An Adoptive Father’s Epiphany

Editor’s note: Today’s post is by John Brooks of Marin County, California, USA, author of The Girl Behind the Door, a memoir of his parenting journey with an adopted daughter whose attachment wounds went unnoticed by the professional community until it was too late. Prior to his daughter’s death, John was a senior financial executive in the broadcast and media industry. Now he devotes his time to advocating for adoptive families, mental health activism and working with teenagers. Learn more at his blog, Parenting and Attachment.

john brooksI’m an adoptive father. I knew my life experience was different from my daughter, Casey’s, adopted from Poland more than 20 years ago, but I had no idea how profoundly different we were until I was compelled by tragedy to take a brutally hard look at the world of the adopted child.

My journey began more than six years ago. Casey was preparing for college. We’d had a big fight one weekend. Parents argue with their teenagers. But the next morning I woke to a note: “The car is parked at the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m sorry.” Casey jumped and disappeared into San Francisco Bay along with my life and dreams.

Drowning in grief, I wrote, searching for answers. Why did she do it? What did everyone miss? What could we have done differently? It became a published book. I learned about the traumatic, lifelong effects of the separation of mother and child, a primal wound that we stepped into like all adoptive parents.

Some say that a birth mother giving up a child is like an amputation. As much love and attention as we showered on Casey, could it ever make up for that loss? It’s a void that for so many adopted children is ignored and misunderstood; some may not see it themselves. Oftentimes loving them enough isn’t enough. Babies are not blank slates who simply adapt as many believe.

Birth trauma can be deeply damaging. How could it not be? It takes parenting that acknowledges the child’s loss and the effect on her behavior. Reacting to rages with punitive discipline can backfire. Adoptive families need qualified specialists who know what questions to ask and how to ask them. And adoptive parents need to know that some day their child may need to search and reunite with her birth parents, even if it’s painful.

The bargain we make as adoptive parents – one we learned too late – is that once we go down this road, we take on a job that is harder than we’d ever imagined. It requires us to parent in a way that we may not be comfortable with, to give without receiving much in return. It can leave us exhausted and isolated from other parents. But make no mistake, I remember the great times – they were many – and despite Casey’s loss, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been her dad.