Wisdom Wednesday: Post-Adoption Depression
PADS — Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome. While many are familiar with postpartum depression, few people have even heard of PADS and may even doubt its existence. However, several studies have found that PADS happens at the same rate as postpartum depression and can affect between 18 to 26 percent of adoptive parents soon after bringing a child into a home. I am here to tell you that it happened to me.
Apparently my story isn’t all that unique, but when I was in the midst of the negative feelings, I certainly felt alone. I didn’t really have a “good” reason to feel down. I had just finally met and held the daughter for whom I had waited so long. She was healthy, smart, beautiful, silly and doing relatively well. During those first few days in China, she rejected me and would cry when I would look at her. She preferred her new daddy and wouldn’t let me hold her. However, I knew this could happen and thought I was prepared. I’d read lots of adoption books during that long wait and knew that attaching could be a challenge. Reading about it, however, was definitely different than experiencing it.
I was a trooper through those first two weeks in China. Thankfully, we brought our three-year-old son along on the adoption trip so I had at least one child there that would let me care for him. I thought that once we got home and settled in that my daughter would warm up to me. However, that first week that her dad was back to work, she cried inconsolably for what felt like hours. I kept trying to tell her in Chinese that Daddy would come back, but she didn’t understand my likely horrible attempt at her language. Eventually she got used to dad’s pattern of leaving in the morning and returning in the evening and didn’t cry as hysterically.
We did all the good attachment practices that we had read about. We gave our almost two-year-old daughter a bottle every night before bed but had to start with her dad giving it to her because she wasn’t interested if I tried to feed it to her. We had to ease her into it: first her dad fed her with me sitting nearby, then I would hold the bottle while she sat in Dad’s lap, then I would hold her and the bottle while Dad sat next to us, and finally it was just her and I every night. I was the one to stay in her room each night until she fell asleep and the one to dress and comfort her each day to help with attachment. Over time we did see dramatic improvement. Now more than three years later, there are I times I forget our rocky start. It was probably a good 18 months before I started to feel like we had a “normal” relationship.
As my daughter started to warm up to me though, I was having a hard time warming up to her. I was constantly irritable and judgmental. I realized that my heart had grown hard towards her. That was hard for me to admit as I had reason to be one of the happiest moms in the world: I was blessed with two beautiful and healthy children who were thriving. Finally, during a tearful conversation with my mother about a year after the adoption, my mom asked me if maybe I needed to forgive my daughter. It’s hard to imagine that I could be holding a grudge against my adorable and by now, generally happy and obedient little girl. However, once I acknowledged that hurt and anger, and forgave my daughter for rejecting me at first, the love started flowing from me more naturally.
As I’ve talked with other adoptive moms about the struggles I experienced, some have said that they felt similar to me but were too afraid to acknowledge their feelings when they were in the midst of it all. It is hard for a woman who always wanted to be a mother to acknowledge that she is having a hard time loving like a mother once she finally becomes one. When you factor in all the normal trials of having a new child — sleep deprivation, change in family dynamics, the stress of caring for a child — disappointment and pain can combine with high expectations to easily spiral into depression.
Always remember you are not alone and that many other adoptive parents have experienced similar feelings. Now I can’t imagine life without my beloved daughter!
~Kelly Eckert is LWB’s Director of Cleft Surgery
“Baby Shock: Dealing with Post-Adoption Depression,” http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=1063
“More Than Just the Blues,” http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=1086
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Resources for Post Adoption Depression: https://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adopt_parenting/depression.cfm
“Expectations, exhaustion can lead mothers to post-adoption stress,” March 22, 2012 Purdue University New Service http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2012/120322FoliResearch.html
The Post-Adoption Blues, Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption by Karen J. Foli and John R. Thompson
“Post-adoption depression among adoptive mothers.” http://www.isadopt.is/PASnefnd/PostAdoptionDepression.pdf