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When life turns out differently than expected

PROVO, Utah — When a person's prior beliefs and expectations of how life is going to turn out have suddenly and dramatically changed, the person experiences loss, said Dennis Ashton of LDS Family Services.

During the annual National Families Supporting Adoption Conference, Brother Ashton talked about how loss affects people involved in the adoptive process.

"For the birth mom, it's obvious what's happened in her life that has changed and it affects all sorts of things — everything from her school, her work, her relationship with a boyfriend, etc.," he said. "For the adoptive family, it usually begins when they discover that they're infertile and somehow unable to bear children."

Quoting Shakespeare, Brother Ashton said, "Everyone can master grief . . . but he who has it."

Most people who deal with grief, he added, have probably had well-meaning friends try to help them find the answers to their problems.

However, he said, the most therapeutic way to deal with loss can be summarized with one statement: "Feeling is healing."

"When we grieve, we are grieving the here and now and the loss of a future," said Brother Ashton, who spoke of the death of his own teenage son.

Spiritual injury can result when life's realities contradict or conflict with previously held spiritual assumptions, he said. In addition, couples or individuals can compare their life to others who have happier outcomes.

"It is very tempting to look at one's own life and say, 'I wonder if I fast long enough.' "

Besides dealing with infertility, many adoptive couples today also need to support the birth mother in her loss.

"Today in adoption, the birth mother has an opportunity to pray about, to consider, to select, to ultimately meet the family of her choice and to communicate with them," Brother Ashton said. "It allows her to go through that process of feeling and healing."

Brother Ashton said there is a delicate balance between the relationship that exists between an adoptive family and a birth mother. Both, he said, play a unique role.

Ultimately, Brother Ashton said, everyone involved in adoption can come to understand their loss and establish a healthy blueprint for the future.

"It is new and different," he said. "We can grow from it, but it is not always what we anticipated."