Recently I was speaking with another adoptive mom who was asking questions about adoption post-partum depression. It’s a taboo topic that is not often discussed in or outside adoption circles. Why, you may ask? Well because adoption is all unicorns and rainbows of course, where adoptive parents should be thankful to have been blessed with a child and be feeling nothing but joyous, happy, elated, and fulfilled in their new role as mother.
Yes, some of this is true. Adopting a child you feel SO many of these emotions including joy, happiness and thankfulness. But the reality is, many (though not all) also experience a much more painful side to adoption, a side that can be debilitating, isolating and excruciating, yet without many of the supports available to other parents. Many adoptive parents feel they can’t open up about their struggles because of the responses they often receive. Here is a look at some of the VERY common feelings many adoptive parents walk through, and a reminder that you are not alone!
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Many adoptive parents feel isolated. An adoptive parent has to navigate so many challenges and those who have not adopted usually don’t understand. If I turned to my friend and asked what to do every time my child screamed “You’re not my real mother,” I would get a lot of blank stares and uncomfortable silence stints. Trying to discuss openness can be met with unkind and ignorant remarks, and sharing the joy of passing some seemingly insignificant step in the adoption process can make us look like madwomen. It is not common to take photos of envelopes, but adoptive moms can all vouch for that photo they took of their completed dossier all packaged and ready to go! Many adoptive parents find they can no longer relate to their regular mom friends, and more often than I care to share, many find themselves cut off from extended family members who either don’t understand, or have a skewed understanding of everything that accompanies adoption. Moms find themselves alone, with no one to talk to, and often struggling with many concerns, questions, and even joys, they feel they cannot share with anyone.
I wish this was just a myth or misunderstanding, but the harsh reality is that adoptive mothers are judged. Constantly. Adopting often shoves an adoptive family into a fish bowl where anyone and everyone feels the need to comment. Comments like “If you don’t have the money to pay for the adoption, you shouldn’t be adopting at all.” “Your child seems to really be misbehaving; maybe you’re not parenting them properly.” “You already have three children, why would you need anymore?” “You don’t love your children the same why I love my biological children.” “Your family is not suitable to attend this event.” Another very common judgment is that adoptive parents coddle their children or are too lenient on how they approach parenting. The truth is, 9/10 adoptive parents would likely parent VERY differently if they were parenting children through birth. In adoption, however, children are often coming from places of trauma, neglect, abuse and possibly have special needs; parenting these kiddos HAS to be approached differently. You could put a child on a time-out 100 times, and it might do nothing for a child who doesn’t understand cause and effect. A child who lived their primary years in an orphanage may find a simple movie like “Annie” a trigger to their past life, and many typical parenting approaches can send children through adoption into meltdowns or regression if used inappropriately.
Parenting children through adoption is hard. Really hard. Due to their traumatic history, which even newborns experience due to the separation from their birth mother, many children struggle through regular daily activities. The simple task of waking a child up in the morning may include high pitched screams, flailing, and refusal to cooperate with tasks like getting dressed or eating breakfast. Food can become a nightmare with children who over eat, hide food, store food, refuse food, or can’t handle food. Many children have appointments with counselors, speech pathologists, school resource workers, social workers, extended family members, specialists, cultural workers and more. A simple family tree school assignment may send a child over the edge and a child who has no impulse control may swear at you repeatedly, despite being a family who never swears. Many children manage to hold their struggles in ALL DAY while at school, trying to make it through, only to release EVERY OUNCE of their struggle the second they get home. Who receives that? The parent. The safe place. Parenting a child through adoption can be physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually exhausting, leaving parents feeling overwhelmed as they try to manage through a single day at a time.
NOT ABLE TO ASK FOR HELP
One of the saddest experiences I see adoptive parents go through is the struggle to not be able to seek help. More times than I can count adoptive parents have told me how they have vented to a friend or family member about some struggle they are experiencing, or asked for help during a challenging time, only to hear such comments as “You asked for this.” “What did you expect?” “You brought this on yourself.” “You knew what you were getting into.” As if any of these comments can somehow negate the pain or challenges that a parent is going through! Last I checked, every single mother I know who has NOT ADOPTED, has told me about challenging times in their life…marriages on the rocks, children exhausting them to no end, family members causing trouble…and in all of these conversations over the years I can’t ever recall saying “Well you chose to be married” or “You chose to have children” or “You chose to have parents and siblings – GOOD LUCK.” You would never say that. Regardless of what place a person is in, and regardless of what choices have been made, adoptive parents have struggles just like anyone else, and want to be able to ask for help without being judged or shut down. Adoptive parents want to be heard and supported without any reference to the choice they made to adopt. All adoptive parents know going into the process that it is going to be hard. It isn’t until you are in it that you realize it is the HARDEST THING YOU WILL EVER DO. Despite this, we still want support, understanding, and a listening ear, just like any other human being struggling with something.
Many adoptive parents are also not able to ask for help due to fear. Although giving birth is also a choice, many people view adoption as the ultimate choice, and therefore you must be ready to be the most amazing, perfect, life altering parent known to mankind. Many adoptive parents still have to undergo post-adoption assessments by social workers for months or even years after their child is brought home, other adoptive parents double as foster parents who are constantly scrutinized on their parenting decisions, and many adoptive parents hope to adopt again, meaning their entire parenting past and current approach will come into question. If you say you went to a counselor to discuss depression, social workers may see this as a sign that you are not coping well with adoption. If you ask for support with children, social workers may view you as unable to manage that many children. If you take medication to improve your mood, you may be seen as a parent with mental health issues who must wait a minimum of one year before they can apply to adopt again. If you express fears of the process, or bonding and attachment, you are viewed as not suitable to move forward. The very livelihood as mothers is put in jeopardy if adoptive parents share that they are struggling and not perfect. If your house isn’t Oprah-ready, you must have too much on your plate. If your children don’t look like they are ready for their Gap commercial, you must not be doing it right. Adoptive parents walk through their life led by fear, terrified that one wrong move could mean the loss of a child or ability to not have more children in the future. The choice to build their family is not their own and is driven by the notion that they must be perfect at all times.
Adoptive parents also feel sadness. While adoption is truly such a beautiful thing, it is accompanied so often with such sadness for the child. Adoptive parents might feel sadness their child can never meet their biological mother because they have passed away. They might feel sadness that a biological mother is not legally allowed to see their child ever again. Many times adoptive parents feel sad their kids are outsiders or struggling socially, whether due to special needs, racial differences, trauma related behaviors or language barriers. Adoptive parents feel sad…heartbroken, the first time their child says “You’re not my real mom” and sadness when their child asks “Why didn’t my real mom want me?” Sometimes the sadness is so great just from knowing what a small child has endured on the very few years they have been on this earth; things that no human being should ever have to endure. In adoption, sadness is often nearby.
LACK OF ATTACHMENT
Many movies portray adoption as an adoptive mother walking into a room, meeting their child for the first time, and instantly loving them more than life itself. In many cases, this is exactly how it plays out. For some, it is a much slower, more gradual process. Forming an attachment with a child can often take weeks, months or a year before that child may truly feel like yours. The older a child is, often the longer it takes. The great thing about adoption is that it is still easy to love on that child from day one. But PLEASE don’t feel guilt or inadequacy if you don’t love your child as your own from the very first meeting. It is common and normal to take time bonding with a child, and the amazing thing is, IT WILL HAPPEN! Hang in there and know you are doing a great job!
This post is not to bring a negative light to adoption or to scare anyone away from making this choice. One thing most adoptive parents CAN agree upon is that adoption is a beautiful, amazing, life changing experience. I have done it numerous times and would do it numerous times more. What this post IS supposed to do, is remind those of you that HAVE adopted, that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. So many adoptive parents feel guilt and inadequacy, isolated, sad, judged, and unable to ask for help. I want you to remember though, that THIS. IS. NORMAL. The day my life was changed as an adoptive parent was the day I started an adoption support group. If you are struggling, find other adoptive parents out there to relate to, whether it be a facebook group, in-person support group, or a few close friends, find them now. If you can’t find one, start one. Having others who can relate and understand will make all the difference in the world, and knowing that it is normal can be all you need to pull up your sleeves and jump back in that ring for round two. Adoption may have its ups and downs but YOU’VE GOT THIS!
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Thanks for this Amanda! My husband and I are PAPs and I’m so excited to follow you as we start our journey to adoption! This post really spoke to my fears, and showed me that it’s okay if these emotions happy, and that I’m not alone if they do!
This is so needed. I know I needed to hear this. I have googled this subject trying to find affirmation that I’m not alone. I struggle with these feelings a lot. Thankfully I have a supportive family but it’s still not the same. They have not adopted and can’t know what it’s really like. I have a friend who has adopted and I find myself calling on her the most when we are facing adoptive-specific struggles.
(My husband and I adopted from foster care. We had two little boys for a year and a half and then got their two older siblings and were able to adopt all four about a year later)