With the home study and the long wait behind them, the ink dry on the mounds of paperwork, and a new beautiful child in the home to love and nurture, many adoptive parents are often caught completely off guard by what many adoption and mental health professionals are now referring to as Post-Adoption Depression (PAD).
Post-Adoption Depression affects over 65 percent of adopting mothers. Referring to a combination of the symptoms of depression that may include: depressed mood, irritability, diminished interest in most activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia, or sleeping too much, feeling worthless or excessively guilty, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal thoughts, the severity of PAD may vary and should be taken seriously if five or more of the symptoms are experienced more times than not during a two-week period.
Although laypersons and professionals have come to recognize post-partum blues as a natural and expected part of the birth process, many not only associate those feelings of anxiety with the hormonal imbalance and changes following childbirth but also minimize the impact on the child and parents.
More frequently than previously thought, many adoptive parents also suffer from the same post placement melancholy, and feel very bewildered when they cannot rely upon the out of kilter hormone theory to account for their feelings of anxiety and distress. Furthermore, although it is customary for professionals to attempt to assist in mentally and emotionally preparing the adoptive parents prior to placement with the knowledge the reality of parenthood will likely be different from the fantasy, the impact of achieving a major life-changing goal is far less explored and addressed. Even if discussion is broached with prospective adoptive parents, the majority will not be able to consider the road to a successful adoption for them may encounter some darker feelings and thoughts.
With such a tremendous amount of focus by the couple placed on overcoming the multiple barriers to bringing a child into their home, family and friends are generally unaware and dumbfounded the couple would or could experience anything less than complete bliss at realizing the couple's dream come to fruition. Having endured such a lengthy and arduous process to parenthood and by choice no less, parents can be wracked with shame and guilt for having less than ecstatic feelings of joy at the presence of a new child in their home to love, the realization of their long held dream come true. Many adoptive parents have a difficult time acknowledging to themselves let alone others close to them their experience, which can also exacerbate symptoms and lead to further difficulties.
Whether a brief bout with the post adoption blues or a full-blown case of PAD, the adoptive parent or couple does not need to struggle alone or suffer in silence. Merely being aware a wide range of emotions and feelings following adoption is not uncommon and acknowledging there are valid legitimate reasons for feeling down and anxious is a good start. Feelings of doubt, despair, and overwhelm do not necessarily mean the parent is any different than any other parent or that adoption was a wrong decision.
Instead of putting on a good front or making attempts to be a super parent, reaching out to share personal feelings with the other parent, family, and friends can decrease the sense of overwhelm and isolation. However, recalling many of these people, however hard they try, may have some difficulty understanding what the new parent is going through, it is a wise idea to share ahead of time that understanding isn't required and that just listening sympathetically helps a tremendous amount. Even when the symptoms of depression and anxiety aren't severely debilitating, if symptoms don't begin to lift after a month, pursuing professional help can assist the parent in more effectively coping and managing distress.
As with all physical and mental illnesses, if a parent finds they are unable to care for them self or for their child or that they are having persistent fantasies of harming the child, their self or others, it is imperative for the parent and child for a call to be made to a physician or a local mental health agency to get immediate help.
Most adoptions have positive outcomes both for children and their families. However with an increase in knowledge and recognition of the number of adoptive parents suffering from PAD, many adoption agencies are beginning to offer more post-adoption placement services to parents. Post Adoption Depression is an illness and when recognized it can be successfully treated. With understanding and treatment if necessary, the child and family can then go on to enjoy the special love and joy adoption can bring.
Author Janice Sisneski, RN. is an adoptive mom. Janice works in the mental health field with foster children. This article may be re-printed without prior permission, as long as author credit and a link to the publisher, RainbowKids is given.