When Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

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I recently saw a call for submissions on the theme “How I Felt on My First Mothers’ Day,” a prompt that touched a raw place, that brought some unexpected emotions to the surface. More recent Mothers’ Days have been joyful, celebratory times, complete with cards and dinners and gifts, but that first one? That first one was hard.

It came eight days after my grandmother’s funeral. To say it was a tumultuous time in my life would be an understatement; it was also one month after we’d received notice that our two-month old daughter’s birth father was contesting her adoption. My feelings were what you might imagine: a constant ebb and flow of joy and fear and loss, an exhausting churning of the deepest emotions I’d ever experienced.

I read the prompt and I knew I could write this piece. I had a good chance of getting it published. The emotional draw was there, the unique slant, the narrative voice that are all a part of a successful personal essay. I considered writing it for a moment, no longer, then sighed and closed my browser. Just the thought of that time caused something to well up in me, something dark and painful and ugly, something that brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t want to go there.


I’ll admit something to you here, something that shames me, something I desperately wish wasn’t true: I still, nearly three years later, experience a revulsion, a pain, a bitterness whenever adoption is mentioned.* Infant adoptions are the hardest. Other stories – those of foster care or international orphans or other such situations – will sometimes cause an internal wincing, a twinge of some unnamed emotion in my heart, but any time I hear of a happy and excited couple welcoming a baby into their home, no matter the circumstances, I feel the tension build inside of me, desperate and tight and aching for release.

This is ugliness. I know it, and yet I do not know how to counter it. I pray and I cry and I scratch out words in my journal. I tell myself the truth about adoption, about the beauty it can contain despite the tragedy that makes it necessary, and, for a heartbeat, I believe it. I get a glimpse of the goodness it brings when done well, and I think that maybe I am moving forward, maybe this old wound has healed.

And then I see a photo or I read a Facebook post or I hear somebody talk about the “miracle of adoption,” and it all comes crashing down again.


On Friday afternoon, I stumbled across a blog post by an adoptive mom, one who had walked the long, painful road of infertility before she and her husband found themselves bringing their new baby girl home from the hospital. As I read her account of the rather remarkable events that led to their adoption, the familiar tension built, straining inside of me. The photos of them holding their daughter for the first time, their tear-streaked, joyful faces close to her squishy newborn one, undid me; I dissolved into deep, wracking sobs, the kind of ugly crying I couldn’t control no matter how hard I tried.

I told Jonathan about the blog post and my reaction to it when he came home and then the rational, engineering side of my brain took over, tried to make sense of it all. Maybe, I posited, it was the pregnancy hormones wreaking havoc on my emotions.

He raised an eyebrow at me then, quirked one side of his mouth up in a sardonic smile.

“Yeah, that’s a good point. Let’s blame it all on hormones instead of recognizing the validity of what you’re feeling.”

He said it so matter-of-factly, as though it was the most natural thing in the world that I would have such a reaction after so much time, as though pain can be acknowledged despite the healing that’s occurred, despite the good and beautiful and wonderful things I’ve experienced in the interim, despite the joy and peace that mark my life today.

He lowered his voice, dropping into seriousness. “We say that time heals all wounds,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s true. What if it doesn’t, and that’s ok?”


Time doesn’t heal all wounds – or at least, it hasn’t yet, for me – and I’m trying to be ok with this, to give myself the grace and the space for the ugly emotions that unbury themselves when something brushes up against that old pain. I’m wrestling with this tension, this ambivalence I feel towards the institution of adoption, striving toward a healthy view of the practice while doing my best not to minimize the pain and anger it evokes in me. I’m fighting to sit in the ambiguity and complexity of being human, of living such a range of conflicting thoughts and feelings, to recognize that one can hold beauty and ugliness, joy and sorrow, thanksgiving and pain together in one’s open palms.

I’m trying and wrestling and fighting to tell myself, to believe: time doesn’t heal all wounds, and maybe that’s ok.


*Forgive me if this post comes across as insensitive. Too often, we ignore the fact that, as beautiful and as necessary as it sometimes is, adoption always involves loss and pain and brokenness. It is not my intention to minimize that in any way as I share my own experiences.

This Thing Called Life

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8 Responses to When Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

  1. Emily says:

    Jenn, I have the same bitter reaction to adoption being mentioned (along with a dose of fear for the friend pursuing it) even though I have seen it work out beautifully as well as end in heartbreak. (I hope that doesn’t sound awful – of course I can’t begin to have or understand the same hurt you do – but losing A as a niece was so painful for us as well.) anyway I completely agree with Jonathan’s assessment.

    • Jenn says:

      It doesn’t sound awful at all, Emily. In a twisted kind of way, it helps to know that others still carry emotions/pain from that experience as well – does that make sense? And yes, he’s a good balance for me – he trusts my emotions (and, for that matter, my dreams) more than I do, and helps me to believe in them myself.

  2. jywatkins says:

    The best thing I ever heard someone say about grief was that even though you expect to “go back to normal” and heal, life is always different after you lose someone, and that’s okay. It’s just going to be different because this thing has really happened. There’s no going back.

    • Jenn says:

      Yes, this, Jamie. Right after it happened, I remember having dual feelings about my grief – on the one hand, it was devastating and I wanted it to end, but on the other, I didn’t want it to go away because, somehow, that would mean the experience/my love for her/etc didn’t matter any more. I don’t know if I still completely believe the second half of that, but that loss will always be there.

  3. Chris says:

    Jenn, you have a wise husband. It’s true… you cannot experience something (good or bad) without walking away untouched. I suppose it’s what we “do” with those memories that says how we move on. My own Mother’s Day holidays are blessed when my children are near. However I can never “un-see” my dear mom, as I found her shortly after she died. That memory will forever haunt me. I choose to feel the grief wash over me when it shows up inexpectedly…and then praise God for choosing her just for me- for as long as I was able to have her in my life.

    • Jenn says:

      You’re right, Chris, I do have a wise husband. And wise friends, too – I really like what you say about what we do with the memories, and about choosing to feel the grief. There’s much we can’t control in life, but we do get to choose our responses.

  4. Tanya Marlow says:

    This is such wisdom – that it is okay to say there are still wounds. And yet there’s such fear/stigma in admitting this. I’m glad you told the truth

    • Jenn says:

      Thank you, Tanya! You’re right – we want to say we’ve moved on, that we’ve healed. And yet, wounds persist.