ISSUE # 27 – Understanding Loss Issues

August 27, 2011 at 9:24 am | Posted in Adoption differences, adoption issues, Adoptive parenting do's, Raising the adopted child | Leave a comment
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Recognizing the importance of loss issues for an adoptee is a relatively recent acknowledgement.  For too many years adoptees were told, “Don’t complain about being adopted, just be thankful you were adopted by a family.”  Their unique status of being adopted was dismissed by people who did not understand.

In recent years there has been more openness and we have listened to the inner thoughts and feelings of adoptees and know about many more issues than before.  The loss issue can be a huge one.

There are studies that show a newborn baby knows its birth mother’s touch and smell.  A baby just a few hours old can recognize the scent of its birthmother’s breast milk when compared with other’s milk.  This is done by monitoring its vital signs which change as it gets close to its mother’s milk.  A baby spends 9 months inside the body of another human being, and during that time senses the pace and feels the heart beat of its mother.  Studies say they can hear voices the last few months in the womb.  There is a story about an adopted toddler who regularly hummed some unfamiliar notes.  When the birth father came to visit, he was shocked to hear his birth daughter hum notes from a foreign lullaby his wife sang when she was pregnant.  His wife died giving birth to this child.

Now – consider a baby who after birth is still surrounded by familiar factors.  A baby held against its mother’s breast still feels the same familiar comforting heart beat.   In contrast, some babies who are adopted are immediately taken from their birth mother, or at least at some time they and the body that sheltered them are separated. All sensations are then new to the separated baby.  On a conscious level, of course, a baby cannot express the impact of that separation.  Many adult adoptees tell us that when they were children, they had a sense that something was wrong, something was taken from them, things seemed strange to them – a little bit off.

Experts now tell us that this is experiencing a sense of loss. Among some adoptees this sense is one of the deepest emotions any person can feel.   It is impossible for anyone not experiencing this to realize how strong this baffling emotion is, actually how pervasive it can be while growing up.  A wonderful description of this is that the wound of separation from the birth mother is like healing from a wound that has a scab, and every time a loss occurs in an adoptee’s life, it’s like pulling the scab off and opening up that wound.  It’s like the body is trying to heal a wound, but life won’t allow it.

Many of us adoptive parents have witnessed our children appear to ‘over react’ to the death of a pet, a friend moving away, moving to another house or town, or the death of a family member.  Our children were not over reacting at all.  It’s just that those so very deep emotions were brought up to the surface, and the child who couldn’t deal with his loss at its inception, now has a heightened reaction to loss.

It is a wise parent who, although they have never personally experienced this dramatic series of emotions, will realize and respect that their child is going through many sensations they do not fully comprehend.  Once this deep cause is understood, parental compassion and support will go a long way in helping our children deal with this sensitivity.


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