It took me and my husband and two years to adopt our two sons internationally.
Months after coming back home and starting a family, I started anxiety medication.
With time and medication, I rediscovered the joys of being a parent.
From start to finish, adopting my two sons took over two years. It was two years of paperwork, interviews, training, and waiting.
No one warned about post-adoption depression because it’s not part of the popular (and sometimes dysfunctional) adoption narrative we’re used to hearing: Adoptive parents are heroes.
We talk about postpartum depression openly, so we should do the same with post-adoption depression.
I felt joy and loss at the same time
The initial days and months as a family of four were filled with some of the best memories of my life.
On the first morning home, our oldest son showed up in the kitchen with his new backpack. “Tomorrow school?” he asked earnestly. He couldn’t wait to learn and was disappointed to discover that school wouldn’t come for several weeks.
That first summer, the three of us spent our days making cardboard masks, parachutes from shopping bags, and cars with milk-lid wheels. We played so many games of backyard soccer in the late afternoons that a barren dirt patch replaced our once luscious grass. Evenings featured dance parties to Pandora playlists and episodes of “Tom and Jerry” because they required no language skills. I cooked Ethiopian food to the best of my ability, and a dish of berbere was served on the side with every meal.
There were also challenging moments. Yes, we had gained a family, but every adoption is rooted in loss. We had ripped our children away from their birth country and culture. Every sound and smell was foreign to them, and the language barrier prevented them from voicing their needs and expressing their fears.
On top of that, I was processing complex emotions about the loss of my sons’ first family – feelings I hadn’t been prepared for. During sleepless hours, I wondered where my older son got the mischievous gleam in his eye and what my younger son’s first words were. When I closed my eyes and willed myself back to sleep, I pictured the hands that first held them, the eyes that surely mirrored their own.
That fall, I returned to work as a full-time English teacher, already exhausted. The initial adjustments back to school were taxing on all of us, and soon I found myself in tears at my desk before school one morning.
“Why don’t you take a walk? I’ll watch your classroom,” my kindhearted guidance counselor said.
Tears streaming and hands shaking, I punched in the number to call my doctor. I knew something needed to change.
I wasn’t prepared to need medication for depression
What we didn’t understand, even with all our preparation, was just how much our children’s grief would trigger our own. While the happy moments as a family of four were plentiful, in my fog of depression I found it difficult to see through the layers of loss.
I want to be crystal clear before I go any further: This isn’t the children’s fault.
Therapy, meds, and time helped. I soon rediscovered the joys of both teaching and parenting. I am still prone to periods of depression, but through the years I’ve built up my list of self-regulatory tools: running, my happy light, vitamin D, prayer, and therapy. I would go on meds again in a hot minute if I needed them.
My story has a happy ending, but not all do. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has suggested that anywhere from 10% to 25% of adoptions are disrupted, with removed children pushed into foster care or another adoptive home, sometimes in the public eye.
I can’t build myself a time machine to do the pre-adoptive intensive therapy that should’ve been done 10 years ago, but I can continue to strive to keep myself as healthy and regulated as possible. For me, and for my children, that’s work worth doing.
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