The story I’m about to share is my battle with depression and anxiety that intensified after our first two adopted children came into our lives. I could share so many funny and sweet tales of our family and our precious kiddos, and I hope to have the opportunity to do so in the future.
I live a full life with a terrific husband and 7 tiny individuals whom I love to the ends of the earth and back. Our days are full of schooling and giggles and meals and laundry, with a sprinkling of tears and forgiveness and redemption thrown in for good measure. This story is significant and deserves to be shared, but it’s important to say that this specific post is the story of a broken Mama and her healing; not the story of her adopted sons or their shortcomings.
My husband and I have three biological children and began the process to adopt a child from China in December 2012. One child turned to two and, 12 months later, we prepared to board a plane, thrilled at the realization that our one and two-year-old sons would soon be in our arms.
In hindsight, I think my battle with post-adoption depression/anxiety began sometime during that 15-hour plane ride. Which I know sounds funny, considering we were still pre-adoption. However, by the time we landed in South Korea, a heaviness had settled in my chest threatening to steal every next breath from my lungs. “We are too far away. If our kids need us, it will be days before we get to them. What if something terrible happens to them while we’re gone? What are we doing here? Something terrible is going to happen.”
These phrases and questions played like a record in my mind during the 17 days we were in China. Over and over and over… taunting me for my horrible decision to leave my babies behind. And maybe even for my decision to interrupt our “perfect” life in the first place. Waiting to board the plane to Beijing I had the first of many (in country) panic attacks. I was so overcome with fear and anxiety that I couldn’t remember why I had flown around the world to begin with.
The day our boys were placed in our arms played out in much the same way. Twelve months had led up to this moment, yet I wanted to start running down the streets of Zhengzhou as far as my legs could take me. “What if I wasn’t enough for these children? What if they didn’t even like me? What if they needed more than I had to give?”
I look back at pictures of this smoggy day in December and see as much fear in my eyes as I see in theirs.
I do think I held onto the hope that things would get better once the pressures of China were in our review mirror. Unfortunately, our first 18 months home were some of the hardest I’ve experienced. One of our new boys screamed through most of our China trip, a good portion of the 36 hours it took us to get home from China, and the majority of his first 6 months in our house. He also wanted absolutely nothing to do with me and wouldn’t even walk past me in the room for 3 months. He refused to let me pick him up for 6 months and only tolerated my touch (with clear distain) for a full year.
I was in one of the darkest periods of my life, questioning how this would ever work out in the end. I couldn’t see God working, and I had ZERO trust that our story would have a happy ending. All I knew was that my many expectations had put me at a clear disadvantage to parent a child who had experienced so much trauma in his short life.
I was fully trained that he may dislike me. However, I never expected to feel so disconnected from him or to wonder every day if I would ever love him the way he deserved to be loved.
One of the biggest mistakes I made during our first 6 months home was thinking that, if an adoption story doesn’t “end” with happily ever after, then it shouldn’t be told. So, I stayed silent. I told myself that not wanting to return to church was rooted in the cocooning of my boys, when I actually just didn’t want to have to answer the question “How are things going?” I couldn’t imagine anyone wanted to hear a story that had so much mess and so many loose ends. Especially after our faith community, family, and friends had all rallied around us in such an amazing way to help get our boys home.
All the adoptive families I followed on social media and in blogs seemed to portray a life that just wasn’t the one I was now living. I carried so much guilt for the things I felt I wasn’t doing “right” (whatever that meant) and the feelings I was yet to feel towards my new sons. Guilt for all the ways I felt like I didn’t measure up; that I just wasn’t “enough”. Guilt for all the feelings that I knew were perpetuating my sense of hopelessness. The adoptive community loves to quote Joel 2:25 where the Lord promises Israel, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the locusts were continuing to plague one of my boys, even during his first year in my care.
In May 2016, after a day of more “hard” than I thought I could handle, I sat next to my husband on the couch and blurted out that I thought our children would be better off without me as their mom. If I couldn’t figure out how to parent our boys through the darkness of depression and anxiety, and if this guilt was going to be my constant companion, then they would be better off if I wasn’t here with them. I could see on his face how much those words shocked and horrified him, but they also shocked and horrified me much more than I expected. When had I become resolute that this situation could not be changed?
On that night, I clinched my teeth and decided that my new way of living was not okay. My husband deserved more. My biological kids deserved more. My tiny boys deserved more. But most of all, I deserved more. If healing was ever going to take place, and if I was ever going to attach to my son, then something had to change.
I shared all of this to say, we serve a God who loves to restore and heal His children! Upon a lot of soul searching, prayer, research, and input from doctors, I came to a better realization that I have dealt with acute anxiety since childhood, exacerbated by traumatic events (but none so traumatic as my first-year post adoption). I made an appointment to see my family doctor, who prescribed anxiety medication. Obviously, medication in and of itself is not the magical cure for post-adoption depression, acute anxiety, or much of anything else for that matter. I am also very stringent about self-care, prayer, essential oils, being discipled, time in the Word of God, etc. However, for me, medication cleared my head enough that I can usually tell the difference between having a bad day and being a bad mom.
The guilt still rears its ugly head from time to time, but the quietening of the chaotic self-talk has allowed space for my Jesus to whisper words of truth. I still struggle with one of my boys, but the Lord has caused new growth on dead branches. Because of this, I am no longer silent.
I said in the beginning that this was a story about me (and not my children), but that’s not even true. The story I shared today is the Lord’s story that He has invited me to play a part in it. It’s messy and beautiful and broken and restored. And He is still working in and through it… today, tomorrow, and always.
Looking back on our first China trip, I barely recognize the faces of my sons. They have come so far over the past 4 years, as have I. Because I refused to believe the lies that I was undeserving to mother my 5 treasures and I put in the work to restore my health, God added two precious daughters to our family through adoption in June 2016 and July 2017.
I continue to have the pleasure of experiencing firsthand that we have a God who is always at work because He is so very passionate about us. What “the locust ate” in all our lives will be redeemed and restored.
Nothing our boys have experienced and nothing I have experienced will be wasted, and I pray that we will use every bit of it for His glory.
– guest post by Tanna