Meanwhile, I've had this nagging post rolling around in my head for about a month, and then I had a meeting with Kim (hi, Kim!) and then I read some blog posts that reminded me about this and that, that I've been meaning to mention - and well, darnit...here we go.
First, as always, nay-sayers kindly depart now. This is a post about taboo topics for adoptive moms, and while I appreciate a good argument now and then, I do not appreciate how it might impact sensitive readers, many of whom might have been or are in this boat. So please keep any negative comments in your bag and be kind.
Everyone else...let's chat, eh?
Look at that face! That's the tear stained, exhausted, overwhelmed, and in-love face of a new mother who was holding her first child for the second time.
We had been waiting to be parents for years. Had waited for Keira for almost three. Had waited for Quint for almost one. All those days and months adding up had taken their toll on us - on our marriage, on our hopes, on our dreams, on our future. We thought that one more day without our little one(s) was physically going to kill us. Wipe us out - like a bad monsoon, sweeping into our lives and pulling us out to sea - never to be seen again.
You might think that's dramatic (not if you're a first time parent still waiting though) and actually I kind of do too. But it was how we felt - neither right nor wrong. Just how we felt. I look back on that time of our lives and remember all too well the pain of walking past the empty nursery.
Fast forward to this day above, this monumental day - May 20, 2008 - the day that we were taking Quint away from the orphanage and into our family. Out of one life and into another. Completely.
And I've told you before that jet-lag, exhaustion, emotional overload, and a bad case of anxiety kept me pretty much sick the entire time I was in Africa. It's a shame, but it was what it was, eh?
The issue I want to address today is what happened after we got home. I think many of us already know about the daunting paperwork, the horribly long wait times, the arduous processes that go with adopting - the interviews, homestudies, fingerprints, background checks, invasive applications, and financial run-throughs. We're all acquainted with the process of applying to be parents. And I'm sad to say, I have learned that was the (dare I say it?) easy part in many ways. We were approved. Matched with a baby boy. Packed our bags (essentially) and got on a plane. We went to Africa. We spent ten days traveling, seeing parts of the world I never thought I'd see - and seeing things I still can't shake. And finally, we came home a family of three. And it was ten days of my life that was over in a flash. So fast, I wish I could take it back and have a do-over.
But what really is remarkable is what happened after the plane landed, the well-wishers went back to their lives, the excitement died down, the meals people left were eaten, the gifts stopped arriving on the door step, the check-in calls tapered off...summer with AB home faded too quickly, school started up again and suddenly Christie was a full-time, first-time adoptive mom.
What happened after that?
Well, I'll tell you - but it won't be easy. And then let me say this first...I think I'm speaking on behalf of many women today. I'm not just talking for CB - I'm talking about women who have spoken with me, written to me, called me - and let me tell you - this is a common thread among new adoptive moms. Maybe among bio moms as well, so don't feel left out, but I can only speak for my own adoption experience. I have a feeling it's not all that different - it just comes with a different background.
Life after adoption was rough. I'm not going into all the happy stuff in this post. And there is so much happy stuff. And wonderful times. And priceless, can't compare them to anything else moments that I wouldn't trade for anything - and a little boy who I adore, and love, and would walk on hot coals for to see him happy - but that's not this post. Ok?
(ok, now that we've lost a third of readers who didn't want to hear that, we can keep going)
Say what you will - I have no idea and continue to grapple with this mystery of why admitting you're struggling with new motherhood is so taboo. I mean, I do have an idea...
- Because you wanted kids so bad and now you have one - so what's your freaking problem?
- Because you got what you wanted, so you better be happy.
- Because there are so many others still waiting, so stop bitching!
- Because children are a blessing, so why can't you see that?
- Because you freaking better smile and be happy even if you're not feeling it - because all the people that supported you don't want to hear that you're not experiencing bliss on a daily basis.
- Because you went through all that trouble and you better at least pretend it's perfect for the sake of those watching.
I'm not sure if you have heard of this or not, ladies - but WE DON'T EAT OUR OWN. Why do the harshest judgements come from other women themselves? Why do we find it so taboo to admit we're struggling? Because we're terrified of admitting to the masses that supported us, that it's not perfect. That we don't have great days all the time. That we do have days where we wonder what the frig we were thinking doing this. And by this, I mean building our family. Adopting. Having kids. There I said it.
I can't tell you the number of ladies I have spoken with who have struggled tremendously under the weight of their newest addition(s). It's hard. You're in love - sure, of course. But you're simply upside down in all other respects.
First of all - you've been through such a life changing whopper of a scenario. And despite knowing so many in the adoption community - we are still a set apart group of people. Those who adopt vs. having bio kids. We're still viewed through the bars of the zoo of life as a "rare breed". So there's that to deal with.
There's the whole "I didn't carry the baby, so I missed some big stuff right out the gate" that we have to come to terms with. Swallow. Digest. Grieve.
There's the stares and comments and rude comments, and stares...did I mention stares - when you leave the house. It's like being famous, only without the autographs and high income, and limo's...and expensive clothes...but I digress.
There's the issue of the vastly extensive measures we all went through on the front end to even be considered "fit" to parent. Exhaustive and humiliating in some ways.
There's the travel, the culture shock, the support and sometimes lack thereof in massive doses prior to and upon returning home from said country.
There's the attachment (whole nother' post). I will say, in some cases - it's the opposite of what you think. In some cases, the children are so attached to you out of fear that you'll leave - that you can hardly blow your nose without a baby on your hip. 24/7. 24/7 people. And there's the opposite horror of having a child who even as an infant has been traumatized enough to want nothing to do with you. Or your spouse. Or your kids. Won't make eye contact. Doesn't want to be held. Doesn't want to be touched. Fights every interaction. Can you imagine? I know some of you can, only too well.
There's the tremendous burden of adapting yourself to your new life (or let's be honest, lack thereof) and waving goodbye completely to the life you had before. Completely. Goodbye. See you never. And then on top of that, making it look as if you don't mind one bit. Nope. No-siree - no problem. Happy as a clam, that's me! I went to great extensive measures to be a mom, and I adopted a baby and by God, I'm gonna be happy. Yeppers. Never a sad moment. I mean, I'll never have a coherent uninterrupted thought again for the rest of my life, but sure...I'm good. No problem. I'm good. (sniffle) No really. (sniffffffle) It's Ok. I'm happy...(sob) really. I am. (bwaahhhhhhhhhhsniiffffllllleeeeesooooooobbbb)
Someone please. Throw a lifeline to the women in your life who are new adoptive moms.
There is so much to swallow when the reality hits you that this is it - this is your new life.
And there is hope.
First, you must swallow your pride and reach out to your friends. You must not worry too much about how you will be perceived when you are drowning in new motherhood. I don't care if your child was newborn or three when you adopted them. It's TOUGH - and for all the reasons above. You think I wasn't scared out of my mind? I was. You think I wasn't ready to jump off a high cliff? Don't bet on it. Did I love him like crazy? YES! Did I want what was best for him? Every. Single. Day. Still. Do. But did I feel like I was going to lose my ever-lovin' mind if I didn't get some support? Omg. Yes. And he was a GOOD baby!!!
It took me months to reach out and desperately grab the arms of my friends. So they could pull me back into the boat and cover me with warmth and love. To admit that I was terrified, alone, scared, overwhelmed, worried sick, lost, sad, lonely, underwhelmed, tired, angry, frustrated and yet, deeply in love with a little boy. Upside down. But not alone.
They said "we know...we've been there...we are there...we understand" and suddenly I wondered how I had made it so long without reaching out. Why had I never even tried?
Second, allow yourself to process the grief of parting with your former life, giving yourself the grace to face the life you have now as a mother. They are two different roads and look nothing alike. The life you used to have was a good life, but it's part of the past. I think it's ok to sit and cry in your soup for awhile about that. I did. My friends did. Don't wallow and live there - because it will get you nowhere fast. But to at least acknowledge that you had a good run and now it's different...it's ok to cry about that. I grieved for some time over those simple losses. This goes for you second time moms too - I'm aware how different it is to add another child to the mix. Older moms adopting a toddler after raising teenagers? Read and re-read this post. You will thank me later. Life as you know it is about to get messy (again).
Third, don't be so hard on yourself. Promise me. You must insist on taking a break from being Mommy. Take a break from what you've experienced. The paperwork, the traveling, the orphanage, the 3rd world country (if that's the case) and all the shock that goes with that, the bonding, the newness, the frailty of your new role, the imperfection, the mistakes, the deep love, the craziness of your new schedule, the guilt, the comments, the stares, the finances, the worry, the stress, the lonliness... Take a break. Get a sitter (do it!) grab the hubs and request a time-out for mama, do what you must. But get out and have a coherent thought. Grab a coffee. Grab a dessert. Sit in a bookstore or a library and read an entire sentence....nay! an entire paragraph. Don't let YOU get lost completely in the new You...aka Mommy.
And Fourth, help me change the pattern of critical judgement we place on other women and instead, reach out to others. You might think they have it all together - that everything is perfect with their new family - that their grass is remarkably green...but I'm betting it's not. We soooo need to extend the gift of grace to the women in our lives and those we come in contact with. To somehow stop this insanity of "don't ask, don't tell". I know too many woman on the verge of a breakdown because they feel so isolated and alone after coming home with their baby. The problems hit and they retreat in - because they are terrified of being transparent. Why? Because of the the judgement that looms for those not appearing grateful enough for their adopted child. Such BALONEY!
By the way, I'm doing so much better now - well over a year since returning from Africa and becoming a new adoptive mom. So much better. But I know so many who are not. Who are just home, or are where I was - and it burdens my heart. Because it's so hush hush. No one wants to accept that the happiness we sought so hard after is choking us.
But, the good news is that it's just for a season. And if you can throw out your lifeline and get support, you will be ok. You will make it. You can find light in the darkness.
The process of motherhood, I'm finding is very fluid. Changing and flowing all the time. Taking different shapes, different moods, different feelings...but always changing. It does get easier. It does get more familiar. And you do miss that "other" life less and less as the days go by. You do begin to cherish your new life, the new you, the new way - and think so much more abstractly of the past. It does get better, friend.
It does get better.
You can do this.
We can do this.
And do me a big favor? When I come home with Keira, don't be surprised if I get quiet...stop posting...sound sad or seem disoriented for a bit. Not to worry. Just remember this post and remember that I'm probably upside down again, grappling with my focus, sorting through the changes, and processing our new life as a family of four. And surely looking to throw out a lifeline to the closest friend I can reach...