Question: "We have been waiting to adopt for two years now. We've watched two adoptions fall through, and are having a tough time coping with the disappointment, and this sinking feeling that we might never be parents. What can we do to keep our spirits up?"
This is a difficult question. Potential adoptive parents put tremendous amounts of time, money and emotional energy into the adoption process and then must bear with waiting for the fulfillment of their dreams and desires.
Waiting is one of the most difficult aspects of the adoption process for adoptive families. Living in an "instant world" with instant coffee, instant communication, instant cash from any ATM... the expectation of instant gratification of our needs only exacerbates the problem. Uncertainty associated with the hope of fulfilling our dream only raises the stakes. Not knowing when, how, or if, increases our anxiety and can send us on an emotionally draining roller coaster ride. It can become all-consuming and, as a result, we may begin to define the only meaning within our lives with the adoption of a child.
When we become too narrowly focused, it is critical to take a few steps back and try and get perspective on life again. We need to ask ourselves why we are adopting in the first place. Why do we desire children? This may seem like a ridiculous question. But if we look really hard at ourselves, it usually has to do with adding greater meaning to our lives through passing on a part of ourselves in the process and privilege of raising a child. Some people explain it as a way in which they can live beyond themselves. We gain a touch of earthly immortality when we can pass on our values and our lives through influencing a little person's life and having an impact beyond ourselves.
So, how does this help answer the original question? Well, I could tell you to do things to keep busy and it would answer the question, but only on the surface. There is a deeper essence that needs to be addressed. To tell you to simply keep busy I think would be a disservice to you. It is not a question of having enough to do, but rather a question of having enough meaning within our lives, with or without children.
I remember waiting, and it was hard. I remember that I personally had to expand the truly meaningful aspects of my life. My wife and I realized that we needed to pour more of our time and energy into people's lives; because, for us, that was the only thing that met that deep need for meaning within our lives.
A part of that for me, and more of that for Tina, was pouring ourselves into the lives of children within our circle of friends and family. But I slowly came to realize that I wanted my own life to count more in the lives of others. So, I did certain things within my relationships to increase their meaning in my life, and to increase my meaning within their lives as well.
When we come to the point where we have enough personal meaning in our lives and we can capture a glimpse of a meaningful and productive life even without children, we are freed from the emotional roller coaster of waiting. This is not an easy thing to be able to accomplish. But simply filling our time with business does not address the deeper needs we experience. Instead of waiting to invest your life in an adopted child, you can start investing in other people's lives right now.
My wife and I worked the nursery at church (to get our "fix," we would call it). You can invest time into a child, or into improving the life of someone who has a need. It enriches their life as well as your own. But let's recognize that even when we have truly meaningful lives, it does not mean that we are exempt from feeling the tremendous loss and disappointment of an adoption that falls through. When prospective adoptive couples experience this kind of disappointment and loss, it is not uncommon for them to have difficulty knowing how to deal with it.
It may be helpful to process the loss through a ritual or ceremony of releasing or blessing that child that did not come into your family. This can be done in many different ways. The only essential ingredient is to ensure that every aspect of the ritual is as meaningful as possible. Some may choose to write a letter of blessing for the child, others may choose a ritual of releasing a pine cone (a symbol of the beginning of a life) into a river, lake, or ocean. It is the attempt of trying to let go in a positive way, rather than never emotionally letting go.
Ultimately, the goal is to come to the point where, whether we become parents or not, our lives are truly meaningful. Coming to this point is healthy for us and for our adoptive children, if we are so privileged. We are to be there for them and their needs, not the other way around. We can not ask our children to be responsible for filling our own lives with ultimate meaning. When we find ways of investing ourselves in other people's lives, we enrich our own.
Russell Webb, MA, RPC, is an Instructor at Medicine Hat College and a Counselling Therapist at www.insightcounsellingservices.ca in Medicine Hat, Alberta.