Some of the most big-hearted people on earth are adoptive parents. I know a few, as well as several who are hoping to adopt, and I have always been inspired by their Christ-like generosity. Adoption is a brave and beautiful calling, but it’s far from easy.
Nothing in life truly and completely prepares you to be a mom or dad. It’s almost all on-the-job training, and that can be stressful and exhausting for any family. But adoption also comes with a unique set of challenges, as parents and children who do not have a biological bond work to adjust to their new life together. [I don’t write from experience, so you can learn more about that here.]
I know first-hand the unexpected emotional and mental challenges that can present when welcoming a new family member — even a baby that you love and chose and longed for. Postpartum depression is closely tied with hormones, but it can also have a lot to do with lack of sleep, difficulty adjusting to the baby, and a myriad of other stressors. And those other factors will be present whether you’re a biological mother or an adoptive one.
So it’s not surprising to me at all to hear of adoptive parents experiencing depression and other mental health issues after their adoptions. I’ve recently learned that this underreported (and often misunderstood) phenomenon is called Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome.
Although it is not a formally recognized disorder, Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome is a term used to describe the stress, anxiety and depression that many parents experience following adoption.” // source
A 2012 Purdue study suggests that anywhere from 18-26 percent of adoptive parents experience clinical depression and anxiety following the adoption of their new child.
The same study cited several predictors of depression in adoptive mothers, including fatigue and failure to bond with the child, as well as “expectations of themselves as mothers, of the child, and of family and friends.”
Parents who adopt children from other countries and cultures are no exception to post-adoption distress, and can sometimes experience even greater complications after bringing home their new child. Post-Adoption Information, a website that provides support and information for families who have adopted children from Eastern Europe, lists these factors that can play a large role in post-adoption depression syndrome:
[O]ur international community has additional components which load the deck. In almost no case are we adopting newborns. Among other things, we deal with grief over the loss of unknown histories and missed bonding opportunities. We see our children for a very brief time before the adoption is finalized and we often ‘discover’ disturbing surprises about our children’s backgrounds after the fact. Our older children come equipped with distinct personalities, some of which meld smoothly into our families, others of which are a jarring and daily reminder of our differences. We adopt children who have experienced an almost unimaginable amount of loss. We adopt children who have suffered the effects of institutionalism, hospitalism, and global neglect. We often adopt children with hidden academic, emotional, neurological and medical needs. Frequently, newly adopted children attach themselves to only one of the two parents, leaving the other parent saddened and disappointed. Add to all that the stress of out-of-country travel, jet lag, communication difficulties with our older kids and foreign country hosts, sleep depravation, and cultural shock. Our decks come loaded with the potential for frustration, powerlessness, and worry – a perfect prescription for the onset of depression.“
Symptoms of PADS are almost identical to those of PPD:
· Loss of interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy
· Difficulty with concentrating or making decisions
· Fatigue or loss of energy
· Difficulty sleeping or increased need for sleep
· Significant weight change
· Excessive guilt
· Feelings of powerlessness
· Feelings of worthlessness
· Sense of hopelessness
· Suicidal thoughts or ideation
If you or someone you love is experiencing mental or emotional distress after an adoption, there is help and hope! Contact Postpartum Support International, or see the following resources on PADS:
May 1 – 7 is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. Learn more at the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health. Help end the stigma surrounding maternal mental health!
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