The 5 Stages of Grief in Adoption Loss

I dreamed about my son a few nights back.  I dreamed we were meeting for the first time and I reached out to touch his face.  He was right in front of me, smiling.  I was happy.  Then I woke up.

I had an interesting facebook tit for tat the other day with an adoptive father about grief.  I was reminded of a developmental psych class I took where we discussed the 5 stages of grief, penned by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.  Although adoption loss is different than losing a loved one to death, I wondered which stage was I in now?

The first stage of grief is denial.  Ah yes, denial.  Denial and I are well acquainted.  I was numb to the pain I felt for years.  I would not allow myself to experience the pain of losing my son.  My post adoption counselor actually encouraged the denial.  She would tell me that when negative thoughts or emotions popped up, to say out loud, “Cancel, Clear”.  She was essentially telling me to deny the emotion and not to think about it.  Not exactly the most psychologically healthy advice in my opinion.  For years, whenever I would think of my son I would repeat that mantra, “Cancel, clear.”  What I was really doing was pushing my emotions down inside, never dealing with them, or allowing myself to feel them.  I was an expert at denial.  I suppose in the beginning, it was a survival technique.  There is no way a human being can be productive while letting themselves feel the loss of a child.  But the denial should not have lasted as long as it did.  The denial lasted for approximately 10 years.

The next stage is anger. And boy, is it ever.  Anger at my parents.  Anger at the adoptive parents.  Anger at the agency.  Anger at myself.  But mostly anger at the entire concept of adoption.

The anger stage, for me, goes hand in hand with the depression stage.  I vascillate between the two these days on an hourly basis.  I have allowed myself to feel the emotions I denied for so long and this is what I’m left with.  I did not deal or work through the emotions when I should have, and now they well up inside me and explode like a geyser.  Adoption is always on my mind.  My son is always on my mind.  The terrible thing is that the people around me do not understand why this is on my mind NOW.  My husband most emphatically does not want to discuss it.  To him, it is something that happened in his wife’s past.  It makes him uncomfortable and when the subject comes up, he veers the conversation elsewhere.  He does not want a reminder that I had another man’s baby.  Adoption is an embarassment to him.  People will judge me based on my decision, and this hurts him.  He would love nothing more than to have me still be in denial, but I can not go back.

I don’t think I ever experienced the bargaining stage of grief.  I don’t pray.  I have never thought that if I do THIS now, then THAT never happened.  I have had the what ifs and the if onlys.  If only I had done the research.  If only I had known I could raise my son.  What if my son’s father had stepped up to the plate.  Those types of thoughts are like cancer, but I can’t help thinking them.

This brings me to the ever-illusive acceptance stage.  There are some days I think I have accepted the loss.  I have gone on with my life.  I have 3 children I am raising and I am a pretty good mother.  I accept that I can not change the past.  I accept that my son is gone.  There are some days that I only think of adoption for a few minutes.  I can not imagine a time when I will not have anger and depression.  Those two emotions have become a part of me, seemingly forever.  I hope one day to be able to let go of them.

Grief as it pertains to adoption loss, is difficult.  I have never lost a child to death, so I will not pretend to know what that feels like.  I know that there is seemingly no closure with adoption loss.  My son is not dead.  He is walking around out there in the world but I have no connection to him.  I can not offer a helping hand to him.  I can not tell him I love him.  I can not hold him and tell him everything will be alright.  I do not know how to get to a place of closure or acceptance while he is somewhere out there, living his life.  Perhaps someday, when he is an adult, we will be able to reconnect and I can find some kind of acceptance.  Only time will tell.



  1. Jackie

    Thanks for being so open. I’ve learned so much about the other side of adoption from you. You’ve really opened my eyes. I’m 23, engaged, and hope I don’t have fertility issues so I can birth my own children. Thanks to you, I would use adoption as the very very last option. Even if I went with adoption, it would never be a newborn child. It would be a foster child who is a ward of the state. I would try and keep the connected to their parents (who legally would never be allowed to have custody again) if I was allowed and give them the best life I can. What are your thoughts on this type of adoption? Thank you for opening my eyes. I’ve discussed what I learned from you with several people!

    • leenilee

      Jackie, you really just made my day! In my mind, foster adoption is the way to go. I know that our foster system also has a lot of corruption in it. In fact, I was just reading an article about that here
      Even with the corruption, I think that children in foster care are the children who need a home. I strongly feel that in the United States adoption has become about finding babies for adults who want them rather than finding families for children who need them.
      I am not completely against other types of adoption, but I do think they should be a measure of last resort when all other options have been explored and rejected for whatever reason.
      I have had people ask me why I am against international adoption. My reasoning is that a child should not be stripped of their country of origin to be adopted. I don’t think american children are more deserving than children overseas, but with the amount of money involved, the amount of unethcial practices, parents that are unprepared for RAD and other issues children from other countries might have, and the real potential for the abuse of those children, I just can’t see it as the right choice.

      It does my heart good that you have discussed some of the issues of adoption with others. Honestly, that’s a big part of the reason I decided to start writing about my experiences. I think adoption issues are a long overdue discussion we need to be having in the US.

      • Jackie

        I wish part of sex education in high school was a panel of current/former teen parents, some who chose abortion, some who chose adoption, and some who kept their baby coming and talking about their experience and answer questions. I think we should place more importance on helping children in children’s homes in our own country get families than helping infertile families get a new born baby from another country… When I stopped to think about it, I realized how selfish it is of these people to settle for nothing except a newborn baby. Yet, most people don’t see it as selfish, they see it as the ultimate act of kindness; adopting an “unwanted” child. Please!

  2. leenilee

    It’s very difficult. I know and love many couples who have adopted babies. Part of the problem is that most people don’t understand just how coercive our modern adoption practices have become. I like to think that most adoptive parents aren’t willing participants in coercion, they just don’t realize it. It’s hard for me to separate adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents from the industry as a whole. I have written with anger about AP’s, but honestly it’s mostly the industry I’m angry with. I have trouble separating the two because without a huge demand for babies, there wouldn’t be a supply problem and most of the coercion and corruption wouldn’t be necessary. That demand comes from AP’s.

    I would like to see the US adopt some of the same practices that Australia has embraced. Claudia at Musings of the Lame wrote a great piece on that here

    The adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents I truly take issue with are the ones who refuse to acknowledge any issues, believe their god brought them their baby, agree to an open adoption and then go back on that promise, use fluffy language like “you grew in my heart”, things like that.

  3. V's Mom

    Im a birth Mom too, in an open adoption (my daughter is in her late 20’s) and for years the topic was pretty taboo to discuss with my husband. Recently though Ive been going through another stage of healing and I just told him point blank that I will talk about adoption and I wont be shamed anymore. Of course I didnt start talking about it all at once, i tested the waters, but here I am a year later and I can mention little things about it without feeling like Im over stepping a boundary. I think husbands feel helpless in helping us heal from our loss so its hard for them to hear what we are going through.

  4. leenilee

    Yes, I recently had the same conversation with my husband. We have been married for 9 years. Of course I told him about the adoption before we got married. That was probably the last time we spoke about it until recently. I honestly think he didn’t realize it still affected me the way it does, since I didn’t talk about it. I know he doesn’t like to hear me talking about it or to see adoption related material on facebook. In fact, just last week he asked me to stop posting adoption “stuff” on my timeline because he was worried what his friends would think. I basically told him that I wasn’t going to be shamed into silence anymore. He is very old school and thinks what is in the past should remain there. It has been very difficult. I try to respect his feelings as much as possible, but I just can not do that at the expense of my own. I really don’t know what will happen in a few years if I reconnect with my son. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. Thanks for commenting, it’s good to know we’re not alone in this.

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