Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Post Adoption Depression

In response to some of the comments regarding whether I should continue blogging (and thanks to all who commented, I feel much better about continuing!) I’m going to be doing a multi-piece episode on Post Adoptive Depression. I suffered from this for 3 months, and there is still a residual although things are getting much better. I have been thinking about writing about it, but worried about how I might be judged as a mother, and as a person. Also, not being "through it" totally, I thought I'd wait until I could say "It's 100% gone", but I'm not there yet and I'm still going to write about it.

The shame surrounding PAD is great. Greater, I think, than that surrounding Post Partum Depression. Not that it's a competition, of course both are terrible, but PPD seems to have “come into its own” lately, what with Brooke Shields writing about it and other media focus. With PAD, well, it’s still in the dark, hidden away. It’s not widely talked about, or even known. The attitudes seem to be “maybe I should just “snap out of it”, after all, there are no hormones to blame...” “This is something I worked for, very diligently and hard, and now I’ve got the child, I should be happy!” Yay! And if I’m are not happy, there is something very wrong with me, but shush, let’s not talk about it because that’s dark and weird. So act happy and like everything’s ok, and don’t forget people will be watching you to check on your parenting skills and they will be judging you, so taking a break is out of the question.

In my research on the subject, I came across the stat that 65% of adoptive mothers experience some degree of PAD. That’s a lot of mothers. Maybe even one of you….

So stay tuned.

In prep, here is a piece I found at Omegamom, which rang true. My experience is similar, just take away the husband.

Baby shock

So there you are, you’ve just got a referral or have just been matched with a baby due any minute, and you’re over the moon. You pad through the Shrine To Baby (aka the nursery) late at night, when the spouse is asleep, and you daydream about the future. You sit on the glider and snuggle with one of the stuffed animals that various friends and family have presented you, and pretend it’s your baby, and you sit and croon lullabies.

Your daydreams about motherhood (or fatherhood) are portrayed in your mind’s eye with a roseate glow, a soft-focus medallion of Madonna-esque Precious Moments type joy.

Friends are excited, relatives are excited, your spouse is excited, you are excited.

If you’re traveling to meet your baby, the excitement builds. You’re in a different place–Russia or China or Cincinnati or some other place you have never been before. You’re sightseeing, you’re dealing with officials, you’re meeting and bonding with your baby, it’s all new and different and vivid.

And then you get home.

Your baby, who slept like…well, a baby…while you were elsewhere, suddenly is adjusting to a new time zone. New smells. New sights. New sounds. He or she wakes up every three hours, and nothing you can do, short of carrying baby around for hours, will put baby back to sleep.

You are in a haze of sleep deprivation, and find yourself questioning your ability to do the most mundane of things (parallel parking? How do I do parallel parking again? I know I’ve done it before!).

The house becomes messy.

Your spouse returns to work, leaving you alone.

And this baby…this precious, darling child who you have longed for for years…is a stranger. You are suddenly a stranger to yourself. And this baby…precious, darling child…is a leech.

Yes. A leech.

Hanging on you.

Demanding all your time and attention.

Screaming if you leave the room.

Desperate for love. Hungry all the time. An endless source of wet and poopy diapers.

And you are the object of this small, self-centered person’s obsession. You realize you can’t do anything without this child hanging off you. You realize you can’t sleep, because your ear is suddenly attuned to the tiniest of grunts from the crib (or another room). Vacuuming the house is ditched entirely (even us lousy housekeepers do vacuum once in a while), because (a) you can’t do it with baby hanging off you, and (b) the noise terrifies baby.

You realize that you are Everything In the World to this small, self-centered creature. And your soft-focus daydreams of gently crooning baby to sleep in the glider have gone into the trashcan, because baby hates your singing, or baby is (like mine) a wiggler who couldn’t settle down to a nice crooning session to save her life.

You feel like your life is spiraling out of control.

You don’t like yourself anymore.

You resent your spouse (the light of your life) because s/he just Doesn’t Get It, and, besides, the bastard gets to leave the house and interact with other adults.

Your house is a shambles.

You feel like your life is a shambles.

You wonder if you’ve made the worst mistake in your life. You know there is No End In Sight, because you’ve signed an oath to take care of this small creature forever.

Does this describe your response in the first six months to a year after you adopted?

Don’t beat yourself up.

You’re not sick. You’re not insane. You’re not an Evil Person. They’re not going to come take your baby away (even at your most down moment, you are terrified that They are going to take her away).

Most of all, you are not alone.

There’s a thing called “Post-Adoption Depression”. It’s similar to Post-Partum Depression. PPD has the advantage of being explained away by waving hands at hormones, but y’know, OmegaMom has very big suspicions that the majority of it is what Jean MacLeod calls Baby Shock.

If you’re a new parent who has spent a long time with spouse, getting settled into spousal and life routines, tossing a baby into the mix just throws the whole gyroscope off balance. What was once a two-body problem (a very familiar term to physicists) has become infinitely more complex by adding a third body to the mix. And this holds true for adding another child after the first. (Please remind me of this when DotterSecunda shows up.) It’s a severe shock to the system.

I would say that it took OmegaDotter about six months to really, truly believe she “belonged” with us. I look back at pics of her first six months with us, and see, over and over, that what we considered “thoughtful” expressions were just plain “scared” expressions.

Further, I would say that it took me and Mr. OmegaMom a year to fully re-arrange our lives and become comfortable again.

As a person who is prone to depression, the disconnect between my daydreams and our reality after adopting did a number on me. (It didn’t help that I got laid off six months after we came home, what a blow to the ol’ ego.) The one thing that helped me immensely was realizing it was normal to feel this way, that many other adopting parents felt the same. I had read up on the various lists about returning home and having the child not sleep for the first three weeks. I had read up about Post-Adoption Depression, and was pretty much expecting it to hit me, due to the depression proneness. While I didn’t have a great real-life support system, I did have lots of friends on the internets who had BTDT, which helped.

For those who are about to adopt, and want info to be prepared, and for those who have just adopted and might be facing the same thing, I submit the following links:


Sarah said...

People always fear change, and with good reason, everything you know and everything you're comfortable with is going to be turned upside down and now you have to learn to live with your new normal. Now, add lack of sleep, lack of control and in my case at least a lack of confidence... yeah... hormones or no, I think every woman feels really wonked for quite a while when they bring their baby home for the first time (whether it be a baby they've given birth to or adopted).

In a conversation with a friend yesterday I said this, and I think it applies to your post. The hardest part of being a new mom has been having to learn to give up my identity for a little bit, so that I can focus on the needs of this little human that is 100% dependent on me, and then, when my maternity leave is over and the baby gets to be a bit more dependent, learning to find my new identity...

I hope that talking this out here will help you and all the mothers like you to see there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to your feelings about bringing a baby home! Its a super tough time, and we as a gender, need to learn to give ourselves a little slack every once and a while, not every one can be the super career woman, super mom, super housekeeper, super chef, super spouse/girlfriend all the time!

Amy said...

Thank you for posting this.

LegalMist said...

After having two kids, I think that a huge amount of what gets labeled PPD is actually just sleep deprivation. Sure, hormones might add to the effect. And being depression-prone certainly intensifies things.

But take any normal person and wake them every two to three hours, for an hour or two at a time, every night for weeks or even months, so that they are not getting more than an hour or two consecutive sleep, and the total amount of sleep is less than six hours per night, and I guarantee the person will feel desperate, sad, freaked out, depressed, hyper-sensitive, and many of the other emotions associated with PPD and blamed on "hormones."

Add to the mix the dawning realization that you are responsible for this person for the rest of your life, or the next 18 years, whichever comes first, and with no end in sight to the sleepless nights, and with the complete upheaval of your prior schedule and relationships with others and -- well, any normal person would feel frantic and depressed!

And the sleep deprivation and shock of responsibility undoubtedly is just as present with adopted babies as with birthed babies.

I applaud you for writing about this, and I look forward to reading about your particular experiences as an adoptive mom, and as an individual person. Every kid is different in their behavior, and every parent is different in their reactions - but the disruption of routine and the lack of sleep is probably close to universal!!

I'm glad you're feeling a bit better. Hang in there. Eventually you'll get to sleep again, and feel more comfortable with your new routine.

... And then the kid will go and change things up again and move to a new routine that will throw you for a loop and leave you sleepless and/or disoriented again...!

Wendy said...

I so get this! Thanks for bringing it up!

Long Journey Big Dreams said...

What a great topic to talk about - I agree totally under rated by so many. I would say there is still hormones involved with all that happens. Thanks for posting on this!

Lavender Luz said...

I experienced this, too. It was horrible in the middle of it. I wrote 4 posts about it here:


And I recently ran across a woman who wrote a book about this. If I can find the site, I'll come back and leave the link here.

Hugs to you. Be gentle with yourself.

J-momma said...

dang it! i just wrote out a whole long speech about this very topic then my internet went down right while i was sending it. so i'm going to paraphrase here. basically, no one has the right to tell anyone else their feelings are wrong. i didn't have PAD but i've severe depression at other times. but no one should be judging you for having PAD. adoption is a huge change. it's a lot of stress. and with that can come depression. it doesn't mean you don't love your daughter. or that you would change anything. they are two very separate things. so, don't let anyone think down on you for struggling with post adoption depression or any depression. it happens. especially being overwhelmed with a new stressful situation. i think that's along the same lines as what i wrote. maybe less eloquent since i'm rushing here. look forward to reading more.

Kristine said...

I think I've experienced this to a lesser degree. It has been a rough adjustment for us and I thought more than once, what was I thinking adopting a baby? And then I feel so incredibly guilty like I waited so long and I should be so happy.
Good to know I'm not the only one who resents not having me time :)