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Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton

Additional Catholic Mom Columns

Readers can find the resources mentioned in Heidi's column at her blog or available for purchase through our own store.

When Moms Fail: Utah Mother Imprisoned for Death of Adopted Medically Fragile Infant

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.

Copyright 2008 Heidi Hess Saxton

Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of several books including Raising Up Mommy and founder of the “Extraordinary Moms Network” ( She and her husband Craig have two children and live in southeastern Michigan.

Would you like to receive Heidi's column by email?  Send a message to Heidi.

10/20/08 Recommends:


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Adoption Resources:
These resources have been recommended by our readers.  To suggest a link or book, email [email protected] with your suggestion.
*Several readers have recommended local DHS and Catholic Charities for adoption resources. 

Little Flowers Foundation

Catholic Charities USA

National Council for Adoption

Priests for Life Alternatives to Abortion Resource Page

US Department of Health and Human Services

National Adoption

Information Clearinghouse

Catholic International Adoptive Parents Yahoo Group

Books by Heidi Hess Saxton:

Love in Marriage: Inlaws, Outlaws, and Other Family Issues

Raising Up Mommy: A Study in Womanly Vice and Virtue

Behold Your Mother 

Let Nothing Trouble You: 60 Reflections from the Writings of Teresa of Avila (The Saints Speak Today) 

Dine Without Whine - A Family Friendly Weekly Menu Plan


Adoption Article Archives:

The "Prayer of Abandonment" for Adoptive Parents

Father, we abandon ourselves into your hands,
to send a child ... or not ... as you see fit.
You by whom the Word was made flesh,
send us a miracle, if this is what you desire.
Or lead us to her, if that be your will.

We do not ask for guarantees; no parent can.
Only light enough for the very next step.
We do not ask for a perfect child,
nor can we promise to be perfect parents.
Whatever you choose for us, whatever you desire
we abandon ourselves to your perfect will.

We are ready to offer our daily "yes,"
until that perfect will be revealed in us.
And until, at last perfected, we bear witness
to the work of redemption you began in Eden.

We love you, Lord, and offer ourselves to you,
wholly and without reservation.
We surrender ourselves, moment by moment,
knowing that this is only the first small step
Of a lifetime of surrender,
so that we may be made more perfect in love.
That we might imitate, on earth as in heaven,
the redemptive love
the adoptive love
the selfless love
with which you first loved us.




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