Youth Villages

My husband called my attention to an article at NPR.org – “18 can mean an abrupt exit from foster care. For some, it’s no longer a solo journey.” I already knew somewhat about aging out of foster care and the effects of that.

What attracted my attention was this – Helping young people see that they can have a stable future is the goal of the LifeSet program. Developed in 1999 by the Memphis nonprofit Youth Villages, it is being used today in 18 states and Washington, DC. I appreciate this from their Mission and Values statements – “When at all possible, children belong with their families. We help families provide the support and structure that all children need.”

Also this – We develop innovative programs that serve children and families facing the most challenging circumstances. Our entrepreneurial spirit leads us to test the limits of existing services and create new opportunities. We provide care and treatment for children in an open, safe environment. We ensure that young people are physically and emotionally safe. We help children and families develop skills to live successfully by focusing on areas that have a long-term impact on the family.

LifeSet puts transition-age youth in the driver’s seat of their lives with a trained specialist by their side to help them identify and achieve goals. It is is an individualized, evidence-informed community-based program that is highly intensive. LifeSet specialists meet with participants face to face at least once each week. They text, email and call young people regularly throughout the week, when needed. Specialists stabilize even the toughest situations and help young people build healthy relationships, obtain safe housing, education and employment. LifeSet is one of the nation’s first — and now one of the largest — evidence-informed programs helping young people who age out of foster care. More than 20,000 young people have helped through LifeSet across the country since the program began in 1999.

Ukrainian War Orphans

It was already on my mind. Wondering if the adoption agencies are gearing up for a bunch of white orphans from Ukraine. Well, it isn’t happening at this early stage but already I found a troubling article in The Guardian by Katy Fallon. As has happened with Mexican children at the US border, desperate parents are sending children alone to meet relatives across the border in Poland but they are not being met by anyone.

Children are going missing and cases of human trafficking are being reported by aid groups and volunteers along Ukraine’s borders amid the chaos of the refugee crisis triggered by the Russian invasion. Charities and rights groups working in neighboring countries to receive refugees said they had seen cases of trafficking, missing children, extortion and exploitation as more than 2.5 million people crossed into neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence.

“This is obviously extremely distressing for a child and can lead to them wandering around the station alone, disoriented and in the worst-case scenario, disappearing altogether. This, unfortunately, is not a hypothetical case – it has happened already,” Karolina Wierzbińska a coordinator for Homo Faber said. “We are also already getting reports of cases of human trafficking and women being offered work in Poland only to find the workplace is illegitimate, the employer is mistreating them, refusing to pay their salary on time. There are cases of extortion of personal documents or money.”

Homo Faber, a human rights organization based in Lublin, Poland, has been working at all four border crossing points to mitigate the risks and has set up a 24-hour helpline, operated by Ukrainian speaking volunteers trained to support women and children crossing the border. At nearly every train station near border crossings, crowds of people, often men, hold cardboard signs offering refugees lifts to destinations across Europe. Wierzbińska said it was impossible to vet every person offering to drive refugees to friends or family before they picked people up. Polish border guards have been helping to distribute the organization’s leaflets, which detail how to keep personal documents safe, how to prepare for travelling through busy train stations with children and what to do if someone offers you a ride but changes the destination during the journey.

“We feel strongly that information should reach women before they cross into Poland,” Wierzbińska said. “These are people dealing with serious trauma. The amount of conflicting information, decisions to be made – the sheer volume of stimuli can lead to a cognitive overload. The sooner they are made aware of the situation awaiting them in Poland, the more time they have to process it.”

Monika Molnárová, from Caritas Slovakia’s stop human trafficking team, said Slovakia’s national unit for combatting human trafficking was working at the border and had intervened to protect women and children in suspected cases. “The risk of trafficking is considerable, as the refugees, exhausted and deprived of any basic comfort, are, with every new day on the road, more and more vulnerable. We believe traffickers and recruiters are most probably targeting both women travelling alone and women travelling with children,” she said.

At a temporary camp for refugees near the border, run by Slovakian authorities, camp manager Sergej Savin said that they did not allow ad hoc transportation of people from the site. He added that there had been people who had turned up offering rides. “In some cases, it was not good. For example, there was a man, he wanted only one woman and four children. I told him to go. We cannot do this like that,” he said.

Usually the UN would register refugees at the border and identify vulnerable people such as unaccompanied children. “Now, obviously, because of the sheer scale of the numbers who are coming over, and the fact that the borders are effectively just open, this isn’t happening, which makes it incredibly difficult to identify children who are unaccompanied and separated,” said Joe English, a UNICEF spokesperson. He said that the agency was setting up a system of ‘blue dot’ safe spaces for children in seven countries receiving refugees.

Feeling Broken

An adoptee writes – Do any other adoptees struggle with feeling like they will never fully fit in anywhere – not at work, not with a friend group, etc? I even feel like an outsider in many adoptee support groups being a “transracial” adoptee – being black and adopted into a white family seems to be outside of the norm even for adoptee. I’m wondering if I will ever find a group where I really feel “included.” a lot of this comes down to race, at least for me. Being raised in a white suburban family I struggle to fit in with other black people, and obviously I will never fully fit in with non black people. My mom was especially “racially abusive”. Culturally black things, like how to care for my natural hair texture, were never taught to me. I’m 28 years old and still learning how to care for and style my own hair, it’s depressing especially because I can’t really relate to other black women because of this lack in how I was raised.

She finds lots of support from other adoptees who feel that too, even without the racial complications, and many who have the same racial complications show up too.

Yep. Always felt this way! I didn’t find out my full adoption story until a few weeks ago. It all makes sense now. You know how when friends are walking in a group, there’s always that one person that awkwardly lags behind, while the group makes no effort to make room for them? That’s me.

I certainly have no true understanding of being a trans-racial adoptee but simply as an adoptee, I sooo related to your feelings of not fitting in anywhere. It was and still is huge with my brother (he too was adopted and we are like oil and water), with my cousins and friends etc. Actually everyone. The difference is I am a white adoptee, adopted by white parents and probably much older than you. I will be 70 in May. All my life, in all situations, I have and still do to a point feel this way. So I can only imagine how much more challenging it is for you. I am so sorry you feel like I do. Stinks that is for sure.

Hi, I am also a trans-racial adoptee too. Definitely have felt not Asian enough and not American enough plenty of times. I’m currently at an age where idgaf as much as I used to. It also helps to be living in an area where there were more people from the Korean Asian Diaspora around who are also navigating life not ever feeling like they fit in.

Take a look at Hannah Jackson Matthews. She is an adult Black trans-racial adoptee. Hannah Matthews is a writer and educator, who employs her personal experiences and formal education to make the journeys of fellow trans-racial adoptees to self-acceptance and identity reclamation less isolating and injurious. There appear to be plenty of other Black trans-racial adoptees following her social media.

Also suggested is a Facebook group – Transracial Adoption – Community of Learning and Support. Though a word of warning from someone else – “I feel like that group has the most disrespectful and toxic adoptive parents that I have ever witnessed in a mixed group.” There are other groups with “Only” in their name that seem better. Two examples – Support Group For Transracial Adoptees Only OR Transracial Adoptees: POC transracial adoptees.

Trans-racial adoptee, too. I spend a lot of time in the ambiguous in-between, too. Some days it bothers me, other days not as much, but it’s ever present. The only place I’ve ever felt like I truly belonged is in the family I’ve created myself. Big TRA-y hug to you.

I’m not a TRA, so I definitely won’t speak on that as it’s not my lane. But the rest of it? 100% I’ve always had trouble feeling like I fit in. I try too hard, and I feel like I’m constantly being judged.

Yes, I have my entire life, including with my families – all of them. I’m sorry you have been invalidated as a TRA – you guys definitely get an extra helping of crap to deal with that I (infant domestic) do not.

I’m an adoptee, I am white adopted into a white family, but they always made me feel less than. I know that’s different than what you’ve experienced, but if you ever need to talk or vent, I will listen and empathize. I’m so very sorry you feel like an outsider.

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about feeling like I never fit in and how lonely it is. I always assumed it was from being bullied in Middle and High School.

Yep. The way I relate to people is broken and I try every time to fix it but I am just broken.

Yes I always feel this way. I’ve tried to go to therapy for it but it’s just permanent.

Yes! I was a transracial adoption, so I grew up in an all white community, schools, family etc. I’m of a lighter skin tone and I get colorism comments from my black community about how I can pass, etc and that really hurts to hear when your entire life even though your race and culture were erased from you. I didn’t fit in with the white kids growing up due to the fact I was black, adopted, not Mormon, and having parents who smoked. Even though I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood, I had a mother who lived to punish me by buying her clothes at the mall and mine at Kmart. We moved when I was 17 to a more diversified community. I still didn’t fit in. I struggled so hard being around black people because I wasn’t raised around them. I fit in with what now feels like other “outcasted races” Native Americans and Hispanics. And also because of my complexion, I’m now often confused for Hispanic and when I say I don’t speak Spanish when spoken to in Spanish, I feel as though they think I’m “too good for my race.”

I’ve never been in the popular group at schools, even growing up in the same neighborhood as most of the popular kids, and I’ve never been way popular at jobs either. Went to a multi-cultural church for 6 years, was in charge of helping plan and execute Vacation Bible School and I was only seen as “Becky with the good hair” that can bake and craft. Always being told to be grateful and how blessed you are, yet I think how ?

Who did this arrangement bless ? My adoptive mom got her “heart’s desire” by getting her “peanut butter skinned brown baby girl.” #becauseadoption

It Isn’t Fair

It could happen to anyone . . . today’s tragic story.

I am being forced to sign an adoption agreement tomorrow. With it comes a gag order. I won’t be able to speak to my experiences as much after that. My kids were in foster care because of my ex. I’ve been ruled fit however the children have been bad mouthed so much by the fosters that they are unwilling to return home. It’s this or I have to go to trial and lose any hope of contact with them. I am only doing this at their request and at the last possible minute. I always wanted my children. I always loved and supported and kept them safe. It’s not my fault I’m poor and the system is abusive. I fought hard for almost 10 years and it was never going to be good enough for the department. I’m beyond destroyed.

I submitted yesterday. I had to go in open court today and sign and consent. The judge was patronizing. The kids refusing to come home would mean I would just by default lose in court. I asked for therapy and assessments but because the kids’ therapists said that it wouldn’t be in the kids best interest, the social worker refused and the judge refused to allow it. Anyway, an assessment would have come out against reunification. They argued that however it happened, they were damaged now so we just have to make the best of it.

As the blog author, I relate to this comment –  I cannot imagine the anguish you are experiencing. I am so sorry that this is happening, has happened and unfortunately, will happen again- to someone else.

In fact, I believe that my mom ended up adopted because Georgia Tann threatened to have her declared unfit because she wasn’t able to find a way to provide financially for her self and her baby quickly enough. Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, was certain to have done it if she was requested to.

My Parents Didn’t Want Me

From an adoptee –

The adopted child will never feel like they weren’t abandoned, will never feel good enough, will never feel fully part of your world. We are told to be grateful when all we feel is pain, so are we grateful for pain ? This sets up expectations within every single future relationship we will ever have. It never goes away. We have to learn how to deal with it and cope in a world that doesn’t recognize or understand the pain of “my parents didn’t want me”.

Of course, I can’t or wouldn’t pretend to speak for EVERY adopted person but I’ve seen this so often that I know it is an all too common feeling – especially if the adopted person was never given any context as the foundation for having been adopted.

Feelings of loss and rejection are often accompanied by a damaged sense of self esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have give me away.” It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. 

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Adult adoptees often feel hurt that their birth parents did not or could not raise them. Hurt that their sense of self was harder to obtain. Hurt that they, to this day, feel different or outcast. Both happiness and sadness can be felt together. Asking an adoptee if he or she is “happy” with his or her adoption journey is a double-edged sword, for adoption is not possible without loss. And with loss comes sadness. They may feel angry that they do not know the truth of their identity.

Many adoptees find it difficult to express the hurt and loss they feel, for fear of upsetting their adoptive parents. While this emotional withholding is unintentional, it creates feelings of isolation. Feelings that often continue into adulthood. Sometimes, love and loneliness go hand in hand. Being loved is wondrous, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness.

A reluctance to discuss the adoption reinforces the idea that adoption is some really negative condition. Therefore, either the birth parents were horrible, unfeeling people, or that the adoptee was somehow so undesirable that the birth parents could not bear to keep him/her. An adoptee is often told that only the adoption agency/adoptive parents saved the child’s life by rescuing him/her. Given the alternative between a self-concept of being undesirable or a projected concept of birth parents as unloving and unfit, most individuals choose the latter.

For a baby being adopted, there is no getting around the fact that this infant must make an abrupt shift in bonding, whether it happens at birth, at three days, or at six months. How that is interpreted to the child, and by the child, and for the rest of his/her life, matters. Tt is ludicrous to say that adoptees have no different issues in life than do those who are not adopted, whether adopted at birth or sometime later, such as through the foster care system. It is not correct or helpful to portray adoptees as “lucky” to be adopted by wonderful adoptive parents. This puts an incredible burden on the adoptee to feel grateful to the adoptive parents, and/or the adoption system, It is a burden not put upon non-adopted people.

The idea that the adoptee was abandoned and rejected by birth parents and rescued by adoptive parents reinforces expectations and perceptions concerning all parties in an adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and too often in the industry, discounts the birth parents’ feelings and continued existence. Is it possible to find a more positive way of dealing with life’s experiences, including being adopted, having to relinquish a child, losing a pregnancy, adopting a child, or having a relationship not turn out the way we had hoped ? As a society, we continue to search for the appropriate balance regarding these kinds of experiences.

Sometimes It Works Beautifully

Today was Baby A’s birthday. After our celebration at home we picked up her mom in Branson and took her to dinner. We wanted her to be able to be with her beautiful daughter on her birthday. Baby A wasn’t the only one celebrating today. Her mom was celebrating 1 year of sobriety! (She gave permission to post this story so that she can inspire others that they too can overcome adversity.)

We were so honored that B invited us to her meeting to get her one year coin. We got to hear her tell the story of her journey, and I was so proud that she was able to hold Baby A while accepting her coin and announcing to those attending that Baby A would be moving home next Saturday.

Our girls enjoyed getting to know B, and I think there will definitely be a continued friendship between all of us. Through our foster care journey we have had parents look at us as the enemy instead of part of the team. Foster care shouldn’t have to be foster parents vs biological parents. We chose this path for the children to have a safe place to land until the parents are in a better place, or to offer a permanent home for those that need it. We want the parents to succeed. We want to be their support, to be there when they need us, and to celebrate their successes.

Fortunately B accepted us and realized that as much as we love Baby A, and as much as we will miss her, we are on B’s side. She is a wonderful mom, and it’s obvious that Baby A is her princess. I cried tears of joy and pride for B tonight. There will be plenty of tears shed in the future as we adjust to life with one less child in our home, but Baby A will be where she needs to be – with her mommy who loves her so much. We want to always be that support system for them, and hope to always have them in our lives. We love you, B, and will always be here for both of you.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

Preventing Adoptee Suicides

I was already aware that the statistics are worrisome. I didn’t know there was a month dedicated to focusing on this particular issue. Suicide is a sad and desperate choice no matter who chooses it but it is an individual choice and yet affects everyone who ever knew the person.

Attempted suicide is more common among adolescents who live with adoptive parents than among adolescents who live with biological parents. The association persists after adjusting for depression and aggression and is not explained by impulsivity as measured by a self-reported tendency to make decisions quickly.

You may be fortunate enough to be an adoptee who does not struggle with suicidal thoughts. But some adoptees struggle in silence, feel shame or feel disenfranchised and marginalized. I am seeking to share what some adoptees know, and the broader public should know, that suicidal adoptees are not an abnormality.

There is a need to talk about this issue more openly and in the mainstream. This is so important because adoption is sold as a “win-win” scenario. Talking about suicide is hard and uncomfortable. Talking about it in connection with adoption – which often has much joy but is more complex than most people realize – is challenging.

Generally, people would not have any reason to know that some adoptees struggle. The issues are real, and should be discussed more openly. Dismissing adoptee related suicide or mental illness will not help anyone. It will however further disenfranchise vulnerable adoptees.

If you are an adoptee with suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, other adoptees have felt this way too. Please reach out for help and know that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. If you know of an adoptee who is at risk, please do not be afraid to likewise reach out and help them to access appropriate support services. Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide. You can’t put the idea of suicide in someone’s head by talking about it. Asking direct questions can help you to determine if they’re in immediate danger and in need of assistance.

So much of the messaging around adoption is invisibly supported by the interests with a financial stake in promoting it. However, the separation that precedes the placement of a baby or young child into adoption causes a trauma that may be subconscious and not consciously recognized by the adoptee or the people who have adopted them.

4.5 percent of adopted individuals have problems with drug abuse, compared with 2.9 percent of the general population. This is striking because it is a far higher a percentage than the 2% of the population who are adopted. Despite what adoptive parents are told and hope for, no matter how loving and nurturing an adoptive parent, no matter how deeply loved an adopted child may be, many adoptees will say, that “Love is not all we need.”

One adoptee describes their own experience this way –

“So what does it feel like to be adopted? A weird amalgamation of rejection and acceptance. Someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure… It’s been difficult for me to accept that my parents actually love me, and that they’re not just putting me on a shelf somewhere to gawk at and to call their own. I’m still figuring it out.”

Often, adoptees don’t want to upset their adoptive parents with concerns about depression or anything that could be seen as ingratitude, including normal, healthy curiosity about their own genetic, biological roots. This is very common among adoptees. No one mirrors you while growing up to assist you in forming a sense of identity and self-worth. Many adoptees describe intense feelings when they give birth to their own child. Finally seeing a human being who is biologically and genetically connected to them for the very first time. Adoptees lack a recognizable source for personality traits, temperament, and abilities. It’s difficult to feel connected without knowing where you inherited your love of playing music, or curly hair, or shyness, or why everyone in your family is athletic but you.

Another adoptee notes –

“There is a certain detachment to adoption. Being ‘chosen’ rather than ‘born to’ does it. Because we did not arrive by natural means, and so much mystery (or outright lies) are our baggage, we often feel not only that we do not fit in, but that we are disposable. That’s the thing about being chosen, you can be unchosen. And some adoptees aren’t going to wait for the dismissal; they are going to finally take control of their life by ending it.”

It is true that some adoptees (my dad was one of this kind) have the resilience and temperament to lead perfectly happy lives. He simply chose to accept that his adoptive family was the only family he needed and was quick to dismiss any curiosity my mom had as an adoptee as ill founded. I believe that he had a deep-seated fear of knowing the truth regarding why he was adopted.

If you love someone who is adopted, be aware of this risk factor. The best thing we can do for our adopted children, friends, siblings, and spouses is listen and validate their sadness as a normal and natural need to know why. I am grateful that my mom had me to share her feelings with. Someone who understood that these feelings in her were valid and reasonable.

Poverty Is Not A Good Reason

The question was asked – Should poverty be a reason to remove children from their families?

Let’s be clear – the stipends the families get to care for children that are not their own biological offspring are more than large enough to help take the child’s original, natural family get out of poverty. This is misplaced societal priorities. It is actually less expensive to help the child’s family than to pay for foster care, not to mention the trauma to the child involved.

Poverty is seen by our society as a moral failure when it is in fact most often a sign that someone is being exploited by employers who don’t want to pay a livable wage. So, poverty is NOT a moral failing or a sign of unfit parents. That is a sign of a family who needs resources and support. No one should be having their family ripped apart because of poverty. Poverty is not a crime but not helping people who need support is. We shouldn’t punish families due to a system that refuses to help them, despite having the means to do so.

One woman shares her personal experience – When I had my case it was simply due to poverty. My husband lost his job and we lost our home, so they took my son for 6 months. I’ve met other people who didn’t get as lucky as we did and never got their kids back. The stipend they paid his caretakers would have easily gotten us a cheap 1 bedroom apartment and saved us all 6 months of trauma.

The saddest part is that many Americans still believe that cash welfare exists (almost without exception, it does NOT), and they rail against the imagined “Welfare Queen” fabricated by Ronald Reagan 30+ years ago. It’s every family for their own selves here, and the most insidious part is that many people don’t even know it. If you make any upward progress in your income, the system disproportionately takes support away from you. It makes it very hard to get anywhere, because getting ahead can actually put you behind. 

The thing about systems is there is no humanity in them. Take a part time job and earn $500/month, and you would lose $800/month in food stamps. It’s a system that punishes people for working hard and then, turns around and calls the same people lazy.

It’s been proven that all a woman needs is $800 and access to the right support agencies in order to keep her baby. So how is it necessary that some couples to pay upwards of $40,000 to adopt another woman’s baby ? Sadly, it’s capitalism – the adoption industry makes billions of dollars in revenue.

Follow the money. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 is how states receive federal monies that they then give to foster carers and adoptive families. This is where the push to remove children comes from. The federal government gives states big money for every child in foster care. This money is simply not available for family preservation or reunification.

There is some good news on the horizon. Some states are trying new ideas. Hopefully, their results will be positive and lead to better programs for families. Change is challenging. Kudos to any state that is open to new and better options for struggling families. The government does need to put more importance on family preservation than it does for paying adoption incentives.

Regardless of Why

Coming on the heels of yesterday’s blog, I encountered this article in The Guardian – My brother has two new children – and it’s making me sad. When you want to be a parent and can’t, this is a loss to be mourned, says Philippa Perry.

A woman writes – My partner is older than me and has a grown-up son. He is not keen to have more children, so I feel I’ve missed the boat. I also feel a lot of guilt and shame in my response (to my siblings having children). It is causing problems within my family because my older brother has stopped communicating with me. I’m unsure how to relate to these new children and also to my brother now. It’s constantly nagging on my mind. I feel like a terrible person and very alone.

Ms Perry replies – Reading between the lines, I wonder if there isn’t a whole lot of loss here to process. We think about mourning when we lose someone close to us: when we lose a parent or a friend everyone around us expects us to be sad or angry or confused, in denial or simply deadened for a while – wherever the journey of mourning takes us – and even if it is a hard journey, we know that unless we allow ourselves to mourn, we won’t recover our equilibrium. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has usefully charted this complex journey, and her thinking is instructive. Above all, we learn from her that the only way beyond loss is through it. When you want to be a parent and, for whatever reason, you can’t be, this is a loss and like all losses needs to be mourned.

This point is made frequently in my all things adoption group. The need to mourn infertility, rather than papering over it with adopted children.

The advice columnist goes on to note – It’s much harder, isn’t it, when the loss we experience is situational rather than personal? Often nobody notices or names it, and there is no expectation that we may have work to do. Instead of finding loving support for the process of grieving, we can lock ourselves in a silent, agonizing world in which we feel increasingly isolated.

Whether it is choice or circumstance that has led to you not having a child, you’re clearly sensing that as a loss, and I wonder whether now that those who are close to you seem to be abounding in new children, it is easier to cut off, or feel jealous, or over-rationalise, rather than having your feelings. Gaps are tough – and they’re real, at least to us. Reality is often disappointing.

You do not say why your brother isn’t speaking to you. Echoes of some long-distant childhood rivalry playing out, maybe? Or has something happened to create awkwardness. You’ll know – but I’m wondering what part you not engaging with your sadness and loss may be contributing to this awkwardness? After all, when the task of processing loss doesn’t happen in us, we find other ways of dealing with our feelings: projecting disappointment and envy on to others, rather than owning it ourselves. This makes us unhappy and creates avoidable friction with others. And, no, I don’t think you are a terrible person – just a person in pain with nowhere to place it.

Then there’s what you describe as your own loving relationship. You don’t say how long you’ve been together, nor whether there was a chance to consider having a child, but what is now encroaching is this sense of a gap. What, I wonder, would happen if you were to name it – not in terms of any “right” to have had a child, nor in terms of “blame” that the two of you aren’t having one, but simply in terms of the sense of loss and sadness it is creating in you? It’s not that he has to fix it by having a child with you, but not speaking about it may stop you keeping your relationship as “loving” as it can be. If you are not being heard and understood by him it may deny you the support you need to move forward – speaking simply about it may open up whole new ways of being fulfilled together. We might feel that if we own the disappointment and name the gaps, our feelings will become more intense and unmanageable, but more often the opposite is true. To talk about your loss will begin to process those feelings and will be, I think, the first steps to healing all of this. I don’t want you to carry that “chasm of sadness” on your own. But even in the most loving of partnerships we cannot be everything we need for each other and if your partner is more of a problem-solver – no one wants to hear the “well-you-should…” in response to their pain – you may try for extra listening and understanding from a therapist.

When you can own, then contain, your sadness I am hoping you will be able to relate to these new nephews and nieces in your life, not as reminders of what you are missing out on, but as new people to have rewarding, lifelong relationships with.