Post-Adoption Depression. Yes, It’s a Real Thing.
Post-adoption depression, much like post-partum depression describes the stress, anxiety, and emotions that may follow after your adoption takes place. Although it may not be a formally recognized diagnosis, it is very real. It’s typically preset in new mothers by adoption after the placement has happened or the adoption is finalized. And possibly the hardest part is that no one tells you, no one warns you that this could affect you. So, on top of a million other things that you’ve experienced in the months leading up to the adoption, you get slapped with exhaustion, depression, and every emotion under the sun. This is quickly followed by guilt and shame because you don’t understand it. You finally have your perfect child that you’ve longed for so why are you feeling this way??
Why does post-adoption depression happen?
I think there are many reasons but here is my experience.
First and foremost, think about all the situations and emotions you’ve experienced on your adoption journey. It’s A LOT to process. Give yourself a little grace and understanding just for that! This journey is a wild one and largely out of our control. If you’re anything like me, you may stuff feelings away to “deal with later” because your mental capacity throughout the journey is simply full.
Secondly, you have a new baby. Finally. This child is everything you’ve prayed for, waited for, longed for, and she/he is finally in your arms. This is, for any mother, a life-changing moment and it comes with emotions, too. Joyful emotions can be equally as exhausting as ones of sorrow – we just process them differently. Aside from your joy, you’re also exhausted because babies just don’t come with a “sleep 12 hours” button. Lack of sleep is immensely disturbing to our entire body. Our health, hormones, and energy are all largely driven by sleep. So when you take sleep out of the equation, our bodies are out-of-whack and wondering what is happening. That alone can create a disruption in thoughts and some seriously heavy emotions. Nothing in your world is the same anymore. And that’s okay. But it’s a lot of adjusting at once.
Third, hormones. Yes, hormones. You may think our hormones go completely unaffected because we didn’t physically birth our child. But I will tell you that you’re very wrong. Our hormones are driven by sleep, food, stress, and a million other things. When you’ve been stressed and anxious for months prior to the adoption, I can promise that’s it has taken a toll on your body whether you realize it or not. I wasn’t aware of this until after I had my daughter and my emotions seemed to come crashing down in my state of exhaustion.
Fourth, you’re anxious about the future. If you agreed to some form of open adoption then you may be experiencing some anxiety about what the future holds. I remember having anxiety about sending pictures to my daughter’s birthmother: how often should I update her? Should I wait for her to contact me? Do you think I should plan to visit her? What about a gift? It’s overwhelming and as an adoptive mother I felt like all of those decision fell in to my lap. I didn’t know how to do open adoption. It never comes with a manual. I felt unprepared and questioned myself and it was completing draining.
Lastly, you are grieving, too. And I believe this is where some of the guilt and shame stems from, too. You finally have the realization that your joy and love for this child comes from someone else’s brokenness and sorrow. If you’ve grown close to your child’s birth family, you see their hurt and pain. And that’s just plain hard. It’s hard because you know you’ll never be able to heal them. I believe that we carry some of the hurt from our birth families when we have pieces of their DNA snugly in our arms. And that is the hard reality of adoption.
What can I do about it?
Feel it. Sit in your feelings as they come. Acknowledge them, appreciate them, and then move on. All of your feelings are completely valid and important. Don’t stuff them away to deal with them later just let them be.
Ask for help. When you have a new baby at home everyone asks “is there anything you need?”. How many people asked you that? What if we said “YES!” to those offers? By the time by second daughter was born, I learned to say yes because I was desperate. People brought us dinners for the first few weeks. Family came for an hour or two at a time so I could sleep or have time to myself. My husband took a few extra days off work. A couple trusted neighbors took my older daughter for an hour or two to relieve me for a bit. People want to help. Let me.
Don’t be ashamed to find a therapist. I’ve been seeing my therapist for 2.5 years and her wisdom is priceless to me. If nothing else, she validated my feelings and often that is all we need. If you don’t want to seek a therapist, talk to your closest friends or reach out to other adoptive mothers who’ve experienced post-adoption depression.
Eat healthfully. This is perhaps the toughest part. You’re in survival mode. You’re taking food from neighbors and it’s no time to be picky. But I believe that how we feed our body is directly related to our gut, hormones, and emotional state. When you can’t make the best eating choices, at least take daily supplements or emotional supporting supplements to aid your body during this time. Drink plenty of water and rest when you can.
Only take things as they come. Don’t worry about what your relationship with the birth family will be like in a month, year. Just take things as they come. Support your birthmother in every way that you can. But take care of yourself and baby, too. Give yourself, and others, grace and know that this will pass. Just do the best you can right now – and that may not be much and that’s okay.
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