Experiencing Post-Adoption Depression in a Second Adoption

Our first adoption three years ago had been hard, but this struggle felt herculean.

Jennifer S. Jones October 04, 2018

When we began our second adoption, it felt like an episode of déjà vu. We filled out the same paperwork, collected the same letters and references. We underwent police clearances, fingerprinting, and visa applications. The day we received our match, we knew our family was complete. We showed our daughter’s photo to our son and anxiously awaited word we could travel. When we journeyed to India to meet our new daughter/sister, it was the most magical time. We explored temples and spice markets, shared tea with the amazing individuals who had cared for our daughter, and got to know our daughter’s birth country through food and stories. Then we returned home.

At first, we seemed okay. Another successful adoption completed! But then the reality of our new life together as a family set in. My son was regressing, hard. My new daughter was clinging, hysterically. I was battling typhoid and sepsis. And my husband had to return to work. Each day I slipped deeper into depression, and each day I wondered why “this time was so different?” True, our first adoption three years ago had been hard, but this struggle felt herculean.

Conversations with fellow adoptive parents helped me realize why our second adoption was so tough. And more importantly why we, as an adoptive community, need to do more to support and acknowledge the challenges of second time adoptive families. Here’s what I have learned through my struggles with post-adoption depression during our second adoption:

There Is No Such Thing As an Adoption Jedi Master.
1. There Is No Such Thing As an Adoption Jedi Master.

Going into our second adoption, I kept telling myself “I got this.” I felt like I had read and lived every chapter of books like 'The Connected Child' and 'In On It.' With my son, we had struggled through attachment issues, medical issues, sleep issues, feeding issues, and developmental delays. Even our social worker remarked how prepared we were for “round two.” But when our new daughter came home, instead of utterly rejecting me—like my son had—she clawed and clung to me for dear life. And instead of hoarding food and needing a snack cup at all times, she refused to eat. The differences between our two children grew to epic portions, and I chastised myself for not figuring out how to meet my new daughter’s needs. But every child is different, every process is different, and there is no such thing as an “Adoption Jedi Master.”

It’s Kinda Like Labor.
2. It’s Kinda Like Labor.

I do not have biological children, but I have been “paper pregnant.” And if waiting between our home study and placement was “paper pregnancy,” then placement was like labor. Perhaps you were waiting on a birth mother’s final decision, or perhaps, like us, you were waiting for jet lag to subside and for your new son to stop screaming every time you entered the room. But going through our second adoption, I didn’t remember any of these moments. Instead, it all felt like the first time, like I was doing something terribly wrong. Had I remembered those first months together home from China, I would have realized that like labor, this too shall pass. And when it does, I will have a wonderful child and only traces of memory of these difficult days.

The Days Are Long, but the Year Will Be Short.
3. The Days Are Long, but the Year Will Be Short.

As I tried to meet my new daughter’s needs, I felt myself constantly comparing her to my son. My son is independent, confident, caring, loving, and tremendously funny, but he wasn’t always. It took a lot of work to get where he is, and some days facing that journey with my daughter feels overwhelming. There are days when I feel like I have to drain a whole ocean one small bucket at a time. But there are also days when I look at my son and think, yes, my daughter will get there, eventually. This is what the first year home is like.

The Guilt Is Real.
4. The Guilt Is Real.

We’d been home roughly two weeks when my son first casually asked, “So...how long are we going to keep Mira?” True, all children may feel this way about a new sibling, but with adoptive children, the threat of regression is always present. Suddenly, my son wanted to be spoon fed and held constantly. The smallest disagreement sent him into an emotional tailspin. I wondered if we had made a huge mistake bringing our new daughter home. Why had we upset the apple cart? I blamed myself for not doing enough to ease my son’s transition into big brotherhood. But guilt is not sustainable. We started talking more and finding ways to have father-son outings and mother-son dates. Like all things adoption, it’s a journey.

There Will Be Less People.
5. There Will Be Less People.

When we first returned home from China three years ago, the number of friends and family who called and stopped by to check in on us was just amazing. They brought meals and helped us keep our heads above water, but they also inquired as to how our new son was adjusting. Adoption felt like a novelty, and everyone wanted to hear our story. But when we returned home from India, most people in our community (including myself!) thought “They’re second-time adoptive parents; they got this down!” People still supported us, but in hindsight, I wish I had been more open with our struggles. If I had, I know help would have been there waiting.

There’s More of Them!
6. There’s More of Them!

It’s the simplest “ah ha!” but the truth is plain and simple. There are just more kids in your house now. There are more schedules to balance, more needs to address, more meals to make, more laundry to do, and any time you had to yourself is likely gone. In the eye of our hurricane, I couldn’t see this. But I know now you will get it down. You will find a new routine. And you will find your new normal. It just takes time.

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Jennifer S. Jones

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.

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