Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Day I Couldn't Get Out of Bed: Post-Adoption Depression

I woke up that morning paralyzed by fear and dread. It had been just under two months since my then foster daughter had moved into our house -- two intense months that had turned my life upside down. Two months of her almost-daily meltdowns: I'd been physically attacked; I'd been called a "f**king b**ch." I'd watched my biological daughter transform from a happy, open child, excited about getting a new sister, to an angry, cornered animal who believed her life had been ruined by the intrusion of this new, dangerous influence. Numerous times I'd had to pull the car over when I was driving to stop these girls (nine and ten years old) from physically harming each other.
(Image Copyright 123RF Stock Photos)

And it wasn't even just the sum of these parts that pinned me to the bed. Something else seemed to have been activated in me. It was as if my foster daughter's trauma had triggered some latent trauma in me. My fear and anxiety, though somewhat justified, were out of proportion with the relatively low level of actual threat presented by this nine-year-old girl. Was it really my own fear I was feeling in every cell of my body? Or was it her fear, activating my mirror neurons in response? 

I can't say for sure, but I know that on that morning I couldn't bear the thought of her scowling face and tense body. I couldn't face that ticking time bomb. "I can't do it," I said to my husband through tears. "I can't even get out of this bed." 

My husband, my hero, flew out of bed and took action, getting the kids ready for school on his own. Whatever obstacles he encountered that morning, he shielded me from them. As the car pulled out of the driveway, I lay in bed with a single phrase repeating in my head: "I will never be okay again."

It's typically called post-adoption depression, but in many cases, as in mine, it strikes in the period after placement and before finalization of adoption. But call it what you will. It brought me to what was perhaps my darkest moment, a moment in which I understood every mother who has done the unthinkable, abandoning through one means or another her sacred role as loving protector and caregiver. I didn't want to be a mom anymore. I couldn't find love and affection in my heart. I only felt fear and a desperate grasping for survival. I wanted to run away, to save myself -- and yet at the same time that very idea was abhorrent to me. So there I stayed, in bed; my adrenaline was pulsing and yet I couldn't move.

If you've read my blog before you know how far my family is now from that place of despair. Those two girls who were at each other's throats are the happy, affectionate sisters who like to sleep in the living room on Friday nights, staying up late painting each other's nails. (No, they don't get along all the time -- no siblings do -- but they get along as well or better than average.) The foster daughter I couldn't bear to face that morning is now my adopted daughter Ashley. Far from being a source of dread, her face is now one of the things I most look forward to seeing when I get out of bed in the morning. She lights up my life in countless ways.

How did I get from there to here? The short answer is that I reached out and got help, and I was fortunate to have resources that I could draw on. Also, time passed. Among those dark days there eventually appeared a bright day, and then another, and another. Eventually the light became the norm again.

Update: For more on this topic, please read Five Things I Did To Get Through Post-Adoption Depression.


  1. Thank you for your honesty, Rebecca. I experienced this with a foster child and felt so much guilt about my reaction to her! Then when we were pursuing adoption I found some blogs that described this stage of the process, PAD, and I didn't feel so alone anymore. I realized that it was part of the process and it wouldn't be like that forever. Posts like this are invaluable. Thanks for airing the hard stuff.

  2. Great post. I didn't have post-placement depression, but a lot of feelings of not being deserving of our daughter being placed with us. Also, a lot of anxiety over the what ifs and this is so good it can't be true.

  3. neversaidgoodbyeMay 2, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    I wonder if this is what my adoptive mother experienced? Since she got pregnant so soon after adopting me I always wondered if she did not regret just waiting to get pregnant another three months.... she could have waited and not had to adopt me at all? She said they were perfectly happy to just have one child when they adopted me and then to get pregnant so soon after was a big shock. I wonder if this played a role in my life and the way it played out in the dynamics of my family. I am glad you all were able to work through it... I fear my adoptive mother never has been able to work through it and still has deep regrets she tries to hide but surface all too often.

  4. ericaljohnson1980May 2, 2012 at 5:43 AM

    Wow, I love you! I'm in tears, and want to again thank you! You're the best and let me say I just love blogging with you, how perfect this post is Rebecca! Moms truly are worth a million! You're worth even more!

  5. I've said it, too. "I don't want to be a mom anymore"... so glad to be past those days. I do want to be a mom and to these very same kids :-)

  6. Thanks so much, everyone, for your thoughtful comments!

  7. What happens when you want to be a mom and yet everyone else is the reason for your depression.Let me explain,I'm in this awesome process of adopting my foster son. I feel so over joyed and accomplished.Why?because I said no pregnancies til after 30and I want to adopt first. well I'm 30 and no baby daddies and of course adopting my true love. I can almost swear at times I gave birth to him. We are bonded and connected like I pushed him out. we met when he was 3months in the nicu he was a micro preemie at just 800 grams at birth. I picked him up from the hospital and all since he was on a apnea monitor I had to pick him up contrary to fostering rules. But my One of my older aunts got mad at me because I wouldn't let my other foster child spend the rest of the day with her and she had everyone turn on me and my son and now its like no one wants to celebrate him and i don't want them around. and yet i feel like if she came up for adoption i wouldn't pursue it because its like everything bad that happens centers around her.needing help to understand,I'm literally in tears because I'm happy to have him but don't want any bother outta them and thinks its her fault because she had a pretty nice party but me and his was two weeks after and not even a card was sent his way... i planned this big party fir him and this big adoption party for him but......

  8. Great post . . wish I would have found this 7 and a half years ago in the middle of my despair. I felt like I experienced post-traumatic stress disorder over my own adoption when it suddenly hit me one day that my daughter's mother walked away from her . . . just like mine did. How a person can go 39 years without truly feeling and recognizing this reality is hard to understand, but it happened to me.


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