Guilt Wrapped in Grace

Picture of mom holding her baby daughter

Guest Blogger | Haley Ingleston

To the mamas out there fighting to find freedom in the midst of their struggle, this one’s for you

To the mama that can’t seem to find contentment, I see you. To the mama crying over the unending guilt taking over her life, I’ve been you. To the mama that so desperately wants to break free from the chains of shame and the shackles of doubt, I am you.

And I just really need you to know something, you don’t have to do it alone. 

Image of an adoptive family. A dad is holding is young son. Mom is holding a newborn baby girl.

I was twenty-five years old. Married for two years. Lost one child. Experienced a disrupted adoption of two. In my last days of grad school. Parenting an infant. 

And then here she came, our little firecracker. 

Like a lightning bolt, she entered our lives and turned our world upside down. In merely a moment, she left me feeling more thankful and more confused than I had ever felt before. 

We had prayed for her. 

We had planned for her. 

We had prepared for her in every way, and still I found myself swept up in darkness. 

I questioned my worth. I questioned my calling. I questioned my decisions, plans that I made, and every dream I once had. I wrestled with negative thoughts, precious moments, sad emotions, and exciting times entering my world all at the same time. I had no idea how to navigate this roller coaster and I was dying to find answers.” This was when I finally accepted that joy and pain coexist

Both of my kiddos are adopted. My son has the kind of story (or testimony as I like to call it) that you hear about in movies. A story where the Lord had all the stars align and made beauty from ashes a million times over. He was the gift we never knew we wanted. The prayer we never knew to ask for. He was our surprise miracle! 

His birth was magical (and exhausting). I was there for all 72 hours of labor and the first to welcome him into this crazy world, following immediately after was his daddy. Bonding was beyond natural, completely effortless. Cutting the cord, skin to skin time, first feedings, diaper changes, swaddling lessons, it was all us. We were there from moment one, learning what each sweet sound he made meant. When he was uncomfortable, we would sweep him up to soothe without hesitation. He was mild mannered, easy going, and the best sleeper ever! 

This was the beautiful reality that set the tone for what would soon be my downward spiral of guilt, shame, comparison, and discontentment. 

Going into adoption number two, I looked forward to having all of those special [and specific] moments again. The anticipation of birth. Holding her first mama’s hand through delivery. Skin to skin and effortless bonding. A natural connection. 

I would welcome our next child into the world and then we’d go home. I would take pictures of my peaceful, cuddly baby (haha) and share her with all of our friends and family. 

I had this vision. These huge expectations. I didn’t know any different.

But they were wrong. They were unfair. And they were quickly turned into a swift kick in the butt, reminding me that we each have our own story in which the intimate details should be cherished; and my children were no exception. Those expectations, they were unobtainable. 

We brought our daughter home a week after missing her birth completely, only getting to visit her for her first 36 hours of life. There was no skin to skin or magical bonding moments. There was, instead, lots of uncomfortable, unnatural, and uncertain oness. I was almost immediately swallowed up in fear and guilt, so quickly, that I almost didn’t even see it coming.  

She was a “colicky” baby. Never content. Always squealing this ear piercing scream. And didn’t sleep longer than 3 hour spans for her first 6 months of life. When we were in crowds of people, she cried hysterically and family gatherings were a total nightmare. 

We spent most days, and many nights, with her attached to my chest as I walked around the house – bouncing, praying, and PLEADING with God for some relief. For me, for her, for all of us. 

Baby girl sleeping in hospital crib

Mama guilt is alive and real, friends, but adoptive mama guilt, oh it’ll eat you alive. 

I found myself wallowing in crippling doubt. Questioning if we had made a huge mistake. Wondering if we had moved too fast, ended up in the wrong place, or if our beloved daughter would always hate us!  

This crippling doubt, the manic indecisiveness and fear, it was my main source of self sabotaging and what would soon open my eyes to APD (Adoptive Postpartum Depression).

I felt so much shame in every area of my life. I had just been blessed two times over (in less than a year); I was experiencing my own double portion! I felt like I had been handed the very things I had been praying for, longing for, literally aching for. Yet, my heart felt a disconnect. A discontentment. 

I was lonely even in a room full of people. My world felt dark, and I buried myself in buckets of guilt because of it. I was alone and in a place I felt no one else had experienced or could ever begin to understand. That in itself felt suffocating and entirely hopeless. 

That is exactly why I am here. Telling you my very vulnerable story. Letting you in on what I went through and what I discovered along the way. 

I feel like there is this added layer to parenthood as an adoptive mother. This overwhelming feeling that you’re not allowed to have negative emotions. That you can’t be sad, or scared, or dare I say regretful at times. 

But that’s a lie. That’s a scheme straight from the devil himself.  

You see, my daughter doesn’t hate us and she never did. Her first mama doesn’t resent us. It is ok that my children have different stories and uncomparable journeys in life; that is what makes them unique. It is NORMAL that I was in a dark place and let me tell you, it had NO bearing on the way that my babies were / are loved or cherished. 

It was a heart issue, on my end. I was struggling. I was struggling with a feeling that my second son was suppose to replace my first. I was struggling with a feeling that I couldn’t mourn our disrupted adoption. I was struggling with a feeling that everything had to be equal and alike for my two children. I was struggling with comparison, with unrealistic expectations, with a complete identity crisis, with loneliness, with guilt, and with the shame that was now being all  tied up into these precious, treasured moments of both my life and my daughters. I was struggling with a world that felt dark. 

I was struggling with APD, but no one had told me about that before.

But let me tell you something, mama, I’ve been set free. It wasn’t easy, and I had to work, but it started when I stopped trying to do it alone. I still have days where I struggle but I broke free from the lies. 

In case you need to hear what I needed to hear, here it is: You are the girl for the job! You were deemed worthy by social workers, attorneys, birth mamas, a judge, and GOD Himself!!!! You were hand picked to be that babe’s mama. It’s time to release expectations and trust God with outcomes. 

I experienced the glorious *freedom* to struggle in my story when I laid it all down at His feet and outright surrendered it all to Him. When I accepted that I was in need of soul searching transformation and it had to start with complete brokenness.

You can find that freedom, too. 

God has used this complex journey to grow me in more ways than I could have ever imagined, showing me that I am never alone! 

So hear me when I say this mama, you are not alone. Cling to the feet of Christ. You are seen and you are loved. Your world may be dark right now, but He already knows that. He is here with arms opened wide, waiting on His beloved daughter to come, in complete surrender. 

He sees your heart breaking, the struggle to find yourself, the shame, doubt, and fear overwhelming your weary heart. But dear daughter, there is so much grace here. 

My God is not afraid of the dark, but the dark is afraid of Him! He’s a good father and he has wrapped that dirty guilt in such glorious grace! 

And so I’ll say it one last time, a little bit louder for those in the back… 

To the mamas out there fighting to find freedom in the midst of their struggle, this one’s for you. 

To the mama that can’t seem to find contentment, I see you. To the mama crying over the unending guilt taking over her life, I’ve been you. To the mama that so desperately wants to break free from the chains of shame and the shackles of doubt, I am you. But Jesus has you. 

He’s got us, mama. He’s got me. He’s got you. And we’ve got each other.