Read the first part of this story here: When I Began My Adoption Journey, I Had Never Even Heard of Post-Adoption Depression
After a lengthy, drawn-out and expensive process (our church helped us out financially and we held fundraisers), we began the adoption of a then-14-month-old Turkish-Bulgarian girl from eastern Bulgaria. Although the process began when she was only 14 months, we didn’t actually get her until she was two-and-a-half. That gives you an idea of how long, tedious and nail-biting this whole experience was. I didn’t know then that the adoption process itself was only the beginning of a nightmare.
David and I finally got the green light to travel to Bulgaria to pick her up. We named her Olivia (again, a pseudonym), as her birth name would be problematic for her to have to spell and pronounce repeatedly here in the States for the rest of her life. Our visit to the orphanage that first day was quite pleasant. It was the most bizarre and exciting feeling to meet my child for the first time. The day after I was introduced to her, we went to pick her up. We were told very little, including information about her potty training, which we rudely interrupted by snatching her away from the only home she’d ever known. There were so many questions we should’ve asked, but we felt rushed and overwhelmed by the whole process.
Olivia sat in my lap in the orphanage director’s office and was very happy for a moment. Then the crying began. It wouldn’t stop.
Olivia had never been on a car ride before, and the rocky, speedy road trip from the Black Sea coast back to Sofia was a hellish journey filled with . . . well, let’s just say that David was, uh, covered with her last meal at the orphanage. We fed her the Bulgarian equivalent of Pepto Bismol, but nothing seemed to help. That’s when all the screaming started. It would continue for what seemed like a year.
That first night was Hell Night. Olivia squalled and shrieked, rolled around on the floor, and ripped her diaper off. Absolutely nothing could appease her. Nobody slept. We went to a pharmacy to see if there was anything to calm her down. They prescribed Diazepam for her. Yes, Diazepam. With absolutely no idea that that it was Valium, we took the pharmacist’s word that it would be the perfect, safe solution and gave it to her. It never even slowed her down.
That very first evening in that dark and dreary hotel suite, David and I huddled together in a small side room of our suite with its own door (we dubbed this the panic room). Olivia finally dozed off, so we closed the door, had a beer each (I don’t recommend it as a new-parent coping mechanism, but my nerves were shot, and I was desperate for something to calm me down) and a breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. The room had a small window that we opened for some fresh, though frigidly cold, air, and as I stared out into the desolate, rainy, and grim Bulgarian night, I wondered what I had done. My life was over.
We had to hole up for a full week in our hotel suite while waited for paperwork, a passport, and other red tape to be completed. Olivia screamed and screamed and screamed. We wondered if she was a fetal alcohol baby, although we doubted it, since Bulgarian orphanages, at least at the time, were run by medical doctors, and babies were screened for just about every medical condition possible.
David would take her for walks in her stroller to give me a break because I felt my head would explode with stress. (I lost seven pounds in one week on that trip.) However, those strolls were limited because it was freezing and drizzling—sometimes it would pour rain, and other times it was just a steady, frosty mist descending on a bleak but beautiful city. The whole place was sepia-toned that week.
I felt a tremendous amount of guilt because I would go for walks alone—just bundle up and step out into the strange and intriguing nothingness of our hotel on the outskirts of Sofia. This was the 90′s, and they had just recently been freed from Soviet bloc oppression. Our Bulgarian lawyer, Todor, who served as our legal counsel, tour guide, and host for the whole experience, told us about the city’s transition. While the city was free, it was depressed, and the whole atmosphere reflected that.
Remember that in the early 2000′s we didn’t have great cell phones, certainly no iPhones, and very little readily accessible internet in most non-Western foreign countries at that time. I couldn’t call home easily, and I urgently needed support. David and I felt like the only people in the world with a constantly screeching child whom we couldn’t even take for many outings in the little hotel garden because of the constant, ominous rain that never seemed to cease. The whole ordeal drew us closer as a couple at the time. We only had each other to lean on in a foreign country—a different world—far from home.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I didn’t know what to do with this wailing girl and neither the adoption agency nor the orphanage had given us any advice other than the standard textbook variety. Nothing prepared us for Regin from “The Exorcist.” I lay awake at night staring at Bulgarian dancers on an old-fashioned TV. A few badly dubbed old U.S. TV shows occasionally came on. It was a strange relief to see anything at all familiar and American.
I felt very bad for this freaked out girl who wouldn’t be comforted, no matter what “motherly” things I attempted to do. I did know one thing, however: This was no “love at first sight” fantasy. I felt upset, angry, lost, hopeless, and overwhelmed.
Fast forward. When we returned to the United States, I honestly couldn’t wait to hand her over to my dad to entertain and to let some of the children’s caretakers at our church deal with her. I stayed home with her for six weeks to “bond” before returning to work. I sought support on an adoption website, and I was brutally slammed for adopting a child and then going back to my job. That hurt me so badly I didn’t seek any help on any of those sites again. I didn’t think it was fair for people to judge me because I had to return to work. I thought, “If they judge me for that, they’d really lay into me if I shared the whole truth!”
Olivia screamed almost constantly, and potty training was out the window till she was almost four. We thought she’d have to go to her prom in Depends. I began to take Ambien just to sleep at night. David was a supportive as he could be. My father lived a state away, but he stayed with us as often as he could to ease some of the burden. A lady at my church was a saint, too—she kept Olivia during the day when I finally had to go back to work. I was relieved.
It took her roughly six months to even speak. Her language development had been disrupted in a major way, so she was only able to utter a few sounds and say “dah” (yes in Bulgarian) and “neh” (no in Bulgarian) . . . but mostly Neh. Neh, neh, neh. Endless neh’s.
We took Olivia to a doctor and everything checked out well with her, although we still had our suspicions about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. However, her “symptoms” really didn’t quite fit anything we read about online, so we gave up on that idea.
My husband called the adoption agency for help, support, and advice. Their response? “Based on what you’re telling us and your reaction to Olivia, we’re thinking we may need to come and get the child.” Well, that put a terror in me I can’t describe! I didn’t want to disappoint my family or my church, or lose all the time, money, and effort we’d put into this, but by far most importantly, although I hadn’t bonded with Olivia, I didn’t want to lose her. Neither of us did. She had her cute moments, her endearing moments. But I couldn’t honestly look at her and say, “I love you.” No, it would take a full year before I would reach that point and mean it.
Read Part III here: What I Wish I’d Known About Post-Adoption Depression