Where Do I Come From?

The question is sticky for any parent, but for an adoptive parent there are about twelve extra steps to the answer. And when you’re dealing with a history that’s painful and traumatic, it can be particularly worrisome ground on which to tread.

I had no idea how hard it would be to break down complicated concepts in developmentally appropriate ways. And I’m not just talking about baby-making kind of questions. The other day T asked me with the “X” on the church was. Whoa. How do you even begin? Not to mention the “how do airplanes work” kind of questions, which would be easier to explain if I knew the answer in the first place.

In terms of the adoption-related subjects, I don’t have a master plan. I just feel it out as we go and try to stay a step ahead of the questions. So far, T knows that he was adopted from Africa, but he doesn’t quite understand that he grew in someone else’s belly. He recently kind of got that babies grow in bellies (and enjoys going up to all big ladies at the park and asking if there’s a “baby in there”), so I think it’s time to talk about it.

This is particularly delicate because of the challenges I’ve faced with T in the past year and the fact that I feel like he and I have recently turned a corner. I don’t know why the change happened, but he’s rejecting me much less than he was. He still prefers Daddy, but at least he’s not punching me in the face every time we get close and snuggly. In fact, we’re really connecting. You can’t imagine the relief, the joy.

And now I get to re-introduce the source of the trauma by expanding on T’s narrative with him. So I’m worried about regression and about losing the progress we’ve made. But Scott and I have spent some time talking about it with our trusted “board of directors” (ie our closest adoptive parent buddies) and have decided that as soon as the traveling of this month is over, we’re going to start reading T’s lifebook with him and showing him the video we have of him from the care center in Ethiopia.

As both an adoptee and an adoptive mom, I have many feelings that come up around this stuff. I feel honored to be entrusted with his story. I feel a tremendous responsibility to share it with him in a way that’s both deeply honest and developmentally appropriate. And I feel the tentacles of my own trauma history try to wrap themselves around this process and shut me down emotionally. But I’m fighting to be present and to look at it all for what it truly is- both T’s grief and mine, both his loss and mine. And to be grateful for the amazing opportunity to be here for the healing. For all of us.

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4 thoughts on “Where Do I Come From?

  1. I think it’s so smart to “stay ahead of the questions”. We’ve tried to do that but just this week Jafta got some pictures from his birthmom, along with some of her other kids. He did not understand why she had some kids, but not him. WOW. That was a hard one. I suspect it won’t be the last. Stumbling along . . .

  2. Hi Jillian,

    I know this is so, so hard, but the wonderful thing is, you have more than one shot to “get it right.” If you keep the lines of communication open, you have a lifetime to work through it. We’re going through a tough time with one my children right now. She’s always been my “easy” child. She ran into my arms at age 2 1/2 and left the orphanage without looking back. She’s always been a happy, cooperative girl, but now that she is 8, it has suddenly hit her what some of the aspects of her story MEAN. Suddenly, after 6 years, she is grieving. I expected this to happen as my children matured and understood their stories in a new way, but I wasn’t prepared for how painful it would feel for all of us. I’m just so thankful that we tried to lay the groundwork of openness when they were small, so that my daughter is talking openly with us about her struggle. I know you’ll lay wonderful groundwork with your son, and as he matures you can share with him more of your own story and how much you empathize.

  3. I can understand your trepidation at thought of re-opening a can of worms…but, in my experience {so this is just my opinion :}, the wound has to be re-opened and dealt with several times throughout their lives {my adopted son is now 18} and being willing to do that and go through that fire, proves again to them that you love no matter what. Our relationship is great now, regardless of all the yuck that he exhibited when he needed to process things. I am sorry I wrote so much in a comment…hope a little of it brings encouragement!

  4. HI Jillian:

    I’m also an adoptive mom and my daughter is 2 1/2. She totally rejected my husband for the first 2 years and all of a sudden, she prefers him to me. It’s a little bit painful, but mostly I’m happy for him!

    It’s hard to know what to tell her when she starts asking questions. Unlike many adoptions, we live only 2 hours from her birth mother and have a close relationship with her, which I hope will help my daughter if she has questions or wants to meet her when she is of the age to choose.

    I wish you the best of luck with your son and the discussions that come up. I know you will do the best you can, as we all do with our children. It’s all we CAN do.


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