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Adoptive Parents Experience Trauma, Too

Adoptive Parents Experience Trauma, Too


I’m an adoptive mother. And I have trauma from my child’s adoption.

It’s no secret to anyone that adoption is hard. Every aspect of it is hard. When you’re determining the life of an innocent child, nothing can be taken lightly. The process takes a mental, emotional, physical, and financial toll. And I’m only speaking from the perspective of an adoptive parent. I can’t imagine what biological parents go through to come to the decision to place their child for adoption.  I have no doubt that it is excruciatingly painful.

Trauma comes in so many different forms. Each person experiences it differently – even if they experience the same situation. Two of our children came to us by adoption and they are the absolute light of my life. My love for them is endless and my gratitude for each of them will endure for all of time. But our road to them was difficult.  Parts of their stories are difficult to relive and I’m still experiencing complex emotions a few years later.

My oldest daughter is approaching her fourth birthday. In the past, I’ve cried on every single one of her birthdays. My heart has been full of anxiety and sorrow and a beat later I’d be swamped in joy and gratitude. This has always been so confusing for me to navigate. The emotions would come and go without permission like a reckless force.  I’ve spent the days and weeks leading up to her special day flooded with grief, sadness, and regret. These emotions were quickly followed by guilt. Oh, the endless guilt I have felt for experiencing any emotions that wasn’t pure joy and gratitude. Recently, I made a big self-discovery that I hope will help me navigate many birthdays to come. It’s simple but something in my mind has shifted. Here’s what I know now: her birthdays are a major trauma trigger for me. Here’s why.

I didn’t know my daughter on the day she was born. In fact, I didn’t know she existed until she was 1.5 days old. I didn’t get to her until she was 2.5 days old. In the past, her birthdays have been a deeply painful day for me because I am reminded that I wasn’t there. I will never be able to tell her about that day. I’ll never be able to tell her how she came in to the world. I only know a general timeline of events as outlined in her medical records from various accounts of nurses and social workers. For her first 2.5 days she was in the hands of complete strangers. Although the doctors and nurses were caring and kind, they did not love and care for my baby girl like I do. No one rocked her to sleep. No one held here on their chest, skin-to-skin, for hours. No one was there to read her books or sing her a lullaby. She didn’t know what it felt like to be held and have her head caressed. She never heard a consistent voice but instead it was a new voice every 12 hours as the nurses changed shifts. I am her mama and I wasn’t there. Every birthday, a day of celebration for the life of the little person I am so overwhelmingly grateful for, is a day of grieving for me. I flashback to the day she was born so often and imagine the events unfolding. She made a pretty dramatic entrance, from what I hear, which is not surprising now that I know this precious girl that is bold, vibrant, and so full of life. I try to imagine her first cry. I wonder who the first person she saw was when she opened her big, bright eyes. I wonder if the doctors and nurses were gentle enough with her as they rushed her to the NICU. I imagine her being poking and hooked up to machines too big for my precious little girl. I wonder how long her birthmother had been in labor beforehand. I wonder if my sweet girl felt scared or curious or cold or pain. These thoughts come on many other days that aren’t her birthday, too. I can’t escape them so I sit with them and I feel grief when it comes knocking. I try to focus on how overwhelmingly grateful I am to be her mother, even if I was two days late. But the love I have for her is so big, so reckless, and pure that I have trauma from the fact that I wasn’t there and she was alone. My baby, alone in this big world.

Trauma is works in funny ways. It’s all the emotions and they arrive without warning and never fall in the same pattern. They show up in the middle of the happiest moments to serve as a reminder of the heartache that adoption can be. Many adoptive parents have experienced trauma in other ways, too. Many have experienced a failed adoption which is heartbreaking. Some may have experience with hardships with biological family or custody issues. Even if you are holding your precious miracle in your arms, you can still have trauma. As I’ve opened up to a few fellow adoptive parents, I realized that I am not alone with my heartache and grief. Most days, my absolute joy and bliss of being a mama overshadows all other things. When the sorrow comes, especially on her birthday, it nearly knocks me off my feet but maybe someday we’ll celebrate her birthday and I will only experience the true gratitude and love that I feel for her every second of every day.

I am not writing of my trauma in the efforts to downplay the gut-wrenching experience of biological parents. I am simply saying that adoptive parents can experience trauma, too. It’s okay. You’re not alone.  And you shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed for a second longer.