Shannon Guerra shares her heart and experience as an adoptive mom in the depths of post-adoption depression where expectations met reality.
Friends, please welcome Shannon Guerra to the blog as she shares something I truly believe will speak to many of you – post-adoption depression. I know many of you have adopted children, and while I cannot speak to what you are feeling or have dealt with over the years, Shannon can, and she was willing to share her heart and experiences here on Raising Arrows® as a comfort to others. I pray you are blessed and encouraged by her words. And please, feel free to share this with anyone who could benefit from this post.
I’m noticing a basic pattern in life, and maybe you relate to it, also:
1) I decide to do something, but then 2) it’s harder than I expected, so I 3) immediately
question my sanity wonder if I’ve made a mistake.
For instance, I’m here today writing to you because Amy and I recently had this conversation:
Amy: I’d love for you to share something about adoption and depression.
Me: Sure, I’d love to.
Also me, five minutes later: WHAT HAVE I DONE.
Because, friends, I didn’t really want to talk any more about this. It’s one of those hard subjects we want to move past and tuck away safely, like a blood-stained shirt that reminds you of that car accident you survived, or the anniversary of grief you just want to forget about every time that date rolls around again. It’s the scar we want to cover with strategically-placed clothing and makeup. But once people see it, they want to hear the story behind it.
And really, we want to share the story because when we do, we create an atmosphere of safety for other people to share their scars, too. We’re saying, This is what I lived through. This is how I survived…and you can survive, too. You don’t have to do this alone.
Our story involves adopting two special needs kids from Eastern Europe. They had both experienced trauma, neglect, and abuse, and even in the best of situations – which this wasn’t – adoption always begins with grief, anyway. So trauma and grief became a big part of our lives, and while we thought we knew what we were signing up for, you can’t ever really know what it will be like until you’re actually living it out.
And (I guess this is a spoiler alert, but it’s my story so I’ll give it to you) for a while I didn’t want to live it out anymore.
Post-adoption depression is not really rare but, like a lot of hardships involved with adoption, it’s not talked about much and many people don’t even know it exists. An OB-GYN once asked me, “Post-adoption depression? Is that a thing?” And I assured him, Yes, yes, it’s a thing. Mom guilt is a thing, depression is a thing, but post-adoption depression is a whole other beast. But like all griefs, it’s made all the worse by misunderstanding and ignorance of the issues involved.
Let me give you a tiny, quick example. I have been the mom on the sidelines of a parade with a child who misbehaved. No big deal, right? Lots of kids misbehave in public. But this wasn’t normal misbehavior; this kiddo wet his pants in public on purpose. And it wasn’t the first time…or the fifteenth time. It was a pattern. It was one of hundreds of unexpected, difficult patterns of behavior we were encountering on a daily basis, and I didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel because the conundrums just kept accruing.
What do you do? We didn’t have a change of pants and we had five other kids who were trying to enjoy the event. So we pulled that child back a few steps to sit on the grass, hoping that the strangers and acquaintances around us wouldn’t notice. But no, here came an over-ambitious candy-passer-outer who I recognized from church, and she stepped through the crowd to single out and give candy to my misbehaving child.
She didn’t know better. She probably thought she was going above and beyond the call of duty. But in that moment in front of strangers and acquaintances all around us, I had to stop her and say, “No thanks, he can’t have it.”
Awkward. So much awkward.
And by golly, she gave me the look I was becoming extremely familiar with: Confusion, mixed with scornful judgment. I heard the accusation in my head as though she said the words aloud. Wow, weird…what a mean mom. I wonder what’s going on in that family.
I wondered, too. None of it made sense. We had obeyed God, and nothing seemed to be working; everything was harder and messier and more grievous than ever. What have I done?
Now I can tell you the answer that I couldn’t see clearly then: We had moved to the frontlines of a battlefield. Of course it was more perilous, because that’s where the onslaught is fiercest.
For those of you who are also on this battlefield and can’t see through all the smoke around you, here are a few other things I’ve learned in the years since that have helped me navigate this terrain:
Go gently, because we’re fragile
Once something has been broken, we treat it more carefully. Maybe you are barely holding it together, trying to navigate the day in one piece while your heart is raw and hurting, and someone carelessly snaps at you. Or criticizes you. Or judges you. And you think, If you only knew how I was already hanging by a thread. If you only knew how hard I’m working on this. If you could only hear the battle raging in my mind, you’d realize how needless your criticism is.
Our vulnerable places need extra support and splinting. So we put up wise boundaries with those who contribute to the breaking, and we walk humbly and abide closely. We keep short accounts with God in prayer and confession, and we keep short accounts with our other family members in forgiveness, communication, and grace.
Don’t take it personally
I heard this a lot when we went through our adoptive trainings, but it didn’t really make sense until later. It is really hard to fight the accusations of the enemy and the feelings of guilt when our kids (adopted or not) act in ways that reflect badly on them and us. But their behavior is not about us. We do not take blame for their behavior and we don’t take credit for their victories.
When things are easy, we tend to either take it for granted or take too much credit. When things are hard, we tend to either blame others or ourselves. But we’re not in this mission to take credit or blame. We’re here to be a conduit of love from the King to the broken. And if we are broken in the process, it helps to remember that He was, too – so we must be doing something right.
Take thoughts captive
There’s a lot more laughter and joy when we choose thoughts and attitudes that lead to joy. A vacation won’t solve an attitude problem. More money won’t solve a habit of focusing on the negative and coveting what others have.
It’s like deciding that you hate vegetables – the solution isn’t to just eat more sugar, instead. The solution is to figure out how to cook your vegetables in a way that you like them. Each of us gets to decide how we respond to the unexpected, uncontrollable, and unlovely parts of life.
Remember what you envisioned
It’s good to write it out again. We need to see on paper (or screen) what we wanted, what we envisioned, when we’re fighting disillusionment because things haven’t turned out the way we thought they would. We can’t control everything, but we can hang onto what the Lord told us in the first place, and keep it as our compass.
Recognize what’s really happening – and a lot of things are happening
So many things change after adoption, especially when special needs are involved. Suddenly everything is different: routines, expectations, abilities, lifestyle, and how we see ourselves. But also, you are growing, and you are different. And that’s okay. It’s good, even. The enemy wants you to think that different equals wrong, but he’s the one who’s wrong. You keep plowing ahead. Embrace the different. This is new wine for new wineskins.
But it’s okay to grieve, too. It’s okay to hate the phrase “new normal” and to recognize how many beautiful old-normal things you’ve let go of. This isn’t a quick process of five easy steps, and it took me years to understand what was happening and admit how precarious my state of mind was in the darkest, hardest days.
It was harder than I expected, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake. And really, I did – I made so many mistakes that I wrote a whole book about how I flailed and floundered in those first years post-adoption.
But, what have we done? We have followed Jesus out of the comfort zone to love and embrace the broken. And in the process, I learned that I, too, was the broken one He loved and embraced.
Shannon Guerra is a wife, prophetic intercessor, and homeschooling mom of eight kids via birth and adoption. A lifelong Alaskan, she lives in Wasilla with her family, their cats, and a mysteriously increasing flock of poultry. Shannon’s other books include Upside Down, Oh My Soul, Work That God Sees, and the ABIDE series. Her latest book Risk the Ocean: An Adoptive Mom’s Journey Through Grief, Sinking, and Sanctification releases this fall. She writes about wholeness, prayer, motherhood, and living deep and wide at www.shannonguerra.com.