I Didn’t Love My Child At First Sight

I always pictured motherhood as an instantaneous burst of complete and eternal love.

Nancy J. Evans Hall May 15, 2017
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I always pictured motherhood as an instantaneous burst of complete and eternal love. Of course, I had heard of postpartum depression with birth mothers. However, adoption, I thought, would be nothing like that. It would be a relief for the long, complicated, and stressful process to be over, and my excited expectations would finally bloom into reality. I didn’t expect that all would be perfect, but things would be pretty great after we picked up our daughter from an orphanage overseas. I had taken adoption parenting classes, and I was ready. Yes, all would be well…..

Now ditch the unicorns and rainbows and fast forward to reality. Olivia (name has been changed) was a pleasant little two-year-old girl the first day I met her. We had to spend the night at a hotel before picking her up for the long journey home the next day. Everything went smoothly until we were in the director’s office getting ready to leave. It was then that the crying and screaming began. It continued back to the hotel and throughout the week while we were working with our lawyer to get our papers and her passport in order. It continued on the plane home. (No kidding–I felt so bad for the other people on the flight that I passed out earplugs to everyone around me!) It never stopped. Who was this child who rarely slept and rolled around the room in her diaper fussing? We thought our life was over. In fact, I knew it was over. I had signed up for hell on earth.

Back in the United States, the behavior continued. I called our unsympathetic adoption agency for advice. They were of no help. I spoke with a kind and helpful family at our church who had adopted special needs kids. They were extremely supportive, but they were better with Olivia than we were, so that only served to discourage me even more. I felt inept and alone. I had family, but they were fairly far away, and my husband was as helpless as I was. I would be cleaning house and look over at the couch where she would finally fall asleep during her nap time and think, “I’ll do my best, but I don’t love her. Heck, I don’t even like her, and she doesn’t like me.” And I would spiral more into the darkness that had taken hold of me since she arrived home.

One day we met another couple who had adopted children from China. They were a very sweet family, and their kids were well behaved. Bill and Yvette (names have been changed) also had biological children. They all looked so calm and harmonious! I confided in them what I’d been experiencing. I say “confided” because I wouldn’t talk about it with anyone except my husband, and even then, I don’t think he really grasped what I was going through. It was like my dirty secret. Yvette smiled and looked at me, “Ohhh…So no one ever told you about the meltdowns?” NO, no one had. So we began to talk and struck up a friendship. It was nice to be able to talk to someone who really understood my situation. I leaned on them while we all adjusted to being a family.

It was a full year until I could look at Olivia and honestly tell her I loved her. Now it’s 14 years on, and I’m happy to tell you that things all worked out for the best. I can enthusiastically say I love her very much! She’s a healthy, thriving, active, and social teen who is an excellent student.

At the time, I’d never heard of Post Adoption Depression Syndrome. Even now, years later, as the internet and the information age have flourished, most people are unaware of it. Looking back, I know that’s exactly what I was going through. I even wrote an article on the subject for Adoption.com a couple of years ago. I have a message for all of you who are thinking that all of this sounds familiar: Please know that you’re not alone! Research PADS online. Seek support groups online and/or locally. Reach out for help to family and friends. If at all possible consult with a therapist, but find one who specifically treats PADS. Also make sure that not just you but your child sees a therapist. It’s a holistic situation, so do what’s best for you and your child. You’ll be happy you did! There’s hope, and no, your life isn’t over. Reach out, and give it some time.

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Nancy J. Evans Hall

Nancy Hall is married to the love of her life and has a wonderful teenage daughter. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A.T. in Humane Education. She had the privilege of studying at Oxford Univerisity in England for a while and eventually moved overseas for nearly 4 years. She enjoys traveling, writing, yoga and Pilates, rock music and festivals, and all things animal-related -- she has several rescued pets. She currently works as an academic advisor at a state college.


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