It may seem obvious, but mothers who place their children for adoption can very easily experience post-placement depression. Sounds reasonable. But what is post-placement depression? Do we all have the same definition? Do we lump it in with other forms of depression? How can we tell if a birth mother is experiencing it?
To get the record straight, post-placement depression in birth mothers is not the same as postpartum depression, also widely known as the baby blues. Postpartum depression, as defined by WebMD, is a struggle to bond with a newborn child, negative feelings towards the child, one’s self, or the birth of the child, or a sense of incompetence (WebMD, 2016). The big difference is that post-placement depression is caused by the placement of a child for adoption.
According to a study done by Priscilla K. Coleman and Debbie Garratt, “Birth mothers who experience grief and difficulty in association with placing a child for adoption may specifically report feelings of loss, sadness/depression, guilt, remorse, and anger.” It was also noted that signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and self-destructive behavior were present (Coleman and Garratt, 2016). The difficult part of all this is diagnosis. The effects of placing a child on birth mothers have not been studied nearly enough to give a clear idea of whether or now you’re experience post-placement depression. If you were to ask a doctor if you specifically had post-placement depression, they could neither confirm nor deny that conclusion.
So how can you tell if you have post-placement depression? The short answer is, you can’t. But there are some things to look for that make your inner conflict stand out from other diagnoses such as postpartum depression. In the same study done by Coleman and Garratt (2016), they found in an “interview-based examination of 28 birth mothers wherein 68% of the women reported some form of mental illness (depression, nervous breakdown, manic depression, and other conditions)[. T]he factors found to be associated with psychological distress included lack of support from families and from the agencies involved, lack of counseling, suppression of feelings of loss, guilt, and shame, the presence of other significant life events, such as the experience of sexual abuse or a death, and achieving contact with their children and finding out that the child’s life in the adoptive home had not been very happy.”
If any of this sounds or feels familiar, consider talking with a doctor. They may not be able to tell you exactly what caused the depression by taking blood samples or brain scans, but they can recommend appropriate counseling, medication, etc. If you feel like you are a danger to yourself or others, call 911 and get help immediately.
PLEASE KNOW THIS: The negative feelings brought upon by this hard experience DO NOT leave you worthless and disposable. YOU ARE WORTH HELPING, regardless of how your circumstances have made you feel. There is a way for every birth mother to overcome these hardships. You just need to find the ones that are right for you.
Coleman, P. K., PhD., & Garratt, Debbie,R.N., M.Ed. (2016). From birth mothers to first
mothers: Toward a compassionate understanding of the life-long act of adoption
placement. Issues in Law & Medicine, 31(2), 139-163. Retrieved from
The basics of postpartum depression, WebMD (2016). Retrieved from