I recently came across this article from ABC News, about an adoptive mother who has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison for the March 2008 death of her 14-month-old son, who had Down syndrome. The family had adopted Little Nicoli and another four-year-old from Russia; both boys were medically fragile. Kimberly Emelyantsev pleaded guilty to second-degree felony child-abuse homicide in June, telling the judge that she was ashamed of what she had done.
This mother, who had two biological children and who suffered from depression, dropped little Nicoli on his head, and he died of a skull fracture. Additional details may be found here.
When the Bow Breaks…
When I read this story, it breaks my heart. Little Nicoli deserved to grow up in a safe and loving home; so do his siblings. Clearly, this mother was struggling to maintain mental health when the two boys were placed with the family; it is tragic that (for whatever reason) she was not dissuaded from taking on more than she could handle.
In a sense, people are a bit like machines: If the demands consistently exceed system limitations, something is going to break down.
And something did.
Last week on Catholic Exchange, a woman commented that she had attempted to become licensed in the state of New Jersey as a foster mother, but was denied because she has a history of depression. Now, there are times when the symptoms of chronic depression can be managed, so the patient can lead a normal life. Shortly after we got our kids, I went on medication to help fight symptoms of depression – and in my case, as I came to terms with the root causes, the problem went away.
My depression was caused by a combination of heredity, stress and resentment. I was overwhelmed by the demands of parenting three traumatized children, and angry that I was not getting more help from those around me. Anxiety increased as we were kept in limbo for three years before the adoption was finalized. But in the end I had to release my anger, which was depleting my energy stores, and take better care of myself – and that included managing my own expectations.
Even mothers who are not clinically depressed sometimes feel overwhelmed with the challenges of parenting. This article offers practical advice on finding the release valve to cope with even the ordinary stressors of parenting.
Heeding the Signs of Chronic Depression
Should those who suffer from depression avoid becoming adoptive or foster parents? It depends a great deal on the individual. Not all depression is readily treated, and some suffer with depression all their lives. When one spouse has a history of depression, a couple is wise to seek help in discerning whether foster care or adoption is something God is asking them to do. Ideally, the decision process should include both the depressed patient’s doctor and pastor. While there are many children in need of homes, it is also true that our first responsibility needs to be our own “garden.”
When God creates us, He gives us certain gifts … and He entrusts to us certain burdens, which are intended to stretch us and strengthen us, making us fit for heaven. If we take up someone else’s burden, a burden God never intended us to bear, we may break. In my case, God had wanted me to take care of those children – but He never intended me to carry around the anger and anxiety. Only when I offered those back to him, as best as I was able to, did the burden lift.
If your determination to become a parent causes you to run ahead of God, and take on burdens that were not intended for you, you may also find yourself struggling. At such times, we may find help in the words of the old hymn…
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Today, please pray with me for Kimberly Emelyantsev and her family, and for the repose of the soul of little Nicoli. May his parents find peace, and may their children always know the loving security of a real family.