Handling Post-Adoption Depression

New parents frequently hear about postpartum depression and how it can affect life after giving birth. It’s much less common to hear about the counterpart in adoptive parents’ lives: post-adoption depression. However, PAD is a very real phenomenon that affects adoptive parents around the world. If you’re considering adopting a child, you should know about PAD and how to handle its effects.

What is Post-Adoption Depression?

The weeks and months after an adoption can be a confusing, difficult time for new parents. Often they build up an idea of what parenting will be like in their heads, and if the reality doesn’t match that expectation it can create strong negative feelings. PAD, then, is in many ways a reaction to the parenting experience not being what a new parent expects.

Studies documenting the occurrence of PAD go back more than 30 years, and a 2012 study from Purdue University estimated that between 18 and 26 percent of adoptive mothers feel some depression after adopting. However, the exact causes behind PAD are never the same in different people. Some new parents feel overwhelmed by the child that is now a part of their family, while others have trouble handling reactions from family or friends.

In general, PAD can include symptoms such as:

  • Depressed mood or sadness;
  • Irritability;
  • Diminished interest in hobbies or activities;
  • Rapid weight gain or weight loss;
  • Insomnia;
  • Uncharacteristic negative thoughts, including feeling worthless or suicidal.

Prospective parents should note that not everyone experiences post-adoption depression, and it varies in severity between people who do. Some experience acute feelings of depression or anxiety, while others may simply feel glum or blue for a while. And in almost all cases, the eventual process of bonding with your adopted child and growing accustomed to your circumstances helps alleviate the symptoms.

What Can You Do About Post-Adoption Depression?

One of the most common mistakes that new adoptive parents make is trying to cover up any feelings of depression. They might think that their depression makes them bad parents, or that it could jeopardize the placement of their new child. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. New adoptive parents should recognize that PAD is a relatively common phenomenon, especially in first-time adoptive parents, and they should never be afraid to speak up or seek help.

Because PAD has so many possible causes and effects, treating it can be difficult. It’s important to examine why you think you may be feeling depressed, and then seek to rectify, or at least come to terms with, those causes.

For instance, parents who adopt older children often face their own particular sets of challenges that can lead to depression. In most cases, though, you won’t be able to work these problems out alone. Family and individual counseling can be an invaluable resource to adoptive parents and children alike.

In general, if you think you may be experiencing PAD, look at the following options:

  • Get Support – Becoming a new parent can feel isolating. You may be trapped at home with an infant, or you may feel unable to relate to others. Get out and find other people in similar situations, or visit a counselor and talk about your problems and emotions.
  • Be Realistic – Parenting is never easy, regardless of whether you adopt or not. Don’t expect to immediately bond with your new child, and don’t assume that the process of becoming a parent will be easy or natural.
  • Recognize Your Feelings – The worst thing you can do with depression is try to ignore or bury it. It’s important for you to acknowledge and handle your emotions up front so you can avoid them eating at you later on.
  • Take a Break – It can help you get some perspective if you’re able to take a break from parenting duties every once in a while. A partner, family member, close friend or even babysitter can give you a little space and some time to breathe – don’t be afraid to take advantage of their help.
  • Use Your Adoption Agency’s Services – Many adoption agencies offer counseling and other support services to new adoptive parents. You can and should take advantage of these programs if you think you need them.

There is no shame in seeking help for post-adoption depression; in fact, recognizing that you need help is one of the bravest moves you can make. Never be afraid to ask for assistance or to get help from a professional.

Deaconess Pregnancy & Adoption Services offers skilled adoption placement and support to residents throughout the state of Oklahoma. If you’re interested in becoming an adoptive parent or in placing a child for adoption, contact us today at (405) 949-4200. You can also visit our Facebook or Google+ page for more Oklahoma adoption advice and resources.