Parenting Tips: Grieving a Failed Adoption
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a ministry of America World Adoption
“….a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12
Grieving a Failed Adoption
Recently, we heard the sad news that Ethiopia has closed its doors to international adoption. This not only affects the thousands of children living without families in Ethiopia, it also affects the families who were hoping to adopt from Ethiopia. Some families had just begun the process and some had been waiting 5 years or more for a referral. No matter where they were in the process, we know that this kind of news can be a huge loss.
Often, this kind of loss is overlooked and hard to communicate. It is not like a death of a loved one, or a house burning down, or a loss of a marriage. We can define those losses and try to explain our grief about them to other people for support. There are standard ways to grieve, like holding a funeral or memorial service, receiving a sympathy card, and joining a grief support group, and there are ways to process your loss, to cope, and to express and receive comfort.
The closing of the Ethiopia program could better be understood as a “secondary loss,” meaning it grows out of a primary loss. Secondary losses are different for each person, and they can impact many areas in one’s life, creating multiple losses. These losses can show up immediately or show up later, but they are a part of the grief process. Some examples of secondary losses are a loss of identity, loss of hopes and dreams, loss of finances, loss of faith, loss of purpose, or loss of a supportive community (like an Ethiopia Adoption Group). A secondary loss is harder to define, which makes it harder for people to recognize the loss. When an adoption falls through, although you have not lost a child who was physically in your home, you have lost the child you have dreamed about, prayed for, imagined and loved. People may say well-meaning things like “It was just not meant to be” or “it may be a good thing that you did not adopt after all,” but they may not understand the depth of your feelings of loss. It’s important that families who are experiencing this loss be able to grieve.
Learning more about the Stages of Grief might be helpful for families who are grieving this loss or others. The Stages of Grief were developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and provide a general structure for what most commonly happens when someone experiences a loss and is grieving. By no means are the stages meant to be prescriptive for every person, and we understand that the grief process is not linear. Many people will flow from one of the stages to another and back again in a matter of days. The purpose of sharing the stages is to perhaps give someone who is grieving some kind of context for what they might be feeling. Here is a summary of the 5 Stages of Grief:
DENIAL: “This can’t be happening.” This first stage often protects us from having to deal with our overwhelming emotions. It can often feel like a numbness or isolation from reality, but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about what’s happened.
ANGER: “Why is this happening to me?” It’s important not to hold your anger inside, but express it in safe ways. Explore your anger in a way that is not harmful to you or others. It’s natural to direct your anger at others, but it’s important to recognize what you are feeling and communicate in a way that does not harm those you love. Your anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.
BARGAINING: “I will do anything to change this.” This stage involves thinking about what could have been done differently to prevent the loss. It’s important to process through these feelings, because left unresolved, these thoughts can lead to intense feelings of guilt or remorse.
DEPRESSION: “What’s the point in going on after this loss?” You may experience deep sadness beyond what you imagined, loss of sleep, reduced appetite, or loss of motivation. These feelings can seem like they will last forever, but these feelings are a part of the grieving process, and you should not rush yourself to “snap out of it.” Again, it’s important not to suppress these feelings, but to acknowledge your pain in safe spaces.
ACCEPTANCE: “It’s going to be ok.” Learning to live with your new normal, and thinking about how you will move on from this loss. It does not mean that you are all right with this new reality, just that you’ve accepted it. This acceptance stage is not a final stage or an endpoint, but it is a process. Be patient with yourself and don’t expect to be ready to move on quickly.
“Grief never ends… But it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of
weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love.” – author unknown
If you are struggling with the news of Ethiopia closing, or are grieving another loss, know that there are resources and people to whom you can reach out. Our ACT program has professional and compassionate coaches who can talk with you about your grief and walk with you as you process your emotions. Please reach out and let us help.
Finally, we know that God is in control and that He is good. He listens when we call to Him, and He answers us with His loving kindness.
“So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I spread out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go, for to You I lift up my soul.”
– Psalm 143:4, 6-8
This article was written by Samantha Fuhrman, the Director of Social Services of America World’s New York office. She is a Christian social worker who desires to serve God through advocating for those without a voice.
ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching. Explore ACT services on our website, and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.