Written by Hannah Scott
When we brought our daughter home from the hospital on a warm December day, I thought that I was as prepared as I could possibly be to face the trauma that adoption would bring with it. I knew that it would be a learning process, that I would continue to learn everyday of her life what it meant to parent a child with trauma, but, as it turns out, I was wildly unprepared. As tumultuous days dragged into sleepless nights and our cycle of exhaustion repeated, I could feel myself slowly slipping. It wasn’t her trauma, though, that was pulling me under, it was my own.
I didn’t feel like I had a right to complain or seek help. I chose this. I wanted to adopt. I spent my days and nights rocking and loving and mothering a child that I did not give birth to, and that privilege and tragedy weighed (and still weigh) heavily on me. But as her little body processed the trauma of being separated from her mother, and I did my best to carry it with her, I could feel my own past trauma bubbling up under the surface. Fear began to seep into my everyday moments. I spent my days pretending that everything was fine, and my nights drowning in anxiety.
You see, I had worked so hard to prepare myself to be a trauma informed parent. I’d read as many books as I could get my hands on, devoured podcasts and articles, and asked my friends and family to do the same so that we could have a trauma-informed village surrounding our child. What I failed to realize, though, was that being a trauma informed parent requires me to acknowledge and sort through my own trauma, too. It seems like such a silly thing to admit, but I truly believed that my own trauma was “taken care of” (as if that’s how trauma works) and that I didn’t need to worry about it anymore.
Anyone who witnessed me rocking my newborn would see a seemingly calm and peaceful moment of bonding between a mother and daughter. Behind my guarded walls, though, I was sure that something, everything, would go wrong. Even on my best days I was barely functioning. I didn’t want anyone else to help (wouldn’t let anyone else help), because I was terrified that something horrible would happen, that someone would hurt her. My marriage was struggling, my other children were watching far more TV than I would like to admit, and I was becoming a shell of a human being. I alluded to the fact that I was struggling with friends who asked but didn’t feel the full freedom to confess just how hard things were. It wasn’t until some dear friends recognized patterns of my triggers, realized I was lying about being fine, and stepped in to pull me out that things began to change.
What does it look like to face your own trauma while simultaneously facing your child’s trauma?
I’m still new at this, hardly an expert, but I can share what has been overwhelmingly helpful for myself and my family.
First, I need people on my team who know and love me, people who are willing to step in and carry my trauma with me when I am not at my strongest. Second, I need therapy. I need someone to help me sort through my trauma, to help me pursue the healing of my wounds, and to give me the tools needed to distinguish between legitimate fear and irrational anxiety. Third, I need time with my husband. We are partners in life and in parenting, and when I start to sink beneath the surface of my own trauma our relationship tends to be the first thing I toss to the backburner. Healthy partnerships require time and attention, and ours is no different.
I love my daughter fiercely, and I will forever hold joy and sorrow in my hands over being her mama. Her birth mother asked me to be her mom, and when I said yes, I committed to a lifetime of learning, healing, and walking alongside my daughter—and to do that I must face not just her trauma, but my own as well. I am not naïve enough to believe that it will be easy, or that my trauma won’t sneak back in and overwhelm me from time to time. But what I can confidently say is that since I began addressing my own trauma I now have the tools I need to walk through it.