Although few people would speak the words out loud, sometimes adoptive mamas, who didn’t grow their child in their womb for nine months, who didn’t labor and physically deliver their child, are looked at as less than a mother. Sometimes they do not receive the same support, celebrations, empathy and understanding as the mamas who have children the “traditional” way. But the reality is that all of us mamas, regardless of how we came into this title, need help, support, love, and empathy.
I think for many of us moms who have adopted, we have had to fight so hard for our child, we have had to answer so many questions, we have had to battle through emotionally grueling months. Some of us have suffered infertility. Many of us have faced judgments and criticism, and because of this, we feel like we can share nothing less than a perfect picture of the inside of adoption with the outside world – less we get more judgments and criticism thrown our way. We feel as though we are not allowed to feel anything short of extreme gratitude and joy.
I was there. I was right there.
And it led to something that is hidden, dark, and not talked about very much. It led to post-adoption depression. It is such an ugly word – it is misunderstood, it is ignored, glossed over, and it is shrouded in so much shame, but today I am bringing it to light. I am giving voice to this, and I am admitting my own weakness, because despite believing a lie for a long time, I no longer believe that I am alone in this. I instead believe that there are many of us out there, suffering alone, feeling ashamed and isolated.
Today, although my hands are literally shaking, I am sharing brushstrokes of my story with you, because it just might be your story, too. For too long, I was so desperate for someone to tell me that I was not alone. You, dear sister, are not alone.
We went through grueling months becoming educated to adopt, completing paperwork, going through intense background checks, etc. Every area of our life was picked through with a fine-toothed comb. We jumped through all of the hoops, and we were “approved” as parents. And that’s a lot to live up to. I came home from Ethiopia with a beautiful 15 month old son. He was amazing and more than we dreamed he would be. But we left behind his birth country and his culture, and we knew that this little baby carried with him more loss and trauma than we could comprehend. We left behind a country and people that had destroyed our hearts, and we left behind another son who we knew was supposed to be inside our family. That alone was debilitating – trying to parent three children here and one there. Those things alone changed me. I saw and experienced things in Ethiopia that I was not prepared for. I was exposed to a world that I knew nothing about – poverty, death, starvation, disease, ugliness. My emotions were all over the place, I struggled with guilt, anger, self-righteousness, and heavy, heavy sadness. I came home with a child who needed me in a way that I had never been needed before. We only knew one diagnosis at the time, and we had little to work with. Nothing could have prepared me for the intensity inside our home for those first months. I poured my life out in an effort to make our sweet Jamesy feel secure, loved, and wanted.
And while I was pouring my life out, life didn’t just stop and wait for me to catch a breath.
The dust settled, and all around us people moved on from the airport homecoming, and life returned to normal for them. And we, in an effort to bond and attach and help Jamesy heal, isolated ourselves for weeks. I do not regret it, it needed to happen for his sake, but it took a toll on me. I didn’t quite recognize my life anymore. Nothing was the same. I was seeing the world with different eyes, my heart was so bruised, I was exhausted in a way I had never been before, and our family was completely changed. Things were hard. I loved my boy fiercely from the beginning, but his needs were so consuming.
I remember many nights where after rocking Jamesy for literally hours, only to have him scream with terror as soon as I laid him in bed and had to start again, and after missing again the nighttime ritual for my other two children, I would lay on my bed and sob feeling so guilty as I whispered to God This is what I was fighting so hard for? I remember nearly choking on cries as I cleaned up vomit again – sometimes for the third or fourth time in a day. I remember looking at Cadi and Scotty and feeling such sorrow and so much guilt for not being able to be the mommy to them that I used to be – I had no energy. I was exhausted, but I never slept. I was a shell of who I once was. I was distracted, irritable, unmotivated, and sad. I was so sad. I felt worthless as a mom, as a friend, as a wife. There was so much guilt on my shoulders. But I was good at faking it, because that is what I felt like everyone was expecting from me. I was scared that if I told the truth, then I would get slapped with an “I told you so”, and I just knew that would have been my breaking point.
We followed God in adoption. I have no doubt that He led us to Ethiopia, and to Jamesy. I regret none of it. But I do regret not asking for more help, not allowing people inside the pain, and not being honest with the ugliness that we were dealing with. I thought that because I had wanted this so badly that I had to be the perfect mom, and that had debilitating consequences. We hit the ground running, and I was running on empty.
Slowly God has been healing me. I finally communicated my post adoption depression to my husband this summer. I believe giving voice to my struggles began the healing process. I found other adoptive moms who were struggling with the same, and knowing that I was not alone lifted some of the isolation. This has been a long, dark road, BUT these past three years have not all been dark. I think that is a misunderstanding with depression as well. It has not all been fake. I have felt intense joy, peace, and purpose in my life. There were smiles, cuddles, and memories made. I have loved big and received love in return. I have cherished moments with each of my children, and my marriage is strong. I have laughed and danced and lived. I have seen more of Jesus and needed Him more than any other time in my life. I have been at His feet over and over again. There has been more of Jesus and less of me, and His strength has been magnified in my weakness. I believe He chose me because of my weakness. He is still working on me, and I still have dark days. But morning is coming! I can see the sun rising, and it is warm and beautiful and beckoning me out of the dark.
I am not defined by this, and even this serves a purpose and will not be wasted. God is making something beautifully new with this broken mess. I trust that – even when it hurts and is hard. God is busy, even now, redeeming this. The same is true for you. This is my story, and I pray that it brings mercy to someone else’s story. I know this is a strange story to share for National Adoption/Orphan care month, but today rather than advocating for the orphan, I feel led to advocate for you – the adoptive mama who is hiding in shame. Dear sister, I see you.
[If you are struggling with any kind of depression, I encourage you to please seek professional medical and emotional help.]
Tiffany has been married to Jim for almost 12 years. They are blessed to be mommy and daddy to 4 children. In 2010 God opened their eyes to orphan care, adoption, and Africa. Their third child came into their family via Ethiopia and adoption, and at the same time they fell in love with a teenage street boy from Ethiopia. Today, they call that teenage boy, “son”, and now have two children from Ethiopia. God had bigger plans, though, and He opened their hearts to the needs of street children in a way that could not be ignored. The Darling family is preparing to move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, early this summer to serve by reunifying and preserving families, advocating for domestic adoption inside of Ethiopia, and discipling street children into godly adults. To learn more about their ministry visit www.mercybranch.com. You can read about their adoption stories, raising a special needs child, and how they are preparing their family for a life overseas at Tiffany’s personal blog A Moment Cherished.