The road to adoption is a long and rigorous one. As adoptive parents, you’ve spent a great amount of time demonstrating that you’re not only fit parents, but the best parents. Your family and friends supported you during the adoption process, and they all feel – you included – that you should be the happiest people on earth. So…what’s this other stuff you’re feeling?
Post-adoption depression affects up to 65% of adoptive parents and seems to particularly affect parents who have adopted internationally (Killion 2008). Most of the symptoms of post-adoption depression are similar to those of postpartum depression. They include:
- General feeling of sadness or irritability
- Sense of hopelessness or powerlessness
- Loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure
- Change in sleeping patterns – either difficulty sleeping or an increased need to sleep
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Significant change in weight (in weight loss or gain)
- Recurring thoughts of harming yourself or others
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are some important, small steps you can take during the adoption process to help prevent post-adoption depression.
- Take some time off work. Just as new biological parents take maternal and paternal leave, you should consider taking some time off work as well. You will need time to get to know your adopted child and to adjust to having a new child into your family. And the child will need time to get to know you and adjust as well.
- Take it slow. Family and friends will likely want to visit to welcome the new child, and you may want to plan many outings to show the adopted child their new community. But constant activity can create unnecessary stress. Consider keeping outings to a minimum, and ask visitors to call before coming over.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Some studies have showed that having unmet or unrealistic expectations of the child, family, friends, or yourself contributed to post-adoption depression (Nauert 2010). Try to keep your expectations realistic. You may not instantly bond with your adopted child, and that’s normal. If the adopted child is older, he or she may need some time to get to know you, so don’t take a lack of immediate attachment personally. Particularly if the adopted child was moved from foster home to foster home or lived in an orphanage prior to adoption, he or she may struggle to form at attachment (Killion 2008). Bonds take time to develop.
- Build a support network. Just as biological parents build a support network to call upon once baby arrives, adoptive parents will need similar help. Ask a friend or family member to help make dinners, run errands, or take on housekeeping chores.
The key to overcoming post-adoption depression is to talk about your feelings. Because you have worked so actively and for so long to adopt, you may feel confused, guilty, or ashamed of not feeling overjoyed now that the adopted child is in your home. Those feelings are normal. Talk about your feelings, and share your story. Consider joining a support group or finding a therapist who has experience treating patients with post-adoption depression. Also remember to share your feelings with your partner. He or she may be able to take on increased roles while you focus on getting better.
WellMama can refer you to therapists who specialize in working with individuals and couples going through post-adoption depression and anxiety. Simply call us at 1-800-896-0410.
Killion, Crystal. “Post-Adoption Depression.” Adoption at Suite 101. 24 March 2008.
Nauert, Rick. “Postpartum Depression in Adoptive Parents.” Psych Central. 1 April 2010.