After months — and sometimes years — of dreaming of this moment, some adoptive parents are surprised to find themselves filled with sadness after bringing their child home for the first time. While this can be an exciting occasion, it’s not uncommon for many new parents to experience a rapid change of emotions during this transition, especially if their adoption opportunity comes sooner than they anticipated.
Becoming a new parent is challenging, and when you are experiencing a lack of sleep, feelings of guilt associated with the birth parents’ loss, and feeling like there’s less support and understanding for your situation than there is for postpartum depression, it’s not surprising that you might be overcome with the “post-adoption blues”.
But experiencing post-adoption depression does not mean that you’ve made the wrong decision to become a parent and does not reflect upon you as a person. The most important thing to know if you think you may have post-adoption depression is that you’re not alone. There are thousands of parents that have been in your shoes, and help is readily available.
What Exactly is Post-Adoption Depression?
Post-adoption depression is a term used to describe feelings of sadness and anxiety that many new parents feel after bringing their baby home. Much like postpartum depression, post-adoption depression is actually very common for new parents. These feelings can be brought on by:
- Sleep deprivation
- Stress from becoming parents
- Feelings of doubt about your ability to parent
- Feelings of guilt or sadness for the birth parents
- Lack of a support system
In some cases, these emotions can resolve on their own as adoptive parents adjust to their new life and daily routine with the baby. In other cases, these feelings may linger, and it may be time to reach out to a professional.
Common Symptoms of Post-Adoption Depression
Even if you only have one or a few of these symptoms, you should still reach out to your doctor if you think you may have post-adoption depression. Some of these symptoms include:
- Severe mood swings
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Intense fatigue
- Constant irritability and anger
- Loss of appetite
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Inability to sleep
- Extreme feelings of guilt
- Questioning your decision to adopt
While changes in mood are to be expected after becoming new parents, you should reach out to your doctor if any of these symptoms last longer than two or three weeks. If left untreated, early symptoms of post-adoption depression can become life‐threatening. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself or your child, seek help immediately by reaching out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline though their Lifeline Chat or at 1-800-273-8255.
How to Cope with Post-Adoption Depression
Often, the hardest part about any form of depression is finding ways to cope in the meantime. Here are some tips on how to cope if you’re waiting to speak to a professional.
- When it comes to any kind of depression, self‐care is so important to improving your overall mental health. While it may be difficult with a new baby in the home, eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep will help tremendously.
- Give yourself time to bond with your baby. While some new parents feel an immediate attachment to their baby, it can also be a slow process for others, and that’s okay. Your bond with your baby will grow over time, and there are many resources available that you might try in the meantime.
- Remember that you can always ask for support from your friends and family. You can also reach out to a support group for adoptive parents who have been in your shoes.
- If you need immediate assistance, never be afraid to reach out to your healthcare provider, an adoption specialist, or a counselor when you need someone to talk to. Help is always available, and post-adoption depression is 100 percent treatable.
Remember, there is help if you think you might have post-adoption depression. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor if you identify with any of the symptoms of post-adoption depression.