I am sure it’s no surprise to anyone who has been following our Facebook page, that this adoption gig is far from easy. Both PG and I have been struggling with the behaviour of our little darlings and the emotions that go with it. Me more so than ever. After a significantly difficult moment with the girls, I realised that something wasn’t quite right. Not with the girls’ behaviour, mind you, with my own.
I am my mother’s daughter and as my family and husband can attest, I am a fiery woman at the best of times. It’s one of my faults. I have many. Just ask PG. He will flatly deny it in front of me, but behind my back? That’s another story.
However, I never usually lose my s#!@ over something as inane as deciding on which shoes the girls needed to wear for a walk. On an ordinary day, I would have cared less but this particular morning after very little sleep, it was cause for a major melt-down – my own. I reacted by yelling. I stormed out of the room. I slammed the door. Then, fell on the bed in the fetal position and didn’t move. Comatose. My brain running a million kilometres an hour but my body wouldn’t respond. That is until, PG slipped quietly into the room and joined me on the bed, wrapping his arms around me and whispering “It’s going to be okay.”
Those magic words felt like lies to me and I broke apart. Sobs wracked my whole body until I couldn’t breathe anymore, taking huge gulps of air in between trying to express these massive feelings of unimaginable sadness at my perceived inability to be the decent mother I had hoped I would be and the shame I felt at reacting so so badly to a six-year old. Instead, I had turned into the Wicked Witch from the West who couldn’t cope with her child’s refusal to agree with her choice in footwear. Who care that Baby Girl wanted to wear a pair of feral thongs (or flip-flops for our North American followers) instead of the cute sandals I had lovingly purchased for her, apart from me? Well, not the ‘real’ me but the ‘crazed lunatic’ version of me.
I was completely and utterly disgusted in myself and instantly thought once more that we’d made a mistake. Surely, if we spoke to whoever we had to speak to, this adoption could be reversed and we would be able to go home. I couldn’t do this – couldn’t be anyone’s mama. I wasn’t cut out for it. I couldn’t be trusted with, let alone responsible for these two little girls who had entered our lives. They didn’t deserve this, not after everything they had been through. Not while I was this person who I instantly disliked.
So while PG took the girls out for a few hours, I cried, I messaged dear friends for their help via the wonders of the interwebs and I ate chocolate, lots of it. I delved into the deepest reaches of my mind and wondered if there was something akin to post-natal depression but for adoptive parents. In my research I discovered that not only does PAD exist, but it is most common in parents who adopt older children. I soon realised that I had most, if not all of the classic symptoms:
overwhelming sadness, tearfulness, irritability
difficulty concentrating, making decisions
fatigue, loss of energy
feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness,
sense of hopelessness
loss of enjoyment
desire to be alone, away from people (particularly the adopted child/ren)
thoughts of escape (running away, suicide or death)
Through the anger and sadness, I discovered fear. I was scared that I was going to feel all those horrible emotions for the rest of my life and in turn, resent the girls, the adoption and my husband for wanting to share this doomed life with me; a life where I would always feel like a slave to our daughters who needed so much of me. I was scared that I didn’t have it in me, was too terrified, to give them exactly what they needed in case I turned into that angry woman who I didn’t recognise – forever. As such, I refused to engage with the girls unless I had to and then I noticed myself becoming more resentful of PG because he was the one the girls turned to, especially in the fun times. (God, I was so angry at him for being what I couldn’t! Poor man.) I was scared that no matter how many people told me it would get better and the girls would respond to us more consistently with less of their own silent raging meltdowns, that things wouldn’t improve and we had indeed condemned ourselves to a life of heartbreak. But ultimately, I was scared that through my own pain, I wouldn’t be able to love the girls because right now, I don’t. (And God, does that do something to your mind to realise that!)
Because of those destructive fears, I wanted to run away so badly that I imagined booking my flight home without PG and the girls. I imagined being on my own away from everyone I loved, because I knew that I couldn’t really go home without taking all my baggage (and boy, was there excess baggage) with me, never mind how I was going to deal with everyone’s questions. So I fantasised about myself in another place, another time, starting afresh. Alone.
Oh, I have never felt so alone as I did that day when I recognised that I had most likely been dealing with PAD. I was completely unprepared for the way I was feeling no matter how much reading we had done as part of our adoption education. In saying that, not once did I remember ever learning about post-adoption depression and how to deal with it. Our adoption education had solely focused on the children and what we would do to meet their needs (and it had bloody well be after all that these beautiful girls have been through!) but at the same time, adoptive parents need to look after themselves too. Why was PAD not covered in our education or assessment? How on Earth could this debilitating mental illness not be discussed as part of our preparation to adopt? Why had I had not heard anyone in our adoption circle mention post-adoption depression before now – as if it was taboo?
I felt so disappointed that we were left alone to deal with this in another country kilometres from our own support base without any prior knowledge on how to manage my newfound unwelcome mental state. I honestly didn’t know what we could do right here, right now to help me.
That is, until I started to ‘fess up to those who had been there before us, other parents who had brought home older children and, who had, like me, suffered under similar conditions and felt as if their worlds were about to crumble. It was clear then, that I was not alone. Not at all. So I shared in stories, listened to advice, and sought help from my dear friend who just so happens to know something about mental health. She helped me put some strategies into place to help me with the stress and anxiety that has been eating at my heart.
I’ve started to shift my mindset in preparation of another fight in my brain. My goal is to walk away when my stress-o-meter gets too high and take time out for myself to calm down and find my centre, even if it’s only in the bathroom for five minutes. I try to have regular short breaks on my own to ensure that my stress levels remain low yet still connect with the girls as much as I can, especially in fun activities, to engage with them on a positive level. I am trying to focus on the positives by deliberately writing them down. It’s not easy and I certainly haven’t always been ready to deal with the anger that crops up when I am exhausted (which is my trigger) but I am trying not to be so hard on myself.
I am so lucky to have my best friend and husband there to hold my hand and guide me when he knows I’m not at my best. I really don’t know what I would have done without him. So, PG and I try to grab those moments together when the girls are playing together quietly, or (god forbid!) watching too much cable television, to reconnect with each other. Sometimes we talk and debrief which is so important right now. Mostly, we just nap. But whatever!
Thankfully, regardless of how horrible I think I am, the girls still want to be with me, want me to be a part of their lives and want me to be their Mama. I know it when they come to me for help, or hold my hand when we are out and about, or snuggle up to me in our bed first thing in the morning. I hold onto those little moments to keep my heart full. Topping it up is much harder at the moment, but I’ll take what I can get and hold on tight.
No one tells you that you could experience post-adoption depression during those first few months of bringing your older child home. However, it is more common than you could imagine. You are definitely not alone. Melissa Fay Greene describes it perfectly in her essay “Post-Adoption Panic” from the anthology “A Love Like No Other” (ed. Fruger, Smolowe, 2005) which, I have to say I could relate to so well.
I won’t say that we are out of the woods yet, but acknowledging that I have PAD with strategies in place to manage it while we are so far from home, is far better than letting it fester into a disrupted adoption. No one wants that.