Dealing with Post-Adoption Depression

Adoption was always something my husband and I planned to do. From the first year of our marriage we knew we wanted to have at least one adopted child. My reasoning was I loved working with kids. I’m a professor and love students, so I would be able to love any child as my own, regardless of if they were biologically related to me.

I had no idea how difficult adoption was going to be and the deep depression I would fall into for the first four years after becoming an adopted parent. I thought if I read all the books and did all the training that I would be able to deal with whatever came my way. I wanted to adopt because I hadn’t had the most stable family dynamic as a kid. As someone who experienced trauma and struggled with anxiety and self-esteem, largely due to the experiences I had growing up, I felt I could relate to my adoptive kids in a way someone from a more stable background could not.

I had no idea that my children’s trauma would re-trigger my own issues of inferiority, riddle me with self-doubt and worry that I was becoming my parents and make it difficult to bond with my kids.  Sure, I had read the literature. I knew that depending on my kids’ background they would struggle to connect with their new parents, especially if they hadn’t attached to their birth parent of the same gender.  Yet, you can’t really understand what you are getting into until you are already in the deep end.

Both my kids had a strong connection to their birth father. Their birth mother wasn’t involved with them at all. Add on to the fact that we adopted our kid when they were second and fourth grade and their attachment issues where already firmly entrenched in their identities. I saw the kids connecting to my husband and lashing out at me.

This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I was supposed to the cool parent. The parent who understood them and they connected with. Instead, I found myself the authoritarian in the family, enforcing the rules and trying to set personal boundaries so I could take care of myself.  Within six months of the adoption, I was clinically depressed. I didn’t want to go out with the kids because they were so rude to me. I worried I was going to be judged by other people. I began distancing myself from life-long friends and staying home.  I felt that I was living two different lives. My professional life, which was going well, and a dysfunctional home life with my kids.

I’m a communication professor and I felt like a hypocrite. I teach my students the pitfalls of interpersonal interaction and how to show grace, but within my own life I felt like a failure.  Even though I have a Ph.D in communication how could I teach my students when I felt I couldn’t achieve what I was asking them to do in my own life?

About a year ago, I realized that what I was experiencing was most likely Post Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS), while it isn’t a formerly recognized disorder, the symptoms are similar to a birth mother experiencing Post-Partum Depression. I felt guilty that I wasn’t being the perfect parent. I gained weight. I lost all interest in most activities and just wanted to hide in my room.  I felt, and still struggle, with a feeling of hopelessness that I won’t ever be able to connect with my kids. The kids are teenagers now, and I worry that I’m running out of time.

It’s estimated that 65 percent of adoptive mothers experience PADS. It’s especially common for parents, like myself, who have children with attachment issues. Often PADS can be exasperated when our visualization for our family doesn’t come to fruition. I thought I would be able to travel with my kids and show them places I had visited as a kid. Instead, my daughter has severe anxiety issues and freaks out with any trip, and my son is has oppositional-defiant disorder. If I disrupt his routine in any way he becomes incredibly stubborn and won’t do anything. I also thought my kids would appreciate the things I can give them. As a college professor they can go to numerous schools and get free tuition when they graduate high school. We give them opportunities to do expensive activities such as hockey and dance team. Yet, they don’t seem to care. I’ve realized they are still struggling to accept love and generosity from us. They’ve been through a lot.

However, that hasn’t helped my feelings of failure. I feel for the first time in five years I am coming out of PADS, but it’s easy to fall back into depression, despite having medication to help. Every time my kids reject something I do for them or advice I give them, I feel like a failure and wonder why the bonding process is so slow. I thought after five years we would be more connected.

If I’m honest and look back, I do recognize that our relationship is growing stronger. It’s just a much slower process than I would want. Four years ago, I felt I had to put up a front and be a perfect person for the kids. I didn’t want to interact with people because I worried I would be judged as a parent by the way my kids act. Now, it’s still a struggle to get out of the house and not worry about social judgement but I am able to reflect on the small victories and realize that there is hope for me and the kids.

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