It’s clear that there’s been a loss, that’s irrefutable. But, grieving? What are we grieving? This is where it gets messy.
Let’s take an example – if a mother dies during childbirth, the child will never have his mother. For adoptees, particularly, international adoptees, there was the loss of the birth mother also “parenting” them, but there are two additional dimensions of loss.
One is of the narrative. Adoptees don’t have their birth mother, yes, but they also don’t have their story, and no one in their life can pass along that story to them. There is a break in continuity. Also, no one in their life knows “her.” When a mother dies in childbirth, it is likely that there were others who knew her. Others who could tell her stories and their experiences, their relationship.
The second dimension of loss is the issue of “grieving.” When a mother dies, it’s over. You can fantasize about what it would be like to have had her there and what she would say if she were here now. But, in that situation, the main goal is to come to terms with it, accept it and continue to move forward in their life. With an international adoptee, there is no closure. When people say that adoptees can grieve the loss of their mother, it doesn’t exactly capture the uniqueness of the process. The uniqueness of the process is that adoptees don’t know whether she’s really gone or not. So, the there is no closure, it’s ongoing.
Not only that, but, unlike when a mo dies, for adoptees, there’s still something they can do. They can search. That is an ongoing question, because there’s no protocol, no right or wrong. And, no clear end. So, for adoptees, it’s not just the grief, it’s living with the decision whether or not to search. To decide what is best for them is extremely difficult and often, a burden.