Each child welcomed into a LGBT family is a victory. It’s true. LGBT couples must overcome great complications and often incredible sacrifice to bring a very wanted and loved child into their family. When it finally happens, there is reason for great celebration. But if this child is welcomed through adoption, joy untempered by respect for the unfathomable loss the child has suffered misses an incredibly important opportunity.
Recently, two LGBT couples I know welcomed a child into their family through adoption. And while I understand their joy, I REALLY do, I found myself feeling uncomfortable with both couples’ expressions of seemingly unfettered glee on social media. It’s true that they may have had many more complex feelings than they posted on social media. After all, who among us hasn’t put a little positive spin on a story for the benefit of the Facebook universe? But if they didn’t and they completely ignored the hard part of adoption, they did a great disservice to every member of the family.
I’ve often said that waiting to adopt a child is like waiting for an organ transplant. The greatest gift of your life is the greatest tragedy of another person’s life. On more than one occasion the person with whom I shared this sentiment assumed I was talking about the birth mother, and I was, but I was also talking about the child.
Each child deserves to enter the world into the welcoming arms of the person whose muffled voice they heard during their gestation, who shares their DNA. And when that doesn’t happen, whether the separation is at birth, 6 months old, six years old, or 16 years old; whether it’s a result of death, poverty, abuse, youth, substance abuse, or mental illness (maybe even reproductive technology); there is a deep need for connection that no adoptive parent can fill exactly as a welcoming birth parent would. This does not mean that adoptive parents are inferior to birth parents. It means that we are different and the way we connect to our children is different. We cannot look at one another and see the genetic connection. We cannot recount for them how it felt when they wiggled inside us or the pain of birth.
But there is another pain that binds us, if we let it. Because when we truly acknowledge the loss involved in our child’s journey to our family, when we go to that awful place of grief with them, we let them know that they are not alone. And that is what every adopted child needs to know, that no matter how ugly it gets, they are not alone and never will be again.
So I ask couples who are preparing to adopt to celebrate the joy and the victory but leave room for the pain, because it’s through the pain that you get to the greater and sustained joy of parenting a very wanted and very loved child. That’s how they become your child.
Alison Aucoin is the happy single (not co-parenting) lesbian mom of a 5½ year-old daughter she adopted from Ethiopia. She runs her own consulting firm that provides organizational development, fundraising, and grant writing services to non-profit organizations around the country
and also writes for The Nervous Breakdown.