Sunday, March 6, 2011

Adoption After the Death of a Child

Most social workers discourage grieving parents from adopting a child, even years after a loss of a biological child. Firstly, children available for adoption come with their own package of grief, sadness, insecurities and will be doing their own work growing up, often for years following their own chronological maturity. Most therapists and most social workers simply feel that a family who has lost a child, will be too embroiled in their own loss, and this might motivate them to expect too much from a child who may always be damaged in some ways, or may at least be damaged in terms of attachment abilities. Some feel that the prospective parents may expect the child to "fit right in" the way their own child was remembered to have. Still others feel that adopting a child after the death of a child, is a strategy of avoiding the complete grief which must eventually come. A few feel the family will be drawn back through their grief again and again as their newest child passes through a stage of growth and inadvertently reminds them of their own loss.
When Daniel was five, we had a child here as a foster child that we had hoped to adopt. The child was here as a foster, to receive medical care and was mentally ill, and ultimately, though it was not our choice, the workers felt that this particular child would be better served by moving on to a family without other children, who had experience with children with serious psychiatric issues, and so he moved on. Daniel, even at five, thought that we should seek another child for the purpose of adoption. We were offered several afterward. Daniel's thinking was that we helped the first child, but had to let him go to a family who could better meet his needs, but that we should be open to providing a family to a child who was in need. We liked Daniel's applied Christianity, but following the fiasco where Daniel had been endangered by the foster child, we did not want to try again, and so for years, even though Daniel often asked us to reconsider, we did not.
When Daniel died suddenly, I heard loud and clearly that we should try to provide a home eventually to a child in need. I didn't really know that anyone would be sent here, but I knew that we should be ready. My husband took a little longer to arrive at the same place, and want to proceed, but soon after, he did. Of course, no rational agency, no competent social worker updates the homestudy of a grieving family, and sends a child right over. A homestudy with such a complication, can take a long time, if done correctly. Our homestudy update included a lot of questioning on why exactly we would consider adoption now.
The reality for us is that grieving will be hard, but that it will never end. Unless Daniel is coming back to us, we must deal with his physical absence from here until our own passings. Yes, there will be a time where grieving is less acute, but it will never end. Adopting will not change that grief, it cannot. No child can substitute or pinch hit for another, whether biological or otherwise. Wanting to adopt came from being grateful to God for four wonderful biological children, and especially for Daniel, who has always been a wonderful joy to all of us, including his siblings. Adopting was about being open to providing a home, security, and the chance for an education to one of the 123,000 children who languish in the US foster care system. Although there are few in our own state, California, Texas and Florida have many available children, mostly over age 11, and many are teenagers. There is risk involved. Many of these children are removed from unbelievably terrible circumstances similar to those in the proverbial Third World,and are left with nightmares,learning disabilities, irrational fears, post traumatic stress disorder, or overt psychiatric diagnoses. Adoption was also about making our own remaining time on Earth as productive as it could be. Daniel was never a fan of waste. If we live forty more years, when what would we have done with it?
I can't completely account for why we were allowed to do what is so rarely permitted. I know that during the interviews we told them that we understood that Daniel was gone, and that we would love him, grieve him and miss him here on Earth forever. We also believed strongly that human life is short, and although after raising four biological children,we did not feel up to raising an available sibling group, we did feel a calling to help just one child. It had not been our idea to adopt someone nine months older than Daniel, but when we were ultimately matched with a child who decided to come to us, whom we call James for the purpose of this blog.The worker who placed James with us, had also lost one of her children. She understood that perhaps our grief and loss of Daniel would place us in a unique position of understanding, in terms of understanding perhaps that Jameses grief at the loss of his own biological family, would be a permanent and long lasting grief as well.I believe that we have learned that in adoption, as in life, that every decision and situation, needs to be made on an individual basis. There can be few effective generalities.
A year after Jameses placement, I can say that he is a kind and decent person. The grief of missing Daniel washes over me quite regularly. James provides another outlet, another chance to love and raise someone, who is quite different than Daniel ever was. Sometimes,when we are doing something that only James would want to do, I can almost hear Daniel laughing loudly, and saying, "Mom, I knew he would give you quite a run for your money !" James is not always what I would consider "grateful", as few children are. He does like us, have a modicum of respect for us, and who knows, perhaps love will grow. In life, whether your child is biological or adopted, there are no guarantees.


  1. I'm terribly sorry for your loss. My condolences to your family. May you find strength in family and friends. I provide thesesympathy poems to console your loss.


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