For six months I lied. That is an amazing statistic given that lying does not come easily for me. I am too transparent in my emotions and carry a generally guilty conscience. When faced with a daunting experience, I must be able to do it okay though because I maintained the lie for six months without the social worker ever questioning it once.
One of the trials that adoptive parents face is the post-placement home visits. Once a month for six months I had to let a woman into my home so I could assure her that we were the happiest, most well-adjusted, amazing parents she had ever worked with.
It was always some variation of “Yes, things are going great!” What was I supposed to say? We had fought long and hard to become parents. Was I supposed to admit that it was rougher than I ever thought? What would she think? Would she take Turkey-man away from us if I admitted that I was slipping into a depression? What was wrong with me that I could not shake the guilt I felt knowing that my joy had left a deep scar on another woman’s heart?
Must. Not. Show. Weakness.
I smiled. I glowed. I shared only the wonderment of new motherhood. I tried to convince her that I was gliding through this transition in identity with grace and ease. I succeeded. Sometimes I wish I had not.
In some ways, it worries me that the social worker never picked up on my struggles. In reading other women’s stories today, I know how common the guilt, grief and depression are. For a social worker to not mention or assess for those ordinary emotions, I feel like she did not do her job, leaving more families to experience what I did.
I wish she would have mentioned how often adoptive moms feel sadness, guilt and/or depression. It would have normalized my experience. It would have made me know it was okay that I was struggling. It would have lessened the shame I felt in not being completely overjoyed with my new-found role as mother.
It seems as if everyone is familiar with Post-Partum Depression. What is rarely talked about is how frequent Post-Adoptive Depression is. It would seem that given how common it is, social workers would do some version of screening and education to brace families for the negative emotions that sometimes accompany adoption.
I was so grateful when the six month period was up. I no longer had to live life convincing someone how fantastic it was all going. I could allow myself to fully feel my emotions without the lingering fear that any negative emotions may impact our ability to finalize the adoption.
If you are preparing to adopt please know how common it is to struggle. Yes, you will be filled with so much joy and love that it will feel like your heart cannot contain one more ounce. You will be stunned that you get to spend your life with the precious gift that is snuggled up on your chest. You will watch your child’s every move with amazement that you have the privilege to experience it.
But, you may also have grief over the pain that the birth family is experiencing. It is common to feel guilt because of that. And, although it is not regularly talked about, depression is not uncommon after placement.
Please do not fall into the trap that I did. Be honest with your social worker. Really, be honest with yourself. Know that your experience is valid, not something to be ashamed of. If you need help, get it. Reach out and connect with other adoptive families.
Eventually, with the help of my therapist I began to resolve my emotions and learn to incorporate them into my journey without the strings of shame attached. But, it took a second adoption with a significantly worse episode of post-placement depression before I was able to begin to heal.
Use my situation as a warning. Those early months were tainted in confusion as I tried to process and suppress the negative feelings that surfaced, unwilling to acknowledge any emotion that I did not deem perfect. Free yourself of the chains early on so that you can more fully experience the wonder of adoption. In my “do-over” list, it is one of the biggest things I wish I had done!