Today I am so happy to welcome mom Wendy from the blog Adoption & Fire, who is sharing her story of post-adoption depression for the very first time. I'm so proud of her for sharing her experience, as I know it will help other moms who go through this.
Adoption was always my first choice in growing my family. I was adopted and my adoptive father and his brother were adopted. I had a passion for adoption. When my husband and I finally started seriously talking about it, our choice was the China program. My father had been adopted from Hong Kong by a Chinese family. I had grown up in a predominantly Chinese family, and while at times that was difficult for me as a Caucasian (my maiden name was Chang), I loved the culture and thought China was a perfect fit. We knew that we could put this child closer in touch with her heritage and culture through my own adoptive family.
When our paperwork was finally sent off to China, the wait time for a referral of a child was six to nine months. I was finally ‘paper pregnant’ and I could settle into nesting and preparing for our greatly wanted child.
Nine months sailed by quickly. I had joined a China forum and got wrapped up into reading fellow adoption blogs and enjoying the discussions of other parents waiting. I also spent quite a bit of time reading about post-adoption/post-institutionalized issues that many international adoptees face. I knew that this process was not all rainbows, hearts, and unicorns. As a firefighter/paramedic and a fire service chaplain, I was also well-versed in mental health issues including depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I knew it was extremely important to be educated in all aspects of the adoption and post-adoption issues, not only for my child but for myself. It so happened that I found the only book written on post-adoption depression on a message board. At first I was reluctant to read it but I knew that I needed to, ‘just in case.’ Little did I know that the book would be a life saver many months later.
Ten and then twelve months went by and the wait for a referral from China had no end in sight. By early 2007, I had grown depressed and distraught about the wait. My agency was less than supportive and no one seemed to have answers on how long it would be before we would have our daughter in our arms.
In February of 2008, we finally received our referral for a beautiful 8- month-old baby girl. The pendulum of my emotions went from deep sadness to incredible joy. We couldn’t get to China fast enough.
The moment we walked through the orphanage door and our daughter was placed into my arms is a moment I will never forget. The minutes and then days following that moment were a blur. From the beginning, she was not an easy child to care for. She was a high-needs baby with severe anxious attachment. The fantasy that I had created in my head of our child was blown out of the water within the first 24 hours. Even though she cried most of the time, I was thrilled to be caring for her. I knew in my head that her world had completely turned upside down and she was responding to that shift, but I couldn’t tell that to my heart. I watched as other children in our travel group eased into their new families but our daughter was a lightning rod of emotion. I started growing despondent only a week after she was placed in my arms.
When we arrived back into the US, I remember tumbling into our front door asking my family and my friends over and over why she was such a fussy baby. Everyone else had ‘easy’ babies, why was mine not? Jet-lag, being sick, and having a child that never seemed to quit crying threw me into a deep depression. I held it in though, because that is what a firefighter does when the going gets tough. And that is what a mother does! Besides, her birth mother was suffering more than I was! How dare I feel like this?
Day after day dragged on and I couldn’t connect or bond with my child. I loved my daughter but I didn’t love the new life that I had and because of her difficult post-institutionalized behaviors, I didn’t like her very much either. I didn’t feel like I could talk about it with other adoptive parents because so many of them were hurting because of the wait. I didn’t feel like I could tell my social worker or agency because I was afraid they would take her away. When I tried to reach out to some of my friends, they basically told me to suck it up. My daughter was hurting and I was hurting and neither of us was getting the help we needed. I would spend hours crying in the bath tub thinking that my life was ruined and her life was ruined.
About six months after the adoption, I was walking out of Target with my daughter sitting in the basket. As I was putting the basket into the return stand, I thought about leaving her in the basket and walking away. I just knew that a better mother would find her and take better care of her and give her the love she needed that I just couldn’t seem to give. I stood there for about a minute or two staring at her, arguing in my head about the best options for this tiny little girl, when something from that post-adoption depression book that I had read many months before came flooding into my memory. It jarred me into realizing I was in the throes of deep depression. I snapped up my daughter and rushed back home. I quickly made an appointment with a psychologist that I had seen years before who had helped me deal with a traumatic scene that I encountered at work. I also made an appointment for my daughter to see an adoption specialist.
I was diagnosed with post-adoption depression and my daughter was diagnosed with anxious attachment with PTSD symptoms. We both started our roads to recovery. It took over two years of talk therapy and medication before I felt comfortable in my role as a mother.
Three years post-adoption, I no longer have the depression but the pain of suffering with it still haunts me. I think about how close I came to making an irrational decision that would have been detrimental to my family. Still, I am glad I chose to adopt. I’m glad I chose life. I’m glad I chose not to walk away.