Editor’s Note: November is National Adoption Month. Postpartum Progress strives to tackle topics from all points of view, and today we have Chrissie Gaddis, a mom and adult adoptee, telling her story. It’s important in the discussion of motherhood, postpartum depression, adoption, mental health, and more. -Jenna
I grew inside my birth mom’s belly without any prenatal care. She smoked and drank her entire pregnancy. At the signs of labor, she simply went to the ER. I was her second pregnancy, she knew the drill. Thankfully, I was born healthy. She walked out of that hospital the next day. I haven’t seen her since. Upon discharge from the hospital I was a ward of the state. Five weeks later I was adopted. My name was changed and my birth certificate was amended. The person I was for those five weeks was erased.
Growing up, the thought of being adopted never entered my mind. People always commented on how I looked like my cousins or other members of my family. My mom, divorced prior to adopting me, was caught off guard the day I asked why my father never came to visit me. I knew that she’d been married, but I couldn’t put that piece together. That was day I found out that I didn’t grow in her belly. I’m uncertain whether it was fear or shock, but I just decided that I didn’t matter. “I have a family, it doesn’t matter” was the mantra I’d secretly sworn to live by; and I did, until I was pregnant.
Before those two lines appeared on the test, I knew I was pregnant. I was scheduled for a massage, a Christmas present from my husband. I told them that I thought I was pregnant and they adjusted their body work accordingly. Laying face down on the table with no one in the room, I slid my hand under my belly and uttered the words, “Momma loves you and I’m never going to leave.” It was feeling I’d never felt before. A bond that I’d never experienced with a baby that I’d never met.
The more connected I became with this baby growing in my belly, the more I started to think about my birth mom. Did she feel this way about me during her pregnancy? If she did, how did she give me away? Perhaps she hated me. Though I’ve never understood how it’s possible to hate someone that you’ve never even met, it was the only means in which I could justify her giving me away.
In processing all of this, I expected to be angry. Surprisingly the feeling I felt wasn’t anger at all. And believe me, I tried really hard to be angry, but I couldn’t. The only thing I could find inside was grief. I missed this woman that I’d never met as if my best friend had suddenly died or moved to another country. Attempting to process all of these feeling and emotions, I did the only thing I knew to do to survive: I made a new mantra “I will be best mom the world has ever known and I will love every minute of it.”
Except I didn’t.
The morning of my 37 week appointment, I woke up feeling awful. Unbeknownst to me I developed pre-eclampsia overnight. I was admitted to the hospital and the craziness began. My blood pressure was stabilized, and I was going to be released to finish my pregnancy at home. Then my baby’s heart rate started dropping. At this point I’d been in the hospital for three days. The nurse walked in that evening with a smile on her sweet face and announced that I’d be having a baby tomorrow. She began to explain the process of inducing labor but all I wanted to say was, “Excuse me? I have three more weeks. This is not how it’s going to happen. I’m not ready. I don’t know how to be a mom. I’ve never even met mine.”
I’d chosen natural birth, because at the core of my being I needed to be fully present and in control of my body. When the nurse placed my baby on my chest, I had no feelings. I’d dreamt about this moment for weeks, 37 to be exact, and in that moment, I had nothing.
I’d later be told by my doula that I repeatedly asked my husband if he loved our baby. And he did, but I couldn’t find that feeling. I knew that I loved our baby more than anything. I’d talked to him, sang to him, and pushed his rear out from under my ribs for weeks. In my head I loved him, but with him sitting on my chest I had no emotion. I didn’t even cry.
Despite not having that feeling of love, there was a fiery passion inside me to protect him. He was mine. The nurses explained how skin to skin would enhance our bond and stimulate breast milk. Breastfeeding was difficult but I refused to quit. I would be everything that he needed. And I tried. I tried to the point of being clinically sleep deprived, on medication for anxiety and depression, and under the care of a therapist that specialized in Postpartum Depression.
I joined a support group that was led by my therapist; it saved my life. Being with other women who were also struggling with being a mom felt incredibly comforting. I went to that group for over a year. I needed to know that I wasn’t failing at my job as a mom because every day I felt like I was. But I didn’t quit.
If you’d asked me five years ago if adoption affected my PPD, I probably would have told you no—and I would’ve believed it with everything inside of me. Sure I had all those feeling during pregnancy and at birth, but I thought I had dealt with it in the moment and moved on. It has only been in the last year that I have truly been able to come to terms with the fact that being adopted does in fact affect me.
I’ve learned that being adopted creates a wound in your heart that never completely heals and that it affects even the most intimate relationships in your life. Like myself, many adoptees have an attachment disorder: an inability and fear of trusting and developing intimate relationships with others.
In retrospect I understand that inability to connect as the cause of the lack of emotion and bonding with my son when he was born. I wanted desperately to love him, but I was afraid and I didn’t know how. I thought that through breastfeeding and playdates it would change, but it didn’t. I thought that staying awake for days at a time, being a mom martyr, would prove how much I loved him; it didn’t.
And yet while there was a deficit of euphoric feelings, I wouldn’t let anyone else take care of him. I was terrified he would feel abandoned. Being adopted made me feel incompetent to be a good mom. My adoptive mom has never been pregnant or even had a newborn. She tried, but she couldn’t help me the way a birth mom would’ve been able to help. While she was sympathetic she lacked empathy, an understanding of my experience because she herself had experienced it. I couldn’t ask her questions about things happening in my body or compare labor or healing. I had to figure it all out on my own.
Five years later I still struggle with my feelings about being a mom. I’m constantly questioning if I’m a good mom. I’m still in therapy, and I’m okay with that. I constantly remind myself that every day that I don’t quit, I get a little stronger.
There is still an ache in my heart, a place that misses my birth mom. When I look at my son, I wonder if he looks like her. I wonder if she would be proud of the mom that I am, or if she even spends time thinking about me. I might not ever know the answers to those questions, and I’m okay with that.