Making Meaning of Losses

When we experience losses in life there are a few typical responses.  Some may include crying, shock, sadness, feelings of depression, and even denial.  We sometimes reflect upon the positive memories or maybe the negatives if they were more pertinent in our relationship.  Most losses in life are understood by our communities and we can feel supported.  We plan funerals, family and friends fly in to help us memorialize, and society at large pretty much understands.  We’re even allowed time off work to do these things and people understand what we’re going through and try to do what they can to help. 

But all losses are not the death of a person.  We’ve lost relationships through separation and divorce, jobs, maybe even the loss of use of a limb, or received a life changing diagnosis.   There are some types of losses that are not publicly acknowledged or understood by society at-large.  Some of these losses include an LGBT individual being extradited from family and even community, being unable to mourn publicly the loss of special person because of some secret, the loss of child through miscarriage, and this includes placing a child for adoption.  

For the many birth parents that have placed a child for adoption, there is no typical “loss” scenario.  The child is still alive, but there is a significant loss that presents itself.  Some birth parents feel as though they are not allowed to mourn because they have “done this to themselves” or feel like mourning is not taking responsibility for this decision.  The mysterious nature of some adoptions has created an atmosphere where a birth parent may not even know what she or he should do.  Nevertheless, the feelings are there.  Whether very present or buried a bit further down, these emotions and feelings are valid and deserve to be recognized.

The grief processes, regardless of the type of loss, include the following:  Accepting the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain of the grief, adjusting to the environment from which the lost person or object is missing and withdrawing energy from the loss and reinvesting it in someone or something else, and also making meaning of the loss.  But disefranchised loss, the type of loss that a birth parent may experience, brings with it another set of challenges.

For birth parents working through these tasks of grieving can sometimes be difficult.  For example, many people involved are sending the exact opposite messages like, “just forget about it” or “you’ll feel better after you have your next child.”  These people can be parents, friends, even doctors and nurses give out bad advice at times.  How many times has this happened?  Instead of experiencing the pain of the grief, you may be told to act as if it never happened.  Withdrawing energy from the adoption and placing it into others or some other activity is the one thing that many birthmothers seem to do well on the outside but if the loss hasn’t been acknowledged then focusing on this task may be a bit premature. 

Making meaning of it all is a task that definitely takes a bit of time for some.  Some find spiritual reasons for what has happened, others find that their decision making throughout the process is a meaning in itself.  Rituals are an activity that can produce positive expressions in response to a loss.  For example, eating the favorite meal of a loved one who’s passed away or doing an activity that one loved to do.  This helps to bring attention to the loss in a healthier way and it’s something that you have control over.  You can include others, or you can do it alone.  Joining a support group is another way to facilitate the meaning making process.  Hearing the stories of others often helps to understand things in one’s own life.  It is also a safe space where stories, emotions, and experiences can be shared in a supportive environment.


What are some ways you have made meaning from your adoption story? 

Do you have any rituals you perform? (Possibly lighting a birthday candle on your child’s birthday or calling a loved one to come over and have dinner on the anniversary of your child’s placement day, planting a tree or plant, and if you have an open relationship, maybe even planning your meetings with your child or sending a card.)

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