Post Adoption Depression: The Elusive “Happily Ever After”

Dawn Davenport


post adoption depression signs and treatment

What are the signs of post adoption depression and what can you do to help yourself feel better?

After 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 adoptive 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 adoption 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 a Creating a Family Radio 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. And let’s face it, most of us have had a lot of years to build up unrealistic expectations.

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 settle in and develop patterns, and you and your child begin to know each other.

What to Do If You Think You Have Post Adoption Depression

If after about 6 months or so, or if your feelings of despair or anger 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. Even if your pediatrician isn’t an adoption specialist, she will likely be able to offer you support and advice.
  • 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 group 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.

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?

Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:

Image credit: Mary Lock- Goldilock Photography
First published in 2013. Updated in 2016.

12/09/2016 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 28 Comments

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

  1. Pingback: 5 Ways To Support Your Adoptive Mom Friend (Post-Adoption)

  2. Avatar MAIRA GALINSKAS says:

    My husband and I adopted two children the boy is 13 years old and the girl is 11. I’m experiencing the PAD. I’m getting treatment , but it’s so hard. I feel like this will never end. I’m having trouble to attach to them and I feel guilty to have this feelings. Everything is so overwhelming.
    Those heavy feelings ever leave?
    Do we ever get healed?
    At this time I feel so hopeless.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I’m sorry that you feel the struggle to attach and that PAD is heavy for you right now. To answer your questions, yes, there can be healing for you all. Yes, the heavy feelings can lift. One thing that you ought to consider is adoption-informed therapy for yourself and for your kids. You can find resources on what to look for in an adoption-informed therapist here:

      Additionally, this recent show might be of some support and encouragement to you.

      Please remember, you are not alone and there is hope for your relationship. We have a fantastic support group on Facebook full of folks who struggle with similar issues. Please consider joining us:

  3. Avatar Aurora says:

    Thank you so much. I am a new parent, on the foster to adopt track. I was hit with depression and anxiety recently and went searching for information. I am glad to know that this is normal and should clear up after we get a routine. Unfortunately I am very bad at change and upheavel and anything new and different in my routine throws me for a loop. So needless to say, a child in the house definately does that. Still going to try and find a therapist now, so hopefully I can learn coping skills instead of waiting six months in hooes it goes away.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Congratulations on your newly adopted child! I am glad our resources helped you understand how common this struggle is, and I’m very glad to read that you are continuing with your plan to find some therapy and support. While a schedule/routine will surely provide some relief to the stress of change that you are feeling, it’s still a really good idea to surround yourself with folks who can encourage you, give you help with those things that are not yet into a smooth routine, AND a break once in a while to recharge your batteries. It’s hard to ask for help but creating a “village” for yourself and your child during this transition is a really important piece to working through the season as well.

  4. Avatar Full Spectrum Mama says:

    I am so grateful to your site for de-stigmatizing some of the very real pain that can result from parenthood and through adoption.
    I had several of the risk factors, but even more challenging was that my daughter had and has an attachment disorder, which went undiagnosed for her first few years. talk about DEPRESSING!!! we were really struggling. Once we found a therapist who specialized in AD we were ALL on our way to healing.
    thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Full Spectrum, I’m so glad you pointed out that parenting a child who is struggling with attachment is a risk factor for both post adoption depression and a parent who also struggles to attach to the child.

  5. Avatar Teresa Kelleher says:

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

  6. Avatar 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!

  7. Avatar 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… 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 (

  8. Avatar 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.

  9. Avatar 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.

    • Avatar lucretia says:

      Go F___ yourself. This post is for adoptive parents looking to shield themselves from assholes like you. I am an adoptive foster parent. I myself was adopted so I know first hand the trauma of being placed and the trauma of finding my parents. My son and daughter have been with me from birth and I have yet to meet a biological parent not even their own who have been through what I have been through to finally been given the privelige to be called their mother. Through all the years of fighting for them they will never know or even understand my struggle and even though it was a relief after 5years 7 months to stand 5 mins in front of a judge who never even laid eyes on my children before to give me my forever family, I still suffer anxiety and depression on whether or not I am able to give them the life they deserve. No one is looking for a pity party. If we were biological parents everyone would understand and be sympathetic but since I didn’t push since I chose this I should shut up right? Being a parent is hard no matter how or when you become one. Adoption is in my book harder. These little souls entrusted to us are not our DNA. Their foreign ticks and personalities smiles and medical conditions are a mystery to us unlike those of bios who can say he has my temper her smile etc etc.. We choose to love these tiny strangers with a love we carried for them long before some were even born and we worry in ways biological never have to imagine. And yes the thought of all our love and devotion being over shadowed by the both parents is one of them. So next time you want to troll sites to be a judgemental as whole just remember a 40 year old single adoptive mother of two beautiful adhd autisic insomiac children who were taken from their neglectful birth parents decided to stop feeling overwhelmed long enough to tell you to go F___ yourself.

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Lucretia, I’m assuming that your comment was directed at a previous comment and not to me. If it was directed to me, please re-read the article. Also, please don’t shut up and stuff the feeling down. Your feeling are real and you deserve help. Get yourself to a therapist to help with the anxiety and depression. It’s clear how much you love your kids, but raising 2 kids with autism and ADHD who don’t sleep much is hard, hard work and you deserve to get help to feel better.

        • Avatar lucretia says:

          No Dawn it was definitely not directed at you. This article was a god send. Its been 3 months since our adoption and it is very hard. I love my children and would not change a thing about us or our situation. It was a shock to me after everything was over that I experienced this overwhelming sense of sadness instead of joy. This article gave me a bit of peace in my moment of darkness. The comment made by your other reader upset me because I have met people with their mindset and it’s a slap in the face. This is very vunerable area for us and it’s not the place we want to feel attacked.

      • Avatar AB says:

        Wow. If you are an adoptee you are in the fog-look it up if you don’t know what it is. Adoption is not about the adopters. It’s supposed to be about the adoptee. You really need to seek some help. And I am an adoptee as well. Seriously- get over yourself and don’t tell me to go f myself. The adoption industry did that just fine. Sad.

  10. 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.

  11. Avatar 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!

  12. Avatar 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!

  13. 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!

  14. Avatar 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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