Adoption is Emotional

This is part of a multi-blog series called “Adoption Is” for National Adoption Month 2019. Read the entire series.

If you haven’t seen episode 3 of Season 3 of The Crown. Be warned. I’m dissecting it here:

Halfway through Princess Margaret’s (Helena Bonham Carter) recitation of her husband’s call about the scenes of horror he witnessed in Aberfan, during the third episode of the latest season of The Crown, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Tears. I barely made it through that episode.

The Aberfan Memorial

I am enthralled with history, even thinking that if I had things to do all over again, I”d become a history teacher. I’m fascinated with WWII and specifically the resolve of the British people during the height of The Blitz.

It was for the history that I became hooked on The Crown, Netflix’s dramatization of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. I’m embarrassed though, that I had never heard of the tragedy at Aberfan.

It’ll never leave my memory now. That was one of the most brilliant storytelling episodes that I’ve ever seen. And, there are a lot of parallels between this portrayal of Queen Elizabeth and the life of every adoptive parent.

There are ideations, such as the notion that The Crown doesn’t visit tragedies.

There are expectations, that the government felt the “distant” Queen needed to go and comfort the people.

There are realities that the Queen was caring for the practicalities and that her visit affected her deeply as well.

Underlying it all is the precept that inherently adoption is emotional. There are the most emotional highs in adoption. This post will not deal with those.

The ideations

A family walks up the exit corridor at the airport to a hundred people with signs and balloons welcoming home their newest child. Everyone in the terminal stops and cheers and waves.

A judge beams from the bench as they pound the gavel signifying the adoption of two beautiful children by an equally beaming set of parents. A rightly placed shaft of sunlight through the signifies the divine destiny of the moment as it lights up the newly created family.

With tearful smiles, an adoptive mom mouths thank you to a birth mom in a hospital room that just made the most impossible choice. The birth mom says, “wait!” make sure he knows I love him. The adoptive mom nods as her perfectly tossed hair bounces out of the room for the last time with the most perfect bundle in her arms.

These are the ideations that fill the heads of both adoptive and non-adoptive people when they think of adoption.

The expectations

As men, western culture tell us that we’re not to display rigid emotion. We don’t cry in public. We don’t get upset. We don’t shed tears. We pack it up and compartmentalize. If you don’t, you’re not a “real” man… or at least a “manly man.”

The same culture tries to impose on our mothers that there is never to be a tough moment in the home. And if there is, a quick hug and heart-to-heart should be enough to work things out. You know, like the 22-minute span of a sitcom.

We’re taught that adoptions are permanent. That there’s never a legitimate reason to disrupt or dissolve a relationship with a child when there is a signed decree. (More on that after this 30 days series is over.) There’s a horrible misconception that the problems that cause adoption end at the doorstep of adoption.

Let’s stop with these harmful and unrealistic expectations.

The realities

I’ll never forget the first morning that one of my children climbed into our bed and disclosed some really ugly things about his past life. Horror. Disgust. Heartbreak.

Or the time that in a moment of absolute trauma another child screamed that I was going to beat him to a restaurant full of Friday night diners. Fear. Embarrassment. Shame.

Permanently etched in my mind is the first time I had to call 911 for help with a child locked in the grip of a flight-or-fight moment because someone did ugly things to them in a life before. Panic. Sorrow. Exhaustion.

So, perhaps, just a bit, I could relate to some of the nuances of the Aberfan episode I watched earlier this evening. Like many adoptive parents I know, the show portrays the Queen as compartmentalizing emotion in the face of unthinkable tragedy.

There was a line about not having a hysterical head of state. Traumatized children can’t have hysterical caregivers.

At one point, Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Coleman) and Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies) are having a private discussion about Aberfan. She asks if he wept. He replied that you couldn’t help but to weep.

Seasoned foster and adoptive parents are really, really good at facades. When disclosures come. When tough moments are present. When everyone in public is staring in shock and disgust at your child having a “moment.” We put on the stiff upper lip. We open a box and pour all of the emotions into box and shut the lid. Can’t deal with it right now in this moment. Just can’t.

And sometimes, the people we love most and the people closest to us inadvertently and unintentionally project their emotional expectations onto us. And we cave to an act. After visiting heartbroken family members in Aberfan, the Queen emerges from a plain row house to a hoarde of cameras and places her scarf to her eye.

Later she confides in the prime minister that, “I dabbed a bone dry eye and by a miracle no one noticed.” The expectation was that you walk into that air of unimaginable grief and if you don’t show immediate and unreserved emotion.. there is simply something wrong with you.

I’ll let you in on an honest, vulnerable moment. Over the last seven months, we’ve had about 15 emergency medical treatments between two of our kids.

In the emergency room on the very first one, I had my first real conversation with our student pastor … after he found me in a wrecked pile of anguish on the sidewalk in front of the building.

I haven’t had a moment like that since the spring. I’ve had plenty of reasons to. There have been plenty of expectations that I should crumple at any moment. I cry, I react, I emote in various ways in various times. With that first exception, they’ve all been after the moment of crisis has passed.

In the final scene of the episode, Queen Elizabeth has her moment. As adoptive parents, we all have our moments. Moms and dads alike. We’re human. Trauma is real. And, adoption is emotional.

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