Remember those cute leaf-raking pictures from my last post? Yeah, this one didn't make it in. ;)
I don't envy adoption agency staff members -- preparing people to become adoptive parents must be crazy hard. I happen to think our agency did a fantastic job preparing us, and I'm impressed with how they've continued to refine and improve the education component of their program. Despite the great pre-adoption preparation we received, there was an undetected disconnect lurking in me -- something I didn't know that I didn't know until circumstances brought it to the surface.
I knew plenty about how Z might behave when he came home, and why, and what to do about it. I knew about how challenging it would be for him to leave everything familiar and come to a strange place with strange people, all at a critical point in his development. I knew it would challenge me too as I implemented strategies for bonding, building trust, and correcting inappropriate behavior. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, I'm just saying that my preparation was robust and I felt ready ready ready. I like a challenge, I thought. Especially a challenge that I have been anticipating and waiting to start for
a million years months and months.
The disconnect came in the form of feelings. Some of the feelings I have listed below were short-lived and faded within days of getting home. Others are still part of my daily emotional life. All of them came as a surprise.
After the wait was over:
I felt numbness and ambivalence about bringing Z home
I felt uncomfortable and unnatural caring for him
I felt anger and frustration toward him when he acted out or threw a fit
I felt hurt and rejected when he didn't return my affection
I felt grief over the loss of my 'easy' family
I felt unhappy at a time when everyone expected me to be thrilled
I felt fearful about my ability to give Z the consistent, unconditional love-in-action that I knew he needed
I felt like I was in an abusive relationship, in the sense that a person was hurting me over and over and I had to keep coming back for more
I felt isolated because I was afraid to share my feelings with others
I felt horribly, horribly guilty and ashamed about all of the above.
Let me reiterate, I fully understood Z's behavior and was not surprised by it. To some degree, I even understood my emotional reaction to it... but only in a book-knowledge, "this can happen to some people and it is normal, but it won't happen to me" kind of way. For the sake of balance, I have to say that I also felt a lot of other, much more positive things: wonder, gratitude, and hope, to name a few. And over the course of the past several months, the trend has been overwhelming toward more and more positive emotions and fewer negative ones. But the beginning? Well, you read the list.
[Side note: Can you even imagine was Z's list would look like? He's still too young to put his feelings into words but I am pretty sure mine would pale in comparison to his. And honestly, he handled it all better than I did. Downright amazing, that kid.]
I am not sharing this to scare anyone, and I'm certainly not sharing it to garner sympathy. I'm sharing it because it's a real part of my story. I don't know what would have helped me to be more emotionally prepared beforehand. In the months before Z came home I had some major 'preparation fatigue' so I'm not sure any additional training would have registered with me. But sometimes just knowing that someone else has felt what you are feeling goes a long way. We all like to know we're not alone.
There are many things that have helped me to regain emotional health in the past several months, but they can all be distilled down to one thing: grace. Grace from others, in particular my amazing husband who told me beautiful lies every day (You're doing great, honey! It's OK to feel how you feel. OK, so they might have been truths, but they felt like lies at the time). Grace from myself, releasing myself from the chains of perfectionism and the self-condemnation that always follows. And behind, between, above it all, the grace of God -- the eternal 'yes' to my personhood, the gift of being forever good enough even if I do it all wrong, the orientation of God toward me, for me, with me, in me. Grace, grace to you friends.