The long process of trying to have a child is over. The doctors, infertility treatments, paperwork, workshops, caseworker visits, dear birth mother letters, and countless other steps have finally culminated in the adoption of a lovely new baby. The first few days were euphoric. There was excitement and action! But now perhaps you feel a little let down. You feel like you should be overjoyed and lovingly committed to this new bundle of joy, but instead you feel disconnected. Your days feel dull. There are many sleepless nights, and your personal time is a thing of the past. You know you should love this little one, but you just don’t feel a connection right now. You may even wonder if all this work to become parents was worth it.
What Is This Feeling?
Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS) is real. The term was originally coined by June Bond in 1995, but I sense that many social workers and adoption agencies still do not focus on this as a real problem faced by some new adoptive parents. There are many ideas about PADS’ causes. Some believe it is most common in women and men who have had symptoms of depression prior to the adoption. Others believe the cause may be rooted in the idea that many families represent themselves as great prospective parents during their homestudy and adoption process and that when they falter during those early days of bringing their baby home, they feel a huge divide between who they have portrayed themselves to be and who they really are as new parents.
Many new adoptive parents who have spent years working to create a family may have also built up a certain fantasy about their baby and their life as parents. The contrast between their dreams of holding a baby in their arms versus the reality of real-life parenting may come as a big shock. This is especially so in the first six weeks, when all parents are struggling to connect with a newborn who is more like a “blob” then a smiling, interactive human being. Though adoptive parents may not have the hormonal shifts and imbalances of a woman facing postpartum depression, the lack of sleep, upheaval in schedules, isolation of being with a newborn, and the constant demands can lead to some expectable symptoms of depression.
In my experience as both an adoptive parent and an adoption caseworker, I find the most challenging time for most adoptive parents seems to occur when the baby is six weeks old. The excitement has worn off while the sleep deprivation has reached its peak.
As an adoption caseworker who completes the post-placement adoption visits with new adoptive parents, I always ask questions that will lead me to find out how the parents are doing and if there are symptoms of PADS.
Do you feel exhausted?
Do you feel a little disconnected or ambivalent about your baby?
Do you feel distanced from the rest of the world and isolated
Are you feeling like you want your “old life” back?
It is okay if you say “yes” to any of these questions! It is important to acknowledge the tough parts of being a new parent. Many adoptive parents feel afraid to talk about their feelings of ambivalence during those early days of parenting. And perhaps they want their social worker to think everything is great. But we are there to help—not judge. Reaching out and acknowledging difficult feelings during the early days of your baby’s life are key to moving through PADS.