Adoption is an emotional process. It is a roller coaster ride of stress, joy, sleeplessness, and exhilaration. The adoption journey can take many months, even years, before adoptive parents bring home their baby or child. Although they have waited a long time, newly adoptive parents may feel confused, detached, and guilt-ridden. Instead of feeling grateful and overjoyed, they feel ambivalent, depressed, resentful, or angry. They may question their decision to adopt. Post Adoption Depression (PADS) is a term used to describe the stress, anxiety, and depression experienced by many parents following adoption. PADS is rarely expected, typically crippling, and frequently goes untreated.
Although it is not well documented like postpartum depression, PADS is not uncommon. A March 2012 study from Purdue University, reported that 18-26% of adoptive mothers described symptoms of depression within the first year of bringing home a new baby or child. Rates for the small number of adoptive fathers also surveyed were similar. In 2013, the radio show from Creating a Family aired an episode titled Post Adoption Depression: Causes and Prevention. On the episode, Dr. Jane Aronson, adoption medicine specialist as well as founder and chief executive of the Worldwide Orphan Foundation, said that almost all of her patients feel conflicted emotions during the first couple of months after they adopt, and about 75-85% report feeling sad or depressed.
PADS may be attributed to many different factors, not the least of which is the stress inherent in parenting. In the course of interviewing approximately 300 women who had adopted one or more children in the prior two years, Karen J. Foli, an assistant professor of nursing at Purdue, noted that societal assumptions contribute to PADS. There is a societal assumption that an adoptive mother has not gone through the physical stress of maternity or labor and thus does not require as much help after the baby comes home, such as respite care, help with household chores, and putting dinner on the table. In addition, Dr. Aronson notes that PADS is often caused by a mismatch of expectations with reality. The fantasy of a baby and “the perfect family” differ from the reality of the needs of your new child, the physical exhaustion, and the emotional transitions that can overwhelm new parents.
Some adoptive parents report that bringing a baby or child home reignites feelings of grief, loss, and unresolved infertility issues, all of which can contribute to depression. PADS has also been compared to the feeling of sadness which sometimes occurs after accomplishing a big goal or completing other major life milestones, like getting married, graduating from college, or even running the marathon, all of which require months of preparation and training. Truth be told, most adoptive parents have had a lot of years to build up unrealistic expectations before a baby or a child comes home.
Anger, sadness, anxiety and inability to concentrate are all symptoms experienced by women suffering from PADS. Many adoptive parents keep silent because they are afraid others will not understand their pain. Kathy Ann Brodsky, LCSW, adoptive mother and adoption social worker with decades of experience working with adoptive families, shares that adoptive parents are often fearful of expressing any difficulties or apprehensions after a child is placed in their care. Ms. Brodsky explains how because they have worked so long and hard to become parents, they may fear their child would be removed from their care if they voice any sign of PADS. Adoptive parents need to know that PADS is a normal and even predictable crisis. Moreover, it does not reflect on an adoptive parent’s desire, willingness, or ability to parent.
Keep in mind that the first several months after an adoptive placement are a transitional time for everyone in the family. Ms. Brodsky reminds us that parenting is a new experience and like anything new, knowledge and practice will lead to personal improvement and confidence. Short term counseling can provide guidance and a shoulder to lean on during this initial adjustment period. Take it one day at a time, enjoy the positive moments, and be kind to yourself.
HOW TO ADDRESS PADS:
- Take care of yourself – self care is incredibly important! Find some down time to engage in activities you enjoy. Make sure to eat right, exercise, rest, and get enough sleep. Ask for help so that you can make time for yourself.
- Let someone know you are hurting – you are not alone! Connect with other adoptive parents who are experiencing similar feelings and challenges. There are online chat groups and online support groups. 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”.
- Give yourself time to bond – bonding and attachment can be a slow process, so be patient. There are many available articles about bonding which give tips on establishing care routines that benefit both parents and infant or child. Your social worker or agency may also have suggestions and resources for you.
- Ask for support and seek help – do not be ashamed or afraid to ask friends or family members for help. For your benefit, and the benefit of your child and family, seek professional assistance if needed.
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