Monday, June 14, 2010

Post Adoption Depression

Sorry this post is so long (even for me), but I don't know how to tell it any shorter, so here goes...

I have talked with hundreds of pregnant women and new mommies about postpartum depression, the feelings, the red flags, how to recognize it in themselves, how others around them could recognize it and be supportive, what can help, etc... I could assess whether a new mommy was experiencing symptoms, and I could even diagnose it. I knew how to talk to her about it, and what resources to point her towards. What I never knew was that it was something I could experience. I'd told women for years that a big part of postpartum depression was related to their out-of-whack hormones. I knew that I wouldn't have to deal with that (one of the pluses of infertility). I was wrong. I did experience it, even without the hormones to blame.

I can't imagine any child having been more wanted than my son. We tried for years to get pregnant and I was thrilled beyond belief when we were chosen, and when I saw him born. I was thrilled to take him home, put him in his bed, to cuddle him, to nurse him, to rock him, to read to him... But somewhere along the way things changed. Really, though, it may be more accurate to say that things didn't change, at least not how I thought they should and would.

I told moms all the time that "over half of new parents don't fall head over heels in love with their babies right away. You didn't experience love at first sight with your partner, so why should you expect it with your baby. It takes a while to get to know one another. It will come in time. Don't feel guilty if it doesn't happen immediately, but don't doubt that it will come". I never even considered the possibility that I wouldn't experience that all consuming love for my baby immediately - I wouldn't have the hormones going crazy, we were prepared, we were ready, we knew what we were doing, we wanted him so much.

I stayed home with him for about 8-9 weeks after he was born. Though hubby shared nighttime duty with me, I was taking 2 graduate level classes and I was still exhausted. In truth, I was at times a little jealous that hubby got to leave during the day (not to mention got to shower and brush his teeth before 3pm). I was rocking the baby one afternoon - it had been a difficult day for me and the 4 week old - when hubby came in from a great day at work. He leaned over the side of the rocking chair and tenderly said, "I never thought I could love anyone as much as I love you, but I sure love this little guy a lot". I could see he had tears in his eyes though I couldn't bring myself to even look at him. All that was running through my mind was, "well big effing (but it was the actual word) deal for you. How effing wonderful for you to get to feel that way?!!!". All I said out loud was "yeah".

I was pissed. At the time I thought I was angry with him, but I realize now I was angry with myself. Angry that I didn't feel that way about our son, the baby I had so longed for, the baby I had waited and prayed about for years. Angry that hubby got to feel that way first (by god, I'd done most of the work to get this baby to us, remember I'd just pulled him along), angry that I hadn't yet brushed my teeth that day, and angry that I hadn't even had a conversation with an adult in more than 12 hours.

But mostly I felt guilt, horrible, horrible guilt. Guilt that this child deserved all-encompassing love that I wasn't sure I could give to him. Guilt that I was angry which surely he could sense. Guilt that by not feeling that intense bond and attachment he would be permanently scarred. Guilt that obviously I wasn't that worthy to be a mother, which was maybe why God hadn't *let* us get pregnant, because I wasn't good enough. Guilt. Dark, ugly guilt.

Somewhere shortly thereafter I remembered a colleague (thanks, TG!) who had experienced postpartum with her biological child having said, "I looked at her and knew I loved her somewhere inside so I'd just fake it til I felt it for real". So that's what I did. I did know that I loved him, even if it wasn't as "big" as the love hubby expressed. I don't know when my love for him became that "big", though I do remember when I realized that it had. When he was about 4 months old, he and I both had a nasty stomach virus. He vomited in hubby's mouth (I know, gross, but I warned hubby not to play rough with a baby who had been puking all day) and I thought, "you show him, kid". I realized we were a duo then, this adorable baby and I, we had something that was just between the two of us, and it was strong and intense. We had that bond. I hadn't completely failed.

I wrote this in my head a long time ago, way before I even thought about blogging. It's taken me a long time to even recognize myself what I was experiencing after my son was born, much less admit to it (and to the entire world). I've now read research and talked with other parents through adoption and I know I'm not the only one who experienced post adoption depression. I still carry some guilt about it, but I know it's nothing I can change. I also know I have the most awesome son with whom I now have an intensely strong bond. I know he wasn't harmed by the natural progression of our relationship. I'm trying to forgive myself, which I know is silly because, as I would tell any of the hundreds of mommies I worked with, it wasn't my fault.
Today's lesson is simple, though it was very difficult for me to adoption depression is real and it is no more a mother's fault than postpartum depression. It's not something to be ashamed of and it isn't a dirty little secret. And, just like postpartum depression, it's something we need to talk about so that no one else has to feel guilty or alone.


Amanda said...

When Mags was born, I didn't even want to hold her. I wanted to be the one still in the spotlight and suddenly it was her show. It was never love at first sight, but as one of my parenting gurus says....that's why they have infant amnesia for the first year. It let's us as parents learn and make mistakes and grow into one another. just works itself out. Good for you for talking about it.

sarah said...

Hi Becky!

This is Sarah Shepherd. I found your blog on facebook and really just wanted to let you know I was reading. I think it is so wonderful that you adopted your son and I cannot wait to read more about it. I am not sure if you know, but my sister Jennifer and her husband Chris (Cook) are also adopting.

I know this comment has nothing to do with this post, so let me add that I know post adoption depression is common, and I am sure it is so hard. I did IVF to have my son, and I remember many doctors and friends telling me that depression is very common with infertility couples as well. I was lucky enough to not have to deal with that, but I understand where you are coming from. Parenting is hard. Infertility and adoption are hard. It's just a lot to handle all at once.

Becky said...

@ Amanda - infant amnesia, that's great! And it does help with the guilt some :)

@ Sarah - I've actually been reading your blog for awhile...that Henry has the most adorable smile. I've peeked Jennifer's blog and can't believe how long the process has been for them. I can't imagine their frustration and pain!

Thank you both for reading :)

J said...

Oh girl...I wish I had known about your blog a few weeks ago, I also dealt with post adoption depression with our son. I beat myself up over and over again and now, 5.5 weeks later, we are doing so much better! Still work in progress but not like when we brought him home.