I had it with my two biological boys, so I don’t know why I didn’t expect it with my fostering-to-adopt daughter. Yes, I’m talking about baby blues or post-partum depression, which I didn’t fully wrap my head around until about six months after Son No 2 arrived. I just lived with the symptoms, trudging on (I have a strong line of dogged forefathers and -mothers). And then one day I woke up and realised I wasn’t okay. That I’d been through a lot and I needed help. And that’s the first time I reached out for counselling.

A lot came out of counselling – mostly just understanding who I am and the unique temperament that God’s given me. I realised that most days I’m just below the baseline of a normal mood, a kind of Eeyore with just enough Winnie the Pooh in me to keep me from plunging the depths of despair. But I suppose having a baby was enough of a shock to wrench Winnie out of me and off he went floating up, up and away on the end of a balloon while I was left with the sleepless nights, pooey nappies and crying baby. Double bother.

Mercifully, the depression did lift – sans drugs – but it made me aware of my own sensitive nature, something else that came out of counselling. I am what is known as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) – don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either until I was told I was one. HSPs take knocks in life rather hard and have to control their sensory environment so they don’t get overstimulated. Boring and routine are good things for HSPs, as long as they also get the right dose of excitement now and again.

Another thing about me which I learnt after my daughter Hope came is how hard I am on myself. I’d booked myself another session with a different counsellor this time and after listening to me for a while, she asked me a question which pierced me to the core: “Are you under the law or under grace?” As a Christian, I knew what the right answer was. Grace, sure. We’re saved by grace. But if I was honest with myself, I knew I was living according to man-made standards. I was living according to the law.

And that’s part of the reason why I was feeling down. That – and as an adoption counsellor pointed out to me later – I was grieving. That may sound strange. Why am I grieving? I wasn’t forced to give my child up for adoption. I haven’t lost my birth mother. Yet I am part of this adoption triangle therapists refer to – I am the mother grieving the biological daughter she never had.

I cannot tell you how deeply ingrained this was in me. I so longed for a little girl who looked like me. In my mind she had blonde hair and blue eyes. Or emerald eyes and long red hair. I had played with dolls as a child and so from a young age I’d built up a picture in my mind of who my daughter was and what she would look like. And let me tell you she didn’t have brown skin, curly hair and coffee-dark eyes.

That was the problem. I was grieving so badly (though I didn’t know it) and I couldn’t click with this baby that had come to live with us. I wanted so much for her to fill the void in my heart, the daughter pocket that had been reserved for her, but at the same time I was subconsciously rejecting her because she didn’t match my expectations. And then I felt so much shame for feeling this and for not loving her more that I was an emotional wreck, always close to breaking point. I am afraid my family felt the brunt of my anger.

Again, I hid it well to the outside world. Whenever I sense something in me that doesn’t fit in with what’s expected of me, I conceal it. But those closest to me knew I was struggling. I remember my 86-year-old aunt looking closely at me and saying, “Are you okay? There’s something not quite right.” But I didn’t have the courage to tell her. I had to put on a brave face that everything was okay, the fostering-to-adopt journey was on track.

I am so glad a friend lent me a book, Wait No More: One Family’s Amazing Adoption Journey by Kelly Rosati. In it she shares how difficult it was connecting emotionally with their third adopted child, a boy. She described it as having a stranger in their midst. And she wrote about how hard it was talking about the slow attachment and how much shame she and her husband felt. That was a huge weight off my shoulders, knowing that other families also struggle, that I wasn’t alone. Perhaps it was what prompted me to seek out a counsellor – that and my husband’s constant encouragement to find help.

As I sat with the adoption counsellor and stroked her dog – part of the therapy package – I was finally given permission to grieve the little girl I lost. I wept for the little girl with the long red hair that I would have brushed and plaited. That little girl was so real to me for so many years. But she is gone now and I must accept that. There will be no more babies coming out of my womb. That season is gone. I cannot explain why God didn’t allow me to fall pregnant a third time. I must just cry my tears for her and grieve and mourn.

But as I let go – and it is a circular process, this grieving; you don’t just do the denial-anger-bargaining-accepting and have done with it – I am finding there is more love there. More love freed up to love the little girl I do have, the little girl with the bright eyes and the impish smile, the little girl who loves to dance and is the life of the party, the little girl who mimics our speech and sings songs to us – this little girl called Hope I am loving more and more each day. And that’s something to be thankful for.