Monday, June 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: On PTSD and Adoption (When You're the Parent)

Dear Sugar:

This is a three-part post in which I'm sharing three (adoptive) mom's stories regarding adoption and mental health. It's not something readily recognized or often discussed, but it happens. And we need to talk about it.  

My hope is that their insights and experiences shed light on this subject, encourage you, and educate you.   

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.  

Let's get started:  meet T.   She's a 39-year-old mother, married, with a four-year-old daughter, adopted at birth.   Both T and her husband are educators.  

Rachel:  How do you define Adoption PTSD?  

T:  I would define Adoption PTSD as a condition that occurs after a traumatic experience has occurred during the course of an adoption. This could be the result of a failed adoption, a contested adoption, or any other disturbing events that occur before, during, or after the finalization of an adoption.

Rachel:  Tell me about your adoption experience.   

T:  My husband and I waited three years until we were matched with the birth mother. During our wait, we experienced five failed adoptions. After our fifth failed adoption, we were already weary when the birth mother said that she had chosen us. As we were matched, she gave us the name of a man she thought might be the birth father. He was contacted by our attorney, but he never responded to the request for a paternity test. When our daughter was born, the doctor handed her to me, and I shared a room with her in the hospital the entire time. We went through the legally required six month waiting period before the finalization with no concerns regarding her finalization. One month before finalization, we were required to go to the courthouse to complete some legal requirements. At this time, the stated birth father showed up and contested the adoption. The judge gave him three months to legally contest the adoption and produce the evidence needed to prove that he was the biological father. We were to return to court after three months and the judge would review the evidence.

After the three months, we returned to court with the full expectation to finalize the adoption; we were well past the legally required six month wait period. We sat in the courtroom next to the stated birth father. He had not brought forth any evidence that he was the biological father. We truly believed that because he could not prove that he was the biological father, the judge would finalize the adoption. Instead the judge gave him one more month to procure the evidence. We were in complete shock. All I could do was cry. At this time, I honestly believed that the judge was going to grant custody to the stated birth father. We were to return in one month and the judge would make his decision.

After one month, we returned to court, but the stated birth father did not. He did not produce any evidence to prove that he was the biological father. We were finally granted custody of our daughter. However, the experience with the stated birth father and the state of unknowing has left a permanent psychological mark.

Rachel:  What makes you think you experienced Adoption PTSD?  What were your symptoms? 

T:  The best way that I can explain my adoption PTSD is a constant state of anxiety and fear. This constant anxiety and fear is connected to occasional panic attacks that can be triggered by something as simple as hearing a song. When a panic attack associated with the PTSD occurs, it is as if a movie of our traumatic event is replaying itself in my head. I am at that time and place, and I have the very real belief that my daughter is going to be taken from my husband and me. I create scenarios in my head imagining my world without her. It is incredibly terrifying and very real. Along with the psychological response, there is also the physical response of tears and nausea.

Rachel:  How did you heal/get treated?  What helped you? 

T:  Unfortunately, I have not yet healed nor did I seek treatment. The only thing that does help me is talking about it with my friends and family. My husband has been very supportive, and constantly reassures me that our daughter is safe. I have also found it beneficial to talk with people that have a shared experience. I just need to constantly remind myself that the fear is in my head and not real.

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

T:  I feel that my adoption PTSD is now just a part of me. I do feel that there is some permanence to it. Because we have an open adoption, I jump when I get a text from the birth mother. Is she still in contact with him? Does he know where we live or what our daughter looks like? There are certain places that I cannot go anymore, because that triggers a response. There are certain things from that time that I cannot experience anymore (e.g., a song that I listened to during that time, the outfit I wore to court) because that will trigger a response. Even responding to these questions has triggered an emotional response. 

Although I believe that my adoption PTSD is permanent, I also believe that it will get easier. Even now, the attacks come less often. The memories are no longer at the forefront of my mind. On the other hand, I believe that there will always be triggers.

Rachel:  What advice do you have for someone who thinks they’re experiencing Adoption PTSD?   

T:  I would suggest that they talk about it. I feel that there are many people in the adoption community that have experienced or are experiencing adoption PTSD. The more that we openly talk about it, the more support networks will can develop. I honestly believe that talking with someone that has had a shared experience has been the most beneficial to me.

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