Postpartum and Post-Adoption Mood Disorders in Birth and Adoptive Mothers

For hopeful mothers, adoption is the answer to the many years they spent struggling to build a family. For women facing unplanned pregnancy, it’s an opportunity to give their child the life he or she deserves, one full of love.

But what happens post-adoption? This inquiry isn’t talked about enough. It’s not uncommon for both birth and adoptive mothers to suffer from mood disorders after the adoption process has been completed. Even when adoption is the right path for an expectant mother, there are challenges — including adoption-related depression.

Adoption Choices of Colorado is here to lend a helping hand by breaking down postpartum and post-adoption mood disorders. We even have insight to the minds of both birth and adoptive mothers during this time.

BIRTH MOTHERS AND POSTPARTUM MOOD DISORDERS

Why would she feel sad when she’s the one who decided to place her child with an adoptive family? This is a question birth mothers are asked too often. Placing a child for adoption is one of the most emotionally challenging things a mother can do. Oftentimes, the birth mother is making a necessary sacrifice for the betterment of her child. It’s an act of love, not selfishness.

During the adoption process and after placement, it’s common for birth mothers to experience postpartum mood disorders, often caused by a combination of physical and emotional factors, including changes in hormone levels after childbirth. Here’s a list of symptoms and emotions birth mothers often describe feeling postpartum:

Postpartum Depression (PPD). PPD is a complex mix of behavioral, physical, and emotional changes that birth mothers experience after giving birth. It’s a form of depression that can occur anytime within four weeks after delivery. Symptoms of PPD include hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, sleep and eating problems, and an inability to feel good or be comforted. This form of depression is often linked to hormonal changes in the birth mother’s body.

Grief. Although many people view the loss of a child as the most traumatic event one can experience, they may not accord birth parents an appropriate level of sympathy because the loss is viewed as a “choice.” During this period of grief, many circumstances can have an impact on the birth mother’s feelings, including the following: mixed feelings about the adoptive placement, support or lack thereof from family members and the birth father, and whether or not the adoption is open.

Psychosis. Postpartum psychosis occurs in a very small percentage of women, with diagnosis befalling in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 deliveries. It is considered a medical emergency with patients exhibiting symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, insomnia, agitation, and bizarre feelings and behavior. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first 2 weeks postpartum.

Guilt. Birth mothers may experience guilt for having placed their children for adoption. Most times, this is due to the social stigma that society associates with adoption. This view of adoption prompts feelings of shame in birth mothers for “rejecting” their children, no matter how thoughtful the decision or circumstance of the adoption. Even when birth mothers feel certain that adoption is the right thing to do, it remains a difficult and emotional process, one that may affect them for many years down the road.

The emotional impact of placing a child for adoption can be enormous, and extend well beyond the initial postpartum period. No amount of logic can fully address the emotional pain of giving up a child to be raised by someone else.

ADOPTIVE MOTHERS AND POST-ADOPTION DEPRESSION SYNDROME

Despite the anticipation of motherhood, some adoptive mothers are surprised to find themselves facing feelings of sadness when they bring their new child home. Becoming a parent — often on short notice — can be stressful, which is why some adoptive mothers experience Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS). PADS is shown though symptoms of depression in the adoptive mother, generally seen from one month after adoption. Symptoms can be emotional, mental, physical and behavioral; they include the following:

  • Feelings of motherly inadequacy
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain, increase or decrease in appetite
  • Depression
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

PADS symptoms are similar to those of postpartum depression in birth mothers. Postpartum depression, however, involves hormonal changes in pregnant women, which are not present in women suffering from post-adoption depression.

Adoptive mothers place a lot of pressure on themselves, which leads to extra stress and unrealistic expectations. These emotions become feelings of shame and guilt if the mother feels she can’t live up to her idealized view of parenthood. This pressure, combined with the fact that many adoptive parents do not form an immediate bond with their child, creates a recipe for depression. Here is a list of common risk factors that lead to PADS:

Skepticism. Adoptive mothers often face cynicism from family members, friends, and even strangers regarding their decision to adopt. This level of accusation may plant a seed of doubt in the mother’s mind and leave them feeling less confident in their abilities as a mother.

New territory. Becoming a parent is commonly portrayed as a joyous life event. The reality is often very different. It’s difficult! Yes, motherhood is a beautiful thing, but it can be overwhelming. This feeling of playing “catch up” can lead to adoptive mothers withdrawing from their everyday lifestyles. Just like “Baby Blues” after birth, adoptive parents may feel some depression because of the heightened stress of parenthood.

Unmet ideals of parenthood. Most adoptive mothers wait a significant amount of time before a child is placed in their home. Leading up to the moment they’re able to take their children home, adoptive mothers form an ideal version of parenthood. If they feel they’re unable to meet the standards they’ve set for themselves, a wave of inadequacy can overcome them.

Difficulty bonding with adopted child. Some adoptive mothers don’t anticipate that bonding with their new children can be a struggle. Not all mothers bond with their new baby immediately. Often times, this lack of mother-child connection, combined with the added pressures of parenthood, creates a recipe for depression.

Having a baby changes everything. This is cliché – but true – advice. There’s a difference between knowing and doing, and even adoptive mothers who are prepared and eager to have a child can easily find themselves overwhelmed during the transition.

ASK FOR HELP

Both adoptive and birth moms can slide from the initial euphoria of becoming a mom into depression once the reality of being a parent sinks in. This isn’t to say that motherhood is without its upsides. But postpartum and post-adoption mood disorders have a way of catching mothers off-guard.

Adoption Choices of Colorado doesn’t want you to suffer alone. All mothers should be able to see motherhood for what it truly is: momentous. Let us help you navigate post-adoption!

Adoption Choices of Colorado

For more information on adoption please contact Adoption Choices of Colorado. We can reached via our website or phone 303-670-4401.

Support Adoption Choices

CrowdriseAdoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.

However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.

About the Author

Patience BramlettPatience Bramlett, a University of Southern Mississippi news editorial graduate, is a seasoned and award-winning freelance writer. She is also a passionate reader, whose only wish is to live life without fear of the unknown. Her motivation and inspiration to live her best life stems from the words of John Lennon:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

This year, she’s joining Adoption Choices Inc. as an Editorial Intern. Fueled by her love of family, she hopes to educate those looking to grow their families through adoption.

When Patience is not exploring Colorado with her husband, she’s drinking coffee, forever figuring out how to tame her hair, growing her library, and trying to break into the publishing career.

 

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Bibliography

“Can Adoptive Parents Get the ‘Baby Blues’ Too?” Show Hope, 20 Jan. 2016, showhope.org/2016/01/20/can-adoptive-parents-get-the-baby-blues-too/.

Carberg, Jenna. “Postpartum Depression in Adoptive Parents – Post-Adoption Depression.” PostpartumDepression.org, 3 May 2019, www.postpartumdepression.org/postpartum-depression/adoption/.

“Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents: Responding to the Adoptive Placement.” Adoption.com, adoption.com/wiki/Impact_of_Adoption_on_Birth_Parents: Responding_to_the_Adoptive_Placement.

OBOS Pregnancy and Birth Contributors. “Postpartum Mood Disorders.” Our Bodies Ourselves, 15 Oct. 2011, www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book-excerpts/health-article/postpartum-mood-disorders/.

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