Signs and Symptoms of Post-Adoption Depression

There is help. There is hope. You are not alone.

Shannon Hicks November 29, 2017
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Post-adoption depression is tricky. The anticipation of an upcoming adoption is usually filled with excitement and sometimes giddy anticipation by the hopeful adoptive parents. You have worked long and hard to prove to social workers, agencies, lawyers, and judges that you will be great parents. You have filled out teetering stacks of paperwork and endured the lack of privacy that comes along with a home study. And your hopes are about to be fulfilled. Surely this can end with nothing but happily ever after, right?

And then things get real very fast. The sleeplessness of an infant or the tantrums of a toddler or the crushing grief of an older child move in right along with the joys of parenthood. Sometimes bonding is instant. Sometimes it’s not even close. Sometimes behavior is manageable. Sometimes it requires a team of specialists. Sometimes adoptive parents cope with the transition just fine. Sometimes they struggle a lot.

Just like postpartum depression, post-adoption depression is real. I am not a therapist or doctor, but I am an adoptive mom who struggled a lot after one of my adoptions (and not nearly as much after the other one). It wasn’t the kids . . . both of whom I love more than life.  It was my own emotional reactions seeming to spin out of control. And, to make matters worse, I didn’t want to share how much I was struggling, even with the people who love me most, because I had worked so hard for this adoption to happen (and wanted it so badly) and so I somehow felt like my feelings were “wrong.”

Everyone’s adoption experience is different, and some of the symptoms of post-adoption depression can look like a typical transition to parenthood. Here are a few:

Sudden weight gain or loss

I know, you’re busy. Busier than you’ve ever been in your life. Too busy to cook healthy food, so take-out becomes your default. Or too busy to eat at all. But if you’re not prioritizing self-care, something deeper might be in play.

Changes in sleep patterns

If your kid doesn’t sleep through the night, neither do you. There may be nighttime feedings or nightmares. Not to mention the hyper-vigilance that some kids from hard places exhibit. Sleep is a struggle. But if you’re experiencing insomnia or extreme fatigue, this may also signal a problem.

Isolation from people and things that you love

Again, I know you’re busy. Being a parent can be all-consuming. But if you feel yourself pushing away from people or things that you love, make sure to think about why this is happening.

Persistent or extreme sadness, anger, or anxiety

Just before I got myself into therapy, I confided in a trusted friend that I felt like I was being pushed to the very edge of insanity. If you find yourself saying things like this, check in with someone you trust.

If you’re looking for more clinical information about post-adoption depression, this site can help. But here’s what I want you to know: if you are struggling after an adoption, you are not alone.

Summon your courage and talk to a friend or family member. Schedule an appointment with your spiritual leader or healthcare provider. Search out a therapist with experience in working with adoptive parents. There is help. There is hope. You are not alone.

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.


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