A hidden secret of adoption that few want to admit is that some adoptive parents still grieve the child they never had…the child that had always hoped to give birth to. These feelings of grief often catch parents by surprise. And just as often fill them with guilt.
They are happy. They love their adopted child. They are grateful and thankful and all the other “__fuls” that they should feel. But still, amongst all this fullness, there is a whole in their heart for the child that never was, but was very much in their hearts and mind.
Many adoptive parents feel shame and guilt in the face of this grief… a sense of being disloyal to their much loved adopted child. What a confusing place to be.
Grief is a Process, Not a Switch
You may always feel the loss of experiencing pregnancy or having a genetic connection to your child, but it need not be overwhelming. You also need not feel guilty. Carole LieberWilkins, a therapist specializing in adoption and family building options, summed it up well:
“The hardest thing about reproductive loss is saying goodbye to someone we never said hello to. Our sadness and depression over the loss of our genetic offspring is grief. But unlike the grief we feel when a real person dies, infertility grief means saying goodbye to someone who was never really here. When there is an actual death, we have ritual around it. We have funerals and wakes, or we sit Shiva, and make social calls. We go to church or temple, and often light candles. People bring casseroles to our homes and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.
But when we are told that we need genetics from someone else in order to conceive, when we need to confront that our child may not look like us, be like us, laugh like our grandparent, or have our partner’s intelligence, no one brings us a casserole and no one says they are sorry for our loss. There is no name to give to a person who died, even though we feel exactly like a real person has passed. That’s because the person has been so real to us for so long, even if we didn’t realize it.” – Carole LieberWilkins
We talked about all this on the Creating a Family show (Grieving Infertility Loss after Adopting) with our guest Carole LieberWilkins. Not only has adoption and infertility therapy been her profession since 1986, she also lived the experience personally by having a child through adoption and then a child through egg donation just 10 months later. We covered how to know when you are ready to stop infertility treatment and move to adoption, and how to decide if you should go back into fertility treatment for your next child.
Are you still grieving the loss of your biological child even after adopting?
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This blog was first published in 2013 and updated in 2015.
Image credit: Lee Morley