Adoption and Depression

This blog post was written by Helaine Sanders, along with Adoption STAR.

Since I have a depressive illness, doctors made sure I understood that if I chose to give birth to a baby, I would be a candidate for postpartum depression (PPD).  I never realized I could still have PPD, if I adopted a baby.  Perhaps not a medical term, Post Adoption Depression (PAD) is very real.

When my husband and I received Adoption STAR’s phone call that another agency had a baby for us, I just wanted to get the baby. The baby was born in another state and my husband was going to be in another area for business, which he could not reschedule.  He helped me through the weekend of the baby’s arrival and we arranged for a nurse to help me around the clock while we awaited approval to leave the state.  I barely left the hotel room for the exception of walking around the hotel complex.

I was having an internal meltdown due to the fact that I had no people to connect with other than the nurse.  With no connection, and without my husband, everything looked bleak.  I had never cared for a newborn baby before.  Eventually, I flew back to my home town and my husband returned from his business trip.  As the months passed, it occurred to me that I felt inadequate during this time.  When I now look at my “baby’s journal,” my low self-esteem and lack of confidence are apparent.  I am finally able to see that they were the cries of a woman with PAD, but I lacked the words to express myself.

Signs of PPD and PAD include loss of energy, sadness, weight loss or gain, increased or decreased appetite, sleep disturbances, inability to concentrate, irritability, and crying for no obvious reason. More severe symptoms may include difficulty eating and a lack of concentration.

Cynthia Haines, MD states, “Postpartum depression is a complex mix of physical, emotional and behavioral changes that occur in a mother. It is a serious condition, affecting about 10% of new mothers who give birth. Symptoms range from mild to severe depression and may last from a few weeks to a year.”  Although there are no statistics available, PAD clearly exists and can be a realistic part of the adoption process.

Karen Ledbetter, an adoptive mom and editor of an adoption online group writes, “There are several suspected causes of post-adoption depression, including physical exhaustion, financial worries, and generalized stress from enduring the adoption process. Sometimes infertility issues resurface. Some adoptive parents find themselves sharing some of their child’s birth mother’s grief.”

Any new adoptive parent may experience some degree of post-adoption depression. However, according to an article by Harriet McCarthy, those who adopt internationally seem to be particularly at risk. A 1999 survey conducted by McCarthy revealed that over half of the 145 respondents admitted to experiencing post adoption depression. Over three-fourths of those families reported experiencing symptoms for over two months, and almost half reported their symptoms lingering for over six months.

I looked for a book that would validate what I had been through.  The only one my library carried was by Marie Osmond (2001), Behind the Smile, My Journey out of Postpartum Depression.  After I read the book, I was pleased to find that it validated my claim.

Osmond, an adoptive mother herself, describes the feelings of PPD or PAD very well.  However, she fails to make any conclusions about her own recovery.  Always smiling, she keeps up her schedule, despite the depression she feels inside.  As a social worker myself, I know that setting limits and boundaries is the first step in overcoming depression.  I would recommend this book to any woman who feels she is experiencing PPD or PAD.

Perhaps you were indescribably ecstatic? Then you noticed a combination of anxiety, exhaustion, frustration, and/or depression.

You wondered how can you be feeling this way when you were waiting so long and it finally happened? You adopted!
Here are some suggestions to help new parents cope with post adoption depression:
– Acknowledge that this condition does exist.

  • Give yourself and your family adequate private nesting time before allowing family members and friends to overwhelm you and baby
  •  Plan ahead of time and advocate for yourself to take as much time off from work and other obligations during the weeks following your baby’s arrival.
  • Give yourself permission to not keep up with housework.
  •  Don’t be intimidated to ask close friends or family members for help with household chores and/or cooking.  Say “thank you” rather than “no thank you” when others offer to help.
  • Schedule times to leave the house.
  • Even if you didn’t exercise before – start now – it will make you feel good and you will be doing something for yourself.
  • Sleep when your baby sleeps.
  • Get involved with your adoption agency and an adoption support group, even if its just to have a sympathetic ear and understanding voice on the phone.
  • Most importantly, do NOT be afraid to call your doctor, especially if you feel that you need professional help in overcoming your depression.