Today I'm writing for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out (#WASO) and the optional theme we've been given is 'loss'. Where to start?
First, it's the understanding that while a thread of loss runs through all the stories that go together to make up the tapestry of each adoption, loss is not unique to our situation. It offers little to no comfort when experiencing pain and heartache to hear that others might be suffering too, but it is nonetheless true and knowing it can help us gain perspective.
I have friends whose children have additional needs. For one family it was the hammer blow of arriving for a routine pregnancy scan with no more important question in mind than discovering the sex of the baby, only to be told that their precious, longed-for, unborn child had a serious and potentially devastating brain abnormality. Theirs is a story of miracles and wonder as their child continues to grow healthy and strong despite having a significant portion of his brain missing. And yet, when the news comes, the sense of loss is overwhelming; grief at the loss of the child you had imagined; fear for the future of the child you actually have; the unknown stretching ahead interminably.
For others it is a gradual realisation that your child isn't developing normally, isn't achieving the milestones on the charts. Again, once the diagnosis is made and accepted, there's that sense of loss and grief for the child they could have been but will never be. It doesn't mean that parents don't love and cherish the child they have, but there must be a coming to terms with the new reality, and a laying down of expectations that had been so taken for granted.
There are no certainties whatsoever in becoming a parent. At least as an adoptive parent, I got training, information and some understanding of what was likely to come before I took the plunge. And I got a say about the child I would parent.
For myself, it is the loss associated with what I call 'invisible infertility' - the fertility worries of a single woman to whom most people (including health professionals!) seem to say, well, you're not in a position to have children so what does it matter if you can't?
Actually, long before I adopted, I had put to bed any idea of having children. I sort of stumbled over adoption because of our circumstances and because OB had won my heart - it was never an intention of mine to adopt. I had become used to seeing friend after friend get married, get pregnant, grow their families. I had accepted that I would be alone, that there would be nobody there in my old age.
So to me, OB is a miracle. He is not a cure for my loss, and nor should he be. I still feel a tiny bit jealous when each new person announces a joyous pregnancy, not because I don't feel like a real Mum, but because I think there will always be a part of me that will wonder what it would be like to carry my own child, to feel it kicking, to experience the emotion of holding my tiny newborn in my arms for the first time, to have the first few months, to look for my own features in my child's face, or to look for my own strengths and weaknesses in their gifts and personality. Maybe all that stuff doesn't really matter or isn't as special as I imagine it would be, but it's not true that you don't miss what you never had.
But he is a miracle nonetheless. Only yesterday as I spent the afternoon at a local country park with friends and their children I remarked on how I can hardly believe that this is what I do now - I go on playdates with my wonderful, precious son. When I get him up in the morning, it feels like a miracle. When he says something funny (which is often!) or calls me Mummy (or 'darlin'!) or gives me a kiss - miracle. Even when he's grumpy or shouting or crying or ignoring me - miracle all the way!
Yet I know that my gain means yet more loss. I think of his birth mum who I got to know quite well. I struggle to imagine how she gets through her days knowing that the child she carried and gave birth to calls someone else 'Mummy'. I think also of grandmas who must wait for a once-yearly letter to give them precious titbits of information about the grandson they cannot enjoy for themselves.
And I think of OB. Although he has gained me, and all my family who couldn't love him any more, and a wide circle of my friends who go to extraordinary lengths to include us and love us, I am always aware that he has lost so much. While some might say that he is 'better off' now, there is no getting away from the fact that, whatever his birth mum's failings, OB has been cut off from his birth family in a very abrupt way. This is a loss and it needs to be acknowledged. I foresee a lot of delicate handling of a tangled emotional web in our future.
Having said all of that though, I firmly believe that it is not up to our losses to define who we are. We are not at the mercy of loss. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said that "For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain." Basically, whether he lived or died, lost or gained, flourished or withered, Paul was secure because his life was defined by something more than that. People say it when they get married - for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health - whatever comes, we will be steadfast, it will not change us or destroy us.
I am a firm believer that we can choose how we respond to our losses. It's not that we can will our negative emotions away - I don't really believe in the power of positive thinking - it's more that we can choose to structure our lives in such a way that they aren't defined by the negatives. Eventually, after years of wishing for what I did not have, I sought out the sources of joy in my life as it really was and took advantage of my situation to do some wonderful things that might not have been possible if I had had a family, including living abroad, getting involved in lots of voluntary work and, later, fostering. And then, when I least expected it, I got the very thing I had once longed for.
My desire as a parent is to enable OB to grasp hold of every part of his life with courage, including the awkward, difficult bits. I hope that he will always be able to choose what drives his life, and not be helplessly driven along by all the things that were chosen for him; that whatever is considered loss in his life would be turned to gain in surprising and fruitful ways.