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!

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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.

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)