I am not crazy. There is a name for what is happening to me: ambiguous loss. And it is the most difficult type of loss to deal with.
In my case, I have experienced a slow accumulation of ambiguous losses, ranging from major ones such as my parents’ separation and divorce nearly 30 years ago to minor ones such as our move from one nearby community to another last year.
There is a lot of ambiguous loss floating around in adoption, on all sides of the triad, and much of it also takes the form of disenfranchised grief.
First parents, whether in or out of reunion, face the loss of the “normal” parent/child relationship. This can be complicated by secrecy or shame that may surround the adoptive placement.
More about first parents and ambiguous loss:
Adoptees in or out of reunion, similarly, must negotiate their dreams, hopes, and feelings in regard to their first families and, in many cases, foster families as well. Their attempts to do so are often frustrated by a desire not to hurt their adoptive families, messages from society that they should be “grateful” for their adoptive families, and societal stigma against first parents (first mothers in particular).
More about adoptees and ambiguous loss:
Adoptive parents often come to the adoption experience through infertility and/or miscarriage, which are also types of ambiguous loss. Though probably better supported than either first parent or adoptee losses, these challenges are often overlooked, misunderstood, or minimized by society as a whole.
The thing that really strikes me about this is how much various members of the adoption triad try to legitimize their own grief by minimizing the losses of others. Adoptive parents may play the “just be grateful” card. First parents question the legitimacy of adoptive parents’ losses now that they have children. Adoptees rail against both sets of parents and overlook the pain they may have experienced (then again, what kid doesn’t?).
So here’s a plea for some gentleness, some thoughtfulness, and some consideration. According to what I’m reading, lack of ritualized community grieving is one of the main things that makes ambiguous loss so difficult. Can we come up with some rituals and kind words of our own, in our little community, to help each other along the road of these difficult losses?
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