Is Post Adoption Depression Real?

Post adoption depression syndrome (PADS) is not a formally recognized disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.  While there are many articles written by adoption professionals and specialists equating PADS to postpartum depression (PPD), there are also many detractors.

Some of the more cruel comments from detractors dismiss PADS as a case of having a “buyer’s remorse”.  They state that adoptive parents have no right to have depression since they made a choice to adopt.  They say PADS is a myth since there is no hormonal change.

Such attitudes completely ignore the fact that while a hormonal imbalance triggers PPD, other factors that contribute to it becoming a depression.  The physical and emotional changes, from changes in your body, to actual pain from delivery, fatigue from lack of sleep, stresses of caring for another person 24/7, fear of making mistakes, to a complete change in one’s lifestyle all contribute to resulting in PPD.

The detractors ignore the fact that many parents also choose to have a baby.

They ignore the fact that depression symptoms are the same regardless of the name. Clinical depression, postpartum depression, post adoption depression, it’s all semantic.  The prefix just helps to categorize the depression to a more identifiable group of population.

They ignore the fact that becoming a new parent or adding another child to the family is a big transition, regardless of how and can cause stress.  Stress in turn can trigger depression.

The signs of PPD and PADS is similar to any sign of clinical depression.  Taken from the Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, if anyone is experiencing 5 or more of these symptoms for at least a period of 2 weeks is most likely experiencing depression and should seek immediate help.

  • Feeling sad, empty, or tearful most of the day, every day, or feeling exceptionally irritable.
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities.
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain, increase or decrease in appetite.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day.
  • Restlessness or being slowed down nearly every day and it’s observable by others.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness nearly every day.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

The symptoms in bold are the ones I have been experiencing on and off for the past month. Does it matter whether I’m experience the symptoms due to chemical imbalance or situational changes except maybe in how I’m treated?  Does the fact that I don’t have a biological component mean I deserve less sympathy and support?  If I kill myself, am I more responsible for my actions because I didn’t have the hormonal imbalance?

The detractors in their comments ignore the fact that depression symptoms are real regardless of the cause.  Dismissing one set of symptoms due to a lack of a biological component results in adoptive parents feeling stigmatized.  It prevents them from voicing their concerns and getting help for their real problems.

A survey conducted by the EEAC, Easter European Adoption Coalition, showed 65% of the 145 parents experienced depression symptoms which is significantly higher rate than PPD. The symptoms, on average last longer, too.  International adoption has additional considerations that may contribute to a much higher percentage.

Most international adoptive parents experience a long and difficult journey filled with doubts and uncertainty.  They may have started with infertility treatment in hopes of a biological baby. The decision to adopt to filling out all the paperwork to finally receiving the child could take years.  For us, it was 5 year journey to add to our family.  2 years of infertility treatment.  3 years from making the decision to adopt to receiving Peanut.

Internationally adopted children tend to be older.  They come with personalities already formed. They are used to different sets of stimuli, sounds and smells.  There are communication difficulties because older children are used to another language.  There’s the culture shock.  Children from Korea have formed bonds with their foster family and are grieving deep losses.  Now add to this, international travel and jet-lag.

Based on all this, is post adoption depression real?

I’m not a medical professional.  I’m not a therapist.  I’m not even an adoption specialist.  I am an adoptive parent who is going through symptoms and feelings that are real and scary. They are affecting my ability to live a normal life.  They are affecting my ability to interact normally with not just Peanut, but to my whole family.  They are distorting my reactions to difficult situations.

Some additional symptoms, which I recognized first before I read the actual clinical symptoms are below.  Other adoptive parents with difficult transition have echoed similar sentiments.

  • Lack of bonding/attachment to child, a sense of detachment, feeling like you’re ‘babysitting’
  • Desire to give up and ‘return’ the child or to run away
  • Feeling like you made a mistake
  • Feeling unable to cope caring for child
  • Not liking the child or actively disliking the child
  • Feeling hopeless that things will ever get better
  • Desire to hurt child or feeling apathy when child is hurt due to natural causes
In the end, whether PADS is real or not is irrelevant.  If the symptoms and feelings are real, then there’s a real possibility of harm.  If there’s a possibility of harm, it should be treated.  If it needs to be treated, it should be recognized.

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