My daughter arrived home at thirteen months, broken in spirit and disconnected. I sensed that she was engulfed in an invisible cocoon. Her cries and screams which happened without warning and often over a dozen times each day, expressed her fathomless grief and her inability to connect. My daughter was trying, but her sensory processing system was not integrated. I didn’t know how to help her, other than to snuggle her up as close to me as I possibly could, many times skin-to-skin, in an attempt to absorb the demons that chased her.
It would be years later until I understood the magnitude of the cards she’d been dealt by losing her birth mother and by being adopted. I, mother to this precious soul, was ripped open. My daughter’s grief and her sensory integration processing disorder connected us on the deepest level imaginable. She felt safe with me and shared every bit of what she felt. Her disorder made me take a closer look at another side of adoption, one that is hard to face—loss.
The majority of us come to adoption through loss. For me and my husband, it was infertility and the loss of another child. Long story short: we grieved and went ahead with adoption.
My daughter arrived with enormous emotional baggage packed full of loss—of her birth mother. The loss of her birth mother was another layer that had to be addressed. As occupational and physical therapies integrated her sensory processing and improved her speech, she began to verbalize the loss of her birth mother. Her greatest grief was triggered around her birthday. She only shared her grief with me.
Her grief (at least for now) culminated when she turned nine. I was ready for it, well as ready as you can be for your child to descend into emotional hell. When she finally was done screaming and raging, and telling me I was just her baby sitter, that I didn’t love her, that her birth mother didn’t love her, that she wanted her Chinese mother, and she wanted to live in China (I had quiet answers for all of these…), it dawned on me that she was trying to justify why I shouldn’t love her. I asked her if she was afraid that by expressing all of this that I really wouldn’t love her. And she cried—a completely different cry I had never heard. I told my daughter that there was nothing she could ever say or do that could keep me from loving her. I gave her permission to grieve. I also told her that I wanted her to share it all with me. Mommies are good for that. I got one her super duper all-body hugs and she went out to play with her younger brother.
During a birth mother discussion with her younger brother in the car months later, my daughter shared that her birth mother had died. I listened, but didn’t say anything. She shared that same information with me weeks later and when I asked why she thought that, she just insisted that she was. I don’t know if my daughter feels some cosmic connection or if she considers her birth mother dead to her because she has come into another level of healing—acceptance. I’m expecting that loss will come up again—when she gets her period, falls in love, marries, and has children. And I will be there, holding her hand and her heart.
Judy M. Miller is an adoptive parent and adoption advocate living in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She has mentored prospective adoptive and adoptive parents for over a decade about the joys and issues of adoption. Judy is a columnist for the adoption network, Grown in My Heart. Her essays and articles appear in adoption and parenting magazines. Judy’s stories are featured in A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families, Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be? and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom. Judy facilitates classes for adoptive parents of tweens and teens at Parenting Your Adopted Child: Tweens, Teens and Beyond, which can be used as an elective for Adoption Preparation Education.