Grief And The Adopted Child
0 comment Thursday, May 8, 2014 |
I read this moving article in the Guardian the yesterday, 'How do you tell children their father is dead?' The mother, Barbara, talks frankly about how their profound loss manifested itself in the behaviour of her twin boys, Joel and Benedict, describing their grief as 'a murky pond: the true depths are out of sight and even when the bubbles surface you need to know where to look, and what to look for.'
The piece really spoke to me. Although my adopted children did not lose their birth parents to death, they have never-the-less "lost" them both, and the rest of their extended family, and they grieve for their loss. And just like Joel and Benedict, they don't cry or talk about their feelings of loss, or purge their grief in the way an adult might. They have their own special language, and as their adoptive parents you have to learn this language so your child can communicate to you their pain and you can help.
But as I touched on in this post, this grief-filled behaviour of children is not always the most sympathy inducing of stuff, especially to newly adoptive parents who are stressed-out and grieving too (grieving for life as it once was, grieving for the birth child you will now surely never have.)
My son's grief manifested itself mostly in screams. He would have terrifying rages several times a day, triggered by something mundane like being asked to wash his hands or put his coat on to go outside. His favourite screaming time was shower time; he'd come in the bathroom with me a happy little soul, then something inside of him would trip and he would instantly become aggressive, defiant and sarcastic, and when I eventually did get him in the shower he would scream like it was molten lava falling down on him rather than a tepid shower.
My daughter's grief came through the language of the body; tummy ache, leg ache, headache, toothache. She would report to me every twitch of her skin, or knock or cut. She would regularly fall down pretending that she'd tripped, or deliberately bang her hand against something, or say that something had fallen on her foot. And she'd say these things knowing that I was watching her and had seen what had really happened. Her health updates would come every few minutes, every day, and wave after wave of complaint would come at bedtime, part of the objective being to keep my attention on her for every moment of her waking life.
I cannot say that my husband and I were particularly prepared for how to deal with this. Actually, take that as not prepared at all. The four day course we attended as part of our Home Study didn't mention how children's grief can manifest itself in such extreme behaviour (although it did spend a day and a half teaching us how to bring our children up in a multicultural environment, to which I am still thinking wtf?). None of the books I had read - and I did read A LOT - had talked specifically about children completely freaking out when they first move in. The response from the children's Social Worker was to quietly blame me for 'not having strong enough boundaries', which even then, as fresh as I was to this adoption malarkey, I suspected was self-serving bullshit.
Only other adopters that I spoke to understood such behaviours because they had experienced it from their own children, and could give words of advice and consolation.
And that is simply not good enough. I feel such frustration now, looking back, that I was not equipped by the long adoption process to hep my children deal with their grief. There was talk of trauma, talk of attachment, but not nearly enough about grief. I did not handle their behaviour in the kindly, patient way I would have hoped, partly because it took me too long to understand what was causing it and to feel any sympathy with them.
We are now half way through our second year together as a family and their emotions have settled. My son, the younger of the two, doesn't seem to have many real memories of his birth parents and so he invents them. My daughter has many and she frequently reports on the mundane ones, such as her 'old mum' having a washing-line and her 'old dad' driving a car. I must admit that I have struggled much more than I thought I ever would with their attachment to their birth parents. They clearly miss them and given a choice they would have stayed with them, if only because they are incapable yet of the kind of adult perspective needed to see how much in danger they were in.
Whenever I used to express sadness at the loss my children have suffered to those outside of the adoption experience, the response would invariably be something along the lines of children 'easily forgetting' or 'being resilient'. Sadly, I know now that children suffer trauma and loss every single bit as much as you or I, even though they cannot articulate it in the same way.