Post Adoption Depression: The Elusive “Happily Ever After”
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:
- My Post-Adoption Depression: It was as crippling as postpartum, and much less recognized.
- Happily Ever After? Unexpected Stresses of Newly Adoptive Families
- Transitioning Home: The First Months Post Adoption