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Seven Core Issues of Adoption: Grief

Continuing our exploration of Kaplan and Silverstein’s seven lifelong issues common in adoption, grief is probably the most common issue to impact the triad because adoption is rooted in loss. “Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve.” – Earl Grollman

All members of the post adoption community experience grief that can vary in intensity and in timing throughout one’s lifespan. Individuals often revisit grief many years past adoption finalization as they encounter more losses in life, both concrete and ambiguous. (Read Revisiting Grief and Loss) “The losses in adoption are difficult to mourn in a society where adoption is seen as a problem-solving event.” (Silverstein & Kaplan, 1982) - a child gets a family; a family gets a child; a birthmother chooses life for her child. However, these gains are not the antidote to grieving what was lost.

As we head into National Adoption Month, members of the adoption community will be sharing thoughts of joy and grief. It’s important to not dismiss one’s adoption-related grief with regret or ungratefulness. A birthparent’s grief is not unwarranted because he or she chose to place a child or because behaviors resulted in losing parental rights. An adoptee’s grief over the loss of birth family or unknown history is not a rejection of his adoptive family. And an adoptive parent’s grief for unmet expectations is not a lesser form of love for that child. 

Instead, we can embrace those who are grieving and understand that loss is an innate aspect of adoption. If you are unsure how someone is the triad is grieving, November is a great time to express that you care to know. “I see November is national adoption month and I’ve been thinking of you. I understand some who are touched by adoption may have mixed feelings this month.” Leaving it as a statement invites conversation but allows the person to choose whether to share their thoughts or not. But don’t take personally if they just politely agree with your statement and move on. You’ve left the door open to listening; they heard you and may share another time.

If you would like to explore grief and loss resources, please contact your local adoption agency or the Post Adoption Contact Center.