For the last day of National Infertility Awareness Week, I’m reprising a post that I wrote in October 2010 about the unexpected emotions that some adoptive parents experience after adopting a child. Many people who adopt after infertility don’t realize that it’s normal to feel some ambivalence and even sadness after an adopted child comes home, as a natural part of the process of grieving their dream of having a child who is biologically related to them. If this sounds like you, know that you are not crazy, and you’re not alone!
You waited for years for a child, filled out reams of paperwork, and went through seemingly endless hurdles to get to the day when you would bring your child home. So, once you have completed your adoption, you have no right to feel anything but undiluted joy all the time, right? Wrong. While many adoptive parents feel guilty or ashamed of having negative feelings after their child comes home, the truth is, it is completely normal. Anger, helplessness, stress, and shame are all common emotions for new adoptive parents. Does any of this sound familiar?
- I feel like a fraud; like I don’t deserve to parent this child.
- I feel distant from my adopted child, and even wonder if bringing her home was a mistake.
- I feel like I have to be the perfect parent all the time.
- I am so angry that I had to go through so much paperwork and scrutiny to have a child, while some people just have babies by accident.
- I want to hide from people constantly asking me intrusive questions about adoption.
- I am so ashamed that I’m not happy. After all, isn’t this what I wanted?
- My heart is still broken that I can’t have children of my own, and seeing this child who doesn’t look like me just reminds me of that fact.
If these or other dark emotions are haunting you during the post-adoption period, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone. Many new parents experience post-adoption depression, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent or that the adoption was a mistake! Here are a few things to think about before adopting to help avoid post-placement issues, and a few to help get you through the transition period.
Take time out from “adopting” to focus on “adoption.” Just as a wedding is not a marriage, the adoption process is not the same as parenting. If possible, take time each week during the adoption process to focus on what life will be like after your child comes home. Read books and talk to other adoptive parents about the challenges that may arise in the first days, weeks, and months.
If you adopted after infertility, allow yourself to grieve the infertility. Too often, couples jump straight from trying to conceive to trying to adopt without taking the time to process their feelings about infertility. When their adopted child comes home, these couples sometimes experience their grief about infertility all over again, as it really hits home that they will never have a biological child. Talk about these feelings in advance, preferably with a counselor who has experience counseling adopting parents. If it’s too late for that and you find yourself ambushed by feelings of grief after your baby comes home, reach out to a counselor or support group. Also, know that it’s not ungrateful or coldhearted to feel sad at what you thought would be a happy time – it’s a normal reaction that will pass.
Build a network you can count on. By joining adoption and parenting support groups, talking to supportive friends and family members, and learning what resources are available for adoptive parents in your community, you can avoid the feelings of isolation that many new parents feel at the beginning. Try to meet people who adopted long ago as well as fellow new parents so that you can benefit from their experience.
Know that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Many adoptive parents feel that they have no right to feel depressed after getting what they have wanted for so long: a child. However, just because something is a blessing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Give yourself credit by acknowledging that this is a difficult time and that beating yourself up about it only makes it worse.
Stay plugged in to the adoption community. While many adoptive parents use support groups, counselors, and community resources during the pre-adoption period (such as the search for a birth mother and finalization process) it’s a good idea to stay in touch after the adoption goes through. Supportive people like your social worker, counselor, and adoption attorney can be helpful resources as you parent your adopted child and questions arise. Other adoptive parents are also an invaluable resource that you can talk to about your feelings after adoption.
Know that no parent has all positive feelings all the time, and that adoption has special challenges. All parents go through times when parenting is not what they thought it would be. Sleep deprivation, not knowing what to do, and feeling overwhelmed are all part of the experience of being a new parent to any child, and it’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. It’s also true that adoptive parents have some special challenges in feeling connected and bonded to their new children, as well as the stress of fielding sometimes unwelcome questions about adoption from friends, family, and even strangers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You are not alone.
Seek help if you need it. Especially if you continually feel anxious, overwhelmed, panicked, depressed, or paralyzed by your emotions, seek counseling. And of course, if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your child, call 9-1-1 or a local mental health crisis center immediately. Although you may not be able to believe this if you are suffering from depression, it really does get better.
If you are waiting to adopt, don’t let this article scare you! Many new parents feel absolutely great after they adopt! What I hope you will take away from this article is that “absolutely great” isn’t the only normal way to feel.
For further reading about post-adoption depression, I highly recommend The Post Adoption Blues by Karen J. Foli and John R. Thompson. If you have more resources or advice to share, please join the conversation by posting a comment or emailing me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.
Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.