Acknowledging Grief in My Adoption Story

Acknowledging Grief in My Adoption Story Hero Image Acknowledging Grief in My Adoption Story Hero Image

Courtney McLean shares her personal story:

I spent two days with my mom. That time is undocumented—seemingly lost. No photos. No birth certificate with her name. It’s a season left to picture in my mind. Was she scared? Alone? Did she ever consider changing her mind?

I spent the following 18 years with my adoptive parents. That time is celebrated with many photos and journal entries. But I find myself wondering why my birth mom couldn’t have been a part of them. Why did we talk about knowing her as only a possibility for my adult life, instead of a need for my growing up years, too?

The world around me has often addressed adoption from one perspective:

“Adoption is beautiful!”

But with this sentiment, we miss the whole other side of the adoption story, one of grief and loss.

I think the world’s discomfort with acknowledging the grief and loss adoptees experience is because to do so requires acknowledging adoption isn’t perfect. Families are broken in order for adoption to occur. Have we ignored the reality that after 40 weeks in the womb, a baby is suddenly separated from her mother? Have we forgotten that one mama leaves the hospital with a baby, while the other leaves alone?

The grief and loss in my story doesn’t negate the joyous parts of adoption. Grief and loss can be experienced right alongside joy. Doesn’t that reflect the tension we find throughout the Bible? God hardens Pharaoh's heart to free the Hebrew slaves. Israel is sent into exile and yet God states, “I have a plan to make you prosper not to harm you.” And, we only call Good Friday “good” because we know Sunday is coming. God makes a way that is both praiseworthy and perplexing. He works in and through our mess to restore us. The same is true in adoption.

I met my birth mom in 2013. So much of my heart has been able to heal since that November day. Joy! And yet, nothing will ever fully repair the loss of all those years we spent disconnected. Grief.

God’s fingerprints touch every part of our lives - both the joyous and grievous. I can see that He is using my story to help shape a new narrative surrounding adoption. This new narrative celebrates the redemptive ways God enables life and family to occur through adoption, but it doesn’t leave out the grief and loss. It recognizes that there’s brokenness in adoption. This narrative leaves fear behind and invites in healing instead. While for many acknowledging pain is scary, I’ve come to learn it’s necessary for healing. We can’t let fear win. When wholeness is the goal and the love of Christ compels us and makes a way, we can let joy and grief co-exist in the adoption narrative. Just like in God’s word where we can surrender it all to Him.

If you are an adoptee who needs help processing your adoption story, a mother with an unexpected pregnancy considering adoption, or an adoptive family planning to adopt or parenting an adopted child, we want to help. If you have more questions or want to engage in serving vulnerable children and families, email