Monday, November 16, 2009

The side of adoption that no one wants to talk about

I thought I would write today on an adoption topic that most people don't like to talk about. Even I don't like to talk about it. But I do have experience, and I think it is important to get the information out there, so here I go.

I will tell you all day long how amazing it is to have an open adoption. I can bring people to tears when I share what it felt like to have a baby placed in my arms. But I usually either gloss over or completely leave out and ignore the existence of post-adoption depression. It just isn't that fun to talk about.

Adoption is amazing and wonderful, but it isn't all a bed of roses. There are some things that are just plain hard. The subject that I wanted to bring some light to is Post-Adoption Depression (PAD).

PAD is not something people talk much about. I had either not heard of it or not listened until I went through it. I'm sure you've heard of Post-Partum Depression (PPD), which is when a woman experiences a mild to severe depression shortly after giving birth. Well, PAD is the same thing, just take out the birth and put in adoption.

My experience starts with Abigail's adoption, since that was my first adoption. It was such a dream come true, and although I had a period of adjusting to a baby, adjusting to being a mother, and some feeling of being overwhelmed with my new responsibility, I had a very easy and enjoyable transition.

When Jack and Aidan were born, it was NOT the same. I know I was expecting it to be the same, and it wasn't. I remember them being 5 months old, and I just felt so angry and overwhelmed all the time. I would lay in bed, trying to go to sleep, and I would fantasize about leaving (in my fantasy, I would drive to a hotel, check in for 3 days until I was caught up on sleep, and then come home). I was not okay, and I didn't know why. I knew it was more than just being really tired and really busy. I knew there was something wrong, and I didn't know why. I was afraid to admit to anyone, even myself or my husband, that everything was not happy. After all, I had ASKED for this. I had sought it out. I had begged and prayed and pleaded for this. I was afraid that if I said I was angry, it would seem like I wasn't grateful. And even though I felt a lot of anger, I still felt incredibly grateful.

It took me a long time to recognize what it was, because I didn't feel what I thought of as "depressed"- I didn't feel sad, I didn't feel like I didn't want to get out of bed. For me, it was fear, anger, and an almost constant feeling of being overwhelmed. I would cry every Sunday night because I was literally afraid of Monday morning coming and being alone with all 3 babies. When I had to go somewhere- a doctor appointment, that sort of thing, I would get panicked the night before. Even things that I had done before and knew I could do, I would panic.

It was so far from my normal, "I can do anything" attitude. Luckily one day I was browsing around on the internet, and found an article on PPD, and immediately recognized myself. I was shocked. At the same time, I was incredibly relieved that I had a name for what I was going through. I also had an online friend who had experienced PAD whom I was able to email.

PPD is hard for people to admit to experiencing, but it is almost expected. I have heard countless new mothers being asked if they are feeling 'blue'. People know about it, and expect it. In contrast, a new adoptive mother is generally expected to just be supremely happy. And we are. Just as a biological mother is ecstatic to have her new baby, adoptive parents are grateful and joyful. But both have the potential to experience mild to severe depression.

Here are a few things that can contribute to an adoptive parent experiencing PAD that people generally don't think about:
  • Sudden change. A bio parent has a pretty sure timeline (give or take a few weeks) to know almost exactly when their baby will arrive. They can plan, prepare, and mentally get ready. An adoptive parent might have waited years and years, and then get a baby on just a few hours notice. Even if they have some notice, the wait is plagued with doubt and fear that it might not work out. I was never able to fully believe that we were actually getting a baby until we actually had the baby.
  • Legal issues. The birth of the baby is generally the beginning of any legal issues that may arise. A lot of adoptions are called "legal risk" adoptions, meaning that the adoptive family accepts the baby, knowing that there are issues that may require the return of the baby. The happy, joyful time of first meeting and falling in love with your baby can also be a time of great stress and worry.
  • Relating to the birthmother. It is hard to watch someone do what these women do. It is easy for an adoptive parent to feel guilt, or that they caused their birthmother this pain. It is hard to think about your own happiness when someone you care so much about may be struggling.
  • New baby. Beyond everything else, is the adjustment to a new baby!

I could probably go on, but I'm doing my best to keep this somewhat brief! :) I just wanted to put this out there, let people know it exists, and hopefully increase awareness.

If you are interested to read more, here is a great article about PAD.


Chosen said...

Thanks for writing with candor on this. It makes it so hard to deal with, since there is the guilt on top of it- the guilt of feeling that way!

Chosen said...

Also- for some reason I can't get that article link to work! I'd really like to read the article :)

ali said...

Shanna-- I really admire your strength to write about this. I'm a firm believer that we can help each other by talking about these difficult things. It's so hard to admit when you are not "well" emotionally or mentally, I think there is an unfortunate stigma that can go along with it. I always worry for people that go through infertility and then finally get a baby because they feel like they should always be happy and that it shouldn't be a difficult adjustment. I always want to grab them by the shoulders and say "It's ok if you are freaked out and want it all to end! That's totally normal no matter how much you wanted it!"

I think putting it "out there" can be so helpful to people. Good for you!!

Also, I always worried about adoptive mother friends of mine that had experienced that sudden change that you talk about, because for me, the only reason I wanted that baby to come is so that I would not have to be pregnant anymore ;) I can't imagine being thrown into motherhood that suddenly, especially after years of not having kids!!

Katie said...

That was really great. I love the way you wrote about this. I didn't even know it was a real thing until a couple of years after we had adopted our kids. I felt like the worst person in the world to have those feeling after all I had been given. Finally I had a doctor talk to me about it (It wasn't even my doctor, it was my kid's pediatrician who took one look at me and said "You look horrible". nice right?)and it was like everything clicked. I could finally take a breath and think "Yay, I'm normal" It wish it was something more people talked about. I was wondering If I could link to this post on my blog?

Shanna said...

I have fixed the link, so it works now!

Katie, feel free to link away! :)

Opp Family said...

Thanks Shanna, I love your candor on adoption. It is our normal and I love to have someone to share those same feelings with.

Nemmer said...

Shanna, thanks so much for this post! I'd love to link to it from my blog too. :)

Anonymous said...

After being home with my daughter for four months, I think I'm suffering from this. I am exhausted. Not just tired, but mentally and physically drained beyond anything I've known. I'm snappy, tired, and am ready to scream my head off at my mother and MIL because they're seemingly constantly adding to my stress.

I have tried for months to tell them I'm ALWAYS exhausted, but they just seem to revel gleefully at my predicament with "welcome to motherhood!" I think it's more than that. I'm drowning. I'm exhausted beyond exhausted mentally. Physically, my arthritis feels like my back is made of glass, my blood sugar is out of whack (insulin problems) and I'm so tired I can't seem to manage to work out at all, which would help.

I feel like I can't do anything right, and the stress is killing me. Thank you for blogging about this. It does help to know I'm not alone.