Adoption Depression is Real and Needs to be Talked About

For two years I had prayed for this child. The first time I saw his face I knew; He was my son and I was his mom! The problem was he lived across the world. When the call finally came we packed up our entire family and traveled to the Philippines to meet our son and for him to join our family!

It had been years of planning, raising funds, filling out piles of paperwork, not taking vacations, working overtime, and sacrificing so we could bring this child home. Then we were home. And we were not sleeping, and we were cocooning, and we were not leaving the house. And then the house felt smaller and smaller each day that I was home alone with my two young children. When my husband returned to work it started to creep in. I loved being a stay-at-home mom, but I struggled with the loneliness, the tedious chores, the hours spent feeding and cleaning up, and caring for a child who just went through a huge trauma while also trying to care for my other child as well. 

One morning I woke up and realized I was depressed—not the sad feelings we all get. This was a physical, painful depression that felt like a hot heavy blanket that threatened to suffocate me. If I kept busy and moving, I could keep it at bay, but then the sleepless nights and piles of dishes and constant tears of needy children would break me mentally. 

I was in a dark place, but this time I knew what to do. This wasn’t my first time dealing with post-adoption depression. The phenomenon of postpartum depression happens to moms that give birth because of many medical, physical, and emotional reasons. While it is not the same, many moms through adoption experience post-adoption depression.

My first child was also adopted and I experienced severe depression when she came home as well. I am generally a very mentally healthy and happy person. I have many close friends and family members that I talk to daily and I am very blessed to have a wonderful partner in my husband of 11 years. I did not adopt because of infertility. It was always the way I wanted to be a mom. Then, once I was in it, I had severe mental health challenges. 

It was so shocking to me that I didn’t even know what was happening to me. That is why post-adoption depression needs to be talked about more. We need to know the symptoms and the reasons it may happen. Now that I have survived two bouts of post-adoption depression here are my thoughts.

  1. What goes up must come down 

For many prospective adopting parents we dream about the adoption many years before we even meet a child. There are so many hours spent in classes, filling out paperwork, and praying for and thinking about our future children. A pregnant woman is only asked about her child for the few months she is noticeably pregnant. After we announced our adoption plans, we were asked hundreds of times, “How is the adoption going?” “Any adoption updates?” and more. 

We loved to answer and educate people about the process, but it can be sad to have to tell people over and over that there is no news. Much of the process is waiting with little to no news for months at a time. 

So, after years of working and fighting for a child, when we finally get home and the dust settles and the adrenaline depletes, parents are left all alone to work through the complex emotions of post-adoption life. Other moms could understand, to a point, but we were one of the only ones in our friend group going through it.

The high feelings of anticipating an adoption come down fast after the excitement of anticipation is gone and that contributed to my feelings of depression during that season. 

  1. Why won’t my child sleep?

Another cause of my mental decline in that season was lack of sleep. Both my children were adopted intentionally from orphanages. They were used to sleeping in big rooms with lots of crying babies and loud traffic just outside. Then they moved to our quiet house on our quiet street and sleep was hard to learn. 

I also noticed that big feelings connected to trauma that children hold in during the day creep out at night. When their bodies slow down enough for their minds to take over, it can be scary. There are many beautiful wonderful things about adoption but there is also trauma. I spent many sleepless nights, cradling my daughter and desperately rocking her to sleep as she cried. There were too many nights in her short life when she cried and no one comforted her, so I committed that I would always be there to comfort her. 

Looking bac,k I am so grateful I was there to love on her and those long hours when I sang and even cried with her were amazing times of bonding. However, they left me wrecked physically and emotionally during the day. This led to my next issue.

  1. The house is a mess and my mind is a mess 

Like many new moms, I really struggled to learn how to keep a house after having kids. I went from a very busy time-consuming career to being a stay-at-home mom and I didn’t handle the transition well. For most of my marriage, I worked more hours than my husband and so we divided the domestic labor evenly depending on our work schedules. He did more when I was working more and vice versa. 

When I become a mom, I was able to leave my career for a while and I thought that the transition would be easy. I was so wrong because being a mom is the hardest job. Add all the adoption highs and lows and it’s a recipe for a difficult transition. I didn’t have a newborn to care for, I had a little malnourished 2-year-old that needed constant emotional regulation and medical care! Without sleeping and all the time-consuming care, my house started to get worse and worse. I didn’t have time or energy to get the daily cleaning done until the point that I would be crying on the floor as I folded tiny outfits. I couldn’t enjoy the few moments of peace because anytime I had a free moment I looked around at the house and just felt like I would never catch up. 

I have never been especially domestic, but this was bad for even me. The mess multiplied my stress. My husband would come home and help me after his long day of work but we could never catch up. I would feel guilty that I couldn’t get it all done. The guilt added to my depression. 

  1. The turning point 

I had to admit that I had a problem. I loved being a mom. I loved my daughter and would miss her once she was asleep. But at the same time, I was having terrible thoughts about how I am a terrible wife and mother. I went to dark places in my mind. I started to believe terrible lies that I am ashamed to admit. 

My husband would say the most innocent things and I would snap at him in ugly ways. I was not a grumpy person, but suddenly everything made me angry! This was not me. I was the happy bubbly person that loved my husband’s input. Suddenly, everything he said pushed me over the edge. I was stress eating or not eating. I pretended all was well when talking to my friends. If I told the truth, people would judge my parenting. They would judge our choice to adopt. I chose this life so I couldn’t complain! 

The turning point was that I had to get help, and the first step was admitting that. It was so freeing to admit my problem to my husband. He already knew, but now that I had owned the depression, I could start to heal. 

I got help. I got a counselor. I invited my mother-in-law to come and help around the house. I told my friends the truth. I was suffering and I was on the edge of a mental breakdown. No one judged. The opposite happened. They all told me their stories of mental health crises, of marriage issues, of motherhood struggles, and how they had to have a turning point as well. I was not suddenly better, but telling the truth was a turning point for me. My loved ones could help and I could help myself. 

Then when we adopted my son, three years after our daughter, I was sure that I had conquered that part of me. I was back to my normal mental health and, in many ways, I was even better. However, the post-adoption blues caught me again. The difference this time was I caught it right away and was able to get on top of it before it gained too much power. 

It is like an old knee injury. You may go months and years with no pain but it flairs up from time to time. Mental health and physical health are connected. The medicine I needed was time with friends, help cleaning my house and sometimes that meant paying someone. But most of all, I needed to be honest about needing professional help. 

The beautiful thing is I am now healed! Life is still hard. Being a stay-at-home mom can still be lonely. My house still gets and stays messy sometimes. I have learned to embrace the beautiful and the ugly. I cry and then I call my mom and cry more and then I keep going. I love the person I am becoming and the person I am. 

If you are in the season of post-adoption depression,  I pray you feel seen, you feel loved and most of all you feel you can access the help you need to make the most of this season! It is not easy but worth every sacrifice to be the mom to my beautiful children.