I have a history with wells—those from my rural childhood, into which I tossed the occasional coin or stone and made a wish as I heard its diminutive splash on the surface of the stillness. I oh-so-carefully rose up onto my tippy-toes and looked over the stone fortification that encircled the deep silent water.
Sometimes the well was full enough that I was able to see the depthless water, however I couldn’t touch it without falling in. Other times the water was so far below me I only knew of its existence because I heard the splash.
I often wondered what lay beneath the water’s stillness. I saw the skies, trees and flying birds mirrored on its face. I witnessed leaves, insects and an occasional bloated rodent slowly decaying in its surface. I was sure the water’s surface hid a great deal from me, but to investigate further risked drowning. I felt intrigued, repelled and sad at the same time.
I grew up and moved away from the rural settings. I married and became a mom, through birth and adoption. I discovered that parenting my kiddos, now tweens and teens, encouraged me to, in a way, “return” to the wells of my youth, to examine what might lay beneath the surfaces of my kids’ wells.
What I mean by wells are those places, deep, sometimes fathomless, within their brains, that serve as repositories for trauma, for feelings and emotions related to my children’s life experiences and losses relating to adoption, and extending from them. And whether or not my children remember their experiences and losses they are still impacted by them. The words and behaviors that my children have shared with me have indicated that what lies deep beneath the surface bears further delving into.
To help my children address the many emotions they have felt, and still do, it was necessary to “dive in.” At first the wells were unfamiliar and scary — loss, grief and grieving, feelings of rejection and shame, struggles with control, and searches for identity. Nonetheless I was committed to cooperatively guiding one another as we dove below the surface countless times to explore what lay beneath, and why.
Adoptive parents can’t “walk in the shoes” of their children, unless they themselves have been adopted, and even at that is the case every experience and person is unique. Adoptive parents can try, but we have no idea what being severed from our birth family and being adopted by another truly feels like. We can empathize and be supportive. We can, if open adoption is an option, embrace it. We can foster a culture of openness—engage and listen, encourage dialogue. But the ambiguous void of nothingness, the well of grief, still exists for our children who have been adopted.
Know that and become familiar with the well.