Postpartum Depression After An Adoption: Yes, it's a real thing.

*I originally composed this entry about a year ago on Blogger, but I'm reposting it here because I think that postpartum depression following an adoption is still a real and relevant issue that needs to be brought into the light.*

***

postpartum depression after an adoption

I have put off writing this post for awhile.  Partly, I didn't realize until recently that I was haunted by postpartum depression for the better part of a year following Piper's adoption.  The bigger reason for my delay, though, is that I was afraid to admit my struggle.  People discuss postpartum depression in general, but not typically following adoptions.  Well, it's time for that to change.

When Caroline (my biological child) was born in August 2015, I struggled with some semi-expected "post-baby blues" for a solid three months.  During that time, I held onto the hope that the things which were causing distress and insomnia would one day return to "normal," if only I could ride out the waves.  

And things did return to normal.  My hormones quit freaking out, I didn't cry at the drop of a hat anymore, the pain and swelling subsided, I got my pre-pregnancy body back, Caroline learned how to sleep, we found a solution to reflux, and Piper remembered that she had been potty trained at some point before her baby sister arrived.  We continued making daily adjustments, as adding a person to the family seems to somehow multiply the craziness of parenthood, but was am able to successfully navigate the difficulties as they came instead of being overwhelmed by them (most days, of course).

Flashback to June 2013 when Piper (my adopted child) entered the world.  The depression hit me like a ton of bricks before we even left the hospital.  Instead of dissipating in three months as it did following Caroline's birth, the despair worsened.  Piper's birth brought changes which were gut-level and permanent.  I wasn't dealing with a recovering body or out-of-control hormones; I was plagued by intense emotional trauma which people who haven't adopted have difficulty understanding.  Nothing would ever be "normal" again.  

I am not a doctor, but I am convinced, from personal experience, that postpartum depression after an adoption is a real thing.  Four years ago, I was in the throes of this depression and didn't know it.  Thankfully, I have now arrived at a healthy place in which I can objectively look at that period of my life and attempt to explain some of the reasons for my depression.

  • Regardless of how an adoption story unfolds, the emotions leading up to the addition of a baby or child to a family have been all over the map.  Coming back down from the highs of being chosen by a birth mother and the actual moment of taking that baby home in the carseat for the first time can be likened to running a marathon.  At the beginning, adrenaline carries you.  In the middle miles, supporters come alongside you to encourage you in your weariness of the process.  The last haul to the finish is practically unbearable, and you keep reminding yourself over and over that this is something you wanted to do.  Then, there is a glimpse of the finish line that drives you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Finally, it's over.  You did it.  You ran a marathon.  (You adopted.)  Elation surges through your veins as you take in the fact that a dream just became reality.  But then, after they hang the gaudy medal around your neck, after the photos, after the many pats on the back from friends and family ... it's usually a Sunday and so it's back to work the very next day.  Your muscles are sore in a million places that you didn't know existed, and even though life will never be the same for you, everyone else has already forgotten and moved on, because it's another random Monday, and that's what they're supposed to do.  In a marathon, and throughout the adoption process, adrenaline can carry you quite a long way.  And then the actual thing happens, and maybe it is what you expected, or maybe it isn't, but either way, the adrenaline subsides, and you can hardly find the strength to get out of bed in the morning because that thing you just did took all that you had.  
  • Watching Piper's birth parents walk out of the hospital empty-handed left me with a profound sense of guilt that I couldn't shake.  For weeks after Piper came home with us, I would cry at even the thought of Anna (her birth mother).  I knew that there was nothing in me to make me more deserving of raising a child than she was, and yet, I was the one who was holding this sweet baby in my arms ... the baby who she loved and carried for nine months.  I was supposed to be happy, and I was, but I have also never hurt for someone else more.  I hated that my joy was, to a certain degree, connected to her sorrow.
  • Sometimes, when people become parents for the first time (or the second or fifth), it brings them closer together as a couple.  This was not the case for Andrew and me.  Communication has always been a struggle in our marriage, and then we added the difficulty of raising a child, causing each of us to put walls up and seek comfort within ourselves.  He was a great dad, and I was an okay mom, but the two of us began slowly drifting apart like continents.  It wasn't noticeable at first, but after several months, the slight separation became a chasm that neither of us had the resources to bridge.  This part was not specific to adoption, but it played a part in my depression nonetheless.  (Counseling helps.)
2013 July - Piper Fenrick-4728-2.jpg
  • "You got that thing you wanted, aren't you happy?  Isn't motherhood wonderful?"  I came to dread these two questions, or any variation of them, and they bombarded me constantly.  All I could do when asked them was nod weakly and give the response that people wanted to hear.  The real answers, "Yes, but I still feel empty," and, "Yes, but motherhood is plain hard 90% of the time," were too messy, and I began to believe that my most genuine, raw emotions needed to be hidden from the world.  I especially felt that I could not share any of these thoughts with our adoption case worker.  During our home study preceding Piper's birth, nearly every aspect of our lives had been opened up for outsiders to scrutinize.  The most minuscule of offenses, such as a traffic violation from high school, could have been used to determine that we were unfit parents.  We had both spent weeks upon weeks trying to prove that we were worthy of raising a child, and even after we brought our daughter home, there was still a period of six months during which Piper belonged to our agency and we were not her legal guardians.  I was always careful to portray the "right" image to everyone out of fear that someone would realize that there were better moms out there for my baby.  Y'all, it is exhausting to constantly have to feign perfection.       
  • "What did you most consistently feel throughout the adoption process?" a friend recently asked.  Fear and anxiety.  Those were persistent.  There were moments of joy and excitement, but I'm convinced that even people with complete trust in the providence of God experience doubt about the unknown.  Will I be able to handle an open adoption?  Even after the baby is born, the birth mom can decide that she wants to parent.  Will we get to keep our baby?  Is someone ever going to look at our profile and think that we are enough?  Will I bond with this little person?  These people know more about me than my husband does.  How will this child fit into our family?  What if ... what if ... what if ... ?  Adoption is risky, and the anxiety surrounding all of these question marks kept me up at night, which certainly did not help with my mental state.
  • When Piper was born, we had struggled with infertility for almost three years, and then we endured for another year and a half before we were blessed with the miracle of pregnancy.  (Doctors had said that IVF was our only option.)  Four and a half years.  In the grand scheme of life, I know that this is truly the blink of an eye, but infertility feels like an eternity when you're wading through it.  I thought that becoming a parent for the first time would take away the pain of not being able to have biological children.  Don't get me wrong: I loved Piper immensely from the moment she was born, and she could not have felt any more "ours" than if I had carried and given birth to her.  I know this because the feelings for our adopted newborn were exactly the same as the ones for our biological one born two years later.  Piper was and is the most precious girl on earth.  But she didn't take away the sadness and anger that we had experienced leading up to her birth or the questions afterward.  What is still wrong with us?  

I love adoption, and I think that everyone should be aware of the need for it.  But people also need to know that depression is a very real possibility that could come with adoption.  I hadn't expected this, and I've never felt more alone than I did after we brought Piper home.  

If you're an adoptive parent reading this blog and wondering if you're crazy because no one told you how hard and isolating this whole experience could be, you're not.  You're not crazy, you're not alone, and this really will pass (with lots of help).  

If you know someone who is adopting or has adopted, keep walking with them.  Ask the tough questions, and listen to the real answers, not just the ones that are easy to hear.  

Postpartum depression after adoption is, I would guess, far more common than most people realize, but the fog does lift.  There is hope.