To everyone else, our adoption appeared flawless. His room was perfect. His bibs matched his outfits. He slept soundly in my arms. But on the inside, I was falling apart.
When our birth mother placed her infant son into my arms at the hospital, I expected feelings of elation and peace. Tears of joy. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead, I was flooded with panic and doubt.
I remember thinking, I’m the wrong person for this task. What the heck did I just do?
But I disguised my feelings, lest I place fear in the heart of our son’s birth mom that she’d made a poor choice in selecting me as her son’s adoptive mother. I wasn’t about to disappoint her and cause more pain. So I wore a fake smile in the hospital, thinking that once I returned home, my feelings of doubt would disappear.
I grieved for my son’s birth mom. Feelings of loss from placing my own child at birth resurfaced. We moved to a new town, with no support system in place, and loneliness soon set in. I cried every day. I couldn’t sleep. The littlest of decisions, like deciding what to cook for dinner, triggered panic. I wasn’t bonding with my adopted son, and I was irritable with my husband and my other children. Most of all, I was frustrated with myself.
Why can’t I just be happy?
I was supposed to be some pillar of strength, I thought. I’d sat in numerous adoption trainings, read adoption books. No one — and I mean no one — could have prepared me for the reality of post-adoption depression. And I was smack dab in the middle of it.
In my darkest days, I dreamed of calling our son’s birth mom to see if she wanted him back.
Do I tell my son’s birth mom that everything isn’t perfect? I couldn’t decide.
I’d rock my son at night, staring at the ceiling and wondering if I should confess to her that I was struggling, that I wasn’t confident in myself as an adoptive parent. Maybe I should tell her she’d made a mistake. In my darkest days, I dreamed of calling our son’s birth mom to see if she wanted him back. These kind of thoughts stung something horrible inside. I felt like a complete and utter failure as a mother, wife, and human being.
To everyone else, our adoption appeared flawless. His room was perfect. His bibs matched his outfits. He slept soundly in my arms. But on the inside, I was falling apart. My depression festered for months.
I wish I hadn’t been afraid to ask for help. At the time, I was so concerned with being judged by others that I refused to get the help I needed. Maybe it was counseling. Maybe it was medication. Maybe it was just time off. But I didn’t need to suffer in silence.
I wish someone would have told me that I wasn’t crazy. That up to 26% of adoptive mothers experience depression, and that there is an enormous adjustment period for any adoptive family.
There’s no guarantee of an automatic bond between mother and child, in adoption or otherwise. There’s no specific timeframe for bonding, and it’s different for everyone. But I told myself I was a horrible mom because we didn’t bond right away.
I should have taken more time for self-care. Rested more. Gone on walks alone. Listened to my favorite music. Scheduled a mani/pedi. Had coffee with a girlfriend. I didn’t think alone time was a necessity, but it was.
I wish I’d been more honest with our son’s birth mom, hinting that I was struggling to balance motherhood. Perhaps I should’ve told her that I had doubts and fears like any new mom. I should’ve let down my guard and not tried to appear perfect. I would’ve told her that despite my fears, I wouldn’t give up.
I wish I’d reached out to other adoptive moms. I needed a support network. Instead, I cowered in fear, afraid to be condemned or judged by those who had a positive adoptive experience. Adoptive moms need to empathize with one another. Encourage one another. And recognize that every adoption experience is unique, beautiful, and challenging in its own way. Adoption is a journey, after all. No one wins a prize for best experience.
Adoption agencies should educate parents on feelings of depression or anxiety that may occur after adoption and be proactive in providing support groups and mentors as a resource.
If you find yourself suffering from post-adoption depression, you are not alone. I see you. And I know that you are trying hard.
My depression eventually subsided, but it didn’t happen overnight. By the time I realized what was happening, I felt like I’d been hit by a semi-truck and dragged through miles of mud and dirt. When it was finally over, I stood up and shook off the dust, but remained silent. I realize now that my silence helped no one — it changed nothing for the next person in line to adopt, unaware that depression may be waiting for them around the corner.
Depression is never an easy subject to tackle. In fact, I’m cringing a little (okay a lot) as I write this article. But the things that I wish for could’ve come true, and that reality is heartbreaking.
I won’t sit in regret or guilt and shame over what could’ve been. For me, healing stems from vulnerability and compassion. Humanity isn’t about being silent and stoic. It’s a community of people who surround each other in unconditional love.
If you find yourself suffering from post-adoption depression, you are not alone. I see you. And I know that you are trying hard. You are doing your best.
But know this: depression will linger and rob you of the joy you were meant to experience if you do this adoption thing alone. This isn’t the time to be a hero. It’s the time to invite others into your pain and self-doubt and ask for help.
Adrian Collins writes about the real-life complexities of being both a birth mother and an adoptive mother. Adrian studied journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and is married to her high school sweetheart. They currently reside in Denver, Colorado. Adrian's memoir about a mother's decision to relinquish a child at birth and the journey to rediscover herself in the aftermath is slated for release Spring 2021. She can be reached at http://www.adrianccollins.com, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.