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Friday, April 25, 2014

When an Adoptive Child Turns 18

The age we adopted her. . .
It's shocking how fast this day has come.  Sixteen years ago when a dimpled beauty burst into our lives and our hearts as a foster child, I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to be on the threshold of her turning 18.  And yet here we are.  Less than one week away from that important birthday.

We've fostered a number of children over the years, and adopted three of those, but she was our first.  Her hazel eyes, light brown curls and shy, devastatingly beautiful smile burst through the protective wall foster parents are supposed to maintain around their hearts.  We were instantly in love.

But we loved her so much that we wanted whatever was best for her and did everything we could to support the reunification process over the next year and a half.  It was a mix of utter joy and unspeakable grief when we were told that those efforts were not successful.  This little angel was to be freed for adoption and we were the family who would get to raise her.

Joy was, of course, ours.  The blessing of getting to freely love and parent and enjoy this incredible little treasure was indescribable.  We couldn't believe how blessed we were and reveled in planning a future as a forever family.

But there was grief, too.  Horrific, deep, agonizing grief.  To know that our joy came at the cost of another was sooooo hard to process and accept.

To my non-adoptive friends, who struggled to understand how we could grieve so much for the birth mother (the birth father was never known), I could only explain it like this:  It's sort of like how I imagine the family of an organ donor recipient must feel. . .joy at the life-saving blessing their loved one received, grief that it came at the cost of another's life, but trying to comprehend that that life would have ended anyway.

Our daughter's birth mother's parental rights would have been terminated whether we were in the picture or not.  She would have been placed for adoption no matter what.  And our baby girl's first mom would feel that loss and devastation regardless of who got the privilege of raising her daughter.

And that hurt.  Deeply.

So we were sober in our joy as our daughter became legally ours.

Now, all these years later, we're at a milestone that seemed always in the distant future.  And with it comes a new wave of grief mixed with the joy of having seen our daughter grow into the most loving, kind, beautiful and treasured adult.

The grief is over time having passed too quickly.  Of seeing our daughter now wrestle with issues adoptive children often do when they enter adulthood.

The joy is in knowing that she will make it through this bumpy transition with grace. . .because she's strong and grounded and awesome.

And there's joy, too, in the knowing that, no matter what lies ahead, we will face it together.  A family.  A forever family.


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