Baby Shock: Dealing with Post-Adoption Depression
Your beloved child is home! You should be joyful, happy, ecstatic. But you’re tired, frustrated, overwhelmed. Many new moms feel this way and the good news is you can get past it. Here’s how.
by Jean MacLeod
The adoption process led you to the joyous moment of meeting your child, but it absolutely did not include preparation for the overwhelming feeling of “baby shock” that all new adoptive parents experience to some degree. Day-to-day life with a new child, who is scared and perhaps angry or rejecting (and who has apparently lost the ability to sleep at night), can make even the most self-confident parent lose that perky edge.
What you are experiencing is natural. Though the rewards and joys of parenting are huge, the challenges can be draining, confusing, and…depressing.
Loss is a catalyst for depression. Post Adoption Depression (PAD) is a response to new experiences and to losses—from feelings of let-down, to the hard work of meeting an adopted baby’s special needs, to the physical and emotional strain of not being prepared for any of the above.
Many of the suggestions recommended to lessen a child’s trauma as she transitions to her new family could actually contribute to your feelings of isolation and depression. Allowing yourself to seek support and communication with other adults is vital to your emotional health. Modify how you think about your new family, and enlist your friends and relatives. Plan to:
1. Let others do the work.
Instead of overwhelming your new child with a large celebration when you bring her home, have a smaller party when your baby is more secure. Let others do the work of entertaining so you can remain totally available to your child while visitors are there. Let friends and family know in advance that you are not allowing others to hold/care for your baby until she is securely attached to you. A letter to loved ones explaining attachment needs and thanking them for their love and support is an enlightening, team-building tool.
2. Take care of you.
When you are tired: nap, take the phone off the hook, and don’t answer the door. Cancel your newspaper subscriptions (or read only the front page for a while). Don’t feel guilty about cutting back on activities like volunteering. If you are in a position to do so, quit your job or work part-time, if that is what you want to do.
3. Take control of visitors.
Limit them to one or two at a time, and schedule them at your convenience. If you need adult interaction, pick up the phone and ask a friend to come visit—and pick up some take-out on the way.
If you have a partner, discuss who is going to do which duties and when. Review your agreements and allow for change. Talk about fatigue and about taking care of each other. Discuss sex, and communicate your interest or disinterest in a loving fashion. Stress, depression, and a high-needs baby can strain any relationship. If you can afford it, hire housecleaning or yard help. Simplify your life so you can devote your attention to your family.
5. Shift your focus.
Include your baby in all your outings. Accept only those invitations that welcome your new child. This won’t last forever, and it’s important to your family now. Remain flexible to avoid disappointment and irritation. (As one wise dad put it, Rule #1 of parenting is: Your Plans Don’t Matter!)
6. Give yourself a break.
If you are adopting an older child, professionals advise to homeschool him for about six months to construct a parent-child relationship. Connect with other local homeschooler parents for advice, resource-pooling and social interaction. Expect some challenges and be prepared to enlist support—clue playgroup moms into behaviors you are working on, and how they can help. Find a translator. See an attachment therapist to aid transition. Make a plan that includes respite care; everyone needs to recharge.
7. Play, play, play.
Enroll in a parent-child class like Gymboree or Kindermusik. Active play will help lower frustration levels for both of you, and conversation with other adults on a regular basis is a necessity.
Sometimes an attitude shift is all it takes to make a difficult situation manageable, but sometimes PAD requires outside help. Finding innovative ways to meet your own needs, while giving precedence to your child’s, is a day-to-day balancing act that requires thought and action. Being aware of PAD (and seeking help quickly) will mitigate the effect that baby shock can have on you, and will give you the freedom to enjoy the child you’ve forever dreamed of parenting.
Signs of Trouble
The questions below may help you identify whether you’re just having a bad day or whether your depression is larger. If you answer yes to a number of them, it is recommended that you discuss your feelings with a professional. If you answer yes to the last question, get help immediately.
In the past few weeks, have you experienced any of the following:
Loss of interest in being around other people?
Always on the verge of tears?
Difficulty concentrating—unable to make decisions?
General fatigue or loss of energy?
Difficulty sleeping or an increased need for sleep?
Significant weight gain or loss?
Excessive or inappropriate guilt?
Feelings of worthlessness?
Feelings of powerlessness?
Feelings of hopelessness?
Loss of enjoyment in things?
Recurring thoughts about death or suicide?
For International Adopters: Expect the Unexpected
Parenting a baby or child who has lived in an orphanage will present issues that aren’t dealt with in Dr. Spock. Some children will fit in easily with your family rhythms, while others will not. There may be hidden academic, emotional, neurologic, and medical needs. Add the stress of overseas travel, jet lag, communication difficulties, sleep deprivation, and cultural shock, and you have a prescription for the onset of depression. But take heart. Preparation for PAD is key to surviving it and to shortening its duration.
Remember that bonding and attachment are slow processes. Learn to be patient. Give yourself and your child the one-on-one time you need.
Don’t expect your child to behave or react like other children initially, and don’t compare her milestones with those of non-adoptees. Most of us were not taught about our child’s deep need for control, food hoarding, clingy, anxious behavior, or lingering orphanage patterns.
Keep a positive attitude. It can be frustrating to feel that you are failing as a parent, when you are not. You may just be working from the role model you were raised with, which doesn’t necessarily work with post-institutional kids.
Understand where your child is emotionally, and you will better understand her behaviors and how to deal with them. Pick up Foster Cline’s Parenting with Love & Logic series; read The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, Dr. Sears’ Parenting the Fussy Baby and the High-Need Child: Everything You Need to Know from Birth to Age Five, Fostering Changes by Richard J. Delaney and Adopting the Hurt Child by Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky.
Jean MacLeod is a mom by birth and adoption to three girls. She is active in Families with Children from China-Metro Detroit.
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