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  • The Elusive “Happily Ever After”: Post Adoption Depression

    Dawn Davenport

    14

    Post Adoption DepressionAfter all we’ve been through to adopt our child, we expect bliss. We deserve bliss.  And sometimes we get bliss. But sometimes instead of that euphoric feeling of accomplishment and love, we feel let down, exhausted, unprepared, and sad. Truth be told, these are common feelings of all new parents regardless of how their kids join their family, but they can be worsened by the stress of adoption and the shame we feel.

    Post Adoption Depression

    Post partum depression or the baby blues is often talked about in our society (thank you Brooke Shields), and struggling new mothers are met with sympathy and support. Not so with post adoption depression or post adoption blues. Shame and our society’s general lack of understanding get in the way of support and acceptance.

    Most mothers I talk with feel confused and guilty when they feel sad and irritable after their long awaited child finally arrives–and the key words are long awaited. This is the child that we’ve worked years to get. This is the child that we’ve probably spent a huge chunk of our savings to get. This is a child that we’ve been studied and questioned by heaven-knows how many experts to get. Now that we finally have her, we should be overjoyed. Right? If instead of feeling euphoric, we feel depressed, angry, and not besotted with love, then there must be something wrong with us. Right?

    The shame that many parents feel makes it hard to get help and support. Who can they trust with this “dirty little secret”. They are afraid to tell their social worker for fear that somehow their child will be taken away or they won’t be able to adopt again. They are afraid to tell their family and friends for fear that they won’t understand and that they will look ungrateful. This aloneness makes the depression worse.

    It helps to know that Post Adoption Depression is common. On yesterday’s Creating a Family show on Post Adoption Depression: Causes and Prevention, Dr. Jane Aronson, adoption medicine specialist and founder and Chief Executive of the Worldwide Orphan Foundation, said that almost all of her patients feel conflicted emotions the first couple of months after they adopt, and about 75-85% report feeling sad or depressed.

    Dr. Aronson thinks that post adoption depression is often caused by a mismatch of expectations with reality. Risk factors include adopting a school aged child, being an older or single parent, stress (financial, familial, etc.), and unresolved grief from infertility. Most of the time these feeling resolve within about six months when life begins to develop patterns and you and your child begin to know each other.

    If after about 6 months or so, or if your feelings are more than moderate, get help!

    • Talk with your social worker. The vast majority of social workers know that these feelings are common and will be able to offer support without judgement.
    • Find a therapist with experience in depression–meaning any good therapist. They don’t have to specialize in depression caused by adoption. If you’ve struggled with infertility, however, I do think it’s helpful to find a therapist who understands the losses associated with infertility. Here are some suggestions on how to find one.
    • Dr. Aronson feels that most family doctors are more than adequate to treat this type of depression.
    • If your child has a pediatrician that specializes in adoption, share your feelings with her/him. They’ve heard it before, I promise, and they can offer help and support.
    • Most important–join an adoption support group! I can’t stress enough how soothing it is to be surrounded by people who have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it. Just knowing you’re not alone takes the pressure off and allows time to start the healing. If you are fortunate to live near an active in-person support group, fantastic. If not, or in addition, join an online grous such as the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group. The ready availability of someone to talk to 24/7 is priceless. Believe it or not, sometimes it’s easier to open up to someone you don’t know in “real life”.
    • Listen to this Creating a Family show on Post Adoption Depression. I just love Dr. Aronson’s kind and honest approach to parenting. She suffered from post adoption depression after her second adoption and she talks frankly about it in our interview.
    Download

    Take Good Care of Yourself

    I know you’ve heard it before, but you really must take care of yourself those first months home.  Eat, sleep, and exercise are obvious, but equally important in my book is making sure you have some time to yourself, even just a little, to do something you enjoy. It might be going for a walk, window shopping for an hour at the mall, or grabbing a cup of tea with a friend, but try your best to have something to look forward to every week.

    Did you have a rough transition post adoption? Would you have called it post adoption depression? What did you do that helped?

    Image credit: Mary Lock- Goldilock Photography

    13/06/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 14 Comments



    14 Responses to The Elusive “Happily Ever After”: Post Adoption Depression

    1. Teresa Kelleher says:

      “overwhelming” is often the case. It’s good to recognize this. Thanks for sharing, Dawn.

    2. Elliott Rodea says:

      Wonderful site. A lot of useful info here. I am sending it to several buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thank you in your effort!

    3. John says:

      My wife and i just adopted a 6 yr old girl from China. We have been back a little over 3 weeks. I am experiencing a severe case of PADS. I dont want to get out of bed.. i have lost 11 pounds, I am having anxiety attacks. I feel suffocated and out of control. Even the sound of her voice makes me start to shake. I never expected this. I know it will get better, but, i am not sure how long i can feel like this…..now dont get me wrong, i am not having feelings of suicide or anything like that…BUT.. i have to do something soon. I did go see a therapist a couple times who’s “specialty” is adoption issues. It didnt really seem to help. I called my doctor and he prescribed me an antidepressant. Hopefully it will start to work soon.

      • John, I’m so sorry you are going through this. Adding a child to your family is stressful, no matter how you do it. Adding a 6 year old is often even more stressful. Transitions are tough for all concerned. If you feel like you might harm yourself or your daughter, immediately let your wife and doctor know! Note that I am not a therapist, but I can make some specific suggestions.
        1. Contact your adoption agency and ask for their support. They have social workers who have direct experience with exactly what you are experiencing. They can help.
        2. I am glad you saw an adoption therapist, but don’t stop going!
        3. I would also strongly suggest you see a general therapist who can help you handle the stress associated with this huge change in your life. What you learn will be useful throughout your life.

        I know it takes time and energy to get help and right now you probably feel like you don’t have much time or energy to spare, but you absolutely must take care of yourself. It will get better, but it will get better sooner if you get help.

        One last piece of advice: you might also feel better talking with others who have been in your position. They can give you hope that things will get better and suggestions of what worked for them. If you have a local support group start going. Most people don’t have access to in-person support groups, so if you are in that boat, join an online support group. They have different personalities so try a few. Start with the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/40688106167/).

    4. Sue says:

      I have been searching for five years to find why my happy, successful 38 year old son ending his life because of depression. He and his wife adopted a two year old boy with special needs from China and although he adored that little boy, he changed. My usually happy “glass is half full” son became negative and unhappy. My point is that I am happy to have found this website and I hope that men that have experienced post adoption depression will write and discuss what it is/ was like for them. It isn’t just women that are effected and if my son had been able to relate to other men willing to talk about their feelings he might still be here. Thank you.

    5. Anonymous says:

      Nothing here about the poor, traumatized child that has been taken away from its genetic family to fill your void. You are adults,deal with it, try to understand the child’s depression is way deeper – adoption for the child is a life sentence and to have to deal with parents who act like spoiled children – well I can’t imagine.. How do you get to feel better? Oh the child is better with us than with those undeserving real parents. By the time you have believed that for a few years and convinced yourselves you are wonderful and superior, then you can’t possibly understand your child’s next trauma, which is to find its real parents. No support again, you just feel sorry for yourselves. Isn’t it right? It must be so traumatic for you all that your child longs to find out where they come from, who they look like…after all you’ve done for them, after all the trauma you’ve put yourselves through.

      • Anonymous, I hope that this next generation of kids and parents (both set) will be better prepared to deal with the issues you raise, and I hope Creating a Family will be part of what helps them.

    6. Jen, you’re a wise woman to understand that your life’s focus will shift after this next adoption, which will require a big shift in your perspective. All shifts-whether for a “good” reason or not, can push us off kilter. This will be happening at the same time you are integrating a new child into your family, which is another life stressor. However, the fact that you are anticipating it in advance makes it more likely that you’ll recognize your emotions, and their cause, early. Reach out and connect with others who understand during this time.

    7. Jen says:

      Thanks for blogging on this topic. I am anticipating this may happen to me. I have focused a lot of my time, emotional energy, and money in the last 11 years trying to build my family. I am very blessed and grateful to be able to say we will be completing our family with our third adoption next month (Taiwan). When its over, while I’d love to say I will be able to sit back and enjoy the family I always wanted, I am sure it will take some adjusting to let go of being on the infertility/ adoption roller coaster, which can be so consuming. I am very aware that feeling a little emptiness of even depression is a real possibility (which seems so counterintuitive with a full house and the family I’ve always dreamed of). But if I do, I’ll know I have support here. Thanks!

    8. Amanda says:

      I also went through this. My daughter came home last summer, and while I expected not to feel that “love at first sight” that I did with my bio son, I did not expect the range of negative emotions that I experienced. Honestly, the intensity of my negative feelings toward this little girl that I’d waited SO long for was alarming to me. I ended up joining a local adoption support group and receiving some one on one counseling. Also, my state offers money to adoptive parents for respite, so I started getting a few hours a week to myself. Now, 9 months after my daughter arrived, I’m feeling much more in control. I feel that our family has settled into a new equilibrium, and while we still have some things to work on, there is a lot more peace and love in our home now than there was a few months ago!

    9. Sara, yes, sometimes it’s just plain hard, and we expect so much of ourselves. For now, accept that just going through the motions and getting to the end of the day is all you can demand of yourself. {hugs} It will get better!

    10. Vera says:

      This was me last summer. As much as I loved being a mom and loved my son I felt depressed, lonly and isolated. What made it worse was that I had family members who were not being supportive and were actually making the situation worse. There were days that my husband would come home and I would be in tears and could not explain why. I was afraid to tell friends in fear that I would be critized or that they would think I did not love my child but it was hard to pretend things were great. It got so bad that it actually physically impacted me. I am a runner and I could not run due to pain and doctors could not find one thing wrong with me. Then one day at a BBQ a friend who I have not seen since I brought my son home asked me how it was going. I just broke down in tears-it turns out that she went though a bad PPD and understood how I felt. She and my husband encouraged me to talk to someone. We ever talked to our social worker about it and she was very supportive. I was concerned that this would impact us finalizing the adoption but she reassured me it would not. Now things are better. I am sharing this because I want others who are going through this to know that they are not alone and that it is impotant to talk to someone.

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