I’d like to tell you about two little girls; their names are Zoe and Madeline. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of touching, heartwarming stories about them to share with you. They are from Eastern Europe, three years old and are identical twins. Madeline, the one who was born first, is blind and last I knew, was still not yet walking or speaking. Zoe is sighted and, aside from the malnutrition that is common in orphanage life, we were told she was in fairly good health. This is the extent of what I know about these girls. When I was given those sparse bits of information, I was delighted. You see, they were supposed to be my daughters.
This is a story about twin girls and the family that lost them. There are sadly so many ways to lose a child, and all of them are beyond painful, unfair, and alter your life forever. I want to tell you about a way of losing a child that is not as well known or talked about or acknowledged. I do not do this to in any way lessen or minimize the grief of those who have had to bear the weight of losing a child by more common tragedies. I am simply writing this to share my story, and I hope it can be a comfort to others grieving their lost children. I think it’s safe to say that, no matter how we experience such a crippling loss, we need to draw strength from each other and not be afraid to truly, rightly and fully grieve. We need to do this in our own way and in our own time, with no concern about the limits or prescribed ways that our society tells us we are supposed to or allowed to mourn.
Who were these little girls exactly? They were the girls we were told and assured that we could adopt. They were the girls of whom we were sent videos and pictures. They were the sisters of my daughter and son. They were the twins who were going to make my life as a blind mother even crazier; I imagined them constantly making me guess who was who and having fun at my expense. They were the girls that were going to share a room with their sister and forge a bond (at least I hoped they would) through that shared space. Perhaps they would have taken up gymnastics like her or found some other hobby in which they would have delighted. They were the girls who would probably have driven their brother crazy, while also encouraging him at his piano. They were the girls who would enrich our family and teach me how to grow as a mother. They were the girls who would get to experience the joy of meeting grandma and tasting her food for the first time. They were the girls who were supposed to visit the ocean in Florida, where I and my husband both grew up. They were the girls that I was going to teach, together with their sister, how to make bread and gumbo. Now, they are some other family’s girls, and I never saw that coming.
If adoption is talked about at all, it is often from either one of two perspectives. First, it is viewed from the lens of the birth mother; her decision to place the child for adoption and all the accompanying weight and emotions of that difficult choice. Second is the more joyous perspective of the adoptive parent, finding purpose and learning from the struggle of becoming a family once the adoption is complete. Both these perspectives are valid, good and right, and they should be talked about! In fact, adoption and the need for it is a topic that should be more openly and seriously considered and discussed by our society as a whole. However, in my family’s case and with other adoptive families as well, there is the perspective of loss. It is the reality that we had committed ourselves, heart and soul, to two little girls and were determined, whatever the difficulty, to bring them into our family. Their faces and the thought of them languishing in an overseas orphanage were what motivated us through all the paperwork and tedious tasks that accompany an international adoption. It is the perspective of being suddenly told, by a foreign government who has never met you, that those girls are no longer yours. It is the reality of being given no reason for this sudden change of mind, as well as having no appeal or recourse.
Some might venture to suggest that the loss cannot be that great because, after all, you never actually met them in person. Sadly, this might also be said to the woman who lost her child through a miscarriage or stillbirth and in neither case is that true! We did know those children! They were a part of us, and we were committed to their life and well-being. They were already woven into the fabric of our family. They were ours! We had hopes and dreams for them, and when we lost them, it was and still is a significant and shattering blow! Please, don’t let anyone minimize or trivialize your grief regarding this!
So now what do we do? Where do we go from this very real sadness? The way I see it, there are two things we should strive to do. We should remember our lost children, but not in a fleeting or trivial manner. We should accept the fact that we will so often think of them and be reminded of them and miss them. Their memories deserved to be honored and treasured. Secondly, it seems that we should, even while remembering them, not become trapped in those memories. We need to move forward in our lives, striving to live a life that reflects who we are and our love for all the family still with us.
Grief is a normal and right response to the pain in our lives, to the unfairness of it. It is a natural, although by no means desired, part of life, but it is not the end or the only thing left to us. There can be grief and joy, hope and regret. There can still be life; I think that is the most important thing we can remember!