Feelings from the Past
My daughter, Hanna, was six when I adopted her from a Russian orphanage. As I prepared to travel to Russia, reading everything I could about what to do and how to act at the orphanage, I saw a list of questions to ask of the orphanage staff about your child's background and early years. That didn't seem particularly important to me; her past was her past. Her 'real' life would begin with me. How wrong, naïve, and uneducated I was!
Within 48 hours of being home, Hannah was talking about her birth brothers! How could that be? I knew she had birth brothers, but I'd been told she had not interacted with them in quite some time, and had no memory of them. Why was she talking about them...?
During the first couple months home, Hannah shared stories with me about the orphanage, and about her birth mom. My Russian was limited so I couldn't understand all of it, but I did realize that she was sharing lots of emotional experiences from her past.
Four months after Hannah came home, I took her to a therapist to for [sic] help with her outbursts, aggression, and noncompliance. During the sessions, the therapist talked about 'the hole' in Hannah's heart due to the gaps in information I had about her past, and about being adopted. She also mentioned Hannah's possible grief about being separated from her birth brothers. I started to understand. I began to read. I found out about grief and loss in adopted children, especially in older children.
Later on, when Hannah and I started seeing an attachment therapist to help with Hannah's just-diagnosed Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), this therapist too, talked about grief issues, especially grief and loss in children. I continued reading.
I began connecting the grief and loss to post traumatic stress disorder, and the post traumatic stress disorder to attachment and bonding challenges. I finally understood why I should have asked those questions at the orphanage about Hannah's past. Her past was part of her present. And, grief and loss were woven into all parts of her life.
The materials for this course have been reprinted with permission from the book Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox Building Connections, edited by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae Copyright © 2006 EMK Press, all rights reserved. The complete 520 page book covering all aspects of becoming and being an adoptive family is available at Amazon.com.