I waited so long for this — years! It was paperwork, waiting, background checks and fingerprints, waiting, saving and fundraising, waiting, home visits, waiting, more paperwork, waiting, education requirements, and waiting some more. Sending care packages overseas, waiting for pictures and updates, loving intensely, waiting for others to do their job in the process, and daydreaming of the day I could hold this sweet child in my arms. I had become Mother in my heart to a living, breathing child I had yet to meet.
Then the adoption of our toddler was finalized.
Mixed in with the expected grieving our children each went through, there were so many joyful, cuddly moments, connections, and wins within our early days as a family! I’ve always done my best to stay attuned to what my kids are feeling and needing. I’m not perfect though, so I would “err and repair” just as I do now.
But there was a constant shadow in my mind, and my body persisted in survival mode for so long.
In the adjustment period (read: 1-2 years) after each adoption was finalized, I started feeling so ashamed and scared of my thoughts in the day-to-day. I considered journaling, but I couldn’t even write it down — not to mention, I was also too dang exhausted to put pen to paper.
I cried, a lot. I cried for my child, and the grief he and all involved in his life thus far had experienced. I cried for myself — about the life change, the grave fatigue, self-criticism, sudden anger, and isolation I felt. I grieved for the way life was before, just as my child did. And I felt selfish for it.
I had this consistent underlying guilt. I felt guilty for taking my kids from everything they ever knew. I felt guilt for struggling so much after they came home because, after all, I CHOSE this — they didn’t!
Then I raged. Little things would set me off, and I was very easily frustrated. I noticed my heart rate was consistently high, even at rest, which didn’t help me stay calm.
I lost a grip on myself as a person. I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my old self with my passions, hobbies, and desires, with this new self suddenly responsible for my toddler. I’d try to step out to do something for myself, with all the support and encouragement from my husband. But I always felt guilty for doing so.
The bonding was difficult after each adoption, in different ways. Because of what my children went through, we experienced extremes between a distant relationship and an intense one. The balance took time as we built trust.
I was riddled with anxiety. I felt horrible, inadequate, foggy-brained, and like a no-good mother to my kids. We’d missed out on their early years together — the time to get to know my child, and myself as a mother. My husband and I knew largely what to anticipate from the educational training we partook in. But it still felt as if we were thrown together, left to figure it all out in a hurry with a toddler at full speed.
My husband was always there supporting me in whatever ways I needed (on top of bonding with our kids himself). But I needed more help than he could give. I believe I’d teetered on the edge of depression, and swam in the depths of anxiety, for a long time before we brought our kids home. It just magnified now.
Thinking back, it’s all a giant fog. I have a few memories that flicker in here and there, but I can’t fully remember them. I have some regrets, but I also know I was doing the best I could while not being okay — physically and mentally.
I had heard about Post-Adoption depression during the first year with our oldest son and suspected that was what was going on with me. But for several reasons, even though I read up on it quite a bit, I just kept trying to muscle through it.
Similar to postpartum depression, post-adoption depression is less recognized and yet, is more prevalent than we realize. A lot of parents through adoption feel like their inner struggle is a shameful secret after all the time and effort put forth to try and prove they’d be wonderful parents.
When I had finally gone to my doctor, I explained my symptoms and told him I didn’t think it was super bad. I wasn’t contemplating hurting myself or my child, so I didn’t know if it warranted medical intervention. My doctor replied kindly, “Well, what are you waiting for — the sky to fall? Let’s get you feeling better.”
It was then that I learned how prolonged stress, anxiety, and depression can physically alter the body if it’s left untreated. I had been experiencing those bubbling under the surface for years! Medicinal treatment, and occasional adoption-competent therapy, certainly weren’t a quick fix to my post-adoption depression. But those, coupled with temporary diet changes to reset my body, and more time and growth as a family, eventually led me to a healthier place. Looking back, I see now that our bonding issues eased when I finally got myself some help.
It took me years to feel comfortable opening up about this topic, but it’s necessary. Whether you’re considering adoption, may be in the trenches of adjusting after adoption, or know someone who is — we need to talk more about post-adoption depression. It’s a very tender, sensitive topic, but awareness and getting help in this season is imperative — for parent, child, and the family as a whole.