Postnatal depression following childbirth is a well-recognized and studied condition. However, not so many people know that adoptive parents may also develop postnatal depression. This is the name given to depression with onset following a successful adoption.
While many of the factors that contribute to postnatal depression in biological mothers may be missing, such as hormonal changes and anxiety about labor and delivery, others are shared. These include having to complete a long and expensive adoption process, and the lack of family support in many cases.
Adoptive parents may have unrealistic expectations about the quality of their lives following a successful adoption. They may not expect the usual frustrations, difficulties, and physical strain of raising children. The sleep deprivation, financial demands, and adjustment problems may all take a heavy toll on the mental and emotional health of adoptive parents. The parents may feel that the results of the adoption were not as good as they thought.
Again, the reaction of extended family and social acquaintances to the adopted child may not be as favorable as their own. This may create embarrassment, doubts, and indignation, depending on how dependent the parents are on the opinions of others. At the same time, they know they owe it to their child to be loyal. These conflicting emotions also heighten the possibility of depression.
Depression following adoption manifests with the same symptoms as following any other trigger. The usual symptoms include:
- Sadness or low mood
- Loss of interest in or not enjoying previously pleasurable activities
- Changes in appetite and in eating habits
- Loss or gain of weight to a marked degree without other illness
- Sleep disturbances
- Hyperactivity or fatigue
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Lack of concentration
- Inability to take decisions when necessary
Post-adoptive parents at risk of depression can be helped if someone walks them through the process of identifying the specific stresses that adoption has brought to them. Sharing them will help others to assist them to evaluate the level of their expectation, as well as to work out coping strategies in difficult situations. Also, spending quality free time in relaxing talk or activities will actually smooth the adoptive parents’ adjustment by giving them time to think things over peacefully and evolve proper responses and decisions.
Volunteering to baby-sit for a couple of sessions, giving them the opportunity to talk about their negative feelings without judging or criticizing them, and offering a kind hand can work wonders by taking off the stress.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc