Fatigue, Unmet Expectations Tied to Post-Adoption Blues

By TRACI PEDERSEN / psychcentral.com

Exhaustion and unrealistic expectations of parenthood may contribute to post-adoption depression in women, according to research at Purdue University.

“Feeling tired was by far the largest predictor of depression in mothers who adopted,” said Karen J. Foli, an assistant professor of nursing.

“We didn’t expect to see this, and we aren’t sure if the fatigue is a symptom of the depression or if it is the parenting experience that is the source of the fatigue. It also may be reflective of a lacking social support system that adoptive parents receive.

“However, a common thread in my research has been an assumption that if the mom didn’t carry the child for nine months or go through a physical labor, the parents don’t need help in the same manner as birth mothers do.”

Other factors tied to depression in adoptive mothers include unmet expectations of themselves as mothers, of the child, and of family and friends, perceived support from friends, self-esteem, marital satisfaction, and parent and child bonding.

The study results are based on a survey of 300 mothers who had adopted within the past two years. The average age of the children at the time of the adoption was 4.6 years.

Research has established the significance of mental health problems in birth parents, particularly depression, as being tied to behavior and emotional problems in children. Being aware of the factors related to post-adoption depression can help plan effective interventions in avoiding these problems for adopted children, said Foli

Nurses, for example, working in a pediatric setting or in the mother’s doctor office, could assess for fatigue in adoptive mothers. It’s also important for health-care professionals and family members to realize that not all adoptions are equal, Foli said.

“Bonding with the children often comes up in post-adoption depression. If adoptive mothers cannot bond to their child as quickly as they expected, they commonly report feeling guilt and shame,” Foli said.

“These parents have the expectation to quickly attach to the child and they see themselves as superparents. But what happens when the child they adopt is a teething toddler or unknown special needs surface? It’s a difficult stage for a parent who has known that child for two years, let alone someone who is establishing a new relationship with the child.”

The study also showed that symptoms of depression were more common in mothers who didn’t have complete background information on the child, and who, after placement, was found to have special needs.

However, depression was not correlated with parents who already knew they were receiving a child with special needs.

“We also found that mothers of children with different ethnic or racial backgrounds did not report more depressive symptoms than those mothers who did not differ from their children’s ethnic or racial backgrounds,” Foli said. “Interestingly, these moms did report perceiving that society was less accepting of their adoptive family.”

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...so what's the adoption industry's next move?

[Other] factors tied to depression in adoptive mothers include unmet expectations of themselves as mothers, of the child, and of family and friends, perceived support from friends, self-esteem, marital satisfaction, and parent and child bonding.

It's good to see more serious investigation and study is going into bonding issues/difficulties found between adoptive parents and their adopted children.  Before I share my own experience, I'd like to stress one simple truth about all adoptions:  ALL adoptees have special needs.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  The only difference I see is simple: some adoptees have more special needs than others, and this is because some adoptees have complex medical issues and/or have endured neglect/abandonment and abuse (which may have taken place before and after removal).   

I myself believe today's modern term for poor bonding (Post Adoption Depression) is a leading cause of negligent adoptive parenting and adoptee abuse, however I suppose real actual formal study would have to prove or disprove that theory. 

Given what we know about some hideous home-study reports that show how an abusive/negligent individual can still receive adoption approval, [See: Mancuso homestudy for Masha (1997) - Nancy Simpronio  and Masha's homestudy (2003) - Michele A. Cunko, Every Child Inc.], I sure hope any and all risk factors for Post Adoption Depression are being identified so trained social workers conducting home-studies can identify early, which APs are "at risk", and perhaps unfit to parent an adoptable child with many complex emotional and physical needs.

I myself have extensive experience with post adoption depression.

My own Amother was often debilitated by depression brought on by her own negative childhood experiences.  She herself endured domestic violence, compliments of a father who struggled with alcoholism.  Many of her own unresolved family issues created an enormous stress for her.   I have many memories of my AMom needing to sleep and "be alone" because she simply could not cope with the latest family drama or demand put upon her.  I saw what that stress and absence did to a marriage and a family.  I hated that I was adopted by a woman who wanted to be a mother, but simply could not take care of herself, let alone two very different children with many emotional needs.

Before my own Afamily situation spiraled as it did, I believe in many ways, adoption was seen and used as the last ditch effort that was going to save both her and a strained marriage damaged by unaddressed depression.  I don't think this survival tactic is all that scarce.  In fact, I often wonder how many did and do as my APs did:  adopt to compensate for a myriad of personal losses and absences -- gaps that have never been fully addressed or grieved, properly.

The crazy thing is, at first, the chosen adoption solution seemed to work for both my Amother and Afather.  I think for my Amother, having a new baby girl in the house seemed to resolve many problems.  I believe having "a needy orphan" (with many developmental delays) gave her a renewed sense of purpose and happiness --  a Second Chance, for both me and herself.   I believe her ability to function, finally, was the boost my Adad needed to see.  However, it seems that energy and enthusiasm she had was very short-lived. 

I have no memory of my AMother actually mothering me.  Instead, my memory of her is of her in bed, always needing me to take care of her... and of my Adad always mad and complaining, "she can't do anything!".

By the time I myself was 9, and in desperate need of a mom who'd help put an end to the sexual abuse I was enduring (while she napped and was taking care of her needs) I realized I would never have a mother I could trust to take care of me.  For so many reasons, I hated what the adoption plan chosen for me did to me.

Kinda gives a new spin and meaning to Post Adoption Depression, doesn't it?

Now that I am a mother, myself, I can better appreciate how demanding and stressful motherhood can be.  I believe strongly ALL mothers-to-be and new-moms are not supported and encouraged as they need to be.  I find the absence of a powerful positive motherhood network for ALL mothers a real social travesty.

21 years after I left my Afamily to start my own life outside of gross family dysfunction, I find myself in a new phase of motherhood; my oldest is now in college, my second oldest is learning how to drive, and my youngest two are in middle school.  I am still without  the help and support of an extended family.  My "forever family" starts with me and the four children I gave birth to.  With that, after decades of unsupported lonely experience, I can honestly say:  the older children get, the more difficult good mothering gets, especially if there is no outside help to assist the primary care-giver, when times and circumstances get especially stressful and difficult.   With a house of tweens and young adults with very different personalities, and a husband who was recently unemployed, I find there are many days I'm looking back at the screaming toddler years with a strong sense of nostalgia.  Yes, I actually miss the days of drippy sippy-cups and "easy" conflict resolution!!   

<longing sigh>

Realistically, I can see how an adopted child, (with many complex emotional issues that can last for many many years), will create the sort of long-term stress not many adults can deal with.  How much more difficult (and dangerous) is it if all this added stress is put on on a person who is unable to cope with the demands that come with activities of family-living with a needy adoptee?  The question is, how should adoption agencies address this very important issue?  With so much money being paid in adoption fees/services, why are so many APs and adoptees lacking outside support and family services?   If we know Post Adoption Depression exists, and may be prevented through education and close monitoring , what is the adoption industry going to do with the information that comes from these types of studies focused on adoptive mothers and maternal/child bonding?

I think it's important to note, as a once very angry abused adoptee with a depressed and debilitated (and absent) Amom, I hated that both the abuse I endured and her depression had to be kept secret... I hated it all so much because I truly believed that particular adoption should never have taken place, had the agency done a remotely superficial family investigation.  To this day, I still believe that adoption made by my APs adoption agency was a poor choice/mistake.

Surely others would agree:  adoptions like my own are NOT in ANY child's best interest. 

What we need to ask is:   can such miserable unhappy adoptions be prevented?

Pound Pup Legacy