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Adoptive parents must recognize and manage post-adoption depression

The term, postpartum depression, is often used by the general public concerning depressive symptoms in new mothers. The condition is a formally diagnosed mental mood disorder, which is commonly classified into three categories: postpartum blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Research has shown that postpartum depression is generally categorized into several areas of origination: biochemical changes from the birth, intra-psychic processes related to the pregnancy and birth, and psychosocial factors, such as social support, familial support and the relationship with the child’s father.

Recent research suggests that aside from the first few weeks after delivery—which often influences hormonal changes—most depression occurs from environmental causes, such as psychological or sociological conditions. So why is it that post-adoption depression is seldom discussed?

Although the term, Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS), was only recently coined in 1995 by June Bond, it can be a very real problem as many adopting mothers struggle with the syndrome. Because of unique factors experienced in adoptions, the psychological and sociological factors often differ for postpartum sufferers. The complexities of multiracial, multiethnic and mixed religion adoptions add stress to an already difficult situation. And the age of adopting parents are often older, bringing other unanticipated sociological factors into the scenario.


Do believe in your decision to adopt

Have confidence in your choice to adopt. Never allow others’ opinions to cloud your judgment of the situation. Adoption is still stigmatized in many areas of society, especially with the older and less-educated populations. For every person who displays negativity about the adoption, there will be 50 who are thrilled about it.

Do take care of yourself and your child first

Children at any age sense depressive symptoms in their caregiver. It is not good for children to feel any kind of negative emotions in parents, whether it is anger, anxiety or depression. Ensure that your primary focus is the physical and psychological health of you and your child. If you feel a lingering depression that has no rational origin, be sure to talk to your medical doctor or seek out a professional behavioral counselor.

Do focus on the support you receive

It is vital that children feel they belong to a family, even if there is only a handful that show support. In fact, sometimes, one is all you need. You can compensate in some areas for support to make up for the areas that are lacking. Know your support system. Sketch it out on paper and draw yourself and your child in the middle. Then draw others in your life. Create the size of each in relation to how much support they offer.

Don’t forget that support comes in various forms, such as emotional, physical and financial. Also place them in proximity to what you feel you and your child mean to them. This will give you an idea of who you can rely on.

Do stay in touch with your agency or an adoption community

Many adoption agencies offer post-adoption support. If so, stay in touch and take advantage of any group work with other parents that is offered. But even if your agency does not offer post-adoption support, there are many great online support groups. Be sure to stay involved in at least one adoption community.

Do reach out to others in your community

Community comes in many forms. Sometimes, all you need to do is reach out. There are many organizations whose mission it is to help you and your child. And that is just formal organizations. There are also neighbors and religious groups that often have informal networks designed to help in the community. Your religious group offer great strength in such matters and many organizations have associated professional counseling services, which may be of value. In addition, most states and/or municipalities offer a social service network, whether your adoption was state-sponsored or private, to help in post-adoption problems with the child or the mother.


Do not expect everyone to have positive opinions

There is still much stigma in many areas of society when it comes to adoption, and not everyone will agree with your decision. That is okay. Decide whose opinions matter and whose you don’t want to hear. Take note of the individuals who have negative opinions and remove them from your life. You can fill in those areas with others who are welcoming and supportive of the adoption.

Do not feel you need to convince others to accept the adoption

Never feel that you need to convince anyone to accept your child. There will likely be a few individuals who reject or resist the decision, and after the initial pain of that disappears, you will not want them in your life. However, multitudes of new acquaintances will flock to you for taking in a child who needs a home.

Do not second-guess your parenting abilities

Don’t allow outside opinions--or your own overly ambitious expectations--to beat yourself up. You most likely made the decision to adopt after many months, if not years, of deep thought. Just do your best. And if you fall short, don’t dwell on it. Just move on and remember that nobody is perfect. Think about the life that you may have removed your child from, which in adoption situations, is often not the ideal.

Do not deny that a problem exists

The worst thing you can do is to deny that a problem exists. Never sweep depression under the rug because it must be addressed. While you may not believe it is severe enough to require antidepressants or counseling, it must be acknowledged to the self and at least one other medical or behavioral professional for an opinion. Why carry the burden of such a problem when there are so many therapies that can make life much more enjoyable?

You do not want to look back on the first few years of your child’s life with only a few happy memories—just because you were too depressed to take the situation under control.

Do not be ashamed of the adoption or lie about it

Never feel ashamed of the adoption or ever lie to your child about it. Adoption is nothing to be ashamed of. And the more you lie and deny the emotions that surround it, the more you shroud it in shame for your child. You do not want a black cloud hanging over the topic. Instead, you want to discuss it in the light. In time, it will become the fabric of your family and will be discussed in a matter-of-fact way.

Jumping cartoon

Although it is not currently included as a specific onset of depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, post-adoption depression syndrome is gaining ground in the growing adoption community. And although it is much more common in the adoptive mother, adoptive fathers have been documented as suffering with it as well.

With adoption being such a complex sociological and psychological situation for children, birth parents and adoptive parents, there is no doubt that it can be emotionally draining and even traumatic for those involved.

Adoptive parents experience unique stressors that biological new parents do not, such as past issues of infertility, financial burdens due to the costs involved in adoption, evaluation for parental fitness and possible social stigma. Risk factors are often higher, considering that biological, genetic and prenatal care information is often unavailable. Even in healthy infant programs, risks are prevalent and the long process often causes attachment issues with the child after finally arriving home.

More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

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Sandy EndersOnline Educator

Sandy Enders, MS, SYC, MA, teaches in the Social & Behavioral Sciences department at Central Texas College and Housatonic Community College. She resides in Connecticut with her husband and son, Adam, who the two adopted at birth from Guatem...

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