By late March I had lost interest in eating or even getting out of bed. I burst into tears daily, upsetting Ari and Jake. I withdrew from the baby we’d longed for even as I was terrified that the social worker overseeing our post-placement period would take Jake away if I let on how awful I felt. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t embrace motherhood as so many of my friends — both “bio” moms and adoptive ones — had done? I’d never been depressed in my life, but at age 39, I was now facing a full-blown bout.
Everyone has heard about postpartum depression, which can be triggered when hormones go haywire after a woman has given birth and is coping with the exhausting, round-the-clock demands of an infant. But new research has focused on what I unexpectedly felt four years ago: post-adoption depression. And it turns out it’s not that uncommon.
A March study of 300 mothers by Purdue University researchers found that post-adoption depression syndrome, or PAD, afflicts between 18 and 26 percent of adoptive mothers in the first year after an infant or child is placed with them. With approximately 120,000 children being adopted annually in the United States, the Purdue report suggests that tens of thousands of adoptive mothers may be suffering from depression.
“When an adoptive parent struggles in adjusting to the new role of parenthood, she or he may hear ‘But this was your life goal! You got what you wanted!’ ” says Karen J. Foli, an assistant professor at Purdue’s School of Nursing and a co-author of the study along with Purdue’s Susan South and Eunjung Lim.
Foli, who also co-authored the book “The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption,” says that adoptive parents’ unrealistic expectations, often sky-high after a long period of waiting to become a parent, can clash with the day-to-day demands of child care.
In fact, says Lisa Catapano, an assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center, all new parents, biological or adoptive, contend with the same challenges that contribute to depression: “Sleep deprivation, a change in your relationship with your partner, a greater need for help from others, the stress of caring for a new baby, the change in your identity” and, for biological mothers, “hormonal shifts.” While adoptive parents “may not have the hormonal changes,” the other stressors are there, says Catapano, who treats both adoptive and biological mothers for depression.