"If you wrote me off, I'd understand it 'cause I've been on some other planet. So come pick me up, I’ve landed."
The first year that my daughter was home I was an emotional wreck.
The second year that my daughter was home I spent cleaning up the messes that I had created that first year.
When you are spiraling, you know it. At least I did. It started in October, 2005...weeks before we traveled to China. A dull roar, one that I had never experienced before, started in the back of my mind and grew until it was all that I could hear. It morphed into a paranoid, black mass that settled and would not let go. "How could you do this? How can you do this?" it whispered, and I believed it without really understanding what it meant. I sought help to deal with it, going on medication for anxiety (for the first time in my life), and entering into therapy. I felt like the worst sort of failure....virtual moments before the most anticipated and amazing time of my life, I was dissolving...and I knew it.
I knew. I felt the fault lines forming, and then giving way. I spent the last three days before our flight in my bed, sobbing. My mother came and held me, bolstering me while acknowledging my fears. My husband was afraid for me, and for our family....if I was in this sort of shape here, what the hell was he going to face in China? My friends, the ones that I trusted with my ugly, sad secret shame, were supportive and loving. "You can do this! You have planned for this for so long! Look at her face...she is waiting for her mama!".
"How could you do this? How can you think that you are capable?" it whispered....it wouldn't stop.
I remember pulling out of our driveway to go to the hotel where we stayed the night before departure....I wanted to run to China, and I also wanted to run back into my house and hide. I was carrying the small, crumpled photo of my daughter that had barely left my person in over two months. Becoming her mother was my greatest hope, and my darkest fear.
It was the most emotionally charged event that I had ever experienced. And I felt I was stealing it from another woman.
S's birth mom landed with a thud into my consciousness when I saw the referral photos...she had been in my thoughts since we had decided to adopt, but in a fleeting, abstract way. After September 1st, 2005 she was there with me, the woman whose loss was now my gain. And I had planned to take advantage of that loss, had paid money, bared my soul, written letters, and prayed for a baby that was the result of loss and probable misfortune in someone else’s world. I couldn't even bring myself to acknowledge her birth father and extended family in those days...the guilt and sadness over her first mom was almost more than I could take.
I tried to explain this to everyone....that I was cheating fate. My body had declared me barren, it had refused the treatments, the tests, and the silent pleading I had heaped on it for years. Fate had told me that I was not to be a mother...but I had found a way around that edict. I had done it by climbing over the back of another woman...one with less resources, with fewer ways to protect herself and her heart. Her loss was my gain...the child that she could not raise was going to be my greatest joy.
But where was the joy? I had lost it. The flip side of this raging and sadness was the knowledge that I was taking S away from her birth culture, from the closest ties that she could hope to have to her first family. To maybe walk the same streets, meet the same people. Even with the losses that she had already sustained, I was stripping away the little that was left of her story.
It felt like the worst kind of greed, but everyone told me that I was doing such a wonderful thing! I was so selfless! So caring!
All I felt was weak, a fraud.
Once in China, I realized this was done. I had made this commitment, and had already irrevocably changed S's fate (we all had, really, but at this point I was taking on all the responsibility). When I walked in the Civil Affairs office in CQ, and S was placed in my arms, I allowed myself a few minutes to savor the feeling of her weight, to breathe her in.
The dark subsided for a bit, and another voice came in. "Enjoy her! The best way to honor their loss is to carry them with you as you raise her to respect herself and her story".
That voice? Much easier to like, but also easier to ignore. Self-flaggelation is more my style, sadly.
When we got home the PADS (Post Adoption Depression) set in harder than ever...the dark, cold winter was in full effect, the cozy, safe little world we had enjoyed in China was gone. And I had a confused, sweet, smart, energetic girl on my hands. I was literally paralyzed at times with fear that I was getting it wrong...that her sleep issues were related to her losses, that the sadness I saw in her eyes would never go away, and that she was going to despise me.
That she would recognize me as an imposter.
I kept fighting the dark, kept trying to push it aside. When we were waiting I remember someone saying that they hardly thought of the birth family, that it just wasn't a part of their world. Sometimes I felt like it was all that I thought about....my guilt, my worry for S, and my sadness for the losses experienced on all sides. I played a game where I stacked the things that S had in our world that she wouldn't have had in her life at the SWI (sad, sad example of white privilege rearing its ugly head, and I am almost ashamed to write this)...and tried to bolster myself up with the "bonuses". That perhaps I was doing something good for her, in the face of all that my choice had taken way from her. That maybe she would still love me when she realized that I was a part of her losses.
That maybe I wasn't the monster I had started to feel like I had become.
The breaking point was therapy, which I continued with. I was able to stop the medication, and got to the root of my problems. I was also able to do great work on other areas that had contributed to this cluster of ugly that had filled my mind....losses and issues that were long dormant but just waiting in the corners of my mind. The first year of motherhood ended healthier than I could have hoped for.
Then there was the mess I had created. The friendships that had (and still) suffer due to my anxiety and my worries. The not leaving S because my guilt over being away from her, over leaving her just three months after meeting her to return to work full time. It made it hard to maintain relationships that I miss now, and ones that I hope will survive my blunders. The hurts that created with my words, some are still healing, but all have been tended. The missed messages, the unreturned phone calls, the rejected invitations. ..they all weigh on my mind, and there are still days that I don't have the strength to address them.
Then there is the financial damage. I am paying for it...the spending that I did to ease my guilt, or to just numb the pain. Luckily it wasn't horrible, but it was bad enough. I am ashamed to admit such weakness....but need to. I need to get it out there.
The worst is the physical damage. The eating, the weight, the lack of care for my own body. I stopped caring on so many fronts, like a sort of penance or badge that I was really a mother because I didn't buy those shoes, or that perfume. I was doing it FOR MY DAUGHTER...but not really. I was doing it to punish myself. That is what hurts the most, and this is the hardest part to stop.
Writing about my depression is hard, but acknowledging what it did to those around me is beyond awful. My marriage took hits, definitely. My husband watched me sob on the floor, rage, and just fall apart, and he still loves me. We are doing work on our relationship, and it really is stronger than ever. We are united as S's parents in a way that still rocks my world, and to one another in a way that thrills me and brings a deep sense of warmth to my soul. I am still digging out, and there are days that are harder than others. But I felt like, in order to cleanse I needed to put this out there. Many may read it and wonder "how in the hell did she get past the social worker?" and others may see a small bit of their own story in mine. And maybe it will help someone to get help, or others may stop reading after seeing what a mess I am behind it all. Either way? I feel better, a little every day...and I know that I am not alone in dealing with the darkness.
No one should ever feel alone.
I can only hope to learn from my experiences, to grow from them. To gain knowledge and empathy, for myself and for my daughter. To help her, someday, face her own story. And to help her answer questions, and to hold her every moment that she wants me to.
That is what I can do. I will be there....for whatever comes along. That is what I finally figured out that motherhood is. It is being there, plain and simple. It is also representing for both of us, both of S's mothers. It is the smallest thing I can do, the daily hope that I send out for her first mom. That she has found some measure of peace, of safety, and of health.
She is with me, always. I can only hope that I honor her, and that I get it right for both of us
It was hard to revisit this bit of writing, to experience the pain and the sadness again. We are nearly 5.5 years into our journey as a family, and three years have passed since I wrote Landed. My experience with PAD brought my world into a different focus, and I wouldn’t change that.
Some resources that I found helpful, and that I have shared with fellow AP’s over the past few years are: