New adoptive parents never expect to feel anything but happiness, however, depression symptoms may occur in as many as 65% of adoptive parents after adopting their children.
What you are experiencing is natural. Though the rewards and joys of parenting are huge, the challenges can be draining, confusing, and…depressing.
Loss is a catalyst for depression. Post Adoption Depression (PAD) is a response to new experiences and to losses — from feelings of let-down, to the hard work of meeting an adopted baby’s special needs, to the physical and emotional strain of not being prepared for any of the above.
Unlike full-blown post adoption depression syndrome (PADS), in which overwhelming despair, panic, a sense of disconnection from your child, and sometimes even frightening feelings and thoughts occur, the sadness of post adoption blues is more subtle, and alternates with, or exists right next to, truly positive feelings about parenting. These lighter shades of post adoption blues, which are much more common than PADS, can be just as isolating. After all, your dream has come true! Any tinge of guilt, sadness, shame, or dissatisfaction during what is supposed to be a joyous time is unexpected, and makes the blues hard to talk about.
Many of the suggestions recommended to lessen a child’s trauma as she transitions to her new family could actually contribute to your feelings of isolation and depression. Allowing yourself to seek support and communication with other adults is vital to your emotional health. Modify how you think about your new family, and enlist your friends and relatives.
Risk Factors of Post Adoption Depression in Adoptive Parents
There are many risk factors that lead to the development of depression in adoptive parents after their child comes into their home.
Adoptive parents place a lot of pressure on themselves, especially if their child may have come from a difficult background. The extra pressure leads to extra stress and unrealistic expectations. These emotions become feelings of shame and guilt if the parents cannot live up to their idealized view of parenthood.
This pressure, combined with the fact that many adoptive parents do not form an immediate bond with their child, creates a recipe for depression.
Other risk factors that may lead to post adoption depression include:
- Feeling isolated from peers
- Society’s attitude toward adoptive parents over biological parents
- A lack of boundaries between the child and the birth parents
- Exhaustion from a rigorous adoption process and preparation for the child to arrive
- Not having support from the rest of the family or friends
The factors faced by adoptive parents make it as likely for adoptive mothers to develop post adoption depression as birth mothers are to develop PPD.
Signs of Trouble
Maybe you are just having a bad day or maybe your depression is larger. If you answer yes to a number of the questions below, you should discuss your feelings with a professional. If you answer “yes” to the last question, get help immediately!
In the past few weeks, have you experienced any of the following:
- Loss of interest in being around other people?
- Always on the verge of tears?
- Difficulty concentrating – unable to make decisions?
- General fatigue or loss of energy?
- Difficulty sleeping or an increased need for sleep?
- Significant weight gain or loss?
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt?
- Feelings of worthlessness?
- Feelings of powerlessness?
- Feelings of hopelessness?
- Loss of enjoyment in things?
- Recurring thoughts about death or suicide?
Take Care of Yourself – and your Child
If you think you may be experiencing Post Adoption Blues or PADS, do not try to tough it out. Instead, take extra-good care of yourself, as you stay attuned to your new baby’s needs. Here are some suggestions:
- Mind your health. Go easy on yourself. You making a huge transition – often from a prolonged state of wanting a baby to the reality of becoming a parent. Take naps, eat thoughtfully (more fresh fruit and vegetables, less caffeine and sugar), go for walks, and cut back on outside obligations when possible. Caring for your body will decrease the negative effects of depression and stress.
- Ask for support. Do not expect yourself to be a perfect parent! Accept the fact that, even though you wanted this baby, parenting is difficult and there are times when you will be exhausted. Ask for help when you need it. Allow friends or family members to help you with household chores, meals and some baby care.
- Strategize. Discuss with your spouse, who is going to perform which duties and when. Review your agreements and allow for change. Talk about fatigue and about taking care of each other. Keep the lines of communication open to discuss sex, and communicate your interest and disinterest in a loving fashion. Stress, depression and a high-needs baby can strain any relationship. If you can afford it, consider hiring someone to clean your home or mow your lawn. Simplify your life so you can devote your attention to your family.
- Take care of you. Build in some time away from your baby to relax and clear your mind. Breathing deeply and getting quiet will ease stress. When you are tired, take a nap, take the phone off the hook, and do not feel obligated to answer the door. Do not feel guilty about lessening your responsibilities or decreasing your volunteer hours. If you are in a position to do so, quit your job or work part-time, if that is what you want to do.
- Take control of visitors. Limit your visitors to one or two at a time and schedule them at your convenience. If you need adult interaction, phone and friend and invite them to visit and ask them to pick up some take-out on the way over. It may also be necessary to help your family and friends to understand adoption.
- Give yourself and your child time. Attachment and bonding occur in real time, not instantaneously, as you may have imagined. Not all mothers — adoptive or birth — have an instant connection with their babies. Do not be hard on yourself if you do not feel that “magic bond.” But remember that withholding physical affection can delay a child’s development, so keep cuddling your child to benefit both of you. Focus on being a parent one step at a time. Soon enough it will feel more natural.
- If you have another child, make a point of spending some time alone with each child. Arrange an outing or other plans for your older child, so you can have some private time with the baby. Have someone watch the baby while you connect with your older child. Otherwise, you may start to feel you are not giving either child your full attention.
- Learn about grief. Feelings of grief ebb and flow. It is processed in bits and pieces and tends to resurface at various points in the life cycle. You will learn to manage the variation of these feelings. Understand that you can love your baby and feel sad at the same time. Experiencing more than one emotion at a time is a normal human experience. Sadness does not mean you are unhappy about the adoption of your child. You will find that many other adoptive parents have had these same feelings.
- Connect with other adoptive parents. They will get it! Talking to friends and family may help a little but they will not understand the issues you are experiencing. Other adoptive parents will make you feel like your experiences are normal and okay. Consider joining an adoptive parent group for support and understanding.
- Seek professional help.If self-help methods do not work and post adoption blues or depression persists, ask your physician and/or your adoption social worker for a referral to a qualified mental-health professional who understands concerns surrounding adoption. Sometimes, seeking a few sessions with an adoptive-savvy counseling are all you need to work through any uncomfortable feelings you may be experiencing.
Sometimes an attitude shift is all it takes to make a difficult situation manageable, but sometimes post adoption depression requires outside help. Finding innovative ways to meet your own needs, while giving precedence to your child’s, is a day-to-day balancing act that requires thought and action. Being aware of PAD (and seeking help quickly) will mitigate the effect that baby shock can have on you, and will give you the freedom to enjoy the child you have forever dreamed of parenting.
Treatment for Post Adoption Depression
Treatment for post adoption depression is similar to any other kind of postpartum depression treatment. A combination of medication, such as antidepressants, and therapy will help ease the symptoms of postpartum depression in adoptive parents.
Additional treatments may include counseling, support groups or online forums. These options help you connect with other adoptive parents going through similar experiences. Work with your doctor and mental health care provider to develop a long-term post adoption depression treatment plan.
By: Dana Poynter