Prayer
When I say adoptive families are in the trenches, I am talking about deep dark trenches where the enemy is ferociously fighting to derail any attempts to redeem what he has destroyed. While physical provisions are a blessing, what these families need most is a host of prayer warriors battling on their behalf daily, hourly, and moment by moment.
Prayer and the truth of God’s Word spoken over the lives of these families and their children is the single most effective tool the body of Christ can employ to begin to work toward healing from grief and rebuilding their lives.
As I sat next to my daughter at that pumpkin patch, trying my best to calm and reassure her, a little girl approached and gently asked, “Are you okay?” All my daughter could do was nod. There was no way in that moment that she could have communicated to her little friend the swarm of overwhelming feelings inside of her and yet, the fact that her friend took the initiative to show care and concern was enough to let my daughter know that she was seen and loved and slowly she began to calm down.
This little girl’s example is a reminder for all of us. The simplest of acts can play a part in a bigger story of healing from grief and trauma. All it takes is a willingness to see a need, take initiative to do something and step back and see what God does and how He redeems.
Somer Colbert is a writer, speaker and host of the Love Where You Are podcast. She founded Ahavah in our Hearts Ministry with weekly podcast episodes and resources to help Christian women identify their gospel influence, love boldly and share Jesus where they are. Somer resides in Arkansas with her husband, three kids and three dogs, forever changed by walking multiple adoption journeys. Connect at somercolbert.com and IG @somercolbert.