After our first son came home, I remember commenting on how tired I was, and someone actually saying to me, “Well, you prayed for this, so you can’t complain.” As if a mom of an adopted child was any different than a mom who gave birth to her child. For a long time after, I was more reserved in my comments on the struggles I was facing as a new mom. However, there are kind people in the world, and I was reminded by one that parenting is tiring no matter how your child comes to your family.
A new parent, whether by birth or adoption, can have seasons of depression because life as you knew it is no longer the same. Lack of sleep and new responsibilities can leave us empty, uncertain, and overwhelmed. Feelings of guilt, along with doubting our abilities, can cause us to withdraw. Adoptive parents need to be able to vent their frustrations just like biological parents. Venting allows for a release of pent-up emotions, and shared experiences remind parents that they are not alone. So many times, though, the adoptive parent is left to struggle alone because perception is that their depression isn’t real because they did not give birth, and they asked for their situation. However, this is simply untrue.
Adoption adds another spoke to the wheel in the depression cycle. Symptoms for post-adoption depression differ very little from those of clinical depression: chronic fatigue, mood swings, unexplained sadness, increased/decreased appetite, weight gain/loss, difficulty focusing/articulating, withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts. Stress and fatigue are usually triggers for depression. Post-adoption depression stems from the same, but there is also more. Adoptive parents have had to go through a grueling process to prove they are “fit” to be parents. Every aspect of their lives has been turned inside out and inspected thoroughly and almost embarrassingly. Additionally, there have been wait times, governmental bureaucracies, financial strain, and possibly unfulfilled expectations. It is no wonder that adoptive parents can struggle with post-adoption depression.
Jenny’s journey with depression was diagnosed after she brought home her son. The symptoms came on so gradually that she did not even realize. Eventually, she noticed that she did not feel like her normal self any longer. The long-awaited joy of parenting was gone. She was easily angered, overly impatient, and had incredible mood swings. There were days that she could hardly get out of the house. Her appetite was a yo-yo, and she gained weight. Her body hurt all the time. Chronic fatigue and sleepless nights combined with feelings of incompetency, inadequacy, and apathy plunged her into feeling half-crazy. Her brain felt like there was a constant white noise like the static of a radio station or television. After a while, she had enough. Jenny knew that her son and husband deserved better. SHE deserved better. Something was wrong, so she began to research her symptoms and came up with a theory: she was depressed. Her doctor assured her that depression was a chemical imbalance combined with the stress she was experiencing and not something she was doing wrong. Depression in any form was not supposed to happen to “good” people, and you certainly never talked about it. Jenny felt so alone. Then she remembered that many people have walked the same path prior to her, and many more were currently walking the same path covertly due to the stigma of depression. She learned that several of her friends had experienced depression. She drew strength from their support and formed her own community.
As I listened to Jenny’s story, I could not help but think, “What if everyone had this kind of support as they walked through depression?” In her article “In the Absence of ‘The Village’ Mothers Struggle Most,” Beth Berry posed the theory that because “relatively contained multigenerational communities” and the camaraderie they foster is largely disappearing, women are feeling alone, overwhelmed, and depressed. Berry states that communities used to be places where we “know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need…and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.” Maybe the sharing of feelings and struggles with people who have similar experiences, past or present, could help those struggling through post-adoption depression. Maybe instead of a stigma attached, those adoptive parents experiencing post-adoption depression should be offered support, understanding, and a safe place to be real.
In her 2010 article “Understanding Post-Adoption Depression,” Tara Parker-Pope quotes Purdue nursing professor Dr. Karen J. Foli, author of the book The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforseen Challenges of Adoption. Dr. Foli said “adoptive parents often feel guilt and confusion about their struggles, given how hard they worked to adopt a child, and they are therefore reluctant to seek help. What I want to emphasize is that by the parent helping themselves, they are helping their family and child,” Dr. Foli said. “If they step forward and start to heal themselves, it will only benefit the child as well.” Seeking help and support is not a sign of weakness. In fact, by doing so, a parent experiencing post-adoption depression shows strength. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote in Proverbs 11:14: “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Finding wise counsel and understanding support can only be found in having a personal community. Beth Berry said it well that “We’re supposed to have [our personal community] sharing the everyday moments, guiding us and helping us see the sacredness in the insanity. We’re supposed to be nurtured for months postpartum [and post-adoption depression], cared for when we’re sick, held while we mourn, and supported during challenging transitions…Find yourself, then find your people. Or do it the other way around.” There is hope and healing for post-adoption depression in time and with community.
You are not alone.