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Loss in Adoption

Last week I was invited to speak at an advanced doula workshop (today) on the topic of doulaing in adoption - specifically, doulaing when the birth mother is/contemplating making a plan for adoption.  I am currently employed as a postpartum doula at a local homeless shelter/transition home and work with the women in the program after they have their babies.  Right now I'm working one morning a week, teaching the women about breastfeeding, bonding, baby care and attachment.  I was happy (and honored!) to be asked to share some information that I've learned as an adoptive parent with the doulas attending the workshop.   I was also a bit apprehensive because they didn't give me a lot of specifics, other than that I had 35-45 minutes and that they wanted me to include loss in adoption as one of the topics.

I spent several hours preparing and ultimately decided to cover the following -

positive adoption language
birth parent loss and grief
infant grief in adoption
infant attachment

as well as sharing info that I learned from these doulas' websites who have a niche of doulaing in adoptive situations.  They had beautiful ideas, thoughtful ideas - like encouraging the first mother to have pictures taken with the baby as they may become beloved treasures later.  Another was to be supportive of the mother around days 3-7 postpartum when her milk could come in and there is no baby to receive it.  So painful on so many levels.

We had great discussions about all of these issues.  One of the doulas is a birth mother who felt like her child was essentially taken from her.   This was back in the 60s when being a single mother was strongly looked down upon, when girls got kicked out of their homes when their parents found out they were pregnant.  The birth took place over 40 years ago.  She is still grieving the loss of her daughter.

As we approach our 'one year home' mark with Evangeline (next month!), my feelings about the losses that she has experienced have become less intense and less frequent than they were in those early months post-travel.   But then there are days like today when I am reminded of how deep her losses are.  When I first started learning about loss in adoption, when I read books like The Family of Adoption or 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, I initially did not want to hear it.  I wanted to turn a blind eye to the loss part of adoption.  I wanted to believe in the fairy tale version of adoption, the one that's portrayed in the movies or that I'd sometimes read about on adoption blogs.  I was afraid I wouldn't measure up or that my adopted child would grow up to resent me.  I'd talk to Dan about it.  I'd read adult adoptee blogs, wrestle internally, and then talk to Dan some more.  I felt so intimidated.

Somewhere along the way, intimidation gave way to peace.  I remembered the text in the Bible about how we are to bear one another's burdens.  I can't take away her losses.  And she has every right to grieve them.  But as her mother, I can hold her hand, walk with her through them. I can refrain from using cliches or offering spiritual platitudes.  I can resist the urge to "fix" everything, to wrap it up neatly for her.   I will never understand exactly what she is experiencing, but I can listen.

When I think of bearing her burdens, my thoughts wander to her first mother and whether there is anyone to bear her burdens along side of her.  I've read that birth mothers grieve like mothers who have lost their children through death.  I hope and pray that she is able to find peace.  I wish I could tell her that her daughter, our daughter, is so loved and so cherished by so many.  I pray that she feels this in her soul.

I don't know what Evie's feelings will be regarding the losses in her life.  I want to be mindful of not projecting my own sadness about her losses onto her.  Her story is her story.  We will follow her lead.  We'll take it day by day.  And today, I couldn't feel more blessed to be her mom.


  1. lovely, rachel!! so happy that you have the opportunity to share your wisdom and heart with others!

  2. So glad Saturday went well and what a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this

  3. Awesome post, Rachel. Thank you for so beautifully expressing part of the adoption paradox and sharing some great resources!

  4. This is amazing. Thank you for sharing:) I had a doula for both births and loved it. I recommend having a doula to everyone:)

  5. Beautiful my friend....absolutely beautiful.

  6. really, really well said. I love the idea of "bearing one another's burdens". i hadn't thought of that in the context of adoption yet....and it now seems so obvious.

    I thought I would have so many more sleepless nights thinking about Cooper's birth parents, wondering about them, abotu details i don't know, but it'sbeen easier for me than I imagined it would. Maybe it will get harder. His birthday is coming up, and I wonder if that will bring fresh emotions.

    I just keep telling myself- it's messy, adoption....and you have to sort of be able to stand the mess and roll with it to get through it well. I too have stopped wondering about a lot of things, and just letting it unfold and trusting God to be with me in the moments. It's harder than it seems though!

  7. Hello,
    I am just embarking on my adoption journey, and I was wondering if you recommend your agency? I believe you used Adoption Avenues, is that right? I am open to any and all advice about agencies, fund raising, and the process!

    Thank you so much,

  8. if you email me at my personal email - i'd be happy to give you more info. thanks!

  9. You have a lovely family. I've enjoyed browsing through your posts. Blessings on you and yours. :)


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