Gifts, Gratitude and Sliding Doors

The calendar midpoint between Thanksgiving and Christmas coincides with Hanukkah. It also highlights an emotional intersection for parents by birth and adoption, and individuals who arrived in families via adoption, assisted reproduction and foster care. For many of us, instead of a well-managed intersection equipped with stop, go, and caution lights, it feels more like a high speed roundabout with traffic feeding in from various avenues, lots of honking, periodic crashes, and drivers and passengers alike questioning how they got involved, struggling to manage their fear or anger, and wondering which exit might lead to Sanity Street.

Gifts and Not-gifts

Adoptive parents often refer to the children they bring into their family as a gift. This is understandable, since parents who conceive and raise children usually feel the same way, and couples who are unable to conceive may have a deeper sense of appreciation for the opportunity to become parents. But many birth/first parents, especially those from the closed adoption Baby Scoop Era (1940-1980) point out that the experience of losing a child to adoption against their will was more like an amputation than offering a gift intended to complete the lives of another couple. Most adoptees raised by devoted parents receive many gifts, blessings and opportunities in their adoptive families, yet many of us still struggle to view the loss of family continuity we experienced as anything but a gaping hole in our souls. Resolving the tension, integrating the meaning behind the stories of our two families, is one of the major life tasks of adoptees, according to Rafael Javier, Ph.D.

Gratitude and Not-gratitude

Many adoptive parents are forever grateful for the children they adopt, raise, and send into adult life, and reasonably hope for some measure of love, gratitude and loyalty in return. Some who began with deep thanksgiving for their bouncing new baby later change their minds for any of a variety of reasons, and seek to return or re-home the child. Some birth/first parents who, after thorough counseling and a decision based on informed consent in an open or semi-open adoption, feel an initial rush of relief and gratitude, though bittersweet, that their baby will have a stable, loving home. Having a chance to meet and select the new parents seems to help reduce trauma. But circumstances can change, open adoptions may close (at the wish of either adoptive or birth/first parents), and time may provide deeper insight into the magnitude of what happened, turning gratitude into grief and regret.

For the majority of adoptees who are adopted into homes that are, in fact, stable and loving, the reasons to be grateful for the affection, support and generosity showered upon us are myriad. For those adopted by abusive, emotionally absent, or addictive families, the experience adds injury to loss, yet the societal message that adoptees should be grateful for the lives we were given continues to be broadcast. A certain percentage of adoptees seem to be able to come to terms with their story, feel gratitude to their birth/first parents for "making the courageous decision to give them a better life" and settle into the view that their adoptive family is their "real" family. Periodical