Read Part I of this story here: When I Began My Adoption Journey, I Had Never Heard of Post-Adoption Depression.
Read Part II here: My Descent into Post-Adoption Depression Began on Placement Day
Read Part III here: What I Wish I’d Known About Post-Adoption Depression
I heard one woman in an adoption blog say in reference to her adopted child, “I found myself waiting for her ‘real’ mother to come pick her up as if I were the child’s babysitter.” Well, that’s exactly how I felt, so that sentiment has stayed in my head all these years.
My personal coping strategies included the following: exercise (with Olivia in the room with me), relying heavily on church support, researching on the internet for information and advice, and speaking with other mothers who had been through both adoption in general and international adoption specifically. I’ll never forget one mom who had biological children and two girls she had adopted from China.
She was a lovely lady with an easy-going husband, and when I cried on her shoulder about Olivia’s constant screaming and tantrums since Bulgaria, she calmly replied, “Ohhhh . . . No one told you about the meltdowns, then.” No, no one had. Not the agency, not the adoption counselor, not the orphanage—no one. I felt so much better simply knowing that that was normal, and other parents experienced it, too. It was important for me to realize that what Olivia was going through was, indeed, normal and that I wasn’t an unfeeling, uncaring monster of a mother who was losing my mind. No, other people went through this same thing. Lots of other people.
When I cried on her shoulder about Olivia’s constant screaming and tantrums since Bulgaria, she calmly replied, “Ohhhh . . . No one told you about the meltdowns, then.” No, no one had.
Another source of wisdom and comfort was a terrific woman at church who had fostered many children and had adopted a girl with very severe Down Syndrome. She was a huge help to me. She kept Olivia while her father and I were at work. She explained some of Olivia’s behaviors and how to best react to them.
But mostly my husband and I relied on each other for emotional support and to yin and yang our parenting skills so that we balanced each other out. When one of us had just had too much and needed a break, the other would take up the slack. We also made sure we were in sync, parenting-wise.
The best healer of stress was the passage of time. To be brutally honest in a world of sugar-coated adoption tales involving unicorns and rainbows, I didn’t like Olivia very much, and really, she didn’t like me either—or, for, that matter, my husband. People are stunned when I say this. “But didn’t you work hard for a year and a half to get this child? Isn’t this what you wanted?” They say this with shock and awe that “be careful what you wish for” could actually be a true expression.
I didn’t like Olivia very much, and really, she didn’t like me either—or, for, that matter, my husband.
So yes, it is what David and I worked for, prayed for, and spent a lot of time and money on, but when you truly don’t know what to expect, emotional hell can break loose. Thus, Post-adoption Depression Syndrome. I didn’t know it then or even for some time later, but that’s what I experienced. Had I known that at the time, I would have sought the help of a psychologist or even a psychiatrist. Back then, though, I saw a general practitioner who was able to help me sleep, and that in itself was some relief.
The post-script to the story, the point of hope, is that while Olivia’s dad and I ultimately divorced due to non-adoption related issues, I think we do a fantastic job of co-parenting. She has two great step-parents who love her very much, doting grandparents and aunts and uncles, a terrific extended family, and she’s a well-adjusted, social, typical teen (yes, she’s 14 now!) who makes excellent grades in school and participates in sports and academic extracurricular activities.
In time, I grew to love Olivia very much as I got to know her as a person, not a screaming terror who was an eating-pooping machine specializing in refusing to do things. I hate to use the cliché that time will heal, and things will improve, but with adoption, unless you’re dealing with a specific and severe diagnosed issue regarding the child for which you do need professional help and intervention, it’s true: time brings love, bonding, and mutual understanding between the parent(s) and the child. The best thing is that she’s gone from scowling at me as a traumatized toddler to, well, thinking I’m a pretty cool mom after all.
Emily Foltz-Holland, MA, LMHC, CCTP
Licensed Mental Health Counselor,
Certified Clinical Trauma Professional
304 Ponce Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32218
Teresa Guerard, LMHC
401 CenterPointe Circle
Altamonte Springs, FL 32701
Barbara Defazzio, LMHC, DCFC
Adoption Competency Trainer
Circle of Friends, Inc.
517 Deltona Blvd., Suite A
Deltona, FL 32725