Overcoming Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome and Bonding Issues

Signs you’re suffering and tips for making necessary progress.

Melissa Giarrosso January 02, 2015
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It’s something no one wants to talk about because those who suffer from Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) or simply have trouble bonding with the child they’ve adopted, worry that there is something inept within them, or that they will be judged as ungrateful for the blessing they’ve received. There is also the misconception that medical depression is only valid if it follows pregnancy and birth and that post-adoption depression doesn’t carry the same weight or depth. Many adoptive parents feel like they spent months or even years jumping through hoops to prove they’d be exceptional parents, only to feel like a failure once placement occurs. It’s because of this that few people admit the feelings they have and seek appropriate help, and those suffering from post-adoption depression are left feeling like they’re carrying around the burden of a shameful secret.

If you’re worried you are experiencing PADS, many who have suffered note similar symptoms aside from simply wondering why they don’t feel appropriately attached to their child, which include the following:

  • Excessive guilt (including guilt regarding having the child while birth family does not)
  • Feeling inadequate or undeserving
  • The inability to enjoy activities you once loved
  • Feeling powerless, worthless, or hopeless
  • Anger, frustration, irritability
  • The inability to concentrate or carry on normal tasks
  • Loss of energy, drive, or ambition
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Retreating from friends, family, or other sources of support

In talking about this topic with my fellow adoptive parent friends, I’ve realized bonding and attachment issues, as well as PADS, are much more common than we think. Given a safe environment to discuss true emotions, many adoptive parents will admit trouble bonding, issues with attachment, and depression that lasted months or longer. I was impressed recently when I opened this topic up for discussion in an online open adoption group for adoptive parents that I moderate, and many people shared their experiences with both biological and adopted children they were parenting. This has taught me that no one is immune to bonding issues and depression. Depression isn’t discerning, and there is no rhyme or reason for who will experience bonding issues. It doesn’t matter if you bonded quickly to your first child and took to motherhood easily; it is still possible to experience these emotions with your second placement or beyond. It doesn’t matter how hard you prayed for the placement or how badly the child you’re parenting is wanted (or how hard you’d fight to keep him). It has nothing to do with lack of love. It’s happening and it needs to be worked through because of love.

When depression arises, one of the most natural reactions is to retreat from the things that may be causing the pain, if not from everything in general. Many parents who experience PADS or bonding issues might find themselves shying away from caretaking duties in an attempt to avoid making the situation worse, when time together and closeness is what are required to build love. I think many of us aren’t used to the concept of forcing love. We choose our mate and build a life together not because we’re forced, but because it feels right. Taking placement of a child who might not feel like an organic extension of yourself, then bonding with that child so the connection feels natural, might take intentional effort. Opportunities to fall in love are needed, and despite the depression or bonding troubles, this child you’ve taken placement of is worth your time, worth the mental exhaustion of thinking this through, and worth seeking and accepting help from others so you can handle this head-on.

One thing to consider is whether something at the beginning of this placement caused gaps in the foundation you laid to build your relationship upon. In your mind, it’s important to walk through what the first few months post-placement felt like, or even the match period, if necessary. Is there anything during that time that caused you to build a foundation that is unstable? Just visualize the foundation of a building when it’s poured. If it has cracks running through it, nothing solid and stable can be built atop. You can’t get a do-over, but you can identify the issues and set time aside to see this child as an individual who cannot be resented, cannot be overlooked, and doesn’t deserve to be slighted. If you are finding it hard to identify where the crack may have started, consider the thought-starters below. Every situation is different, so consider your unique situation as you ask yourself:

  • Was the match/placement experience with this child different than your prior experiences?
  • Did you find that the intensity of contact you had with birth parents following placement made you feel less validated in your role or less needed to your child?
  • Did you have to return to work immediately?
  • Was there the possibility of a disruption in the adoption or health concerns that caused you to distance yourself emotionally?
  • If you’ve had a prior placement and didn’t have issue bonding, is the type of contact/frequency of contact different with this placement?
  • Were there some other challenges going on within your immediate family at the time of match, placement, or post-placement?
  • Were you more tentative about parenting one gender versus another for any reason, whether it be your own family history or because of a prior miscarriage or adoption disruption?
  • Did you feel yourself anticipating anything about this child in particular (gender, sibling placement, etc.) but feel your expectations have not come to fruition?
  • Do you see the child you’re struggling to bond with as a point of resentment for any reason? For example, have you had to return to work, had additional arguments with your spouse, is your other child not getting as much attention, etc. because of the added stress of having another child?
  • Are you taking the time to intentionally bond with this child, or are you going through the motions?
  • If you think of others, add them in the comments section below.

If you are suffering with bonding issues or Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome, there is something you need to hear: There is nothing wrong with you. Bonding issues or PADS have no bearing on your worth as a parent. You are capable of this. There is nothing to be ashamed about. There is hope. You are not alone. This is not the time to duck and run. This is the time to dig deep, make a plan, assess and re-assess, pour your time into this, and fight for your child. You’ve got this, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Keep pushing forward, knowing you’re not alone.

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Melissa Giarrosso

Melissa Giarrosso is a Staff Storyteller at Adoption.com and a mom to two quirky kids through open adoption, all thanks to infertility and the belief that adoption is never second best. She and her family reside in a suburb of Memphis, TN where they remain faithful members of numerous open adoption communities, gently advocating the opportunities that open adoption affords all members of the adoption triad.


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