Words by April Hayes // Images by Lynae Adams
My soul bears the wounds of fighting for my daughter’s trust and the yearning to experience joy in mothering. My lachrymose entry into motherhood is marked with darkness and deep sorrow caused by shame and depression. To forget means forgetting the way God tenderly brought me low to rescue me from a deep pit of despair.
Motherhood broke me.
My muscles and joints, stiff from the 15-hour flight from New Delhi to Chicago, could no longer support the 37-lb. child who intensely clung to me through Customs, our appointment at the CDC, and across the entire Chicago airport. Two weeks ago, we had landed in India and met our five-year-old daughter for the first time. If the two-year wait to bring her home was my wilderness, this was supposed to be my promised land.
I pulled her off my waist to set her down and she began to cry. My brain, already on high-alert mode, flooded my body with stress signals. Slumped against a pillar, I watched the tears drip down her shiny brown cheeks. I felt angry and numb.
I didn’t want to do this anymore.
The thoughts in my mind startled me, and the threads holding together my heart started to unravel. This is not how my motherhood was supposed to begin.
Despite how prepared I felt to be a mom, I underestimated the exertion required to meet the needs of a little person. Children are hard-wired for struggle. The factors of trauma, neglect, and abandonment add layers of unique challenges and complications. I understood adopting a child meant adopting their past and the hurts they carried.
The brokenness our daughter carried into our lives illuminated my brokenness. For the first time, I came face to face with the darkness lurking in the caverns of my soul. Her anger and sadness mirrored mine.
She needed me to be the gentle, loving leader who remained steadfast in her moments of grief. Instead, I found myself angry and sad. Then I became angry and sad because I was angry and sad.
Yet, the fierce love I felt for her left me breathless. Her spunk and silliness brought joy to our lives. Honestly, she was more perfect than we dreamed. These early days were so precious. I didn’t want to miss them. But, the conflicting emotions drained me.
Surely, I was exhausted and weary. But as the months passed, my challenges weren't fixed by a good night of sleep. Eventually I'd learn Post-Adoption Depression is real and was at the root of my struggle.
My failure to reach into my daughter’s heart and prove I was trustworthy left me helpless. I resented the 3-1/2-hour tantrums that flared and passed like mid-summer storms. Comforting her intensified her big feelings. It irritated me when she suddenly wouldn’t eat unless I hand-fed her, or when she required me to carry her. Everywhere. She loved having the devotion and secure love of a mother. Yet, there were days she rejected me.
These behaviors were survival strategies stemming from a need to feel safe, loved, and valued. To bind the wounds of abandonment and neglect, and build trust, I poured myself out to meet her every need. My nerve endings frayed. Touch felt like sandpaper rubbing against my raw skin.
Recently reading in Exodus, after the Israelites fled Egypt, it struck me that God intentionally led them to a place of geographic vulnerability. By God’s own hand they experienced a situation so hopeless they cried out in anguish and in despair.
This soul-bending, backbreaking job of mothering makes us vulnerable to doubt, shame, and despair. Placed in hopeless situations our only escape route is to call out to God.
My tattered soul could no longer endure my sorrow and shame. The months of unanswered prayers led me to believe God had disengaged. Collapsing under the weight I silently carried, I fell into a pit of despair. Prayers ceased to form on my lips.
The condemning voice of shame led me to doubt my worth. My daughter needed a wholehearted Mom, and my husband needed a wife not crushed under the weight of darkness. I believed the terrifying voices when they said they’d be better off without me. For a year, I wandered through my days like a ghost, never sure if I’d ever find joy in mothering or if God would heal my pain.
Even though God was silent, he never disengaged. God knew, before he placed my daughter in my arms, that my challenges in mothering would break me. In bringing me low, he sought to make me desperate for his presence. When I finally reached my nadir, he met me there. His grace allowed me to crumble so I would know him more intimately as my comforter and source of strength.
God trapped the Israelites between the swords of the Egyptians and the Sea to display his glory and reveal his power to rescue and redeem. God brings his children to their knees, simply so he can raise them up again. God longs for us to be desperate for him so that he can provide us more of himself.
Wholehearted mothers believe God takes our brokenness and in his timing, uses them for our good and his glory, however painful it may be. Wholehearted mothering isn’t found in the absence of struggle, in perfect parenting, or in well-designed days. When we recognize our dependency on God, we can parent from a place of rest and freedom.
My family is in the process of adopting internationally again. It is a testimony for how God picked up my broken pieces and gave me a garment of praise instead of despair (Isa. 61:3).
I am not guaranteed I won’t unravel again. There are days I hear the taunting voice of shame. But when I feel pulled under by my failures and shortcomings, I will remember that “the Lord says: ‘Fear not.’ I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name and you are mine” (Isa. 43:1).