Post-Adoption Depression

praying

Depression?  After I’ve waited so long, so expectantly for my child to come home?   After I’ve been praying for that sweet little person and memorized the shape of their eyes, their mouth, their nose?  After I’ve spent months imagining what it will be like to finally hold them and be the mommy they never had?  I can't imagine that!

It does seem impossible that you’ll feel anything but delight, satisfaction and relief once you have your child home.  But experience says otherwise – it is very common for adoptive moms especially to suffer some form of depression, let-down or lack of loving feeling toward their child.  Researchers tell us 65% of adoptive parents have experienced post adoption depression syndrome (PADS). 

Many of the parents I talk to after bringing their children home have felt these same things in varying degrees.  It’s critical that adoptive parents prepare for this possibility so that helpful resources are at your fingertips and so you aren’t completely surprised and unprepared.  Sometimes it will mean getting some needed respite or the support and understanding of another adoptive parent; other times professional help is required.

Here are several ‘testimonials’ from adoptive parents about their own experience after bringing their child home…

  • I thought I would instantly love her just like my other kids, (I thought I already did) but when she first came home we were exhausted, she was sick, and truly we were strangers. I felt terribly guilty that I did not feel an instant "mother's love" for her. I expected to immediately be totally IN love with her. I had prayed over her and loved her for almost a year, and I thought I would know her just as if she had always been with us. When I picked her up, I realized that I did not know her and she did not know me. We were strangers.

  • Even though I thought I was prepared for being a transracial family, that was hard for me at first. Any time we went out I felt like people were looking at me (although that was probably in my head). I felt very self-conscious and I felt like everyone could see right through me and see how much I was struggling. I had trouble making eye-contact with any African-American people because I felt like they disapproved of our adoption. There was no basis for this, but I just felt that way.

  • My life instantly felt so complicated and I longed for the "easy" life I had the week before we traveled. Everything seemed so hard... worrying about attachment and bonding, trying to establish sleeping and eating schedules, going to the doctor over and over again. I was overwhelmed and sometimes just wanted my life back the way it was before.

  • When my husband realized I was really struggling, he sent an email out to my friends and they really rallied by providing meals, etc. to help me get through the initial hard days.

  • I didn’t really expect to have any negative feelings toward my son. I was shocked when I realized he was annoying me by following behind me and chattering all day.

  • It is easy to fall in love with a picture and have a certain vision of what life with that precious child will be like and then when reality hits, it can be a shock.  Jet lag, frequent doctor visits, stool tests, blood work, etc. in the early days can be draining. If a mama is already struggling with her feelings, that can really lead to feeling overwhelmed. Add in the isolation that "cocooning" requires and it adds yet one more challenge.

  • I think it is important for mamas to see that sometimes something like an antidepressant might be needed - maybe not even for the long haul, but to cope with challenges that prove to be more than you bargained for.  There is a stigma attached and I think that needs to be shattered.  We treat physical ailments with medicine and don't have a problem.  Somehow, mental or emotional struggles aren't treated the same.

  • Seek advice or help right away. If you’re going through it or feeling it, you can bet someone else has too. I remember going through a really rough time with our daughter and not even liking her. I felt so alone and like such a bad parent. I confessed this to a friend who has adopted four times. She was so comforting, as she had gone through the exact same thing with two of her adoptions. She helped me to see my daughter’s behavior was attachment-related so we were able to start seeking help! Experienced adoptive parents can be a lifeline in those difficult times. I think too many parents think they can just muddle through the hard times – maybe they’re the only ones having a hard time or feeling what they do. The blog world can sometimes paint this “white picket fence” picture of adoption. But it’s hard. It’s messy. Friends who haven’t adopted won’t really get what you’re going through.

  • For a solid week I felt overwhelmed, a bit panicky and even wondered if we’d done the right thing in adopting. After finally getting a few nights in a row of good sleep, my outlook began to change. Prepare to be wiped out, emotionally drained and don’t make any important decisions or judgments that first week or two home.

  • It's very hard for anyone, including family, to understand how difficult transitioning is because they have not ever done it.  People think they know how understanding and patient they would be and how they would just feel so empathetic for the child that they would be able to just reason away any frustration from the behaviors.  Well, that's just not how it goes.  It is a frustrating process.

  • I was completely unprepared for feeling the way I felt – even though I had read about post adoption depression syndrome, I didn’t even consider that it would happen to me. I had been so anxious to be a mommy to this little girl, it didn’t seem possible. I felt overwhelmed and trapped as soon as we had custody of her. I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself for feeling this way because I assumed it meant I was a terrible mother. If this happens to you, get help quickly. Don’t be in denial about what’s happening. Things will get better. I was amazed at how many other adoptive moms I know admitted to the same feelings when I shared my struggles. I guess we don’t want to look like failures by admitting how hard it can be.

  • I was expecting the possibility of working through attachment issues on my son’s end… I did not expect to have attachment issues myself.  I thought I would immediately feel bonded to him, especially considering I felt a bond to him before we went to pick him up.  That was not the case. He has been home for several months and the bond is still growing.  That was very difficult for me to deal with because it led to negative thoughts about the situation… "Did we make a mistake?" "Will I ever feel attached to this child?" etc…  I would even say that I experienced post adoption depression, which I didn't even know existed.  Luckily for me, I also had postpartum depression after our oldest was born, so my husband and I knew the signs and knew to get help right away.

  • I think one of the most helpful things for me was the adoptive moms who told me they had felt all these same feelings. For me to know that this was NORMAL was huge. I had no idea I might feel this way, so when I did, I panicked. I think it is important for parents to know that they may very well feel some of these feelings, but that it is normal and okay, and things will get better. It takes time to build a relationship, and you have to give yourself some grace.

Thanks to all the families who shared their honest feelings above.  As more parents share their experiences with each other, the shame that’s sometimes associated with these feelings will be brought into the light and families will get the help and support they need.  These feelings do pass.  The season of major adjustment and transition is just that – a season.  Our hope is that adoptive parents will prepare for the likelihood of experiencing some of these feelings, share honestly with others if they happen and have realistic expectations for those first months at home.
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