Post Partum Adoption Depression

Everyone has heard of postpartum depression.  Believe it or not, I doubt the parents also experience depression.

Karen J. Foli, an assistant Professor of Nursing at Purdue University, and an adoptive mother, conducted an important piece of research and is co author of a book entitled, "The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption."  contrary to what you may have previously believed it turns out that adoption produces a great deal of emotional conflict in parents after they get the child home.  Why is this?

According to Foli's research, adoptive parents report number of serious problems once they get home with the child.  By the way, adoptive children in the study ranged in age from newborns to 12 years of age and older.

First, is the problem of forming an attachment to the child.  The attachment bond often proves much more difficult than the parents thought it would be.  Part of this difficulty is due to the fact that these parents have unrealistically high expectations of themselves and the child prior to the adoption. These are people who spent a long and exhausting amount of time convincing authorities that why would make ideal parents for the youngster. In addition, boundaries can become an issue when the adoption allows for the natural parents to occasionally visit the child. What felt like a good idea prior to an adoption can become problematic after wards. 

The reaction of family and friends can also complicate or the emotions felt by the parents.  For example, some families expressed disappointment that adoption rather than natural childbirth was used even if the couple were not able to have their own children.  According to Foli, some people feel entitled to ask parents how much the trial costs them.  This type of question produces anger and frustration in people already in doubt about their ability to parent.  In other words, when all the dust of adoption has settled, and the actual parenting begins, many people find themselves overwhelmed not only would the responsibilities but with severe doubts about their capabilities.

To make matters worse is the fact that parents, family members, and friends tend to view the adoption as an alternative plan after natural childbirth failed.

These types of emotions and thoughts produce the feelings of shame in adoptive parents.  As a result, they are extremely reluctant to reveal what they are experiencing.  They feel too much guilt to readily admit to what is going on in their minds.

None of this is meant to imply that having biological children is easy by comparison.  New parents often experience similar types of feelings and conflicts when raising their children.  However, the difference for adoptive parents he any pressure of having to prove themselves prior to the adoption.

Both personally and professionally I have known many people who are adopted.  Among friends I have also known their families.  What has impressed me for a very long time is the fact that the relationship between adoptive children and their parents is extremely complex.  To my dismay many of the adoptive parents I have known gave the impression of being rather rigid, perfectionist, and even cold.  Please do not make the mistake of believing that I am generalizing about all adoptive parents.  I am not.  My sample is extremely small and therefore, my observations extremely limited.

Foli and her colleagues recommend that adoptive parents send their children need a lot of support.  Depression in the parents can cause depression in the children.

What are your experiences with adoption, either as a parent or as having been an adopted child?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz PhD

  • Cathy

    I think that this only applies to a certain segment of adoptive parents specifically those who would rather not have to adopt and consider it a "second class" sort of a way to have a child and many of those believe if they adopt, they might then have a child of "their" own. I have read about these types of situations and it is not good. The adoptive parents that I have known have all adopted special needs children, the majority of the children being under 10 but generally either coming out of an abusive situation or with MR (developmentally-delayed) and the situation described above doesn't really apply. We adopted a 4 week old infant with Down Syndrome over 20 years ago. We had one son who was 9 1/2 years old born to us at the time. We underwent extensive background checks, etc. and were actually looking for an older child, what they said was available, over 7 years old. When we got the call on a baby boy with Down syndrome at a private agency, we were in shock. We met him a week later on a Thursday, stopped at J C Penney at the mall on the drive home where we bought cribs, clothes - we needed everything. I did sit that evening wondering if I could do this at 33 years old without the traditional 9 months for it to sink in and with the special needs that this baby would have. We picked him up on Friday. He was a healthy baby other than the Down syndrome. We got some expressions of sympathy but when I expressed my joy, they were joyful for us. My feelings toward him were the same as toward my birth son - he was a stranger but just as with my birth son, within the next couple weeks I came to love this baby. As the years went by, someone would say "He has the double cowlick just like his dad." (my husband) or "Where did he get the red hair". (and without even thinking I would say "My grandma had red hair." - it wasn't to mislead as many times I made remarks like just as I would make them about my birth son. Many people believe that my personality matches his so closely that we must be related (stubborn, determined, loving life and not wanting anyone in our way.) Sure, many people make comments to those of us adopting such children meant to be kind "I could never raise a child like that", "You are such wonderful people". (and I think, "just how bad do you think he is to say that?) Was I ever "depressed", no, I prayed before he arrived that God would bring us a child and I am very thankful "most" days that he came into our life. There was a song "I'm so glad to be stuck with you" that was popular when he was a baby and that song said it all.

  • Louise

    Just as every family with biological kids is different, so are adoptive families. Besides the individual personalities and backgrounds of family members, there are adoptive families with internationally-adopted children, domestically-adopted, kids adopted as infants, kids adopted as teens, children from foster care homes, children with special needs, etc., etc........ Parents who are "rigid, perfectionistic, and even cold" can be found in any situation. One thing about adoptive parents, however: we tend to do loads of research on adopting and parenting. I love the saying, "no one ever adopted by accident". Certainly, generalizations apply sometimes and there are certain issues that are common among adoptive parents. "Post Adoption Depression" is an issue that has been identified in recent years. I doubt that most adoptive parents experience it, but probably a significant number do. In my case, the sheer exhaustian of returning from a long trip to Siberia with a new active (and terrific) toddler (and a bug I caught in Russia) -along with a sense of letdown after experiencing an incredible high and exhiliration during my trip - caused depression for a couple of months. But the basic joy of parenting was still there. I can only imagine the pressures that parents returning with children with attachment problems or "mismatched" personalities may experience. It is important that this type of depression is recognized and that adoptive parents receive the support they need from friends, family and agencies during the transition period.

    Of course, parents of children with ongoing attachment and serious developmental issues my experience tremendous stress and also depression for years. Long-term issues fall into another category that should also be addressed more by adoption agencies and the mental health system - for the sake of the children and their parents.

    I think that most adoptive families want to see adoption portrayed more accurately in the media - as a difficult process for many families who have children with severe behaviors but also as a process that is without serious issues for many other families. Most adoptions are successful and most are wonderful sources of joy and satisfaction for the families involved. In my case, I prefer to be a parent to my wonderful child than to any other child that I might have given birth to.

  • Anonymous-1

    I would not ever think of our adoptoin as a "second class" choice. Our 11 year old biological son just happened to not be blessed with a biological sibbling. We fostered a newborn girl for 8 months before we brought our new safely surrenderd son home from the hospital. When our newest son was 1 month old our foster daughter returned home to her bio family. Along with having a hard time bonding with a colicky baby with acid reflux, I have also had to deal with a tremendous loss. It has been harder than I expected. Really it has felt like a death in the family. So, ther has been tremendous feelings of deppression and helplessness. Along with unrealistic expectations from myself, my spouse, and friends and family. It is wonderful, but it is work and not always blissfull. All I can say is if you are depressed, don't be embarassed or ashamed to ask for help.