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Depression besets adoptive mother soon after baby’ s arrival

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  • Sunny Jo
    Depression besets adoptive mother soon after baby’s arrival By Amy Rogers Nazarov, Published: January 7 In February 2008, my husband, Ari, and I brought home
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2013
      Depression besets adoptive mother soon after baby’s arrival

      By Amy Rogers Nazarov, Published: January 7

      In February 2008, my husband, Ari, and I brought home from South Korea
      our baby Jacob, whose adoption we had begun in 2006. Our first few
      weeks together were exhausting and wonderful but also scary as Jake
      came down with one illness after another — 104-degree fevers, croup,
      tummy troubles, you name it — and our pediatrician was concerned about
      his large head size and ordered tests to rule out hydrocephalus.

      Weeks of sleepless nights later, I was feeling wildly unqualified to
      mother this beautiful stranger and wondering why parenthood was so
      much more stressful than I’d expected. I was also surprised to detect
      a flicker of hesitation about my authenticity as Jake’s mother. Was he
      really “mine”? Was I up to this job?

      By late March I had lost interest in eating or even getting out of
      bed. I burst into tears daily, upsetting Ari and Jake. I withdrew from
      the baby we’d longed for even as I was terrified that the social
      worker overseeing our post-placement period would take Jake away if I
      let on how awful I felt. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t
      embrace motherhood as so many of my friends — both “bio” moms and
      adoptive ones — had done? I’d never been depressed in my life, but at
      age 39, I was now facing a full-blown bout.

      Everyone has heard about postpartum depression, which can be triggered
      when hormones go haywire after a woman has given birth and is coping
      with the exhausting, round-the-clock demands of an infant. But new
      research has focused on what I unexpectedly felt four years ago:
      post-adoption depression. And it turns out it’s not that uncommon.

      A March study of 300 mothers by Purdue University researchers found
      that post-adoption depression syndrome, or PAD, afflicts between 18
      and 26 percent of adoptive mothers in the first year after an infant
      or child is placed with them. With approximately 120,000 children
      being adopted annually in the United States, the Purdue report
      suggests that tens of thousands of adoptive mothers may be suffering
      from depression.

      “When an adoptive parent struggles in adjusting to the new role of
      parenthood, she or he may hear ‘But this was your life goal! You got
      what you wanted!’ ” says Karen J. Foli, an assistant professor at
      Purdue’s School of Nursing and a co-author of the study along with
      Purdue’s Susan South and Eunjung Lim.

      Foli, who also co-authored the book “The Post-Adoption Blues:
      Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption,” says that adoptive
      parents’ unrealistic expectations, often sky-high after a long period
      of waiting to become a parent, can clash with the day-to-day demands
      of child care.

      In fact, says Lisa Catapano, an assistant professor of psychiatry at
      George Washington University Medical Center, all new parents,
      biological or adoptive, contend with the same challenges that
      contribute to depression: “Sleep deprivation, a change in your
      relationship with your partner, a greater need for help from others,
      the stress of caring for a new baby, the change in your identity” and,
      for biological mothers, “hormonal shifts.” While adoptive parents “may
      not have the hormonal changes,” the other stressors are there, says
      Catapano, who treats both adoptive and biological mothers for


      For these reasons, PAD comes as a nasty surprise to some new adoptive mothers.

      “Adoptive parents often have this sense that they are going to be a
      ‘super parent,’ ” says Anne Pearce, director of adoption services with
      Baltimore’s Board of Child Care, a private adoption agency. “But
      sometimes people are surprised or disappointed by some aspects of
      parenting: the exhaustion, or missing being in the workplace after
      looking forward for so long to being with a baby. I tell my clients,
      ‘Whatever you are surprised by is no surprise.’ ”

      Capitol Hill resident Jenny Nordstrom, who had struggled with
      infertility before adopting daughter Sienna, now 5, remembers being
      stunned by how trying the early days with a baby could be, in
      unexpected ways. For example, she said, “My daughter’s schedule was so
      different from those of other kids, so there we’d be at the park when
      no one else was. I am a really social person, and I felt so isolated.”
      Yet after waiting so long to be chosen by a birth mom and then
      traveling out of state to be present at the delivery, “I remember
      thinking ‘How can I be anything but overjoyed?’ ” says Jenny, 44.
      After two months, she sought treatment for depression but resisted
      trying antidepressants for another year. Eventually she did and began
      feeling like her old self.

      Kim Severn Denny, of Auburn, Wash., had postpartum depression after
      giving birth to her son Quinn, now 8, yet she says she was unprepared
      when similar symptoms hit her after adopting her daughter Lauren
      nearly five years later. “I was in denial about my depression after
      adopting Lauren, because I thought ‘I adopted her, I didn’t deliver
      her,’ ” she says. A mental health counselor, a friend from church and
      her general practitioner all helped Severn Denny recover through a
      combination of counseling, dietary changes and keeping a journal of
      her emotions.

      In my own case, anxiety about whether I was a “good enough” mother and
      about whether I’d be able to help our son navigate life in a world
      that will ascribe traits to him simply because he is Asian, coupled
      with worry about his nonstop sicknesses and the attendant deprivation,
      all set the stage for my depression. But it was only when I stumbled
      upon Foli’s book one day at a bookstore that I began to understand why
      I was despairing.

      Antidepressants, counseling and a husband, family and circle of
      friends who stuck by me, sometimes just to keep me company while I did
      little but stare at my uneaten lunch, helped me recover. That, and
      learning in time to trust my parental instincts.

      Now, nearly five years after we brought him home, Jake is thriving and
      I feel at home in these maternal shoes. And while I wouldn’t wish
      depression on anybody, temporarily losing my sense of hope about life
      made its return that much sweeter.

      Rogers Nazarov is a writer in the District. She is working on a memoir
      about depression after adoption.

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