New Adoptive Parents With Depression: Not Uncommon


Post-adoption depression syndrome, or PADS, describes the difficulty some adoptive moms and dads experience when idealized hopes of adoption do not match reality.

Why Pads Occurs

Prospective adoptive parents must spend much time and energy convincing others that they will be wonderful parents. When the adopted child finally arrives, parents - especially the moms - may fall short of their self-expectations.

Factors contributing to PADS include:

  • Parents may expect the adopted child to bond with them right away, or that they will instantly experience love for the child. If this does not occur, guilt and disappointment are common and understandable responses.
  • Friends and family may not realize adoptive parents need a lot of help. There is often a less show of support following an adoption-arrival than after a pregnancy/birth-arrival.
  • Women who earlier had unsuccessful fertility treatments may still have to deal with deep pockets of grief for birth children never to be conceived.
  • There may be stress and distress if an idealized adopted child turns out to have special needs.

Why PADS Awareness Is Needed

As with other types of depression, there is stigma and shame experienced by parents with symptoms of PADS. Many sufferers are hesitant to discuss their unfulfilled expectations so do not get needed help and support.

“That’s why awareness of the problem is so important. It’s important that an adoptive parent seek help from a person who is aware of the dynamics of adoption and understands the unique issues of adoptive families,” says Karen J. Foli, associate professor, Purdue University School of Nursing in Indiana.

Education Helps

Some adoption agencies are addressing this issue by educating prospective adoptive parents about the risk for post-adoption depression, and prepare them by:

  • Teaching coping skills and self-care.
  • Letting adoptive families know they may initially feel as if they are babysitting, but that stronger bonds with the child grow over time.
  • Teaching the parents how to build trust and attachment with their adopted child.
  • Having the parents identify a support system of family, friends, professionals, and local resources before the child arrives.

It is important for adoptive families to know that experiencing depression after an adoption is not unexpected, and that help is available.

Foli and her husband, psychiatrist John R. Thompson, are adoptive parents. They have written a helpful book addressing the reasons behind distressing emotions following an adoption called, “The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption.”

Source: Daily Herald/Chicago Tribune
Photo credit: Stephan Hochhaus


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