Life After Adoption.

So this post is one I’ve been wanting to write for awhile. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as I was chatting with my friend who leaves this weekend for her first of two Ethiopia trips — the one where she’ll appear in court and meet her daughter (but not the one where she gets to bring her home — pray for her heart!). She was asking me some questions about attachment and mentioning some worries about meeting her child for the first time. And I was sharing all my wisdom that I’ve been gathering from the past 4 months (I say this sarcastically. I’m so not wise.) and thinking maybe it’s time for a real, honest post about life after adoption….life for me, I mean.I’ve been pretty honest about how I’ve gone bonkers parenting two kids (moms of many — insert eye roll here) and how my house is a wreck and all that. But tonight I’m going to come clean about some of the emotions and adjustment involved — because life isn’t all pretty all the time, and you adoptive mamas need to know that.Let’s have a talk about Post-adoption Depression.

Post-adoption Depression is a real thing but it’s not a real well-known thing. The term was coined in the nineties by June Bond, an adoption advocate from North Carolina. Some studies say that 65 percent of parents have suffered some symptoms of depression after adopting their kiddos. Since it’s not talked about all that much you may not have been prepared for it and your friends and family may have no clue that it exists or what you’re going through. After all, the child you’ve been longing for during the past months — if not years — is finally home. You should be grateful, you should be happy, you should be beyond ecstatic.But this isn’t always the case for everyone. Adopted children come from a place of hurt, and may face significant attachment and behavioral issues that can make bonding difficult. Adoptive parents may struggle with guilt that they aren’t yet in love with their child. Post-adoption depression is also quite common among adoptive parents of older children, because they missed those wide-eyed, sweet and cuddly baby years and are dealing with a tantrum-throwing, non-English speaking stranger in their house that they are supposed to love. It’s a lot to take.This wasn’t my story. We adopted a baby and it was easy to fall immediately in love with him because he was weak and fragile — in many ways like a newborn — and curled up in my arms and grabbed my face lovingly. It was like he had always been our son. Yes, we’ve had challenges with nutrition and cognitive and motor development, but attachment is not among our challenges. Praise God for that!

So you might find it surprising that, even though we adopted a baby who is sweet and loving and attached to me — and me to him — within mere moments, I still struggle with Post-adoption Depression.

Perhaps my reasons will sound strange and atypical to you, but I’m going to share them in case there’s mamas out there who need to hear that they’re not weirdos for feeling the way they do (or at least know that they’re in company with this weirdo).

When Baby Boy first came home, I struggled with a lot of guilt. My dreams of having another child were all coming true because there is a part of the world where women dying in childbirth is still a common thing. I felt guilty that I was so happy when he had lost so much. I kept gazing at the tiny miracle in my arm and thinking that he was here only because of someone else’s pain and loss. I couldn’t reconcile those mixed emotions.

Every time I had to share a part of Baby Boy’s health history — the chronic malaria, the blood transfusion, the story of his birth, and how little I really knew about what he had been through — I turned into an emotional wreck. If you walked into my physical therapist’s or pediatrician’s or lab tech’s office during the first couple months after he came home you may have found a crazy person weeping as she filled out paperwork. I was always sad about his story when he was a stranger to me on the other side of the world, but it completely WRECKED ME when he was the tiny little baby sitting in my arms. It couldn’t process it all. It was TOO MUCH for me that my tiny baby had been through all this.

Sometimes, it’s hard for me to recover from what he’s been through. A few weeks ago I was sent a picture that I had never seen before that was taken by a mom picking up her child at the orphanage during the winter. Baby Boy looked like a sickly newborn — except that he wasn’t. I was sick to my stomach thinking about how close we came to losing him. In the past few months people that had cared for him at the orphanage or seen him have shared beautiful encouragements with me about how great he looks now, saying things along the lines of, “We didn’t think he would live.” I know I should celebrate that he did and be amazed at the fight in him — and I am — but it is also hard to recover from the fact that my son almost died and spent many months hungry and sick. I grieve his time at the orphanage. I can hardly stand to look at the pictures or video of his time there.

I shared on the blog that as Baby Boy’s birthday approached, it was difficult for me. Though I know I am so blessed to have shared many early memories of Baby Boy’s, I missed the time where I got to hold him in my arms and cuddle with him. He is a busy, strong and growing boy. Which is all wonderful and amazing and a blessing, obviously — but I miss the tiny little baby content to sit in my arms. I only had that moment for a couple of weeks. (I know I’m whining profusely — but I promised honesty, so that’s what you’re going to get.)

My brother and his classmates talk about the first year of law school as being so incredibly rough, and the frustrating part is that you want people outside of it to understand how difficult it is, but unless they’re in it — they just don’t get it.  I see that in life after adoption — at least for me. I struggled to get back to life as usual, because I felt like we had just been through this crazy, intense and most difficult whirlwind. We had survived, but it was impossible to explain to anyone outside of it how ridiculously hard it had been and how I was still recovering because every emotion in me had been depleted.

I remember attending the first playgroup with Baby Boy in my arms. Great friends who had all been blessed with two biological kids and watched my heart break through the years of secondary infertility were so excited to now be meeting Baby Boy. But I felt strange and out of place. One friend was talking about wanting to get pregnant at such and such time so her baby would be born at a specific time of year, and I found myself feeling angry and resentful thinking, “Do you realize what I’ve just been through? I had NO CONTROL over absolutely ANYTHING including whether or not my baby was being fed much less what time of year he came home and you’re worried about whether your baby will be born in the summer and prevent you from enjoying the warm weather?” I’m not proud I thought it, but I did. And then when the girls all began talking about the resemblances their kiddos bore to one another and who looked like whom it was all just too much and I cracked a lame joke about Yaya and Baby Boy bearing an uncanny resemblance and mumbled an excuse about how I needed to go. After that, I pretty much holed up and didn’t do anything with anyone outside of my adoption circles — and one girlfriend who totally gets me — until I was more emotionally stable. And by emotionally stable, I mean on Lexipro. Because folks, sometimes you just need medical intervention. And this naturalist mama knows when to say when.

So now that I’ve shared the dark moments and ugly thoughts that go through my head, I want to say this: I feel okay about sharing this stuff because there’s no shame in struggling with something. There’s no shame in admitting when something is too much for you. If Brooke Shields taught us anything (besides the fact that Tom Cruise is an idiot) it’s that women should encourage one another with their experiences. I hope that if you are reading this and have struggled with Post-adoption Depression, you will find some comfort in knowing you are not alone. If your friend has adopted or is adopting, I hope you will remember that she is going through a HUGE adjustment and needs your prayers, support and encouragement. And if your little one has yet to be safe in your arms, I hope you will remember that if and when he comes home and you struggle with feelings of sadness, guilt and depression — there is no shame in it.

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Comments

  1. Wow. Moms and Moms-to-be need to know these feelings are possible and how to deal with them. Wish I’d read something like this many years ago. Wonderful article! Thanks for sharing it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] talked about Post Adoption Depression  and began our Train Up A Child Challenge, where my children and I participate in service […]

  2. […] family you’ll find lots of resources about funding adoption, encouragement for your wait and candid confessions about life after adoption. Occasionally I even get gutsy and touch on deeper topics like respecting country requirements or […]

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