Photo: Peggy Sirota/Elyse Connolly/
It's a common assumption that new adoptive parents are nothing but overjoyed because the long struggle to have a child is finally over. Well, not so fast. A host of emotions—feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, confusion—often compete with happiness. The result is a little-discussed but common downside shared by many of these parents: depression. "There are so many paradoxical messages thrown at them: 'You're a saint. You've saved a child. This child is so lucky to have been adopted,'" says Karen Foli, PhD, assistant professor at the Purdue University School of Nursing in West Lafayette, Indiana, and coauthor of the book The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption . "But if you complain or admit to struggling, the reaction is 'Just be grateful.' And the adoptive parent can shut down or experience guilt for having these feelings."
For some parents, says Foli, an adoptive parent herself, the joy of adopting coincides with lingering grief over a lengthy battle with infertility. What's more, conspicuous physical differences between adopted children and their parents or siblings may elicit unwelcome attention from strangers that can intrude upon the bonding experience. Unsolicited input from friends and family—well meaning or not—can also reinforce feelings of inadequacy for newly adoptive parents, who may feel insecure and overwhelmed, particularly if their child has experienced trauma or neglect.
Where to find help? Currently, once an adoption is finalized, all social services end. Adoption advocates would like to see that change, in the form of continuing education and support for parents. "Ideally, the adoption process would include regular meetings with someone who has great relationship skills and a deep knowledge about the lifelong adoptive experience," says Deborah Siegel, PhD, a professor in the school of social work at Rhode Island College in Providence and a clinician specializing in adoption issues. "It's important for adoptive parents to form a connection with people they can turn to later."
In the meantime, families are finding help from resources such as the Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children ( Attach.org ) and through face-to-face support groups. The Web site of Adoptive Families magazine, AdoptiveFamilies.com , can help you search for online forums as well as find real-life support groups in your area. Says Foli, "We are trying to get parents not to feel shame and doubt. Instead of pathologizing this, we need to build support and resilience."
From the December 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!