The Baby Blues: Expecting the Unexpected

suereardonSue Reardon explores a common but as of yet undiagnosed condition that many newly adoptive parents face called PAD – Post Adoption Depression

You have waited what seems like a lifetime for this moment and now it’s finally here. After years of infertility and maybe a few more pursuing adoption, your baby has arrived, and he is all things perfect. Life turns into a beautiful shade of crazy as your days (and nights) now revolve around this amazing creature. The weeks may pass when suddenly you notice you’re not feeling quite like yourself. Maybe you are even feeling sad, frustrated or discontent. You are then filled with overwhelming guilt because you know this should be the happiest time in your life. You wonder what is wrong with you, but you are too embarrassed to confide in anyone. You feel isolated and alone. Only, you’re not. Post Adoption Depression (a term coined by June Bond in 1995) is not only real, but it is shockingly common.

Well over half of adoptive families, particularly new moms, report experiencing some level of depression following the adoption of a child. Becoming a new parent, though wonderful, no doubt, is a huge adjustment. Your life is no longer yours. During your years of waiting, you may have conjured up images of how things would look and of the mother you planned to be. But reality can look very different than what we imagine. One mom states:

  • I felt the extra pressure to be the perfect mom. We did try for so long and wanted it so badly. I felt the pressure to never complain because it might be construed as being ungrateful.

As if ruling your days isn’t enough, sleep is often impacted. Adding exhaustion and sleep deprivation to an already emotionally charged time, only exacerbates any issues already present. This alone causes an increase in stress, irritability and strain on relationships.

Your relationships, particularly that with your spouse, may also be impacted. Your attention shifts and is now focused on your child, leaving less time to nurture the other relationships in your life. I remember confiding in a friend that the first year of marriage was the most difficult for me. Acclimating to new roles and responsibilities can be difficult. Like marriage, bringing a child into your home, through birth or adoption, is a shift in dynamics. This shift is yet another transition to overcome as you navigate this new way of living.

Bringing home your newborn may also trigger some unresolved or suppressed feelings regarding infertility or inability to carry your child. Feelings of inadequacy are common. Another woman responds,

  • I remember rocking my new baby to sleep on our first night home. I took her to her room and sang her lullabies and she instinctively began to thrash her head around, mouth open wide, in effort to root. I felt like such a failure, and the tears were immediate. Something that came so natural to her was impossible for me. I was a failure as a mother already and we were only on day one.

Some parents may also unintentionally show reluctance to fully embrace their child. After long periods of loss, we begin to expect disappointment. So we build walls in hopes of self-preservation. We fear giving our whole heart away.

Older infants and children, as in the case of many International adoptions, might not immediately respond to their new parents, or may show a strong preference to one parent over another. This is particularly difficult and may compound an already difficult situation.

  • I remember being completely exhausted on our adoption trip and upon returning home from China. In the early days of our adoption, our daughter only wanted ME. No one else would do, but there wasn’t enough of me to go around. Every muscle in my body ached from holding her constantly. It was a wonderful thing to have this precious new daughter who needed me so much, but it was also the most tiring experience for a while there!

When I asked some friends of mine about their thoughts on Post Adoption Depression, these were some of the responses I received;

  • Great topic. One not really talked about. It caught me by surprise when it happened.
  • I never thought it was real until I experienced it myself.

Another mom sums up many of these feeling in what she shares.

  • I think for me the hardest part was my existing anxiety disorder that was well controlled with medication began to peek through. I think I had stomachaches for the first 2 weeks every time I looked at her. It was scary. I had waited forever for this, only to find myself having split second thoughts of wondering if I could do it. These thoughts were fleeting. Most of the time was indeed blissful. But it was just a bit scary. I wondered if I had birthed her if I would instinctually know how to respond to her needs. If there was a familiarity that was somehow missing because we were not genetically connected.

    I also felt guilt coupled with empathetic loss for her first mother. I somehow didn’t feel worthy to be sharing all of her sweet first moments because it came at the cost of another woman’s sacrifice. In reality, my image of her birthmother’s pain was just that, my own image. She was resolute in her choice and emotionally competent at being a birth mom and all of the roles and feelings that go with that.

    But I remember the sting of smelling her birthmother on her during that very first day. Again, that unfamiliarity. Selfishly, I couldn’t wait to bathe her or for her umbilical cord to fall off. I wanted to claim her as mine. I needed to. To feel capable, competent. And most of all worthy.

    After learning the blessing that adoptive parenting is, it was very different with our second child. I embraced her newborn days with clarity and confidence. I was sad when she lost her umbilical cord because that was such a pure and beautiful connection to the amazing woman who gave her life and made me a mom again.

I know each of these women personally, and I know the unshakable love they have for their children. These feelings and self-doubts are common and are not a reflection of poor parenting or lack of bonding. And those early fears and doubts do subside rather quickly. With each tender moment shared with your child, the bonds grow stronger and so does your confidence in being a their parent.

If you are experiencing this, please understand that this is a natural occurrence and that you are not alone. Sometimes just knowing it’s “normal” is enough to help overcome these feelings. If, over time, you continue to have these feeling please do reach out to your agency, Social Worker or family physician.

For another look at Post Adoption Depression, another Adoption STAR mom previously shares her story here.

Additional Resources:

I Am Not Supposed to Feel This Way – Post Adoption Depression
By Nancy S. Fontaine, Ph.D., Florida CCAI Director

Adoption Depression Syndrome
By June Bond, from Roots and Wings

More Than Just the Blues
Adoptive Families Magazine

Read More on Infant Adoption: Issues and Perspectives in Adoption Then and Now Part 1,Issues and Perspectives in Adoption Then and Now Part 2, Issues and Perspectives in Adoption Then and Now Part 3, Infant Adoption Awareness Training Project, Understanding Infant Adoption