Reinforcing the castle of self-esteem against the battering ram of loss or the darker side of adoption

Do you remember sweet little Button? It is one year now since Cathy and her family brought Button home from China, and Cathy has written about adoption and the challenges that come with it. This is a lovely post – sad, and yet full of hope too. Thanks Cathy, for writing it.


Could there be anything more bitter sweet than adoption? At this time last year my family grew from 4 members to 5 and we were on our way back over the North Pole from China. A sweet, sweet event, welcoming a new little one into our family and you can read about it here and here, but that is not the end of the adoption story. An adoption story never ends, you see because it never ceases to have happened. No matter the joys of raising a child, an adoption is, by definition, born of loss if one looks from the perspective of the child. The child loses at least their birth family and in our daughter’s case she also lost her native country, the only home she had ever known, all of the people who were familiar to her and even her language. Yes, adoption is born out of loss but gaining a new family and a new life never erases that loss. It never goes away. No matter what we do as parents, the feelings of loss will come up again and again as our daughter grows up and it will try to exact its toll on her self-esteem for, ultimately, having been adopted means that someone left her.

The loss will come up when we see movies or read stories with an adoption subtext whether it is dealt with in a positive light or in a way that leaves something to be desired. It will come up at school when teachers unwittingly assign a family tree project for homework; ask for baby pictures or when studying genetics in biology. It will come up when strangers look at me (Caucasian) and my daughter (Asian) and ask the inevitable questions. It will come up when I need to go somewhere without my daughter. After all, it is legitimate for her to wonder whether her mother and father will, in fact, return because it has happened to her before that they (her birth parents) have not returned. Ever. And it comes up every time a stranger comes to the house because, again, it is in our daughter’s experience to be handed over to strangers (us!) never to see those she knew at the orphanage again. It will come up when our daughter notices that her gifts and talents and quirks are unique in the family – that none of us is quite like her. And it will come up in a myriad of ways yet to be determined.

It is no wonder then that this battering ram of loss can easily carry with it anger, grief, rebellion and depression. Of course we will do our utmost to see that our wonderful little girl is strong enough and resilient enough to weather these attacks when they come but eventually she will want to know why. Why was she left? And with that question comes even more heartbreak for it can only be heartbreaking to a child to have been left, abandoned, betrayed. Despite the realities of the one child policy I can think of no abandonment scenario (or, in the language of adoption, no scenario resulting in an adoption plan having been made) which is less heartbreaking to a child than another – and I can think of a dozen different scenarios off the top of my head. I do not look forward to the day when it will be my responsibility and duty as an adoptive parent to sketch these scenarios for my daughter, each and every one of them a blow to the self-esteem I will have carefully built and reinforced over time. So, we try to make sure our daughter feels surrounded by love and acceptance, patience and above all, belonging and security.

We talk with her about her life then and now and about the fact that she was adopted. We acknowledge and label her feelings about this process so that she can process it. This is the foundation. Even though our daughter is very young, already she does things which indicate her profound desire to belong.

Pass the mortar, please.

About Finola

I am an Ottawa area Mom, writer-want-to-be and coffee legend in the making.
This entry was posted in adoption, Button. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Reinforcing the castle of self-esteem against the battering ram of loss or the darker side of adoption

  1. Eileen says:

    Dear Cathy: a truly beautiful, thoughtful post. It's evident that Buttons has joined a remarkable family, a family that loves and cherishes her in a very nurturing environment.

    Whatever happens in the future I am confident that you and R, and Buttons's older sister and brother, will deal with everything lovingly and caringly.

    I've watched the video three times. It is charming.

    Love to you and your family.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much, Eileen! And, might I add that your example is no insignificant part of what I try to do.

  3. Pingback: Guest Post From Cathy – Tired and Wired: my experience with the phantom disease, adrenal fatigue. | Finola's Blog

  4. Scott says:

    We travelled shortly after you and our daughter is everything that we could have hoped for and more. Thanks for a beautiful post one that rings true on all levels for our precious Annabelle.

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