So I’m sure everyone has heard or may be familiar with the concept of “pre-natal depression”. There is such a thing as “post-adoption” depression and I think I’m slowly going through it. The feelings of euphoria have dissipated and almost everyday I’m thinking “Am I doing the right thing?“, “Is this the right path for me after all?“, “What if I inadvertently cause more damage to this child than what she’s been through”
And without knowing, I found myself into a hole of dark thoughts. The thing is, I’ve been blogging about mental health issues and depression for quite a while and I managed to pick up the tell-tell signs quite quickly. The issue was how to pull myself out of it before it gets too bad.
Signs & Symptoms of Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome
Now to the heavy stuff. A new child in the family means another responsibility. Another mouth to feed and another example to set. I challenge anyone to be a parent and not feel stressed out and worn down sometimes. So unluckily, this is bound to happen when you adopt too. Similar to the baby-blues and post-partum depression (which approximately affects up to 20% of mothers and 15% of fathers every year), post-adoption depression syndrome is also more common than expected with some studies showing up to 65% of adoptive parents experiencing symptoms. This is not a disease or a life limiting condition- identical to any other mental health problem- and it is important to raise awareness of this to allow people to take control.
Causes of post-adoption depression include the lifestyle changes that come with adopting a baby, like lack of sleep, mental and physical exhaustion, as well as medical or psychological problems which is common in adoptive children. Other factors that can stress adoptive parents include potential financial strain for the family and evaluation for parental fitness, both of which can contribute to the likelihood of developing post-adoption depression
Signs & Symptoms
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for in yourself of someone you care about. It is important to note that these typically occur after one month of the adoption placement- but can happen at any other time.
Profiles made about cases of adoption have shown adoptive parents generally have a higher level of education and have more financial resources available to them. Therefore, their personal expectations of the adoption process are often not met, and the very lengthy procedure can make the parents feel as though they have no control over the situation and they must go through with it regardless of personal pain.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things usually found enjoyable
- Difficulty concentrating (reading the same page of the book over and over again)
- Loss of energy
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Guilt / shame
- Weight changes (loss on my side)
- Over-whelming feeling of responsibility
- Re-Occurring migraines (headaches)
- Missing the previous life you had before the child came
- Seeing the adopted child as a disruption of your “normal” way of life
- Mourning the loss of a child you didn’t get to make. (mostly the fertility issues that got you here)
- Seeing the differences in you and your adopted child rather than the similarities
- having to deal with constant vigilance from the child and / or constant demands
- Aggression and other behavioural issues in the adopted child that you have not been warned about or only mildly warned.
So how do you get out of it?
I’ve heard countless people to practice self-care. But how can you do it when you have a clingy child that refuses to be in anyone else’s care (so no babysitters, no friends, no family to help) and then refuses to go and do any independent activity that will allow you some breathing and re-charging space.
I’ve done what I do best. I’ve gone in the mountains and taken the little one with me. I thought that some fresh air and exercise never hurt anyone and the route I picked was fairly easy on Curbar Edge in the Peak District. I’ve done this particular walk before and the scenery is beautiful and the weather was fantastic to begin with.
I started feeling better the moment I put my feet out of the car. No more thoughts about adoption, about behavioural difficulties, about screaming children, about trauma management and developing brains. All I could do was feel the air around me sparkle and shimmer like a caress on my tired head.
As we slowly started walking, the little child got quickly bored (talking about 10 steps here) and wanted to go home. Sat down and refused to budge. Got some stares from some elderly people giving me encouraging smiles and I slowly talked her into continuing the walk, slowly hyping her up about how great it was outside, how amazing the big stones were. I was getting myself exhausted again trying to keep up a cheery appearance to a very sullen child.
Half way through the 3km walk she wanted to go back to the car. I told her gently that it’s ok to be tired but walking back is the same as continuing the route in terms of distance. Oh, I got some nasty stares 🙂
We managed to get the walk finished and that euphoria I felt being back in nature had gone. I was back in the black area with all the doubts and worries.
I was trying really hard not to overthink things. Would this have happened with a natural child (born)? Would it have been better to do IVF? To try and risk an ectopic pregnancy? Would it have been better to adopt a younger child (8 going 9 is quite old and soooo many attitudes are already formed)?
I’ve seen parts of her birth family in her. Her desire to be a slacker. Her desire to settle with less. Her absolute lack of interest in anything school-related or education related. Having had a very education-orientated family and being told from a young age that “you need to study to do better in life than we did” – I can’t agree with the lack of motivation and perspective.
And I have here social workers telling me it’s not lazyness, it’s her feeling of loss and trauma that doesn’t let her do these things. They even tried to use the loss of my mother as an example.
“Do you remember when you mother died and you didn’t feel like concentrating on anything or doing anything?” I said I did. It lasted a while to get back on track and not cry at every single thing reminding me of death.
“How did you cope with it?”
“I exercised. I went back to work. I got back on the horse that is life and rode on. Endorphines (happiness hormones) are released from taking steps and building blocks.”
“A young child does not have that capacity”
I’m looking at MaryJane and I don’t see a grieving child. I see a bored 8-year old with a strong sense of entitlement. The world owes me something and I don’t have to work for it. *sigh*
I looked back on my day with her – filled with so many wondrous things displayed to blind unseeing eyes.
Took her to a National Trust site (Hardwick Hall) nearby to the hiking place as they had kids activities out and in my small head I was thinking if she’s doing something fun, I’ll get a breather and some time to sit down and check my emails.
She picked up every toy, played with it once, gave up really quickly when she didn’t hit the target practice for archery, when she couldn’t jump in the sack or when she couldn’t hit the centre of a bean bag toss target. Dragged my hand all across the playground and then demanded we go home. 15min total spent time.
So back to the main issue at hand.
How do you get out of depression?
- Do small things for yourself (nails, hair, a massage will help)
- Clean the house (I found that the process of polishing things and gathering mess ups was quite good as it keeps me mobile and at the same time my brain can shut off)
- Smile. You might not feel like it, but try it. You might find it stays on.
- Give a hug and get a hug back. Cuddle hormones help.
- Talk it out with friends and family. I found out that talking to my father helped massively as he would not judge or offer advice but be angry when I was angry or be sad when I was sad. He merely reflected my emotions so the empathy I received was like balm.
- Allow yourself to detach a little. It’s ok that you’re not perfect. You don’t have to be. Natural parents are not perfect. The world is not perfect. Demanding perfection is not something to look for in an adoptive process.