Just like some new biological parents, adoptive parents may experience some “blues” or depression once a baby or child comes home. There are various reasons this can happen but it’s not something to be ashamed of or run away from. It is however important to recognize it, so you can be proactive in doing something about it.
I remember when our daughter came home. It was all so new to us. But, for the most part, it was amazing! Everything she did was cute, and she started sleeping through the night at 3 months old! We thought all the hard stuff people had told us about babies was not in the cards for us.
Then, 18 months later, we adopted our son. Oh boy! He did NOT start sleeping through the night at 3 months. And, he had other issues we were working through. Between him and our daughter we were so exhausted. I also did not feel connected to him like I did with Abigail. For me, this contributed to some heavy feelings, many of which were not positive. My husband was not much happier. The transition to an infant and toddler was just as hard for him. Despite all of this, I loved my son. Please remember this! Just because parts of parenthood, or even whole seasons, are difficult is not a sign of failure.
Although you may have heard of post-adoption depression, it seems to be much less understood or acknowledged. It seems that many people think that adoptive parents are immune to this because they were so excited to adopt and now that they have this beautiful child home so, how could they possibly become depressed? But, the truth is it can happen to adoptive parents just like it can with biological parents.
With both biological and adoptive families, the initial excitement of becoming a parent wears off and the reality of being a parent sinks in.
It is estimated that between 10-28% of new mothers experience postpartum depression to some degree. And, most new mothers have at least experienced a few days of the “baby blues”. But, reliable numbers on post-adoption depression are hard to find. Some small surveys suggest that about half of new adoptive parents experience some sort of problem ranging from baby blues to actual depression.
Admitting that you may have postpartum or post-adoption depression can be hard for most parents. In some ways, it can be even harder for adoptive parents. As mentioned previously, after going through so much to adopt including all the paperwork, expense and waiting, it can be hard to admit you are anything but thrilled once your child finally comes home. After all, what if a well-meaning family member or friend responds with something like…, “How can you be depressed when all you have talked about for the last 2 years is adopting” or “Oh, you’ll be fine. You’re just adjusting to parenthood.”
In addition, some adoptive parents might be afraid that if they admit having some difficulty, they might not be able to adopt again later. The truth is that your agency and social workers should be familiar with postpartum or post-adoption depression and are unlikely to judge you for experiencing such a common problem. Our agency even recommended a book called The Post Adoption Blues because it can be so common.
Another factor that can make it hard for parents to admit to post-adoption depression is that you often hear things like, “The moment she was placed in my arms, I fell in love with her.” Or, “I loved my son before I ever met him.” While this sounds nice, the truth is many parents fall in love with their children over time. It’s not always “love at first sight.” Not experiencing this sort of response to a new child does not have to be a cause of disappointment and guilt.
Other factors that can contribute to post-adoption depression include a lack of help from family and friends, a lack of sleep, changes in routine, a difficult baby, marital adjustments, financial stress, loss of freedom, high anxiety, and so much more.
There may be other triggers for feeling blue or depressed. I know for my husband it was hard to think about all we were gaining while thinking of what our children’s birth mother was losing. Also, dealing with other people’s attitudes or careless comments toward adoption can be very difficult.
And remember, most adoptive parents do not have a nine-month preparation period for parenthood. Adoptive parents are usually so involved in the actual process of adoption that they don’t take a lot of time to just breathe before the adoption happens. Also, never knowing when you’re going to get the call can be nerve-racking. And, then we have the thoughts of what if a placement falls through?
So, knowing all that, what can we do about it? What do you do if you’re dealing with post-adoption depression? If you’re able to identify more specifically the cause of your feelings it will be easier to take action to help. And, if you aren’t sure what is causing it, there is no shame in getting help. Call your social worker and talk it out with them if they are someone you are comfortable with, or a counselor, or even a trusted friend.
Once you determine what is causing your sadness, see if there are some simple solutions that could help. Perhaps, you need a babysitter a little more often so you can take some breaks. Go on a date night, go enjoy some time to yourself or just go take a long nap. And, if you need more than this find a good counselor to visit. Again, there is no shame in this at all!
Other ideas are to talk to other parents, join an adoptive parent group or read a book on the subject. If you’re working with an agency, they should be able to put you in touch with some great resources.
And, if you are reading this before you adopt a child, you’re in an even better place to prepare yourself so you limit possible issues and know what to do if they arise. You may not experience anything other than joy and excitement.
If the feelings you’re experiencing are due to bonding issues, you might find this post helpful.