How Fear, Loss, Grief and Resilience Play a Role in Our Adoption

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

How Fear, Loss, Grief and Resilience Play a Role in Our Adoption
By Jennifer Diehl

I have been a fan of the forum that Carrie Goldman has created with Portrait of Adoption. Every November I look forward to reading submissions from the adoption triad. My husband and I are adoptive parents to an incredible nine-year-old boy, who is my heart.

We have had some rough times these last few years as we have seen him struggle with mental health issues such as generalized anxiety disorder, ADHD, and a possible mood disorder. I can still hear our neuro-psychologist speaking with us as she was doing an evaluation to see what was causing our son to struggle so much… I know you brought him home the day after he was born but he presents like a child who has been through trauma.

More and more has been studied and learned about the fact that even children who have been with their adoptive parents since birth can suffer trauma. For a child, after hearing a birth mother’s heart beating and hearing her voice speaking for forty weeks, and then suddenly having that main person in their life change through adoption, the separation can have a profound impact.

Given the struggles that my son has, I cannot help but consider how this experience has affected him. Unfortunately, our once-open adoption took a left turn, and for the time being, we do not have contact with his birth mom or his three older siblings.

I respect his birth mom’s need for time and space, and I have promised my son to try to find a way to reestablish a healthy relationship with her at some point when she is ready to do that.

What has driven me to share our journey and experience are some common threads that I think are present for so many of us in the triad, and are present in our lives as a family: fear, loss, grief, and resilience.

My hope is that by talking more about these experiences, we can do some healing and growing and we can better navigate our relationships with our children, in order to help our children to have a healthier relationship with themselves. This would also improve our ability to have a positive relationship with our children’s birth families.

Fear. At first, there was fear about when a birth mom would pick our family. Then upon matching, a month before my son’s birth, the fear became centered around whether she would change her mind.

Then the fear shifted again after his birth to, what if she thinks I am doing this whole thing wrong?  It is fear leads us to make unhealthy choices, and it was my fear that was a driving force in failing to establish healthy boundaries with my son’s birth mom.

For years, I feared saying no to her requests for financial assistance in a desperate attempt to keep her in our lives. It appeared that we had moved past some of that, and we still maintained some communication until a year and a half ago, when she no longer followed through on plans and no longer answered texts. My fear now is that we will never have contact with her, and my son will be unable to develop some level of a healthy relationship with her and his siblings.

Loss and Grief. The loss of our relationship with my son’s birth mom has been felt by all of us, but clearly the person most impacted is my son. He is struggling with this loss and feelings of grief and rejection. It is so much to try to understand at nine years old:

“Maybe I would not have anxiety if I lived with my birth mom and siblings.” “Why is she parenting my siblings but not me?” “If she loves me, why haven’t we seen her since I was a toddler?” “Why did she never text you back?”

Of course he feels this way. He is smart and perceptive; there is a piece of him missing that he does not know or understand but still loves: his birth mom and his birth family. I sit with him in this loss and I sit in this grief alongside him.

Resilience. This is a work in progress for us… all day… everyday, right? So I ask myself every day, how we can work on resilience so that we will eventually be able to live with our fear, our loss and our grief more successfully and with more peace of mind?

I think it is so important for everyone in my family to understand that resilience comes from working hard at it every day. For me, that means being my son’s mom, (his person) to whom he can ask all these questions and talk about his feelings, and his questions will never be met with insecurity or judgement, but instead with empathy and support.

Jennifer Diehl is an adoptive mom of a nine-year-old son. She is the board chair for On Your Feet Foundation for birth parents and is passionate about helping birth parents get post-placement care. She is also dedicated to helping other families whose children struggle with emotional or mental health issues. She is a “retired” teacher and now a stay at home mom who loves to cook and volunteer.


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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

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