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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

Coming to Terms With Birthparents’ Loss

Since getting a referral for Dylan, a baby boy from Korea, I feel like I'm eating, sleeping, and breathing adoption. And while I've got about 175 things to say about our beautiful son, I know there will be time (all too much of it) before he comes home to fall in love and worry over and over again, so I'll save those thoughts for future blog entries. This week, instead, after reading Stacy's thoughtful post about thanking her daughter's birthmother each year, I'd like to talk about Dylan's birthparents. Not who they are, because that's his story to tell someday, but rather the contradictory feelings I have toward them.

When my husband, Jeremiah, and I found out about Dylan, the first time I cried (and I'll admit this was before I'd seen his beautiful picture and the tears really started coming) was when we read aloud the story of his birthmother and birthfather. Something about their story—the specific details of which I feel are Dylan's to share and not mine, but which will sound familiar, almost cliché, to anyone familiar with international adoption—affected me deeply.

At first, I didn't know how to feel about them, about their loss that translates to my gain, about the kind of strength it must take to make the decision they did, about the bittersweetness of fresh beginnings. We gain a son who will most likely mourn their absence. And whatever they will gain, they lose a boy who already, at 8 months old, absolutely sparkles, demonstrating in great quantities the magnificence that his Korean name, Dae, implies. But when I look honestly at my feelings toward that man and woman, there is no judgment, only guilt and a touch of a romanticized connection that, it seems to me, is an appropriation on my part of which I'm not yet worthy. I don’t know them and don’t deserve the soothing sense of a false connection that only serves to assuage my guilt and sadness on their behalf.

There's nothing in the world that I can do that makes any of this OK for those two people and I will not allow myself to believe otherwise. At least, not yet.

During our homestudy process, months before our file was sent to Korea, Jeremiah and I were each tasked with writing a letter to our child's birthparents. And when the time came to mail our completed dossier, although his letter was beautiful and heartbreaking in its spare language, mine was the letter we chose to include. In it, I wrote the following, which now feels both completely true and an unforgivable evasion:

Ultimately, we can only weakly describe the kind of life your birth child will have. We can't begin to explain the warmth and love that will greet your birth child from the first day we meet, nor can we tell you about the lifetime of nurturing and support we absolutely will provide. As parents, we know that, whatever your situation, you want the very best for your birth child—not in an abstract way, but something tangible. We promise that we will never forget your wish—not for a single day.

I am a parent, too, I didn't say, and so I know that this vague but prettily phrased little blurb circles around the fact that if you were to raise him, you'd do it differently than I will. Maybe better, maybe worse. Probably both and neither. But this baby will grow to be a different man with us instead of you. And all the love in the world, on all of our parts, doesn't change that.

Yesterday, I verbalized that sentiment by accident when I told a friend that we had chosen the name Dylan because it’s the Anglicized version—another loss and gain—of his Korean name, Dae, "given to him by his parents." Not his birthparents, his parents. It was a slip of the tongue, a mis-phrasing of the appropriate terminology I now use even in my dreams. I think that the mistake is important, though. See, he’s not theirs anymore, at least not in the same way. But he’s not ours yet either. Not really. Right now, he’s everyone’s and no one’s baby. And that’s the best and the worst thing about it all.

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I too remember feeling the way you do while we were waiting to pick up our son. It’s hard knowing that the little fella is waiting for someone who loves him, but whom he has yet to know. I felt quite a bit of guilt over that which I could not control: My son’s pre-adoption situation. You cannot change his birth circumstances, but you have changed his life, he just doesn’t know it yet. And don’t kid yourself, this little guy does belong to someone!

By Jeff on Tuesday, February 08, 2011 at 3:22 pm.

Meghan, Beautifully said. I’m struck by how thoughtful you are about all the various ways to “think” about your son and his birthparents and yourself as his parent—and he’s not yet even arrived. I can only imagine that purity of thinking will be good for all of you.

By Stacy Clark on Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm.

This is such a lovely post capturing all the mixed emotions of the time between referral and adoption.  For me, a similar slip of the tongue was illuminating.  A little girl at a friend’s house soon after we arrived home came over and said, very sweetly, “where is her mother?”  I replied, “I don’t know.”  And realized that I was very sad about my daughter’s birthfamily and the desperation that must have been implied by their decision (in China in 1992).....It’s hard not to think of them and the fact that they will most likely never know what happened to their child.

By SusanC on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm.

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