Monday, January 30, 2012

The wrong diagnosis, one mother's struggle with post-adoption depression

 One of the first times I was with my daughter in Ukraine in 2009

Second opinion

Last Thursday I took Evangeline, our adopted daughter from Ukraine, five years old, diagnosed with Down syndrome, to a developmental pediatrician.

"I heard this doctor is good at what he does, and I want his opinion about Evie's lack of development since she's been home from Ukraine," I affirmed rather loudly to my husband Sergei in an effort to hide that really, I was taking Evangeline to this doctor for a second opinion.

A year ago, Evie was evaluated at the Erikson Institute here in Chicago for Autism. At the time, her main activities included rocking back and forth, sitting on her bed, and looking at a light-up toy. Her eye contact was sporadic at best and she could not tolerate textured food nor touch (unless it was rough housing). I was certain we would come home with a dual diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and Down syndrome because almost every time I reached out to my beautiful blond little girl, my hand would get slapped.

After several appointments, Erikson concluded that Evangeline was not on the spectrum, but probably suffered from the debilitating effects of orphanage life paired with cognitive and developmental delays that can accompany Down syndrome.

But I wanted an answer

When the report came in the mail, I opened the letter while sitting on the toilet seat behind a locked bathroom door and cried. On some level, I wanted the dual diagnosis because I wanted answers. I wanted to know why Evie ground her teeth constantly, why she sought out dust and dirt to eat but refused real food. I wanted to know why she scratched her sisters when they tried to hug her, and cried at loud noises, and sat off to the side of our lives alone, most days, rocking.

But I did not get a concrete answer. I got a "keep doing what you are doing. Find more therapy opportunities, give her time to bond with your family." And slowly over the next few weeks, I started to shut down. I found it too painful to try to connect with my daughter. For months, I went through the everyday motions of caring for my family as best I could, all the while holding back from climbing into bed. I no longer attempted to bond with Evie. If she was fine being a part of our family without really being close to me, than maybe, I could live like that too.

Wrong person diagnosed

I was seeking out the wrong diagnosis for the wrong family member. Sure, it was good to have Evie evaluated a year ago. She certainly had characteristics that could point to ASD. But really, I was the one who needed the most help. I was struggling from post-adoption depression, which could have only been aggravated by a little post-traumatic stress disorder thrown in after Polly's stroke, diagnosis of Moyamoya, and two brain surgeries. After our time at the Erikson Institute, I quietly unravelled.

I have struggled with depression all my life, but alas, it is kind of like that pesky monthly period for women. Every month I am shocked that my foul mood results with menstruation. And I am 36 years old!

Depression is like that for me, too. It sneaks up on me: a few aches and pains, feeling a little down in the dumps, sleeping poorly. I fight, I do what I absolutely need to for the family and then when I can't anymore, I get into bed and I don't get out.

I started to see a doctor and a therapist, but I wasn't feeling better. I cried out to God to help me, to show me how to trust him and get back on track, but to no avail. I struggled for months, but still, somehow managed to post perky facebook stati often enough so that people outside my direct family wouldn't suspect a thing.

But I was drowning.

About three months ago, God gave me the strength to try again to get help for my depression. I went back to my doctor and let her put me on a higher dosed anti-depressant. I started seeing a different therapist and we clicked right away. I started to wake up in the morning and notice that the sun was shining.

And I saw Evangeline, a little girl considerably changed from a year ago.

Since Evie has been with us (over two years) there have been little breakthroughs here and there in our bonding. I liken them to nicking the surface of a frozen lake with a BB gun.

Now that I am above water again in life, the ice is starting to thaw. I can sit a stare at Evie for a while, marvel at her button nose, appreciate her smell, want to pull her to me.

Why the second opinion?

So, why did I take Evie for the second opinion last week?

Because I wanted to make sure that a dual diagnosis isn't in the picture for our girl. A lot of her behaviors have fallen away but she has a lot left. And although we are doing much better, I am now struggling with the guilt of that missed time when a shadow of a mother was parenting my daughter.

At the appointment, Evie climbed up into a chair, uninterested in the train set the doctor attempted to entice her with. But she laughed when he tickled her, and followed his finger as he played with her, and looked both the doctor and me in the eye almost the whole time.

I loved the doctor. He was a bit brash and un-orthodox (took a text from his wife during our interview and laughed out loud at what she wrote :). But he cut to the chase with me and it was just what I needed.

"I don't see any definite red flags regarding a dual diagnosis off the bat, of course, if you'd like, we can do a full evaluation of Evangeline to get more in-depth. But I have to ask, why are you here? You've already had your daughter evaluated at Erikson?"

"Because, well", I took a deep breath. "Because I am afraid I am not doing enough. Our other daughter got sick and ended up needing two brain surgeries six weeks after Evangeline came home from Ukraine and I. . . well, I've struggled with depression." I kind of left my answer there but in my heart I added, I am afraid that I have already failed her.

"Mrs. Marchenko, your family has been through a very difficult time these last few years. I want you to know, you are doing a good job with your kids."

I had to look away as the tears pooled in my eyes.

"And now, Ms. Evangeline," the doctor turned to Evie and let me attempt to compose myself.

After the visit to the doctor, I realized I had been looking for two things: 1) the wrong diagnosis, and 2) validation that I am the right mom for my child.

I share all of this with you because I am notorious for putting it all out there. It doesn't occur to me to keep things to myself. My husband takes issue with my need to tell people how much I spent on the sales rack at Target.

But more importantly, I share this because adoption is beautiful, but it is also very hard. I share this because  other parents and caregivers are struggling today. Post-adoption depression is real. I want you to know you are not alone. At some point, your feelings may be out of your control. Get help. There is no shame in taking care of yourself in order to care for your family.

One last thing: With God's help, we all can be the right parents for our children.

Post-adoption depression resources:
Adoptive Families
Baby Center
Adoption Issues

Jen Hatmaker, After the Airport

Life: Unmasked


  1. THANK YOU! As a pre-adoptive mom, I feel like I hear too much fluff about adoption.
    I don't comment often, Gillian, but I want you to know that I read often, and I am encouraged by your blog.
    You ARE a great mom!

    1. Thank you Jennie. This is why I post the hard stuff... :).

  2. I really, really applaud your honesty, Gillian. This brought tears to my eyes. I bet you've touched (and helped!) a lot of people with this post. You've got two lucky, lucky little girls. :-)

  3. Oh Gillian. You are so relatable! I hear you. I hear your self-reflective wonderings. I affirm that YOU are not alone. I am constantly afraid that I'm not the mother my kids need. I'm too tempermental. I'm not patient enough. I have a low tolerance for noise and chaos. I expect too much. I'm annoyed easily. Sometimes I confess I wonder if I should be a mother. Don't even get me started on all the characteristics and sin-tendencies that I fear they've picked up from me. . . . I don't know all the answers, but I know that there is a beautiful grace. A grace that I don't deserve that says I AM enough because Jesus made me whole. I am His and He is enough. I will fail but He will not. When we cling to the One who has accomplished this work, we are able to make much of Him and be content with accepting His free grace for us. There is enough grace to pass around, you know. For me, but for my kids too. God's grace will carry them through. I'm sure I'll mess em up in some regard. But my hope and my prayer is that through my shortcomings, they too will learn of God's GREAT and POWERFUL grace that takes a lump of clay and makes it into something beautiful.

    Thank you for your blogpost. I will say it again, your courage in transparency is refreshing. Thank you for sharing your dust bunnies.

    Love to you, Gillian. I've got your back. -Christine

  4. Dear Gillian, your honesty is a blessing to people who need so much to hear you. I think self-doubt is almost universal for all parents.

    1. Thank you Dianne. I think you are right about the self-doubt thing.

  5. Love you, love your family, love Pocket Lint. As a teacher who knows you girls, I assure you, you are doing all you can do and doing it well. Keep being strong and putting one foot in front of the other. You are a doing a good job. Trust me.

  6. i love you Gilly for your humbleness, your humility and your honesty. you are an angel. thank you for sharing your life with us. i learn from you everyday..

  7. Gillian,

    You are definitely the right mom for your beautiful kids. I have cried over all of mine. A doctor once told me not to be afraid of making mistakes because God could use my mistakes for good! Self esteem and gene pool have so much to do with depression and in my case anxiety. Don't wait till you are in your 40's like me to believe how much God loves you and yours. I love the verse in Mark that says,"Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief."! I love you and your precious family. Keep being honest. Cindy W.

  8. Help For Depression Treatment

    A blog about depression where readers will get information about how to beat depression, there are tons of informative articles about symptoms, cause, treatment about depression of men & women

  9. Gillian, Reading this blog brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I too think most mothers are full of self doubt, but you are a wonderful person and a loving mother. I miss seeing you. Hugs to you. Toni D

    1. Toni, I miss you too! Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  10. So powerful, so beautiful. Tears in my eyes! So true on so many levels for so many people!

  11. This is my first time reading your blog. I appreciate your honesty and rawness. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for putting it all out there!

    1. Thanks so much for reading. It is kind of hard to tell the truth when it's like this, but so worth it if I can help another mom in my situation.

  12. I am also new to your blog but wow. What a first post to read. Of course "I" don't identify with such feelings of post adoption depression AT ALL. Nuh-uh. Nope. Not me. (okay, maybe, MAYBE a wee tiny bit...or maybe a whole LOT!)I stopped blogging for many reasons but one of them was my lack of nerve to be this honest. And so I just bailed. Totally. Vanished. It's tough to be a Mom. Period. It's tougher still to be a mom to a child that you haven't held and nurtured and known since birth. Hard on both ends. Feelings are real even if they are based on perceptions that are not based in truth. I have fought the whole medication for depression thing tooth and nail for 2 reasons mostly: #1. The country we have adopted from does not allow parents to adopt their children if they have been on antidepressants...back like 5 or maybe even 10 years. It's a bit much. But it is what it is. #2. I've always pretty much known why I felt depressed and wasn't at all convinced that a pill would (or SHOULD) take the circumstance(s) away that was causing the feelings. Does that even make sense? Anyway...I realize we are all different and heck, I might be feeling a ton better even NOW if I had one of those pills handy...not trying to diss modern medicine. But we go again on the adoption journey so it's a good thing I held out. I have learned that I must be very careful with whom I share my heart and my struggles...or I just get a bunch of criticism, after all, we CHOSE adoption. Anyway, as much as it sucks (the depression and very real attachment struggles) it really is heartening to so many silently suffering adoptive moms out there to know that there really is someone who has walked a mile or a thousand in these somewhat uncomfortable shoes. But the road we walk is blessed, even in these shoes.

    1. Thanks for your amazing comments. And congrats on adopting again :).

  13. Gillian,
    You rock! You have not idea just how inspiring this post is or how easy it is to relate to. I was asked to participate in a study last year on caregiver burnout. It was really just an opportunity to gather with other parents for a few months and find encouragement in the fact that we are not bad people or bad parents just because we admit that this journey is HARD. Thank you so much for being the transparent woman that you are. Your children are blessed to call you, "Mom".... Kaci

  14. I will say this again Gillian. This is a place where God will USE YOU. A great ministry you have as you have the courage to be honest and real! So honored to know you!

  15. Gillian,

    You don't have to pray to God to be the right parent for your children. He already decided you were right. Your kids are blessed to have you.

  16. Gillian, thanks for sharing your heart. Being honest about the struggles of adoption is so important -- my blog is based on it! A friend of mine guest-posted on my blog last week on post-adoption depression. Hoping it will bless you like it did me:

    1. Thanks Kim. I checked out the post... loved it! Loved your site too. Will be back to learn and grow with you all there.

  17. Replies
    1. Indianist, I'll look around and email you if I find something. Please, though, call your doctor or a trusted friend to talk.

  18. Robyn, Ive read Jen Hatmakers post "after the airport". it spoke to that place unlike anything I had read before. I am doing much, much better now, I know that God was with us all along but wish that somehow someone else had been there to listen, and keep listening.
    I had read about post adoption depression but the living it out is so different than words on a page. Please keep sharing- the truth does set you free indeed. I have been trying to be real on my blog as well and even though I dont have many readers I find strength in sharing.

    1. I'm so glad to here it, Anna. I'll check out your blog. Stay strong.

  19. hi, I just saw my friend post on FB about your post. It's takes a lot to post these thoughts. I've lived them, been judged by them, posted them, shared them face-to-face. I've never dealt with depression until 2.5 years ago when I crashed. I saw my son's attachment therapist and he put it together for me. I had ptsd as a result from a disrupted adoption, the failure we felt from that, and from the difficulty we were having with one of our boys. I took meds for 2 years and just recently stopped, but there are days that are still hard, because our son is still hard. Now I'm a mom of 5 soon to be 6. There is Sonshine over the hill. Sometimes it seems like the days will never brighten, that the sound of your children make you want to just run away, but it does eventually shine. I'm praying that the top of your hill will come soon...from one Amom to another.


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