Today PsychCentral is hosting World Mental Health Blog Day. Usually I like to keep my Fridays funny, but I need to take this opportunity to discuss something very serious in our journey to become the family we are today: Post-Adoptive Depression. It is not easy for me to discuss this as I have fought hard to keep it secretive. But, I think we who have struggled with this are doing a disservice to future adoptive families if we do not start speaking out about it.
Post-adoptive depression is rarely talked about and poorly understood. It took a severe bout after adopting our second child before I even knew anything about the phenomena. Statistics vary on what percentage of adoptive mothers this affects. A study done by Harriet McCarthy revealed 65% of adoptive mothers struggled with this. Per Dr. Jane Aronson, an adoption medicine specialist, 75-85% of her clients reported feeling depressed or sad.
Given how high the percentage is, it is surprising that it is not more widely discussed. However, given the fear of how one is perceived struggling during what should be one of the happiest moments of her life, it remains a disorder carefully kept secretive, which is precisely what I strove to do during my ordeal.
We worked through years of infertility prior to starting our adoption journey. All in all it took six and a half years to become parents. I had wrestled with bouts of depression over the duration, but it was often tied to unresolved grief regarding my infertility. I was under the belief that once I became a mother, it would no longer be an issue.
The first few weeks after bringing our son home were utter elation. I eagerly took on my role of motherhood. As the months rolled on though, I began to be plagued by guilt, anxiety, hopelessness and eventually became suicidal.
How could this be? My lifelong dreams of motherhood had just come true! How could I be back to wrestling with depression again? At the time, I assumed it was due to the number of changes that had occurred. I had quit my full-time job which left me feeling isolated and alone. My sleep schedule was obviously disrupted. It felt like eating a meal or leaving the house took military precision, working around Turkey-Man’s nap and eating schedule.
I found the responsibility of caring for a new life overwhelming. Although this was precisely what I craved, I found it far harder than I imagined. My perfectionism was in full swing and even the slightest negative response from our little man left me questioning everything I was doing.
In addition, I was not prepared for the grief I felt for Turkey-Man’s birth mother and felt exceedingly guilty that my joy was coming at the expense of someone else. I had to constantly remind myself that I was the mother God had planned for our son in order to assuage some of the guilt I felt in mothering another woman’s child. Compounding it all was a self-judgment that something was inherently wrong with me because I was not enjoying this pinnacle moment more.
I felt completely alone in this struggle. Who would understand me feeling depressed after finally becoming a mother? This is what I really wanted in life, what we worked very hard for. How could I not be happy? It seemed incredibly ungrateful to be feeling the emotions that were weighing me down.
With our son, I assumed the depressive episode was more related to my history of depression, than anything to do with adoption. When the pattern repeated more severely with our daughter, I took notice.
Her road to our family was surrounded with much more turmoil than we had with our son. We were faced with three significant factors that each left us re-evaluating if it was right for us to continue pursuing the adoption.
Added to that, my wounds from infertility were festering due to my sister-in-law expecting triplets literally the same day our daughter was due and my sister had become pregnant as well. I was left watching close-up what I was missing when pursuing adoption, unable to carry a child of my own.
Our daughter made her arrival, for the most part the difficult factors in her background had been resolved and we were free to take her home. Once home, the real nightmare began. She cried from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily for months, long past the typical colicky phase.
I began re-feeling all of the factors in the depression I had felt with our son. But, it was magnified by her incessant cries. There were many times she was placed in her crib and left alone because I had reached a point where I was afraid I would snap. For months on end, our lives were constantly a balance of trying to soothe her, preserving our sanity and keeping our now 2-year-old son attended to.
Every time I put her in her crib or handed her off to my husband a voice in the back of my head would remind me that there was another woman grieving the loss of her child, another woman who made an incredibly selfless decision so I could be this baby’s mother. That ate me alive. The guilt was massive.
What kind of adoptive mother was I that I could not handle this better and enjoy it more? Surely, a better mom would be doing a better job. I began to feel like our children deserved someone far superior to me. The suicidal thoughts became intense.
Throughout our journey, I closely followed with a therapist, trying to keep my depression under the best control. It was helpful to have someone to give me feedback uninhibited by the personal emotional investment that our friends and family had in the situation. But, there seemed to be no amount of therapy that could bring me out of this episode. We would discuss it, I would gain more insight, return home and Little-Flower would still be crying. Whatever progress we made in therapy would be undone within moments. Months later with much intervention from my therapist and physicians, the depression lifted.
Throughout both ordeals, I was terrified to talk with anyone else regarding what I was experiencing. I felt I would be judged, that my belief that something was wrong with me would only be validated if I opened up. I painted on a happy face each of our home visits by our social worker, scared that my depression would hold up finalizing the adoption.
Looking back, it still surprises me that not one time was I warned about the potential for post-adoptive depression. In all we worked with four different social workers. No one ever brought it up. It was as if the phenomena did not exist.
The impact of the experience on my family was profound. Better understanding may have lessened its intensity. Just knowing how many women were affected would normalized it some, lessening the guilt and isolation I felt.
My hope is if we can get more families to talk about their experiences with Post-Adoptive Depression Syndrome we can prompt further research, more insight and better interventions. Future adoptive families deserve to be educated and have assistance readily available.
If you are finding yourself struggling, please seek professional help. You and your family deserve more than what the depression is allowing. Help and hope is out there.
For more information regarding P.A.D.S. here is a list of articles I found helpful.
http://www.joyfromgrace.com/blog/shame-is-literally-killing-people (Same link if you click on the opening picture.)