Grief, Joy and Transformation

by Jessica Gunkel, BS, LMFT

Our adoption experience

When we began our journey to parenthood, I could only think of one thing: adding a baby to our family. I had no idea that by adding a baby, we would also be adding culture, vision, a life transformation, and a career change. That is how adoption impacted us, through grief, joy, and transformation. We began trying for children as I was approaching the age of 30. As getting pregnant turned into pregnancy loss and years of incredibly painful infertility, we began looking into adoption. We always liked the idea of adding to our family while providing a child a home, but what I had not considered was the grief involved for the child and for us. I leaned heavily into the pain of not having a biological child and I am glad I did because adoption comes with heavy losses on the child’s side as well, as they lose their biological family, cultural connections, and much, much more.

The unexpected grief within our joy

The process of adoption was fairly easy for us. We brought a 7-month-old baby home from Guatemala in 2007. I learned to become a parent while also learning to attach to a baby who was not biologically mine. There was much more to it than I thought, but there was also a lot more beauty than I thought there would be.

Since leaning into what it meant to add to our family through cross-cultural adoption, my life has been transformed. Since I leaned into the grief of what it meant to have a child not biologically related to me, I went back to school to become a therapist, working with adoptive families similar to mine. Since our child comes from a beautiful Indigenous Mayan Culture, I have expanded what it means to listen to perspectives and cultural wisdom that is not my own.

Raising a beautiful child of color as white parents in the culture wars being waged in America today is no light task, no matter how well-intentioned parents we may be. Now, my passion to raise our child in a world that values my child’s life has defined my relationships, my career, and my life as a woman and mother.

When considering adoption, families may at first be narrowly focused on getting a baby into their home as I was. However, if their experience is anything like mine, they’ll travel a journey filled with the valleys of grief. Through those valleys of expected and unexpected grief, they’ll also experience the mountaintops of joy and transformation.