For parents who have chosen to adopt, a new baby or child represents a dream come true. After the child is placed in the home however, new parents may be confused or frustrated when they experience feelings of sadness, guilt, anxiety and hopelessness. Most suffer in silence, because of the shame and guilt of not being entirely ecstatic over something that was chosen and, in many cases, worked so hard to get.
Research suggests a depression similar to postpartum depression can also be experienced when a baby or child is adopted.
It is referred to as post-adoption depression and thought to affect between 18 and 26% of adoptive mothers. Adoptive fathers are also affected, but little research has been conducted to determine numbers.
Before becoming a new parent, many adoptive parents experience the rollercoaster emotions associated with infertility, birthparent relationships, legal uncertainties and, in some cases, failed adoption efforts along their journey to becoming parents. Unlike postpartum depression, post-adoption depression is associated more with stress from the adoption process rather than personal or family history of depression. It is likely that these emotions are not dealt with before the new adoptive parent has to contend with the experiences all new parents share. These include feelings of inadequacy, shift in identity, change in relationships their partner and sleep deprivation. This chaos of emotions contributes to an adoptive parent developing depression.
Unmet expectations are another common factor contributing to post-adoption depression. For example, some parents anticipate love at first sight but in fact experience difficulty bonding with their new child. On the other hand, some parents are distressed if an adopted child does not immediately bond with them, an experience more likely to occur in older children who have lived in orphanages or who have been through the foster care system. Some parents struggle with the realization that their child will not look like them.
Lack of community support is another contributor to post-adoption depression. Dr. Karen Foli, an Associate Professor and researcher from Purdue University finds, “a common thread in my research has been the assumption that if the mom didn’t carry the child for nine months or go through a physical labor, the parents don’t need help in the same manner as birth mothers do.” Foli notes the thought is the newly adopted mother does not require as much help after the child comes home, does not need respite care, or someone to unload the dishwasher, or a few casseroles in the freezer. This often leaves many adoptive parents feeling isolated and unsupported as they begin their new lives.
Sometimes depression can be contagious, so adoptive fathers themselves can also become depressed. They experience the same rollercoaster emotions during the adoption process as their partner. It’s important that family and friends are aware of this possibility and offer support rather than insist the father contribute more.
The symptoms of post-adoption depression are similar to postpartum depression:
- Loss of interest in being around other people
- Always of 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
Post-adoption depression not only affects the parents, but it also has an influence on the well-being of the child.
If you or a loved one is experiencing some of these symptoms, seek help. Don’t be concerned about talking to your adoption worker or family and friends. The only way you can deal with this is by getting help. Counseling and medication will help to alleviate some of the symptoms and is typically very effective at resolving the problem. Research shows the quicker a person seeks treatment, the more likely they are to make a full recovery. Contact a licensed counselor for assessment and treatment.
Ann Sheerin, MA
Asheerin @ GROWcounseling.com
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