When Moms Fail

I recently came across this article from ABC News (http://www.localnews8.com/Global/story.asp?S=9163584&nav=menu554_2_3), 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: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/03/14/america/NA-GEN-US-Adoptive-Parents-Charged.php.

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  (http://adoption.about.com/od/parenting/a/avoidabuse.htm?nl=1 ) 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, 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.

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  • trainwife1962

    As the woman in New Jersey to whom you refer in your article today, I was turned down by Catholic Charities in our quest to become adoptive parents, even though my depression was and is treatable, and I had a letter from my then therapist concerning this and gave it both to DYFUS and CC. My depression is partly genetic, and partly situational, due to three episodes of extreme trauma perpetrated against me. I am again in therapy, sans medication, and through the grace of God, will recover. My husband, my therapist, and my confessor always understood and supported the pursuit of motherhood through adoption and/or fostering.

  • Warren Jewell


    I pray not only for your ongoing recovery over depression – how well I know it, myself – but that our very dear and loving Father in heaven has wonders on wonders to give you, as His loving will can lead you Home. You may be denied some things, as others see fit, but God will not be denied His love for you. For one thing, I cannot but believe that most unfortunate little Nocoli of the above article enjoys his Father’s love forever. He has been deprived of so much his life could have had, but, at least, he learns his prayers and of perfect love right on his very Best Father’s lap. May his adoptive mother, Kimberly, now paying for her terrible deed, come to share that most glorious and pleasurable joy – forever. That ‘forever’ – of and for which we plead in prayers – “. . . forever, and ever. Amen.”

    Mrs. Saxton – again you share the humble weakness from out of your life with us. Someone should hold onto all these, that they may be available when some future author seeks to get information for your own addition to ye olde Butler’s Lives. And, very motherly of you, you rarely forget to remind us to prayer in our own humble lives, and prayers unceasing, to our Father.

    Thanks, Mom!

  • Dear Train: Thanks for taking time to write. I’m so glad that you are continuing to receive the help you need — and that you are exploring all your options, including counseling, to help you overcome the shadows of your past so that you may have a brighter future! Whether or not you become an adoptive parent, God’s love for you does not change. Continue to trust Him to reveal His plan in His perfect time, just as you have been doing.

    Dear Warren: Your comment made me smile … While no one in my family would ever accuse me of sainthood, I’m hoping that these “life shots” help others. I’m glad this one spoke to you. Heidi

  • Lucky Mom of 7

    In my own life, I had to finally put my children in school after homeschooling for 8 years. I loved homeschooling, but my husband is abusive. He was never a partner and was consistently a source of chaos. Instead of taking responsiblity for keeping my kids safe, I tried to be Supermom, homeschooling the kids and being my husband’s savior at the same time. It never worked. The net result was about 15 years of ongoing depression and anxiety. After I surrendered and put the kids in school, things in my marriage began coming to light and now we’re working on them. I imagine we’ll divorce eventually, but things are improving. Even when/if we divorce, we’ll still be co-parenting for many more years. It’s been a blessing to finally admit my weaknesses and be obedient to the limits God has given me.

    My kids are doing great, by the way, all honor students and well-adjusted. God made me a good mom, but he also taught me that I need a strong support system to lean on.


  • guitarmom

    Lucky Mom of 7 —
    My heart goes out to you. May many blessings (on top of your 7 blessings) be showered upon you for your perseverance and the love you have shown.

    I myself am a child of divorce, and it is the formational drive in my life. No matter how good a parent my mother was, and no matter how bad my parents’ marriage was, I was devastated when they split up. I share this with you so that you may know: children never “get over” their parents’ divorce. If there’s any way to salvage your marriage, you will have done your children a greater service than you can imagine.


  • I am a child of divorce and struggle with severe mental illness, largely because of my traumatic childhood. I will probably never marry nor realize my other dream, of becoming a priest. Yet God has found a way for me, with outlets for my pastoral desires (I work at my home parish and am a catechist at another), my desire for companionship (I have very good friends of both sexes), and my need for a stress-free life (I support myself by working only part-time for the most laid-back pastor I’ve ever had). It took many, many years of bumping into walls and going down the wrong paths before things finally started to come together.

    It’s only been in the past year that I’ve been able to relax and let God be in charge. I urge everyone who struggles with mental illness and who still wants to serve God–whether it be by having a family, finding a vocation, or doing some kind of work in the world–to discern carefully. Don’t load up your plate with more than you can handle, because you will break, just as I did on several very dark occasions. God loves you, and he has a way for you. Seek HIS way, and then you will find happiness and peace.

  • Lucky Mom of 7


    Thanks for sharing your story. I understand. I’m a child of divorce myself–and my dad is/was an abuser. I take it one day at a time and trust that God will guide me even if I do end up having to divorce my husband. It was a long journey coming to peace with that possibility. Your comments affirm my strategy. 🙂


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