Let’s Do Adoption Better
It’s taken me a week to recover from the Adoption Knowledge Affiliates Conference. A week to catch up on everything I neglected during the conference. A week to RELAX. A week to really process everything that happened.
Therapists in private practice don’t get out much. We sit in our office and escort clients in and out. And we love it!!! But it leaves little opportunity for networking and conversations with our colleagues. Conferences provide all of us shut-ins…er, I mean, therapists…with a much needed opportunity to spend time with people as passionate about our work as we are. And conferences give us the opportunity to meet NEW people who are as passionate about our work as we are.
I could write multiple posts about the conference, but a week later I’d like to just write briefly about the part of the conference that is still perched on my heart. I’m sure we all have one moment that has really impacted us…changed the way we think about adoption…words that continue to echo. For me, that part of the conference was Paul.
Paul placed his daughter for adoption 40 years ago. FORTY. The adoption was closed and he never knew anything about his daughter. Until six years ago when she wrote him a letter. I won’t retell Paul’s story, because I’d probably get a lot of it wrong (I didn’t take notes) and could certainly not do it justice. But seven days later…I can’t get Paul out of my head.
Paul sat on a panel of birthparents during Patricia Martinez Dorner’s Saturday morning keynote session. Paul appeared to a quiet, somewhat stoic man. He chose each of his words carefully. He brought us pictures of his daughter- a picture of them together and a picture of his daughter and her beautiful young family. Paul seemed to be almost bursting with pride about his daughter. In the past six years, Paul and his daughter have cultivated a beautiful relationship. A relationship that has clearly brought him much satisfaction; a relationship full of love.
An audience member asked Paul if he had any more children. Paul said no. Not only did he not have any more children, but the thought of having additional children after he placed his daughter for adoption was “preposterous.” Paul asked us, “How could I have ever explained to my child that I gave their big sister away?”
Sometimes in adoption, we forget about the pain. We forget that in order for a child to adopted, the child first had to be given away. We can reframe adoption in countless ways- but we can never take away the fact that adoption begins with loss. When that loss it talked about, we talk about the grief that a child must be feeling, to know he was “given away.” Paul reminds us that loss is not only felt by the adoptee, but carried by the child’s parents. Birth parents. First parents. PARENTS.
We’ve got to do better. We’ve GOT to do adoption better. For parents and for children. We cannot take away the pain, but surely we can do better. We’ve come a long way- if you’re curious about how far we have come, check out Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away.” But we still have got a long way to go.
I’m so grateful for AKA…for a multitude of reasons, really, but today I’m thankful for AKA for reminding me that we can still do better.
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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin and Bastrop Texas specializing in adoption and attachment.