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Realistic Expectations: Post-Adoption Struggles

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We hope you have enjoyed our series on “Realistic Expectations” and wanted to end today by discussing the realities of post-adoption emotions. If you have found yourself standing in China becoming a parent, chances are it has been the culmination of a many year process of deciding that adoption is right for your family, paperchasing, and then waiting endlessly for the moment you meet your child. And then everyone is supposed to go off into the sunshine to live happily ever after, right? With so many adoption blogs talking about love at first sight and how wonderful those first few months together are, new parents can feel blindsided when they find themselves with an angry child who seems to hate them, or when they return home and have very intense feelings of “what have we done?”

I want to say that I am over-the-moon happy for anyone who adopts internationally and can honestly say it was seamless, and most definitely that can occur. But this series says “realistic” for a reason, and today we want to share some very real quotes from families who have made this journey:

“My daughter HATED me for the first couple of months. While we were in China, I could do two things for her without her screaming. I could help her wash her hands, and I could wipe her bum. That’s IT! My husband had to do everything else. After longing for her for so long, that was really hard to take. We had to drop out of most of the activities because my husband was exhausted, and we didn’t want to subject others to her screaming or crying. I was scared that she would always hate me, and honestly it has been such a slow bonding process.”

“When I adopted my younger daughter, I thought, “No problem. I’ve done this before. I know what to expect.” Well, my younger daughter was NOTHING like my older daughter. She grieved and thrashed for hours after she was put in my arms and would hardly make eye contact with me. I so wanted to hold her and bond with her, but she was not interested. I remember how tired and rejected I felt.”

“When we got to China, it was so scary. Our daughter looked autistic, and our guide didn’t want us to sign the adoption papers. I remember the moment in the hotel room, just the three of us, when my husband told me, “You know there is something really wrong with her, right?” It was so sad and scary, and I felt such a heavy weight of responsibility. I still didn’t love my daughter at that moment, and I just wanted to run away from her, but I took her home with me because it was my duty. I was the adult; she was a helpless child. It took almost a year for her to come out of her shell. I learned to be the mother she needed though, but it was not easy.”

The adrenaline and high emotions of the adoption trip can carry many families through those first few weeks, and there is the excitement of returning home and being met at the airport by your loved ones holding signs and balloons. You’ve done it! You’ve completed the adoption! But then the welcoming committee leaves, and families go home by themselves to the realities of parenting a child who has experienced trauma in one way or another, and who has a life history they probably know very little about. It is absolutely normal to feel every range of emotion, from exhaustion to panic to gratitude to joy and, yes, even very real depression. One mom wrote the following honest words about suffering from post-adoption depression, a condition rarely discussed openly:

“Our first month home was a whirlwind of emotion. My daughter decided that “vacation” was over and was ready to return to China. She would stand at the door with her shoes and jacket, all day long, crying and banging on the door for her nanny. If I got her away from the door, she would stand and just scream. I started to regret our decision to adopt. I started to view her as the “other woman” and did not want my husband to show her any affection whatsoever. She was disrupting our family life, our school days, and I honestly began begging my husband to disrupt the adoption. I provided her what she needed to survive (food, clothing, and shelter), but that was about it. I didn’t love her – I resented her. I would look at her and cry because I WANTED to love her, but I couldn’t. The more people told me how precious she was, how I should treat her, the more attention she received… the more I wanted her gone. And that made me feel even more depressed, as I had prayed, begged, pleaded, cried for a daughter for over three years. So how could I have possibly have felt this way?”

If you look at online post-adoption forums, it is common to see titles such as “still not feeling attached” or “need emotional support now.” But the reality is that many adoptive families feel very alone in their struggles, and they are often afraid to let others know things aren’t rosy and wonderful. It is so important for adoptive families to seek out others when they are feeling overwhelmed with the common emotions encountered post-adoption. It saddens me when people feel like they have to portray a flawless adoption face to the world, as one of my most favorite sayings is that we as humans are perfectly imperfect. Life is messy. Human relationships are messy. Creating strong families most definitely is messy. When we connect with others and share our very REAL and honest experiences, that is when we can all be better prepared to find the strength to overcome the challenges that can occur with adoption.

I think that many people are afraid to talk about their post-adoption struggles as they don’t want to be seen as “anti-adoption,” or they don’t want to discourage others from considering this path. With increasing numbers of older children from China being adopted, however, and more and more children with special needs waiting for homes, I think that the absolute best service we can do, both to the children and potential families, is to be honest with one another. I am 100% committed to forming families through adoption, as I have met thousands of orphaned children in person and believe every child deserves the chance to be loved in a home. But we as parents have to be prepared that there is much more to adoption than the innocent dream of wanting to give a child a family. Adoption is a 24/7, lifelong commitment, and it should be absolutely okay to let others know when it isn’t the fairytale you imagined. Because when we reach out to others and ask someone for support or just to listen, that is the first step toward building the strongest family possible.

It is not just a cliché when we say that life is meant to be shared. We love hearing your stories, and we know that we are better parents and people because of them. Thank you to all of our friends and supporters who share this journey to bring hope and healing to orphaned children with us.

~Amy Eldridge, Executive Director

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