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Post Partum Adoption Depression

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Post Partum Adoption DepressionEveryone has heard of postpartum depression.  Believe it or not, I doubt the parents also experience depression.


Karen J. Foli, an assistant Professor of Nursing at Purdue University, and an adoptive mother, conducted an important piece of research and is co author of a book entitled, "The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption."  contrary to what you may have previously believed it turns out that adoption produces a great deal of emotional conflict in parents after they get the child home.  Why is this?

According to Foli's research, adoptive parents report number of serious problems once they get home with the child.  By the way, adoptive children in the study ranged in age from newborns to 12 years of age and older.

First, is the problem of forming an attachment to the child.  The attachment bond often proves much more difficult than the parents thought it would be.  Part of this difficulty is due to the fact that these parents have unrealistically high expectations of themselves and the child prior to the adoption. These are people who spent a long and exhausting amount of time convincing authorities that why would make ideal parents for the youngster. In addition, boundaries can become an issue when the adoption allows for the natural parents to occasionally visit the child. What felt like a good idea prior to an adoption can become problematic after wards. 

The reaction of family and friends can also complicate or the emotions felt by the parents.  For example, some families expressed disappointment that adoption rather than natural childbirth was used even if the couple were not able to have their own children.  According to Foli, some people feel entitled to ask parents how much the trial costs them.  This type of question produces anger and frustration in people already in doubt about their ability to parent.  In other words, when all the dust of adoption has settled, and the actual parenting begins, many people find themselves overwhelmed not only would the responsibilities but with severe doubts about their capabilities.

To make matters worse is the fact that parents, family members, and friends tend to view the adoption as an alternative plan after natural childbirth failed.

These types of emotions and thoughts produce the feelings of shame in adoptive parents.  As a result, they are extremely reluctant to reveal what they are experiencing.  They feel too much guilt to readily admit to what is going on in their minds.

None of this is meant to imply that having biological children is easy by comparison.  New parents often experience similar types of feelings and conflicts when raising their children.  However, the difference for adoptive parents he any pressure of having to prove themselves prior to the adoption.

Both personally and professionally I have known many people who are adopted.  Among friends I have also known their families.  What has impressed me for a very long time is the fact that the relationship between adoptive children and their parents is extremely complex.  To my dismay many of the adoptive parents I have known gave the impression of being rather rigid, perfectionist, and even cold.  Please do not make the mistake of believing that I am generalizing about all adoptive parents.  I am not.  My sample is extremely small and therefore, my observations extremely limited.

Foli and her colleagues recommend that adoptive parents send their children need a lot of support.  Depression in the parents can cause depression in the children.

What are your experiences with adoption, either as a parent or as having been an adopted child?

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz PhD