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How Adoption Impacts Extended Families

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Interesting essay on Huffington Post... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/05/imaginary-redhead-adoption-story_n_2405298.html (text appears below, in case the link goes bad):

Lessons Learned from an Imaginary Redhead

Written by Elisabeth O'Toole for Portrait of an Adoption

Not long after I married my husband (a tall redhead), my mom and I (both short and brunette) developed a plan. I was going to finally fulfill some long-held desires she’d had for her family -– desires my siblings and I had not successfully satisfied. In the anticipated daughter I would soon be having (yes, it would be a girl), my mother was finally going to get not only a redheaded baby in the family, but, later, a long, lean and very talented basketball player.

I know this sounds like pressure, so I should admit that I had no problem with this assumption. In fact, I’m sure I perpetuated it far more than my mother did. After all, I was fully confident in my ability to produce this child; the child I imagined for us both.

That is not how things worked out.

As readers may well know, loss is a fundamental and complicated aspect of any adoption. In order for there to be gain –- of a family, of a child –- there must first be loss. Birthmothers and birth relatives experience an often great and abiding loss. The adopted child experiences loss –- no matter at what age he is adopted or under what conditions he was adopted. Communities, foster parents, other children who may remain, and caregivers may experience loss as a result of adoption.

As an adoptive parent, I struggled with the loss of privacy, the loss of control over this aspect of my life -- becoming a parent -- and the loss of my imagined child -– that redheaded basketball player I had expected.

Like most adoptive parents, I was counseled to try to understand the role that loss plays in adoption, and how it may be experienced by others, birthparents and adoptees, especially. And I was advised to acknowledge and grieve loss as an important step toward adoptive parenthood.

I’ve come to believe that it’s also important that we try to consider how others, outside of the immediate adoption triad might also experience loss related to adoption. This is especially common for our closest relatives. Like adoptive parents, it’s not at all uncommon that others have also imagined and anticipated a particular child or experience, both for us and for themselves. When that expectation is unmet, other people may experience aspects of that same loss that many of us triad members do.

A grandfather described for me how his son’s adoption plans meant the end of his family’s genealogical line. And the grandfather’s early resistance to the adoption –- painful and frustrating for his son -– stemmed from that loss. He needed time to let go of a lifelong (and reasonable) expectation. And he needed to mourn that real and legitimate loss before he could welcome the adoption.

A grandmother described for me her reaction to her daughter’s announcement that she was adopting. The grandmother couldn’t understand her own lack of enthusiasm, even sadness. After all, she told herself, she just wanted her daughter to be happy. And she’d always wanted to be a grandparent. She finally realized part of what was holding her back was her reluctance to let go of a dream she’d had, an experience she had long looked forward to. For years, she’d pictured being with her daughter in a delivery room, present at the very moment of birth of her first grandchild. It was something she and her daughter had anticipated together. That she would not have this experience was a loss related to adoption that both of them had to acknowledge -– and grieve.

Neither of these grandparents, nor their adult children, initially identified the grandparents’ ambivalence toward adoption as related to loss. Instead, their loved ones viewed them as unsupportive and negative about adoption. But acknowledging loss and then grieving it were steps these grandparents needed to take. Just as the adoptive parents had.

In my own life as an adoptive parent, I didn’t consider the losses others might have experienced around my family’s adoptions until years after first adopting. I had begun talking to adoptive grandparents and relatives from other families as research for a book I was writing. And so it was, years after my first adoption, I found myself reconsidering my own relatives’ reactions to adoption with new eyes. I finally came to recognize that the people around me had lost that redheaded basketball player, too. And I suddenly understood why one family member in particular had reacted to our adoption plans as she had.

At the time, feeling vulnerable and still trying to understand adoption myself, I couldn’t understand or, frankly, have much compassion for what seemed to be her knee-jerk resistance to adoption. I thought this close relative was narrow-minded, overly concerned with appearances and tradition. But after making an effort to consider what this experience had been like for someone who, like me, had long anticipated a particular child and experience, I felt compassion for what I now understood was another person’s response to her own loss. I wish I’d had that insight -- and that vocabulary -- at the time.

Though understanding loss is a standard discussion topic in adoption education, we don’t typically offer others -– who are also impacted by adoption –- that language of loss. I think we should.

Thinking about loss in this way reinforces for me how adoption is not just about “us”: my husband and I and our children. Rather, it’s about a larger “Us”: our parents, our siblings, our close friends and extended families. And as our family ages and our circle expands, adoption includes our kids’ friends, their teachers, their caregivers, and the many other people who comprise our family’s adoption circle.

I’ve come to believe that one of the responsibilities we adoptive parents take on when we adopt is to include others in adoption, to bring them in on it. One way we can bring people in is by acknowledging their own perspectives and experiences with adoption, perhaps including loss. Other people -– besides adoptive parents -– deserve the chance to ask questions and to share their concerns and fears about adoption. Other people need and deserve information and preparation for adoption. Because other people are going to love and want to advocate for our children and for adoption, too.

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Thanks for sharing this, I have sent this to my family. After our infertility diagnosis, I couldn't understand why my parents were crying and so depressed. It wasn't like they had lost anything. As I began to move past all that we would miss out on, i realized a lot of it included them and perhaps thats why they were so sad. I guess neither of us did a good job of communicating in the beginning. I have found, through trial and error, that open communication with them during the adoption process is best, even if I know they will not understand or will question our decisions. I made the mistake, in December, of trying to protect them from potential pain which totally backfired. Whoops!

I think in somes ways adoption (on the adoptive family side) is harder on extended family. They are disconnected from everything and all they know is what information we tell them; my parents don't have a face to put with Ellen and Sergio. It would be easy enough to show them a picture, but in a way I want to protect them and I want to protect E&S. We are now to a point where they can share their fears of open adoption with me, which clearly stem from the little they heard about adoption growing up. I try to enlighten them on some proper adoption language and what we hope for in a future relationship with E&S. We now operate with the understanding that we may not say everything just right, but what we do say comes from a place of love not hate. It is deffinitely a learning process, in EVERY relationship. I have messed up and probably will again, but I can learn from these articles & this forum!

Thank you!


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You may think you are "shielding" your parents but I really believe (at least from my perspective) that most parents don't want to be shielded. I am enormously grateful that Melissa and Steven chose to make me a part of all aspects of their journey, both the good and the sad. Melissa asked me to start reading the forum from the first day she discovered Abrazo. It doesn't take long reading the journeys to truly believe in open adoption. No, it is not the way adoption was addressed when we were growing up, but it is clearly better. I'm not sure I would have grasped that as fast as I did if not for the forum. As you know, they had two matches that failed. Yes, I cried tons of tears for both but was so grateful, again, that the through reading the forum I could see the avatars of those who had experienced similar failed placements and see the precious babies who found their way to them. How do you explain something like this to your parents? Especially while you are grieving? That is why I personally think it would be enormously helpful to allow them to read the forum or copy someone's story and let them read it. The more knowledge we have the better we also understand and process.

I will also say that because Melissa and Steven allowed me to meet Bianca early on, she feels very much like part of our family. God forbid that anything should ever happen to M and S, but at least Bianca and I have a great relationship and I would do everything in my power to continue the open adoption! How would I understand the importance of all this, especially early on, if not for the helpful information I've received from all I've read? I'm not sure just hearing it from Melissa's mouth would be enough for me to grasp all that is involved from all sides. As for feeling I lost something because Oliver isn't biological, well I can honestly say that has never crossed my mind but I can see how it might for some. My best advice would be to talk, talk, talk to your parents and make them as much a part of every piece of the journey as possible. Don't shield them from anything. Allow them to grow in knowledge as you have. Help them help you!! And remember, there is nothing like holding your grandchild to erase any pain experienced up to that point :rolleyes:

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