Once the stepparent adoption had been made legal at our hearing, my husband and I were expecting to feel a rush of joy and relief. We didn’t feel either in the days following the big event. Our little boy continued on happily as usual, but we both felt at odds with the experience of adopting our own son. We continued on as normal, or at least we tried to. One morning, two weeks after the hearing, I found myself unable to stop crying. I felt as if I could no longer go on. I rang my husband who had just left for work and he returned home straight away to care for the children. I saw my doctor later that day and explained what had been happening in our lives. She advised contacting a counsellor and booking myself in for a session. I was reluctant to do so but I knew that I needed to reach out in some way in order to move forward. I had to be a mother to two young boys, after all. There was no opportunity for breaking down and being unable to cope.
There were many, many tears during my first counselling session. I recounted the events from discovering I was pregnant until the present day. The therapist was shocked that at no point had anyone, friends, family, or professionals, advised that I seek counselling. She acknowledged the huge amount of stress that I had been under since my son’s pregnancy and said she wasn’t surprised that I had ended up at this point of distress. She noted our bravery and integrity with regards to the adoption, but stressed how important it was that I learned to let everything go now that it was over. When she asked me how I could move on, I was stumped. I had been carrying this weight for so long that I felt I would hold onto it forever.
Over the next few sessions, I began to make sense of my thoughts and feelings around the adoption. If you attend therapy while you are in the process of adoption you must disclose it and have a letter from your therapist stating that you are still fit to parent. I was terrified to approach counselling during our application because of this. There is still huge stigma around mental health in Ireland today and I had no idea how the HSE would perceive my need to seek out help. I held off, therefore, and was the worse for wear because of it. Once I had the space and time to sift calmly through my experiences, I realised that I was holding blame for the actions that were not mine. I was carrying the burden of the biological father’s absence when I had made the decision to continue the pregnancy and raise this child. His refusal to be involved was not my fault. Our actions were separate. I realised that I could have never walked away from my son and therein lay the inherent difference between us. It was no wonder I could not understand his actions, but now I no longer felt as hurt by them. We perceived, and loved, differently. I did all I could to enhance my relationship with this amazing little person. He did not do the same.
The relief that came from this realisation was immense. The guilt and doubt that weighed me down felt unnecessary now. It also started to sink in that I now had total say over who enjoyed a relationship with my son. If anything were to happen to me, I could rest assured that he would stay with his Daddy and his little brother until he was old enough to make his own decisions. We had arrived at a point where our son’s place with his family was secure. He shared our second names and we were both listed as his parents on his birth certificate. The struggle was over and he was left with two adoring parents and a cheeky, loud brother.
I wish that I had attended counselling much, much sooner. I regret not being able to enjoy my son’s early years as much as I could have without the unnecessary burdens. If you are currently in the process of adoption and are finding it difficult to cope, I would advise seeking help far sooner than I did. A friend made the very good point that disclosing this information to the HSE proves that you are invested in your mental health and have the self awareness to know when you require extra support. This is a rigorous, difficult process, and every person wading through adoption deserves the space and time to process what they are going through.