The Post-Adoption Depression Phenomenon
All parents are vulnerable to the stress and strain of their new roles
Adoption is an extraordinarily emotional process, by turns exhausting and exhilarating. For excited parents-to-be who are completely absorbed by the multitude of details involved in adoption—and eagerly anticipating the joy of their new arrival—one aspect of adoption can come as a shock when it hits: post-adoption depression (PAD).
PAD is relatively unknown compared to the widely publicized postpartum depression, but it can be equally as difficult on new parents. When feelings of elation give way to the realities of life with baby in the days, weeks, and months following the adoption of a child, depression can creep in. Just like biological parents, adoptive parents must adjust to the exhausting responsibilities that parenting entails; feeling tired and overwhelmed in the early days of parenthood isn’t the exclusive experience of biological parents. Plus, newly acquired and often hefty financial responsibilities, combined with possible unresolved issues such as infertility, and the marital strain that having children sometimes causes can lead to full-fledged depression.
Recognizing the Symptoms
So how do you know if what you’re feeling adds up to post-adoption depression, or if you’re simply adjusting to parenthood? Experiencing five or more of the following symptoms in a two-week period is cause for concern:
- Feeling depressed or particularly irritable for most of the day, every day.
- Diminished interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.
- Significant weight loss or gain, and/or a change in appetite.
- Sudden changes in sleep pattern (insomnia or hypersomnia).
- Noticeable increase or decrease in motor activity (others notice that you’re slower or more agitated than usual).
- A general feeling of fatigue or low energy day after day.
- Feeling worthless or excessively guilty on a regular basis.
- Indecisiveness, or an impaired ability to think or concentrate every day.
- Suicidal thoughts.
One who has been there, Dawn Friedman, recalls that her adoption agency didn’t warn her about the possibility of PAD. On her personal website, she writes, “Looking back, I think a huge part of it for us had to do with feelings about our daughter’s birth mother and our guilt over benefiting from her pain.” In an entry specifically about the “post-adoption baby blues” she writes, “I don’t think it’s the lack of sleep.… It’s surely not the hormones since mine are untouched by new parenthood. No, I think it’s the four-year buildup, one week of emotional havoc and now [the] everyday-ness of it all.”
Mollie Ingebrand, who adopted a son in 2001, says that initially she felt exuberant and capable, but eventually a host of stresses led to difficulties during the post-adoption period. Trying to be the perfect mother to her son, who was having a hard time adjusting to his new surroundings, Mollie gradually began feeling helpless and overwhelmed. She recalls that her baby was exceedingly aware and alert for his age, and mourned the loss of the home he knew. “I was desperate to make it all OK for him, since he’d experienced a huge loss … I wanted things to be perfect, actually.”
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