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How This Week’s “This is Us” Tackles Adoptees’ Complex Feelings of Loss

While adoption is a beautiful process bringing two families together, it is also one filled with grief and loss — especially for children at the center of the adoption triad. In this week’s episode of “This is Us,” we saw those raw feelings upfront with our two favorite adoptees: Randall and his foster daughter Deja.

*Spoilers ahead for the season 3 premiere of “This is Us.”*

To recap: At the end of last season, Deja’s mother voluntarily terminated her parental rights, leaving her daughter’s future up in the air. In this episode, we learn that her foster parents Randall and Beth must make legal moves to formally adopt her in order to let her stay with their family. So, Randall makes a plan for asking Deja about legal adoption in what he thinks is a heartfelt, sensitive manner. But, in true Randall fashion, his presentation is not as perfect as he thinks.

Randall drives Deja out to his biological father’s building, leading with a story of how he found his biological father just in time to lose him all over again to cancer a year later.

“It has defined my life, being adopted,” he tells her. “It’s defined my life even when I didn’t realize it was defining it. I think part of that, at least for me, is that this giant thing happened to me and I didn’t have any say in it. And I don’t want that to be the case for you.”

He ends by saying he and Beth would like to formally adopt Deja, but only if it is her choice.

Those unfamiliar with adoption, especially foster care adoption, might have expected Deja to fall into Randall’s arms with gratitude, like so many of the viral videos of children being adopted from foster care. But, in a heartbreakingly accurate representation of what foster care is more commonly like, Deja responds with a more complicated answer.

“My choice,” she scoffs. “Look, you’re a very nice person, and you have a very nice family, and I’m real grateful for what you’ve done for me. But, you try to pretend like we’re the same… You had one family your whole life, two dads who loved you. I had one dad who never wanted me, one mom who left me. So, don’t tell me we’re the same, Randall. Don’t tell me I have a choice in anything.”

“This is Us” has always presented a truer view of adoption — both infant and foster care — than a lot of other media sources. But, when it comes to Randall’s story, it’s often presented as a blessing to him rather than a serious life-changing loss. While he certainly seems to be given better opportunities in life with Jack and Rebecca than he would have had with his single biological father, he still has to lose a father in order to get that new life. We get our hint at that internal loss when he speaks to Deja outside his father’s apartment building.

But it’s Deja’s story that really highlights those feelings.

As we all know, foster care and foster care adoption is a completely different beast than private domestic infant adoption. It comes with a great deal more trauma and complex emotions for the child at the center. As Deja says, her loss of a biological family is more pronounced than Randall’s; after all, she grew up with her mother and, as we find out in this episode, knew who her father was but had no relationship with him. So, when Randall asks about adopting her, it’s understandable that she doesn’t jump up and down for joy. She’s gone through a lot to get to this point, and it’s affected her in many ways, which we saw over the last season.

While every adoptee’s story is different, it’s unrealistic to assume that every adoptee only feels gratitude and love for their adoptive parents — however they got to be with them. Even in private domestic infant adoption, there is an inherent loss that many adoptees begin to experience and comprehend as they build their identities later in life. Children adopted from foster care are no different; they have often walked a tough path to get to where they are now.

“This is Us” often takes care in representing the truth of modern adoption, and we appreciate the tact used in discussing Deja’s adoption from foster care in the season premiere. We look forward to seeing what the rest of the season holds, especially in the flash-forwards of older Tess as a foster care social worker. You can bet we’ll be tuned to our TVs every Tuesday night!

To catch up on the season 3 premiere, you can watch “This is Us” online here.