Adoption is a balance of many elements, a yin and yang of people and emotions. One mother’s greatest lost becomes another mother’s greatest gain. A child in pain and trauma leads to a child in a loving family. Adoption is not a fairy tale but it is my dream come true and I have spent my time in motherhood trying to find my balance in these conflicting truths.
There are three sides to any adoption story that we call the adoption triad. The triad is made of; the birth parents, the child and the adoptive parents. In much of the media we often hear one of these elements vilified. Each “character” has been portrayed as broken, damaged or unlovable. There is a whole lot of assumptions and stereotypes laid on this type of family building that lead to misinformation and a lack of support for the entire triad.
The truth is that adoption is not a solution to trauma, sadly supports mostly end at the adoption event even though the that’s actually where the real healing work begins. Every adoption has trauma and loss. Yes! Even the ones where it was an infant placement, even the ones with open adoptions, even the ones that did not include infertility loss. All adoptions have loss and loss is trauma. I like to think of that song lyric “love is all you need” is more accurately sung as “love is a great start to building the foundations of trust” in a family impacted by adoption. Not as catchy, but if there was one thing I wish more people knew about adoption, that would be it.
I am one slice of an adoption triad, I am an adoptive mother to a beautiful, smart, loving girl who was adopted from the China special needs program at 18 months old. She is now 9 and I have a biological child as well who is 10. Our adoption story lead me to the greatest gift, my child, but along the way to being matched with the child who would become my daughter, we had a failed adoption. I also found out who in our network of friends and family were actually supportive of adoption when I “didn’t need to adopt” and then who could also keep that support and faith in me when I chose the path of special needs parenting.
The wait to adopt was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, especially once I saw her face but had to wait an excruciatingly long three months to get her safely home to Canada. I connected with other mothers doing the same wait locally and globally to support each other in those dark days. Three of those mothers’ children died in the orphanage before adoption day. This was not a journey for the faint of heart.
Meanwhile in China, my daughter was on her own journey of miracles, struggle and survival that are hers to share, not mine. What I will tell you is that at 18 months old, she was wiser and more resilient than every adult I knew, even though she was severely delayed and at that time, still non-verbal.
Alongside all that, a birth family, who I am prohibited from knowing because of the structure of the adoption system in China, walked a path I can’t even begin to comprehend. I do know that there exists a stigma in China for my daughter’s special need that could have led her to be untreated. I do know that China doesn’t have the social, medical or educational structures in place to provide care for my daughter. I do know that the one child policy was still in place at the time of her birth, arrests and crippling fines were common for parents found to be in violation. I do know these generalities, but my daughter and I still search in underground online forums and networks for her birth family so that we can hopefully some day know them and encourage healing for us all.
So who is the villain? Who can we point the finger at and say this is the cause of the trauma? How can I say that my soulmate crawled across a fourteen-foot mahogany table and into my arms in Chinese government office when that baby had to endure the unspeakable to be in that room at all? How can I call it destiny and fate and all those other words that go hand-in-hand with adoption, when I truly feel that in my moment of great joy, the rest of the triad was grieving their greatest loss?
In the face of all of this I feel the only thing I can do is have mercy. Have mercy for a country who wouldn’t support its most vulnerable citizens. Have mercy for her first mother who made a choice that my life of privilege prevents me from even comprehending. Have mercy for the orphanage staff who never had enough diapers or food or hands. Have mercy for myself, family and friends who didn’t know what we didn’t know and deeply feared the unknown. Have mercy for my daughter who is so “typical” now most people forget how she fought for her life at the start and how that fight shaped her in a million ways. Have mercy for us all, doing the best we can in a broken world. Having mercy and loving, because for us “Love is a great start to building the foundations of trust”.
Sylvia is a mother of two kids, one adopted and one biological. She is a photographer, fundraiser, adoption and special needs advocate. Sylvia prides herself on pursuing education and mindfulness (almost) every day and community building.