Tonight I sat on the couch with my broken little girl and held her while she cried. Tonight we watched a movie and held a puppy while we waited for the grief to subside. Tonight, once again, I told her that it’s OK to hurt.
As a mother, my instinct is to kiss boo boos and dry tears. It hurts me to see my children hurt. I want to pull them to my chest and keep them far from any one or any place that would ever do them harm. The problem is that my children came from the place of harm. My children were born to the family that hurt them. I can do everything in my power to change their present and future but I can’t erase their history.
Adoptive families often struggle with how much contact to have with their birth families. Open adoptions are a great option for many people but in cases where children were adopted from foster care there are often safety concerns and painful histories that have to be taken into consideration. My husband and I have chosen not to force contact with our kids’ biological parents until our kids ask for it. They know that they are adopted and when the time comes that they want to reach out, assuming that it is safe and healthy, we will support them. In the meantime, we continue to cultivate a relationship with their biological siblings. Those kids love my children and did not do anything to deserve their family being torn apart. We promised them that we would work hard to maintain their relationships with our kids and we have stood by that. It hasn’t been easy though.
This weekend we had a visit with some of Bradley and Alyssa’s siblings. The kids looked forward to it for days and Alyssa literally jumped up and down and started dancing in the middle of the restaurant when she saw them pull up. She spent an hour and half with her sister, T, taking turns braiding and rebraiding each other’s hair. They have a special connection and adore each other even though they are not able to connect as often as they would like.
When it was time to go, Alyssa clung to T like her life depended on it and she sobbed. Her little heart broke like it did when she first lost her birth family and like it does every time we have to say good bye. Even though she knows that she will see them again, it hurt. Even though she was promised a phone call in the next few days, it hurt. The whole thing just hurts.
I watched my husband scoop her up in his big, gentle arms to carry her to the car and I wondered for a moment if it was worth it. It makes no sense to bring your child to a visit knowing that she will leave in tears. The mama bear in me wants to hole up in a cave and never come back so that she won’t hurt again. Instead, I looked her in the eyes and told her that it was ok to be sad about leaving.
When we got home we cuddled on the couch and watched a movie while she tried to sort things out. That night she raged and said she hated me. In the morning she asked if I remembered the time that she was really sad after seeing her sister. I told her again that it’s ok to hurt sometimes.
I try not to tell Alyssa that it will be ok because I don’t know that it will. I don’t attempt to stop the tears because they exist for a reason. It would not be fair for me to deny that her truth is painful. Instead, I give her permission to grieve and I sit with her until the storm passes.
I want my kids to grow up knowing that they don’t always have to run from pain. I want my children to learn to love bravely and that means embracing risk. We mediate that risk by preparing for visits, planning downtime afterwards and monitoring closely what is said but we know that seeing their siblings may open up old wounds. If you aren’t intimately acquainted with adoption, that may seem reckless. We understand though that the benefit of love is greater than the cost.
Over the past few years I have had to learn the lesson that Alyssa is learning now. Sometimes love hurts but it is worth it. Foster children may leave and take a piece of your heart but it is worth it because what remains is better than the whole you had before. Friends may walk away but it is still worth it to trust and feel connection with others. The epilepsy could win but it is worth it to love Alyssa.
It is better to love and hurt than to never love. Painful goodbyes mean that you had a chance to say hello. Even if it hurts to leave, an evening spent braiding your sister’s hair is worth it. It would be easier to walk away and hope that she forgets about her birth family but that’s not what is best for my daughter. I want her to know that even if they can’t grow up together like they should have, loving your siblings is worth it. It’s ok to hurt because that means that you loved.
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