{Honestly} guest post: Post-adoption depression

I’m so honored to feature the first {Honestly} series guest post. Today’s post is by Alison McLennan, who adopted from Rwanda last year. I followed her blog during the agonizing wait and always appreciated her honesty and transparency. Recently, she committed to being “the real her” and showing the hard stuff with the gorgeous on this twisty adoption road. Please welcome Alison and get ready for a stunning post.
Alison writes about her experience with post-adoption depression.

Meeting Avivah


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. May, 2011.

The screams have finally ceased, replaced by shuddering sighs as my newly adopted daughter gradually surrenders to fitful sleep in my arms. Perched on the edge of the mattress, I complete my third consecutive hour of rhythmic rocking and humming, and then begin another. It will be several more minutes before I can ease my rigid embrace and attempt to lay her down.

My arms burn from the extended effort of restraining a thrashing two-year-old. Perspiration, hers and mine, soaks my shirt, the blanket with which I’ve swaddled her, and her brand new Carter’s pajamas. The hot dampness smells of strife and mocks my pre-adoption visions of this bedtime ritual. I’d imagined the rocking, swaddling, and humming. I just hadn’t planned on the full-body wrestling, blood-curdling screams, clawing fingers, and buckets of sweat.

Then again, few things about our three weeks in Africa have gone as planned. We spent our first twelve days in Rwanda unraveling a paperwork nightmare that finally (but barely) led to our daughter’s release just in time for an overnight flight to Ethiopia. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, my husband promptly sprained his ankle and developed kidney stones, while I discovered that I am, in fact, an asthmatic, prone to eye infections, and quite susceptible to traveler’s diarrhea.

No question, our adoption travels have been full of nasty surprises, but they all pale in comparison to the most unexpected development at all – the dark emotions growing day by day in a secret corner of my heart.  

My daughter’s breathing is now slow and even. I gently lower her to the bed and slide my hands from behind her back. She stirs but doesn’t wake, so I ease off the mattress and stretch the stiffness from my lower back. In spite of all we’ve had to overcome, the fact remains that this beautiful little girl is ours at last. And isn’t that all that really matters?

As my muscles continue to ache with a mother’s labor, I stand in the darkness watching this longed-for child sleep, and search my bruised heart for love, relief, gratitude, joy…just a few of the many things I should feel right now, but don’t.

A Prison of Shame

If I had to choose one word to describe the emotional climate of my first four months as an adoptive mother, I’d say “shame.” The runners up would be anger, discouragement, fear, and hopelessness.

I was ashamed of myself for all I didn’t feel, and even more so for all I did. Shame kept me silent, but hiding my true feelings only led to more shame. When introducing my daughter, I turned into a habitual liar. “You must be so thrilled!” Fake smile. “Your dream has finally come true!” Fake nod. “I’ll bet you just can’t stop smiling, can you?” Bigger fake smile and a giddy, “No, I can’t.”

Liar, liar, liar.

The thing was, I should be thrilled. My dream had come true. So why did I begin each day with a sense of dread and end each night with a litany of my failures?

I was plagued by questions. Did we make a mistake? What if I’m not cut out to be an adoptive mother? Would my daughter have been better off in the orphanage, or with another family? What is wrong with me that I am so ungrateful, angry, and sad when I should be rejoicing?

I lay sleepless in bed for hours, crushed with shame. I sat in our front yard in the middle of the night crying and begging God to forgive me. I scoured my adoption books for answers, but all I found were anecdotes about parents struggling to bond with hard-to-love kids. My daughter was sweet, affectionate, and compliant. There was nowhere to point the finger except at myself.

And then I stumbled upon the phrase “Post-Adoption Depression.”

Not Alone

One website described PAD this way: “New parents may feel guilty about their feelings of ambivalence, resentment, or anger toward their new child. The belief in instant bonding or ‘love at first sight’ is often an unrealistic one…new adoptive mothers who become depressed often try to ‘tough it out’ without asking for any help whatsoever… Rather than disappoint and confound her family, many new adoptive moms simply suffer in silence, filled with shame and guilt, feeling themselves imperfect or selfish.”


This isn’t the place to explain the whys and hows of post-adoption depression (as if I could), and I can’t offer a magical cure. But if anything I’ve shared resonates with you, I can offer four simple words that will hopefully bring you the same comfort they brought me: You Are Not Alone.

You might not believe it after reading so many over-the-moon blog posts and watching all the tear-jerking gotcha-day videos, but one study showed that 65% of adoptive moms suffer from post-adoption depression. In other words, if you’re one of them, you’re part of a majority.

I hid the truth because I was ashamed and afraid. It took me eight months to finally gain enough perspective to be honest, hence this post. And do you know why I’m doing it? For you. Because I don’t want you to suffer alone. I don’t want you to be held captive by shame. I don’t want you to make the same mistake I made. You were meant for more than that. Your adoption was meant for more.

So hang in there, and remember:

You are not alone.
You are not your feelings.
This is not the end of your adoption story.
There is hope.

There is always, always, always hope.

To read the entire {Honestly} series, click here.


Linking with Heather, Jen and Kristina.

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24 comments on “{Honestly} guest post: Post-adoption depression

  1. Thank you. This is how we help, we say I GET IT and you are not alone and ME TOO.
    There’s just nothing like ME TOO.
    I know your post will help. Thank you for telling your truth story.

    • So true, Heather. When Alison sent me this post, I felt like I could exhale. Whew… not ‘only me,’ but ‘me too’ after all.

  2. I love your honesty here and I applaud you for sharing this in hopes that others would know they are not alone. I have struggled with PPD and there was a point in my struggles when I finally saw a counselor and after describing all my hurts and pains buried deep she said, “wow. you’ve been through so much…it’s no wonder you’re struggling.” Because, like your experience with adoption was not as you had hoped or prepared for…so were both of my birth experiences. There are pieces of those memories that still pain me…even while I look at my two healthy beautiful children and know that I am thankful for them. I don’t know your experience or your pain, but I know depression and I know that being a mom can be so hard and lonely. Praying for healing and peace for you.

    • Alison says:

      Thank you, Stephanie! You’re right, so much of our trouble as moms is pure exhaustion combined with broken expectations following intense longing. I’m amazed at the similarity between PPD and PAD. Some experiences are just beyond our ability to process. I’ve really been learning to surrender my broken dreams and unanswered questions to God and trust Him to carry me through to the beauty I know is coming.

      • Lovely thoughts Stephanie, and great follow-up comment, Alison. So much of the tough emotions following my adoption came from broken expectations. Isn’t it such a universal experience? It is not as we thought it should be. And then what? Surrender. And then, surrender. It’s impossible to move through life with no expectations, but if we can ask for God’s help to surrender to what is rather than what we think ought to be, it opens us up to all kinds of beauty.

  3. Oh my gosh I have written about this on my site so many times in posts and in comments about other posts… You are not alone…Adoption is no joke.. I have seven kids and you need strong arms…for hugging and for holding.
    Oh I could tell you some stories….sheesh.
    Great read.

    • Alison says:

      I would love to read some of your posts about PAD! It’s so hard to find open communication about it online. I would love to hear your stories, and especially how you found yourself on the other side (if you’re there yet?). ~Alison McLennan

  4. Marissa says:

    THANK YOU!!!!!! I’m glad to know it’s not just “me”…!!! 😀

    • Alison says:

      Marissa, I’m so glad my words encouraged you! We need to stick together on this rough road. It’s so hard to see the beautiful ending when we’re in the middle of the refining process, but nothing is wasted in God’s hands! Prayer for renewed strength and joy for you! ~Alison McLennan

  5. oh!! this is SO important to share reality. Thank you both for being wise enough to be truthful. I am sure many others feel this way and are so afraid they are alone. Honesty speaks so much love into the lives of others…

    • Alison says:

      Tara, I love that…about honesty speaking love. What a wonderful way to describe it! Thank you! ~Alison McLennan

  6. Jen Ferguson says:

    I think you have brought so much light where darkness has tried to hide. Your story is a gift to many. I’m not an adoptive mom, but I can take away things from your story to hide in my heart and let grow.

    • Alison says:

      Thank you, Jen, for your encouragement. It warms my soul to think that my story could give hope to others. God is good! ~Alison McLennan

  7. Leslie says:

    Wow…this was a powerful piece. Thank you so much for sharing your heart.

  8. Katharine says:

    I am not an adoptive mom, but I do know several couples that in the process, and I will passing this on for them…thank you for honestly sharing, that is I think where healing and hope begin.

    • Thanks for loving your friends and passing this important message along. You’re right– honesty can start us on the road to hope and healing.

  9. Thank you Kim, for visiting my blog and pointing me to this wonderful website and to this brave, needed post. And thank you Alison for your honesty. It helps me to know I am not alone. And it I am sure it will help many.

    • So glad you stopped by, Gillian. Blessings to you, and may we all strive to be as honest as you and Alison. Blessings, and I hope you join the conversation again soon.

    • Alison says:

      Gillian, thank you for making yourself known. God bless you as you walk this road! We’re in it together.

  10. Anna says:

    I am visiting from the link on Gillians blog comment, I loved reading Jen Hatmakers post “after the airport several months ago. I had heard of PAD before our trip. But it seems like words on paper BEFORE, sometimes years before bringing little one home, dont help in the midst. In the middle of real feelings that you dont want, cant even speak them out loud. Feeling them is bad enough. Having the whatever-energy-it-takes to research and re-read books in the midst of real feelings that you cant even put a finger on the root or cause. That is why community is so important. I had one friend that was willing to listen, over and over as I repeated the stories. I wish I could go back, the knowledge on this side making it not so scary.I will never be the same- I know that was the point. My little one being the carrot God dangled before my nose. I will keep blogging about it, thankful that its all grace……..

    • What beautiful thoughts, Anna. You’re so right… Usually the fear and emotions are as much as any of us can handle, except reading blogs and online group posts late at night. Thank you for stopping by, and reminding us of the grace available when we’re honest with each other.

  11. Juanita says:

    Thank you for your honesty. I just came home from Rwanda 4 days ago and I’m so sad. I was fine for the first couple of weeks when we met our son but now feel like I have nothing to give. I feel so alone and I just don’t understand why I fell like this (or don’t feel the way I want to). We have an 8 year old bio son and he’s not doing well either. It’s a comfort to know I’m not alone, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want this horrible feeling in my heart or the pit of my stomach anymore. I don’t know who I can be honest with because this has been a 3 year battle to get our son and now that he’s here, the last thing my church (who supported us in every way) wants to hear is that something is wrong. I knew it would be hard… I was even worried about the possibility of depression, but I wasn’t prepared for feeling like this.

    • Juanita, I’m so sorry it’s been difficult for you. When you consider your ordeal logically, of COURSE you’re going to feel let down after a three-year battle. Of course you’re feeling sad and alone. Sometimes even if we want something so much, it’s a shift in perspective when it’s finally here.

      I’m not a professional and I’m not sure what resources are available to you, but can you talk to someone? Do you have a pastor you can trust, or a therapist, or even just a really good friend who is wise with emotional issues? For me, step one in healing was to know I wasn’t alone. I’m glad you know that, but it’s not going to take you down the entire road. It was important for me to understand where the feelings were coming from, get to the root of them and keep myself open to healing. If you can do that for yourself, it’ll be easier to help your bio son, too, in figuring out his feelings.

      And I wouldn’t count your church out, either. If they supported you through it, they’re going to support you now, too. Maybe some will give you the “this is what you asked for” message, but you might find compassion in unexpected places. I think when we are willing to open up, sometimes we’re surprised at the love, support and empathy we’ll find. It’s happened to me almost every time, as long as I’m opening up to someone who has earned my trust.

      Know: You’re not alone. It is possible to get through this, and afterward everyone will be stronger. Peace and blessings and love love love love. xo

      • Juanita says:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply 🙂
        I actually called up a friend from church who I know has struggled over the past year with post partum depression and we spent time talking (and eating cheezies & ice cream). After writing to you, I told my husband, my mom and my friend about my feelings and they were very understanding–I also felt a big burden lifted off my shoulders. It’s a big relief to know that my horrible thoughts didn’t scare off my friend, but she had wrestled with equally horrible thoughts. Thank you for your long distant care and support. Thank you for being honest. I have more hope today than I did yesterday and that is Huge!!!