November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Research shows that adoptive mothers are as likely to suffer depression as birth mothers. It’s called post-adoption depression, or post adoption depression syndrome.I have invitedElizabeth Elias, RN ,to share herstory about post-adoption depression. Elizabeth wrote a memoir on infertility and post-adoption depression called Don’t Call Me Mother. She also has a website focused on post-adoption depression and life after adoption.
I have two kids, both adopted. My son is a local adoption and my daughter is from overseas. I had some post-adoption blues with my boy, Charlie, when he came home with my husband andme from the hospital. That lasted a couple of months, as I was completely freaked out about my new role and lifestyle change. I suffered daily growing pains, crying to my husband and wondering if we’d made a mistake. Nothing had prepared me for motherhood, but eventually, with lots of support, I figured it out and grew into the role with just a few blips along the way.
My second adoption? Well now, that’s another story.
I don’t know where to place the blame when it comes to the post-adoption depression that came when we brought my daughter Rose home on the plane. Was it because she was two years old and had a history I would never know about? Was it because she looked different than us? Was it because a 2-year-old is challening enough as it is, but add to that the fact that she didn’t speak the language, was grieving for the losses in her life, and was terrified to be “kidnapped” by these funny looking strangers? Was it the survival behaviors she learned in the orphanage?
Yes, she had a lot to learn and overcome, but the fault did not lie with her. So that left me. It must have been my fault. I carried that heavy cross of blame with me every day, everywhere. Charlie and my husband bonded with Rose right away. But the development ofmy mother-daughter relationship with her was much less smooth. I felt no bond with her and I was overwhelmed by her needs. I wanted to love her, desperately and immediately. But bonds are not always instant and need to be nurtured. I grew overwhelmed. My guilt over not having instant love for her was huge. She called my name with every breath she took: Momma, momma, momma, momma. I couldn’t find my footing. I craved my own space. I knew she needed and deserved for me to step up. This poor child had never had a mother to love her. I wanted to be that person but I failed. I failed daily for a year.
My guilt turned to anger. Rage. Because of her I was proving to be a bad mother. I felt very much alone. I loathed my existence. The guilt was everything I breathed, thought and did. I regretted the adoption. I felt trapped.
The truth is 65% of adoptive mothers go through post-adoption depression. That is a lot of women suffering in silence. The secrecy and the guilt kept me chained much longer in that dark negative space than I needed to be. Now I know that it was nothing that I asked for or deserved, nothing that I had done wrong. The blame did not lay with me either. It was simply a dark experience I was going through. There was nothing to be ashamed about. Nothing to hide.
I sought help by leaning heavily on friends and family, too heavily in fact as they couldn’t understand it. Why was I not happy to be a mother when my desire for motherhood was all I ever talked about? I searched for books to guide me and found only one. Most adoption books spoke about the bond and how to build it, but I was too angry to feel the joys of bonding. I went to a counselor and figured she would set me straight with some tough talk. Instead she offered me compassion and a few tools to let myself off the hook and stop guilting so much. I tried “holding therapy” with Rose which also helped a bit. I prayed daily, and I am not a religious woman. I hid in my closet. I sometimes found comfort in a glass of wine. And finally, what I did was write. I confessed everything in a journal which would become my memoir.
I now know the parallels between postpartum depression (PPD)and post-adoption depression (PAD). Adoptive mothers going through PAD are no less to blame than mothers going through PPD. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids or are terrible monster mothers. It’s not something we need to hide in shame. Our darkness does not make us weaker. This is why I refuse to hide it now and am willing to share my experience openly and honestly.
The relationship between Rose and me has now blossomed into everything I dreamed it could be. Spontaneous and genuine demonstrations of love and affection pass between us daily. I am so grateful we made it. I had my doubts for a long time.