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Nuts & Bolts

January 10, 2013

After adopting a baby, depression can hit

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.

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