Go ahead and start typing "post-adoption" into Google. If yours is set up like mine -- to give you shortcuts to the most popular search terms -- your first option will be Post-Adoption Depression. Here. Here. Here. Here.
No shit. This is a real thing. I've spent years in the foster and adoption community. I've completed more than 100 hours of training and plenty of reasearch on my own covering various adoption-related topics, yet I've never once seen or heard mention of this mysterious syndrome. But there it is -- if you go looking.
The term Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) was introduced by June Bond in a 1995 article for Roots and Wings Magazine. She rocked the adoption world with the suggestion that the post-adoption period was a time in which parents experienced anything but the fulfilment of dreams come true.
The New York Times touched on the topic in their article "Understanding Post-Adoption Depression":
One reason is that during the adoption process, prospective parents go to great lengths to prove they will be fit parents. After the adoption, some struggle with the fact that they aren't the "superparents" they promised to be, Dr. Foli said.
Even the U.S. Administration for Children and Families knows about it. They describe the warning signs of Post-Adoption Depression as:
- Loss of interest in being around others
- Often on the verge of tears
- Difficulty with concentration or making decisions
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Difficulty sleeping or increased need for sleep
- Significant weight change
- Excessive guilt
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Feelings of worthlessness
- A sense of hopelessness
- Loss of enjoyment
- Recurring thoughts about death or suicide
This is what I had spent so long fighting for?
Dishes. Laundry. In and out of car seats. Temper tantrums. Crying (them and me).
Of course there was more. There were smiles, tickles, cuddles, vacations, all of it -- I had adopted three really wonderful kids.
But that's not what I was seeing. I saw crayon on my walls and scratches on the table. Yet another meal to cook, serve and eat standing up. I saw my wife passing me like a ship in the night as we juggled work and childcare schedules.
This? This is what I spent years of my life working for?
Verge of tears. Check. Difficulty with Concentration. Check. Irritability. Check. Fatigue. Check. Weight Change. Check. Loss of Enjoyment. Check. Hopelessness. Worthlessness. GUILT. Check. Check. Check.
Then the panic attacks started. It was the worst when I was home alone with the children. That superstar mom our social worker described in her reports was nowhere to be seen and I found myself wondering how to summon the strength to meet their basic needs. Dress, feed, kiss, play -- these felt like monumental tasks. How would I do it? Why did they think I could do it?
My mind flirted with the idea of getting in my car and driving away.
It should have hit me the night I told my wife I wasn't the mom "they" thought I was. It should have hit me then, but all I could feel was the worthlessness. I didn't deserve these children. Hell, I wasn't even sure I wanted them.
It wasn't until weeks later, as my fingers hovered over the keyboard, that I first spoke the words to myself. I typed "post-adoption," and relief and tears flooded over me to see that, yes, this is a thing. I am not the only one. PADS hasn't quite gotten the research interest its sister syndrome PPD has gotten, but a 1999 study by the Eastern European Adoption Coalition found that 65% of adoptive mothers surveyed experience some type of post-adoption depression.
Not the only one by a longshot.
Thankfully, my experience was more akin to the "baby blues," with the most acute symptoms lasting a very short time. The crayon on the wall still gets to me -- but it leaves me wanting a night out with the girls rather than an escape to Mexico. Still, it was enough for me. Enough for me to feel the call to action. We must speak out for advocacy and awareness. Adoptive parents -- all parents -- have enough obstacles in front of them, feeling alone in this type of darkness should not be one of them.