Susie Doig, adoptive mom and Holt’s senior executive of U.S. programming, reflects on the importance of acknowledging the losses that are inherent to adoption, along with celebrating the gains.
When I first began working at Holt in 1995, it was such a privilege to play even a small part in helping children living in institutions in China be welcomed and doted on by loving adoptive families in the U.S. I loved everything about my job – helping hopeful prospective adoptive parents complete mounds of paperwork, calling to tell them they had been matched with a child, “oohing” and “ahhing” over the photos adoptive parents would send in of their adopted child reading a book with grandma, laughing with friends, riding a bike for the first time. I saw the way adoption transformed the life of the child and the lives of the adoptive parents. Naming all of the gains that came with adoption was easy. To me, adoption was such a beautiful expression of love, transforming lives and bringing hope. Adoption has the potential to bring out the best in human beings and be a force for good in the world.
After 28 years of working at Holt, I still believe in the beauty of adoption. But I also have a much deeper understanding that adoption is born out of desperation, separation and displacement. The act of welcoming a child through adoption does not occur unless a child is first separated from the family they were born into. As powerfully transformative as it is to unite a child with a loving adoptive family, it is just as powerful and just as transformative for that same child to be separated from their biological origins, from the people who look like them, from those with whom they share the same basic building blocks of life.
After having worked in adoption for almost a decade, my husband and I made the decision to adopt, and we did not make it lightly. A decade of learning about adoption taught me that adoption is both beautiful and tragic. I knew through my experience working with adoptive families that as an adoptive mom, I would experience a deep, transformative love for my adopted child. I also knew that by deciding to adopt, I would bear witness to the grief and loss that would be part of my child’s life story and that I would need to find ways to support them through their lifelong journey of making sense of their experience. My heart would burst with the love that I would feel for my child (which it does), but would also ache deeply knowing the pain they had experienced that I couldn’t take away or fix (which is also true). Adoption involves mourning and celebrating, pain and healing, losses and gains.
National Adoption Awareness Month provides an opportunity for me to reflect on the importance of continuing to hold space for the losses that are inherent to adoption, along with celebrating the gains.
As an adoptive mom, I had hoped that if I just did a good enough job parenting my child that it would somehow minimize the losses they’ve experienced and make their path in life easier. But I’ve learned over time that nothing I do changes the beginning of their story or removes the task they are saddled with of trying to make sense of all the pieces. Working in the field of adoption, I have witnessed the struggles adoptees experience — the unspoken messages they receive that they should be grateful for being adopted, that there’s nothing to be sad about now.
When adoptees share stories of how adoption positively impacts their lives, we celebrate with them. But when adoptees talk about the pain of being separated from their first families, of the discrimination or marginalization they experience, of wanting answers to questions about their past, we become uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge these deep losses, because when we acknowledge them we are acknowledging that adoption doesn’t automatically heal all wounds or erase all losses. It also reminds us of our own wounds and our own losses, and can sometimes cause them to reopen.
So during National Adoption Awareness Month, I will continue to celebrate what is beautiful about adoption. Individuals, couples and families stepping forward to welcome a child into their lives and embrace them as a cherished member of their family. Children who experience loss and face an uncertain future have an opportunity to experience safety, love and stability. We see the possibility of a world where every child can grow up in a loving, safe family, even if they are unable to remain with their first family.
And during National Adoption Awareness Month, I want to continue to acknowledge what is hard about adoption too. Adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents all experience losses and gains in adoption. What are the losses that need to be mourned? For my child? For me? For my child’s birth family? What are the struggles that need to be acknowledged? As an adoption professional, how are we getting adoption right and where are we getting it wrong and what do we need to do differently?
Adoptive parents often want to focus exclusively on the gains related to adoption, while adoptees and birth parents are often denied the opportunity to have their losses acknowledged. This month, with the special focus on adoption, all of us have an opportunity to make space for both the beauty and tragedy of adoption, for the losses and the gains of adoption, for acknowledging the pain and the opportunity to move towards healing.
Susie Doig | Senior Executive, U.S. Programming
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