In the plant world, a dichotomy is when one branch splits and continues to grow in two separate directions. It is also a division where the parts, while contrasting and opposite, are still connected as a whole. Through the journey of adopting our second daughter, we learned first hand about the dichotomy of adoption.
Before Lily’s birth, we spent time with and became close to her birth parents. The birth mother delivered eight babies before Lily. She was unable to raise any of them. Seven children had been placed with extended family and the eighth baby was taken by social services and placed in a closed adoption.
Lily would be baby number 9, and after all the couple decided to choose adoption for this baby girl. It was important to them that they could choose where the baby was placed and that it was an open adoption.
The birth father struggled with their decision and after Lily’s birth went through a lot of emotions. On the day we signed paperwork he was sobbing as he held the pen to sign the relinquishment papers.
He looked at my husband and I and said, “This is the happiest day for you and our worst day.”
I will never forget those words or the fact that he simply was right.
We signed the papers feeling immeasurable joy. The kind that every parent feels when welcoming a new child into their family. He signed the papers feeling the weight of a grief that only comes with a profound ‘goodbye.’
Was it wrong to feel joy or was it wrong to feel loss? There is no right or wrong but the key is in recognizing that both live in the same space.
I didn’t understand that completely until a year later.
My husband and I had said “Yes!” to a little boy named Jax. We decided to bump birth order and bring home a child in between the ages of our son who was 4 and our daughter, Lily, who was just a year at the time. Jax had been abused but we believed our love would be enough to heal his wounds.
When we brought him home, he showed signs of reactive attachment disorder. We hired therapists to help us. We prayed. We were in constant communication with our agency and lawyer. We felt that if we just did enough, Jax would be OK.
Three months into fostering him and our household was turned upside down. We spent thousands of dollars on therapy. Lily was developing severe anxiety and our four-year-old son was sad all the time. Our family felt like it was split into two. If my husband had Jax, then I had the other two kids or vice versa. Jax could not be left alone with the other kids.
Finally, our agency said he needed to be in a family where he was an only child or in a family with much older children.
Although we knew on some level that what we were doing was not working, we never expected that we would not be able to give this child what he needed.
The agency explained that, while we might ultimately be able to meet Jax’s extensive needs, it would be at the expense of our other children who were still very little.
We were in shock, finding it hard to process the fact that we might not be his forever family.
At the same time, we were struggling to support Jax, another adoptive family lost their match with a child in Ethiopia. They reached out to our lawyer. They had two older children and had all their paperwork in order.
They applied to adopt Jax.
I will never forget the day they flew in to meet him. Horrible doesn’t begin to describe the day for us. Meanwhile, they fell in love with Jax immediately.
Then the words of Lily’s birth father came back to me: “This is the happiest day for you and our worst day.”
Again we found ourselves in a room with two families signing papers. One was joyful with parents meeting a child they prayed for and waited for. The other family was us. Standing in our grief, sobbing for a child that we loved but were unable to raise.
We knew in our hearts that they were Jax’s forever family. We knew they could give him what we could not.
It was the hardest decision we’ve ever made. Despite our heartache, we had to do what was best for Jax.
Within a year after placement, Jax attached to his family and flourished in his new life.
Adoption is a dichotomy. It is the single, simultaneous story of one family’s making and another’s breaking.
It is gain and loss, joy and grief… forever coupled together in the single experience of adoption. Understanding the existence of this dichotomy helped me be more empathetic with both birth parents and adoptive parents. I can also better appreciate the range of conflicting and opposite emotions my children might feel about their adoptions as they were ‘born’ out of this dichotomy.
What do you think of the idea of viewing adoption as a dichotomy? I’d love to keep the conversation going. Please post your comment below!