When we adopted our older daughter, Big Sister (BS) almost four years ago, she went through a brief grieving period, mourning the loss of her beloved foster mother whom she then lovingly referred to as "Mama." For 4 or 5 days, she cried inconsolably for the only mother she had ever known, yet magically, by the sixth day, she looked up at me and said, "Mama." Somewhere deep inside her, she decided that since I was taking over the role of her caretaker, I must be her new mother. In a swift moment, her sadness turned to joy as she laughed and smiled happily discovering all the comforts of her new existence. At the same time, it certainly wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. She had to overcome the language barrier, new surroundings that looked and smelled differently and internalize her deep-rooted loss that came in the form of night terrors.
Next month, Big Sister will turn five and while she is secure and happy, the profound loss of her birth family and culture may someday plague her. I hope not, but it's a possibility. She is now at the age of beginning awareness, wanting to hear her birth/adoption story again and again. As we talk about it, she looks at the little photo album given to us by her Chinese foster mother, the only photos we have showing her early life in China before our forever family was formed.
Some adoptive parents choose not to discuss their child's adoption until the child asks questions while others opt not to reveal the secret at all. Obviously, interracial families may have a difficult time keeping the secret. I have always discussed adoption with my daughter since she was very little. We have several adoption-related (children's) books, most focusing on Chinese adoption. In addition, we celebrate our "Gotcha / Adoption" Day each year. On this special day, we look at photos from her lifebook and talk about our magical day. The day is usually topped off with dinner at a local Chinese restaurant and a small gift representing the Chinese culture.
Now that I have adopted a second daughter, Little Sister, we will continue the discussions and celebrations. I wonder how our Mei-Mei will react when she hears her story, so different from Big Sister's, never having a lovely foster mother to nurture her, only a room full of nannies. Will I embellish the facts or tell her the truth that she was severely neglected in the orphanage and left with no one to call "Mama." Time will tell. Most likely, I will gently tell her the truth but without the hard cold facts. When she is old enough, she will discover them on her own.
No matter how an adopted child comes into our life, they will always at some point experience loss. It's a point well driven by any adoption social worker. We cannot deny it, erase it or overlook it. We can only love our children enough to hopefully make the hurt go away.