Five Ways Not to Go Insane While Adopting (or writing this blog post)

by Elizabeth Hunter on February 21, 2012

At some point in your adoption, you will come perilously close to losing your mind. This may sound like an exaggeration. It’s not meant to make light of the struggles of people with actual clinical diagnoses.  But any adoptive mom who’s honest will tell you: one day you’re going to catch a glimpse of yourself doing or saying something so bizarre, so out of character,  that you will have to wonder, “is this what it feels like to go completely mad?”

You will find yourself freaking out, forgetting what’s important, hitting your head against a wall. yelling incoherently at your spouse, or the woman in charge of sending an original copy of your husband’s birth certificate who can’t seem to use a photocopier or press send on an email. You will hide under the covers with a box of graham crackers and a flashlight, make a tent with the sheets and hope nobody ever finds you…

It all starts innocently enough. You’ll be sailing through your adoption–handling all the million little indignities, complex emotions, and confounding mazes of protocol and official paperwork with grace. You’ll look in the mirror one day and say, sotto voce,  “I really am a very talented person. I wonder why on earth people say adoption is so hard?”

Then—wait for it— something will happen– maybe something small, like you notice the notary license is expired on a medical form; maybe something large–a much longer than anticipated waiting period, an adoption miscarriage. Sometimes it’s just a cumulative feeling of overwhelm that reaches its boiling point.

And out of the blue, you just…snap.  A sort of adoption delirium hits.

People on the outside notice it first as you jump up in a cold sweat every time the phone rings. run frantically to the mailbox, check email incessantly. They wonder if the way you rant on about small things (apartment square footage, ancient driving infractions and tax records, your age) or toss about foreign sounding words (“homestudy”, “dossier,” ”poa”,  “dear birthmother letter”, “the I-171H”) is a bit, well… obsessive compulsive and raving, perhaps?

They worry as you run around getting FBI fingerprints and notarized seals from government officials–acting as if the world is your obstacle course, as if everyone is conspiring to screw up your adoption–that maybe you’re getting… slightly paranoid?

By this time, though, you are so far gone it doesn’t strike you as at all unusual

The truth is, we adoptive parents are a little crazy.  But only because we are struggling mightily with a single hard but necessary fact of adoption: at any moment, for any reason, real or bogus, someone else has the power to take away our child.

Adoption is life magnified. You are required to make snap decisions that will effect the entire course of your life. You do this with emotions running high, sometimes little sleep, no time, and your greatest fears rearing their ugly heads. You have to keep your cool as curveballs surprise you at every turn. Where the rules of the game aren’t clear  And you do all this with the dawning knowledge: you are not in control of any of it.

Who wouldn’t feel insane?

Developing your system for managing the insanity is the single most important skill determiner of success in adoption.  It’s what turns adoption from a roller coaster game of chance into an artful dance.

Perversely, it’s also the single hardest part of the process (And btw, the ONLY part you can control).

This past week, I was brought back to these feverish feelings of adoption insanity when everything–from playing ‘find the missing poop’ with Moses and Beatrice; to a chicken pox outbreak at school; to me spacing on a very official early intervention school meeting for Beatrice (why are those 6 cars parked in my driveway?)–seemed to my non multitasking, introverted mom blogger self like one big obstacle course designed to drive me mad and keep me from writing this post.

So here’s my one way ticket back from adoption (or life’s) crazytown. Use this five step process whenever circumstances threatens to push you over the edge, emotions are running high, time is running out, and you want something real bad.

Five Ways Not to Go Insane While Adopting

1. What flavor crazy will you have? When something feels “off” it usually is off. Most of us are so used to living with stress that we don’t even notice it anymore. But stress induced behaviors (yelling at kids, partner, strangers; physical adrenal burnout, depression, lethargy; self destructive behaviors like overeating/drinking/working, lack of confidence, avoidance of risk, not doing your dream) are designed to get your attention and alert you to trouble!

To return to a position of centered power, begin by explicitly naming the problem. You will definitely feel silly doing this. We are an action oriented culture, used to revving into motion when trouble strikes. But in order for your actions to be highly effective you have to take aim at the precise bulls eye target of the problem. This is the process of naming

Capture what’s bugging you. Write it down or share it with a trusted friend. Also state how it makes you feel. (Drawing a complete blank? it’s usually something you are afraid to name because it feels too scary.)

When you hit the ‘real’ problem you will know it. You’ll feel a surge of emotion.  Or time will stop briefly. Or the silence between you and a good friend will seem deeper.  Keep writing or talking till you feel tingly.

2. Try not to get all judge-ey about it. Immediately stop blaming other people (or yourself) for what’s wrong.  As best you can, stop complaining. Yes the woman who won’t sign off on your homestudy is a bitch. Yes, that agency acted without integrity. There are at least one hundred reflections of life’s unfairnesses inside every adoption (starting with the fact that children have to be adopted in the first place!). Yet you’re the one whose unhappy here, right? Own it. You have to let go of self righteousness.  Because a) it’s a huge time waster & energy drainer; b) It’s not at all effective for getting positive results in adoption; and c) It will drive you stark. raving. mad.

3. Step away from the adoption. An unsolved problem can be provocatively  intoxicating, screaming for instant resolution.  But when you’ve copped to a case of the crazies, give yourself some time. Make no major decisions for at least 24 hours.  Ideally a week or more.  Even in the highest stress adoption situation you can usually buy a couple of hours.

Deliberately use this time for rest & renewal. Be sure to include the following: Get your feet back on the ground.  Literally. I’m a huge devotee of my sweaty Crossfit workout.  But when I’m uber stressed, I walk; Increase self care. You know, the biggies–sleep, healthy food, deep breathing, staring out the window for 10 minutes (which is harder than it sounds); Ask for support from positive safe sources. Reach out. Be vulnerable; Dust off your sense of humor (I use this mantra when I’m about to blow: “I might ignite, but I probably won’t.” If you can laugh, you’re headed back to sanity.)

sometimes all you can do is laugh...

4. Air out your mind. Once you’ve calmed down a bit, it’s time to “ventilate” the problem, opening it up to fresh air & sunshine so it can breath.

Return to the problem you named earlier. Be a scientist looking curiously at your situation.  Turn it upside down. Brainstorm as many new options and possibilities for resolution as possible. Can you get what you want another way? Bring in fresh eyes & ears. You may need a bigger circle, a bigger brain trust to advise you (always run what they say through your own internal barometer).

Ask better questions. If you’ve been asking “why does adoption suck?” try asking,  ‘Is there a better way of handling this situation and what would that be?” or, “Is it time for a major course correction in my adoption plan and what would that look like?”  You’ll get better results.

(p.s. Now would be the time to involve God, if that’s in your belief system.  Or your higher self. Or whatever. Please note: God appreciates better quality questions and fresh ideas as much as the next guy. So think about what you’re asking for)

5. Prioritize from the inside out. Remember, life is an inner journey first, an outer journey second. The secret sauce of every successful venture is knowing your “why.” What is the greater purpose of adopting for you? Don’t focus just on the external goal.  What capabilities within yourself do you hope to release? How will this experience change you for the better?

Can you summon and name the single most motivating feeling behind your first rush of excitement about adoption. Was it great love?  a feeling of expansion? a sense of mission?   Once you’ve got it,  sit with that feeling until it overtakes you again.  Then go back to the options and choices from #4 and choose what your next logistical step will be from this place.

And finally, for extra credit…


6. Bless the mess. Try your best to love your adoption experience exactly as it is right now, in all its glorious messiness.  Don’t wait for the ‘hard part’ to be over.  Embrace the insanity.  Bless the mess. Truly, every step is a labor of love for your child. When the fever has broken and the pain has faded, I promise, you will look back on it ALL and smile :)

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Sullivan February 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I love it, Elizabeth!


elizabeth hunter February 22, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Thanks, Sue. This is what happens when you try to write a blog post about not having time to write a blog post. :)


heather February 22, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Exactly what I needed to hear right now. Linking to this right now. It’s perfect.


elizabeth hunter February 22, 2012 at 6:59 pm

So glad. Believe me, you are NOT alone. Thanks for having the courage to be honest! xoelizabeth


Laura Grill February 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Liz–I love the photos of your children. Your folks tell me they’re wonderful. Hope to meet them some day and see you again. Laura


Jenny Kaste February 27, 2012 at 3:31 am

Your e-mail asked us to share our own ways of dealing.

1) Talking about it. I think at first we were embarrassed by our infertility and worried about how other would react to our decision to adopt and so we didn’t talk about it often. The longer we wait the more we do talk about it and the easier it gets to discus. I think sharing and advocating for adoption is a great way to make it real.

2) Find a support system. We have read books, subscribe to a magazine, posted in chat rooms, met other adoptive parents and like I just said talked with more friends and family. Having others to talk to, who understand and support us, each time we are not chosen or each time we hold off on a commitment because we don’t know what might happen, makes the process easier.

3) Nursery. We buy things for the nursery and work to be ready. Check out our nursery video.

4) Write. I write letters to our baby that I will give him or her when she is older.

5) Loose weight. The past few years were challenging dealing with our losses and grief and of course we put on weight. No as we feel hopeful and positive and move in the right direction we are giving up that emotional baggage in a physical way! It feels good to know I will be ready to carry the baby on hikes with me and be healthy for them for a long time.

6) Pray. We pray in a literal way at church and with candles but also in a less literal way. I wear a necklace with a heart so I think about our child all day. We play at the river and spend family time as a way of focusing on what we want to be.

We hope everyone finds peace on their way and if you have any other methods please share!


elizabeth hunter February 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Jenny, what a powerful list! thanks for sharing. What I love about it: first off, you took the time to write down what works for you; this bring clarity and power to your own adoption process. Also, I love that you included items–like losing weight–that are focused on making your life here and now better and happier. And also you included items–like write letters to your child and using prayer/intention beads–that affirm what your dream is–a baby.

Because you shared it here, every woman reading this–me included–knows about you & your dream and we are all strengthening it with our positive thoughts & prayers. I truly believe this is how the process works. xoelizabeth


EST May 11, 2012 at 8:50 pm

The truth is, we adoptive parents are a little crazy. But only because we are struggling mightily with a single hard but necessary fact of adoption: at any moment, for any reason, real or bogus, someone else has the power to take away our child.

The child is not your child until the expectant mother gives birth and terminates her rights and you adopt them, until then the child is the expectant mothers not yours.

Makes you wonder what the expectant mothers are feeling? Knowing at any moment another person is wanting to take away their child due to their life circumstance. This may play a big part in the reason your first daughters birth mother can not go and look at her pictures- because the pain of losing her child is just to great to face and to wash those clothes for that man she can not take sick to her bed and curl up with graham crackers- she must do everything she can to survive- intense heartache daily… the loss of her child. I think we can agree that the loss of your child is a tragedy.


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