Recognizing the Pain of Adoption Loss


It's National Adoption Month and while I absolutely love celebrating the beauty and light that is adoption, I believe it is critically important to also recognize the grief and pain that is so often present in the world of adoption as well. Obviously first and foremost there are the birthmothers and other birth family members who are suffering. There are also the waiting families, often going through infertility, longing to have a child to love and snuggle. But then there's a third group, a group that not many of us think of, and that is those individuals and couples who have experienced adoption loss. Sometimes this means the adoption plan fell through because the birth mother had a change of heart (which is absolutely her right), or because governmental hoops could not be jumped through. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, this means that a family finds that they are truly not able to handle the severe needs of their child and relinquishment is the only way to keep everyone safe.

I have the great pleasure of introducing you all to a dear friend of mine today. Barbara was such an invaluable emotional support to me during the lowest point on our journey. She was able to listen to my despair and confusion with absolutely no judgment in a way that very few others could. Barbara has walked an extremely difficult road and yet is still an advocate of adoption and my own personal cheerleader. I hope that you all will open your hearts and minds and receive my sweet friend with all of the love in your hearts. I also hope that her words will prove helpful and educational to you.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), as Barbara mentions, is a serious condition that requires extensive training in therapeutic parenting.  Studies show that children with RAD can ultimately grow to live healthy, happy lives, when in families under professional guidance.  It is absolutely unethical for an adoption agency to neither prepare a couple for these challenges nor to provide the support necessary for facing them.

Welcome, Barbara!

* * *

I took the phone call in the kitchen while my husband finished eating his dinner in the dining room. My Russian teacher was excited to tell me she had found a Russian girl, who was here in the states for a month, for us to adopt. Whoa! I was NOT expecting this, but it definitely piqued my interest.

My husband and I had discussed adoption several times, but it had never worked out. To make a long story shorter, we were approved to adopt Anya, a beautiful, highly intelligent eight year old. Our dream of being parents was birthed and after months and months of paperwork, we went to Russia to bring back our daughter.

All was not as it seemed.

Anya suffered severe physical and emotional abuse as well as being abandoned by her birth mother in Russia during the first two years of her life. Consequently, her brain did not develop properly. Based on her history of abuse and her behavior with us for five years, we know now that Anya had Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

Because of the abuse from her birth mother, Anya did not know how to trust or bond with others in a healthy way. She also did not have a strong sense of cause-and-effect nor a conscience to know right from wrong. She was a habitual, compulsive liar. In the community she was a model child and student, but at home she was abusive, manipulative and controlling. Her rage toward her birth mother became directed toward me, her new mother, in an attempt to destroy me physically and emotionally. Anya's subtle rage kept me on my toes and I dreaded going to bed at night, because I never knew what she might do.

The more love we showed, the angrier she became. Because Anya was absolutely beautiful, very smart and a great con artist, I could not get anyone to believe me when I told them how she physically hurt and abused me. I found myself exhausted and crying constantly.

Once Anya decided to turn us in for child abuse just to see what would happen. DHS investigated us and decided we were great parents who knew what we were doing. The charges were unfounded and dropped. However, we still had to go into case management and therapy. The irony is, as a licensed social worker myself, I had to train the DHS worker and the case manager about how RAD children function. They had never heard of RAD.

Things were getting worse with Anya and I was near to having a nervous breakdown. We decided to put her into respite care for two weeks to get a break. At the end of the two weeks, I decided I could not take her back. The respite family was great. They were trained to work with RAD children and said they would keep her if I was sure I wanted to give her up. I was ready.

We went to court and relinquished parental rights. We told Anya we would love her from a distance and that these people would be her new parents. It didn't faze her, but my heart was broken. As difficult as the last five years had been, I had bonded with her even if she hadn't bonded with me.

My husband and I said our final goodbyes eleven years ago, drove several hours home and threw ourselves on the floor and screamed and cried. The therapist said we needed to make our final goodbye upbeat and positive for Anya's sake. We did that, but there was no one to pick up our crushed hearts and help our souls mend. I knew this was the last time I would see my baby. Our families had turned their backs on us saying, "How could you get rid of your daughter?" We tried to explain we were not getting rid of her. We are getting her the help we can no longer provide. People shunned us in the community and whispered behind our backs.

We did everything we could to help this little girl, but it was not enough. Love is not enough either.

One of the hardest parts was the death of a dream. We had a child. We lost a child. There was no funeral. No loving arms to comfort us. No family to turn too. But God was there. On the way back from our final visit with Anya, God told me something wonderful. He said, "Barbara, I trusted you and James to go to Russia to get Anya. You thought you would have her for life, but I knew differently. I knew I could TRUST you to love her enough to obey me when the time came to let her go. That's why I gave her to you. Trust me now with her future and the rest of her healing with this new family." I heard in a sermon once these words, "I may not understand what is happening in my life; but I can trust God's heart because everything is first filtered through his love." Oh, how this comforted my heart. . .

I had Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for almost five years after our relinquishment. My body broke and I cried for three years. I couldn't even remember what Anya looked like. But God in his grace has healed the pain of our adoption that did not work. Anya has gotten the help she needed. I didn't know if our marriage would sustain the pain, but it has. My husband and I renewed our wedding vows for our 25th anniversary. I still believe in adoption, but I strongly suggest you use a good adoption agency, have a good support system and have finances available for counseling. Do your homework and remember most of all love alone  is not enough.

What It Means to Say Yes to Adoption


I was 26 years old when I said yes to adoption, when a much older woman opened wide in pain and groaned my first son into existence.  I was on the other side of the planet when their world fell apart, with no way of knowing history would be rewritten while I buttered my toast.  But I'd said yes to adoption because I loved them both and because it was what I knew at the time of showing it.

Years later, my green edges have browned a bit and I know that adoption isn't the final answer to the orphan crisis.  I know a lot more about addressing the disease rather than treating the symptoms, and I know there are a million ways to fight for a cure.  Sometimes adoption is the best way, sometimes not.  International adoption is a particularly fragile bird, one that puts high ethical hopes in desperate men.

If you came to me today and you told me you wanted to adopt, I'd say to learn a helluva lot more than I did first.  But I would never stop cheering you on.

Because I would remember the longing of looking my baby in the eye for the very first time; longing to know him, longing to be known by him.  And then I would remember looking into his eyes last night before cracking open chapter 9 of Mary Poppins.  I would think of those pools of chocolate trust and I would tell you that the journey has saved my life.

And I would want that for you, too.

There is this cliche that makes adoptive parents cringe and roll our eyes at each other, and it's the popular sentiment of our nobility.  It's the "God bless you for taking in that poor child"s and the "you're such a good person"s and even the "he's so lucky to have you"s. I think honestly, people feel really positively about it all and just don't know what to say.  But I'm sure you can see why it's uncomfortable.  It makes the child something to be pitied and me the hero.

And for many, many, many adoptive parents, adoption itself has been the primary force in our lives to shatter any myth that we might be a hero.  When you say those well-intentioned phrases to us, we feel like utter liars.  Because we have been brutally confronted with the reality that we have more hate within us than we ever could have imagined.  We have stared down darkness in our very own mirrors, so if you look at us and see saints, we feel like the most shameful of phonies.

These past 5 years since becoming a parent, I have met parts of myself that lay dormant before.  I am more selfish, more impatient, more cold, more sarcastic, more egocentric than I ever believed.  Yes, some of that has been the result of secondary trauma and I recognize that clearly.  But some of it's just Shannon, under stress.  And since I had never before been under that kind of stress... well, ignorance is bliss.  (I wonder how many of us would make the very choices we're so quick to judge in others, were we also carrying the load on their backs?)

But on the other hand.

On the other hand, I have found in myself a tenacity that I didn't know was there.  I have been relieved to confirm that love is not a fuzzy feeling to me.  My claim to love has been tested and tried, and turns out, it is ironclad.  I've been proud to find that I will, in fact, fight for love.  That I won't let it wither and die.

And who is this person who keeps stepping up to the plate every single time?  Who is this person who never stops researching, never stops knocking on doors that slam in her face?  Who is this person who relentlessly fights for what her baby needs?  For years.  Where is that schlep who could barely take care of herself?  If you parent a kid who needs an advocate, you suddenly become an advocate.

(A freaking bad ass advocate.)

I have met some of the very best people of my life because of adoption.  People I would take a bullet for because they've taught me how to pull lead from my chest and keep breathing.  People who can commune with the brokenness of others, because they're not scared of the brokenness in themselves.  If you doubt that goodness still exists in the world, get together with a group of adoptive families. Not because they're "good", but because they're broken yet they hope.  They're trampled down yet they laugh at themselves.  For every foster and adoptive family that has entered our lives, we have been made exponentially the better for it.  They've taught us much about laughter.  And community.

Six years after saying yes to adoption, I say yes to it again and again every day.  The beautiful thing about adoption is that even with all of the pain and the mess, it's not about a word or a concept, it's about a child.  And through it all, loving this child has been the easy part.

*Kathryn Krueger Photography*

Why I Won't Use Stitch Fix


First off, for those who don't know, Stitch Fix is essentially an online personal shopping company that mails 5 items of clothing or accessories to your door.  You pay a $20 styling fee but if you purchase any item, the $20 goes directly to that.  If you purchase all 5 items, you get a 25% off discount.  Otherwise, you simply mail back what you don't love.

If you're much of a blog reader, you've probably come across Stitch Fix before because bloggers often put together posts of themselves trying on the different pieces and explaining what they kept and what they sent back, and why. And it is FUN.  It is so stinkin' fun.  It's kind of like shopping with a friend, except the person is rarely actually your friend and it all happened days ago.  But still.  It really is fun.  A lot of my very favorite bloggers do it, and I read every single time.

So with all that rah-rah toe-touch enthusiasm up there, what's with the title of this post?

1.  Using Stitch Fix is not the right fit for me because it is not a company that guarantees all of its products are ethically sourced.  With all of the dangerous working conditions and unjust labor practices in the fashion world, I personally feel very strongly about knowing my clothing items are sourced responsibly.  Now I am definitely a work in progress here.  I actually just bought a package of underwear from Target before realizing that PACT Apparel has sweatshop-free unmentionables.  But there's always next time.  The point is just that I'm intentionally working towards it.  (I also really enjoy shopping secondhand as an alternative to the more pricey fair trade companies.  That way, I'm not producing any new waste while also contributing to the local economy and often a nonprofit.)

I know that Stitch Fix lets you communicate with your personal stylist, so it might be possible to request only American-made items.  I honestly don't know.  If you're reading and you've tried this, please tell us in the comments!

2.  Another reason I've decided not to try Stitch Fix is because I know myself and my own weaknesses.  I know that I can easily justify buying something that I don't actually need.  I've written before about how I struggle with this, and having a box of cute clothes delivered to my doorstep feels like a recipe for disaster!  I know some people can use it for only very specific purchases (a high quality coat, a cocktail dress) and send the rest back, but I also know they offer a 25% discount if you purchase all 5 items in your box.  For myself, I would be awfully tempted to keep an extra shirt that I didn't even need just to get that sweet discount.

If you think about it, there are so few items of clothing that we actually need.  Most of us surely own twice as much, if not exponentially more, than we need.  And there's nothing wrong with having a few things that are just for special occasions, but I think as a society we're pretty terrible at knowing when enough's enough.  I know that for me personally, I can experience jealousy and discontent when I let myself hang too much importance on what's on my body.  I enjoy looking cute but if I spend to much time thinking about what I'm wearing, I don't feel as happy or as free.

3.  I see the consequences of consumerism not just in myself, but in the culture all around me.  We wear an item of clothing for one season before throwing it out or, if we want to feel better about it, donating it.  (Tangent: have you ever seen the donation warehouse of Goodwill? I'm pretty sure they're not needing donations at the rate we're sending 'em. If the idea of future donation is what placates our mind regarding making new purchases, we should probably rethink how to best support nonprofits and those in need.)  So then - shock! - we date a person for one season before dumping them.  We marry a person for a decade before leaving them.  We commit to a church for awhile before skipping out on them.  We care for the sick for a few years before euthanizing them.

Yeah, maybe that last one was harsh, but it cannot be denied that we as a society do not want to be inconvenienced.  We don't want to think about the grand-scheme implications of our every day choices, of the culture we are building in every little way whether we realize it or not.


If you are reading this and you're someone who uses and loves Stitch Fix, please know that I am honestly not judging.  I think it's important for each of us to think deeply about the decisions we make, but I absolutely realize that we can come to different conclusions about those decisions based on our own individual circumstances and convictions.  I never want this blog to be a guilt-trip or a "holier than thou" place.  I want it to be a place where we think seriously about our lives and our world, and are free to disagree with one another in a friendly way.

And also, for full (if not ironic) disclosure! I actually gave my sister a Stitch Fix box for Christmas last year (meaning I paid the styling fee).  She's a hardworking teacher and was constantly bemoaning the fact that she didn't have anything to wear to work, plus I knew she's the type of person who would love a surprise personal stylist.  I figured it was up to her whether she bought anything (she did), but I was paying for the experience.  So yeah, string me up by my toes and flog me if you must! ;)

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)