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Grief & Loss for the Trauma Momma

August 3, 2013
This article was sent out in my July newsletter. I usually try to keep newsletter and blog content fresh- but I received so many emails about this article that I am publishing it here also in hopes that it will reach as many mommas as need it.  
Although my blog has been quiet this month, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about trauma mommas (and dads too, of course).  At times I find myself wondering how helpful I can really be to a group of parents when I’ve never walked in their shoes.  I’m all too aware of the fact that at the end of the day, I go home to my trauma-free home.  Don’t get me wrong- we all have our own set of challenges and I don’t believe in “one-upping” or playing the “whose life is harder” game.  But the bottom line is that I leave trauma at the office.  A safe place where I’m in control.  And for a variety of reasons this month, I’ve been really mulling this fact over in my mind.

The grief and loss in being a trauma momma is profound.  Many (of course, not all) adoptive parents are led to adoption after infertility- a journey fraught with grief and loss.  Moving past infertility and on to adoption is oftentimes a new beginning.  I meet with individuals and couples who are overcome with joy at this decision, excited to experience a path they hadn’t previously considered.   Perhaps social workers continue to do a subpar job at preparing parents to bring trauma into their homes.  Perhaps parents are too excited about becoming parents to adequately understand the depths of the trauma- despite being well educated by their social worker.  Regardless- too many adopted children are reeling from the impact of complex developmental trauma.  And too many adoptive parents are unprepared and blindsided.  You scramble to do the best you can.  Find the best therapist, read about attachment, trauma, relearn parenting techniques….and in all this frenzy, so many (most? All?!) parents forget to honor the grief and loss that is inherent with parenting a child with severe trauma.

The loss of parenting the child you dreamed.  This isn’t a loss unfamiliar to most parents.  It’s human nature to have expectations- even when we think we don’t.  Expectations for the family we are going to build, the child we are going to raise.  Expectations for what it will be like to be a mom, or a dad.  Expectations for what it will be like for our children to have a sibling.  Expectations are dangerous because real life frequently falls short.  Real life falls really short when we find ourselves parenting a child with complex trauma.

Grief and loss for the child and the family you imagined.

Grief and loss for what your child experienced before you got to them.  For what you couldn’t protect them from.

Grief and loss for the struggles that seem inevitable for your child; and your powerless to turn back the clock and stop the trauma.

Grief and loss for the family vacations you envisioned that are put on hold because trips are too stressful and overwhelming to your child.

Grief and loss about the play dates you’d planned to attend but cannot because your child is too unpredictable.

Grief and loss about the middle school dances you hoped to send your child off to…but won’t because you’re child struggles socially and isn’t invited to the school dance.

Grief and loss because you figured you’d be able to leave your 16-year-old home alone in the summer…or maybe even that she would have a part-time job.  But really she needs a baby-sitter because she has a difficult time making safe and appropriate decisions.

It is crucial.  Imperative.  Non-negotiable that we spend time honoring our grief and loss.  Just like our children cannot go around their trauma…they must go through it…they cannot stuff it or ignore it….because it just bubbles up when they least expect it.  Momma, you cannot go around, stuff, or ignore your grief and loss.

If you’ve neglected yourself since becoming a trauma momma, please start to rebuild your support system.  Reach out to old friends or meet new friends.  Maybe your child can take a break from therapy while you seek out your own.  Renew your relationship with your spouse, because you know that’s taken a spot on the back-burner in the past several years.  Meet other trauma mommas.  Grieve.  Grieve for yourself, for your sweet baby who suffers the impact of trauma, for your other children, for your marriage.  Only through truly experiencing that depth of grief and sorrow can we begin to find ourselves, our children, and our family on the other side.



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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    August 3, 2013 7:28 am

    Thank you so much for this post…it’s like you were talking directly to me. Susan

  2. Randi Williams permalink
    August 3, 2013 1:53 pm

    All of your words ring true and bring tears to my eyes. Tears of sadness….. I remember grieving my losses and being in the pit of despair with all of the trauma that I did not choose. Tears of joy…… I realize where we are today- hope, healing and a future. Nothing is perfect and I had to give up sugar coated dreams long ago. But what do we have -wisdom, maturity, empathy, thankfulness, love, relationship and hope. A hope that even in the darkest of times joy will eventually return. And a knowledge that nothing no amount of hardship will ever return void without lessons learned and wisdom imparted.

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