Friday, June 23, 2017

Dear Sugar: PTSD and Adoption, Round #3

Dear Sugar,

I'm wrapping up a three-part series on PTSD in parents-by-adoption after an adoption experience. Today, I'm sharing T's story.   T is a 35-year-old mom of two boys, both adopted domestically, transracially, and as infants.   T has been married for fourteen years, and she and her husband have a history of infertility.  

Rachel:  What’s your definition of Adoption PTSD? 

T:  Adoption PTSD wasn’t something I ever considered (or even knew was a real thing) until last year when I found myself standing at an infant clothing rack in a store feeling paralyzed by indecision about whether or not I should buy clothes for a child I might not be allowed to keep…even though our adoption had been finalized for about four months by then.  The fear of loss and the belief that we were still living out an uncertain adoption plan had been an ingrained part of my thought process for about seven months, so those guttural feelings of fear and helplessness overrode my logical thinking about reality for a minute. My gut reaction was a defense mechanism that didn’t need to function anymore, but it took a while for my brain to catch up with reality. 

Rachel:  What was your adoption experience like?

T:  Our situation was quite unique, even within the realm of our agency’s and attorney’s experiences. We wrestled with the ethics of choosing to work for our son’s permanency in our home, which was (and continued to be) the original adoption plan for most of the biological family involved. However, in a turn of events that landed us in court several times, we had to parent a child who had been entrusted to us by one party and was being wrenched away by another. It’s too multifaceted to explain simply, but suffice it to say that we were fighting with and for the rights of the parent who wanted what was best for the child. As a result, we waffled in adoption limbo for months and months while loving and bonding with a baby we may not have been able to keep. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done--to love freely without expectation, to bear the brunt of loss in order to do the right thing. Our long story resolved in the best way possible, but it was not without brokenness and loss. That’s adoption in general, but it was certainly magnified in our situation. This was never a fostering situation, but it did play out like that. We are  now a family forever, but I still struggle with undoing some of the coping mechanisms that I unknowingly developed.  

Rachel:  What makes you think you had/have adoption-related PTSD?

T:  For me it wasn’t anything dramatic. It mostly affected the  way I was thinking about things long term. My son was nearly a year old (and we were 4 months post-finalization) when I found myself unable to decide if I should buy a bigger pair of pajamas for later in the year because he might not be with us at that point. I had to mentally shake myself, had to tell myself out loud that I wasn’t thinking straight. We’d legally been a family for four months, but I couldn’t undo my self-preserving, hedge-my-bets processing. I felt unable to plan for the future for a long time because I’d not been allowed to for quite a while.  I repeatedly had to stop the train of thought that began with, “If we get to keep him…”  I had zero experience in foster care (and no training to that end), so when this adoption plan panned out similarly, I wasn’t prepared to process it. It was only ever supposed to be an adoption plan. I didn’t even decorate a nursery until my son about ten months old. Living in limbo made me afraid to do anything that seemed permanent. I didn’t want to have to unmake all my permanent decisions if we couldn’t keep our son. 

Rachel:  How did you heal?  

T:  I wrote and prayed a lot. I am a Christian, so spending every morning reading the Psalms was the balm my heart desperately needed. I felt shaky, but I knew the Lord was with me and that was the strength I needed to press through my fear. I rocked “my” son every night before putting him in his crib, and I prayed over him while we swayed in the rocking chair together in the dark. When you adopt, your kids are entrusted to you by birth parents. I felt that I was entrusting my son to the Lord every morning and evening. I vowed to love him as long as I was allowed to. He would not experience any more loss while I loved him if I could help it. Nurturing him in uncertainty was difficult mentally,  but it was physically soothing and gave me purpose. I could give him what he needed while he was in my care. It felt like a sacred process--loving without strings. I wrote in my journal most mornings, and putting my emotions into words helped me to move past fear so I could mother my children and be present for them. 

Rachel:  How has Adoption PTSD changed you?  Do you feel your traumatic experience did any “permanent damage”? 

T:   I wouldn’t say I have “permanent damage,” although I am quite leery of the adoption process these days. I would never tell someone not to pursue it because of our situation, but I do give more caution than I used to when someone tells me they’re considering adoption. I encourage them to dig deep into the possibility of risk and loss and to understand that as the hopeful adoptive parents, they do not have any rights until all is said and done. I think people minimize that truth in process because the excitement over growing one’s family overshadows the possibility of loss. It’s understandable--I get it because I’ve been there. But I wish I had been more prepared for the emotional risk. I encourage families to ask a LOT of questions of the professionals in the field and to make sure they do their work thoroughly before becoming engaged in a tricky situation. You may still choose to engage (and I definitely would have engaged in our situation if I could do it again with all the information up front), but it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into if possible.

That said, I am not sure I have the mental fortitude to pursue adoption again at this juncture. It was tough to recover from emotionally, financially, and mentally. Perhaps that says more about any “permanent damage” than anything else I could say.


***My disclaimer:  I'm not a mental health professional.  I'm using my platform to amplify the voices of women who believe that their adoption experiences have resulted in mental health issues.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated and published upon approval. Your thoughts and questions are also welcome via e-mail at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.