The Post-Adoption Blues:
Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption
A baby is born and the birthmother agrees that you will parent her newborn child.
A court halfway around
the world signs the documents that finally allow you to bring your child
After a year in the
court system, the judge terminates parental rights and declares that the
foster child you've cared for is legally yours.
Your 20-year-old daughter has given birth to a healthy son, which she leaves in your care.
Loving a child, any
child, is an ongoing act of astounding beauty. Our emotions, our unconditional,
tenacious, relentless love of a child not born to us is what sets us,
the adoptive parents, apart from many others in the world. This book is
about that love. During our interviews with parents, we-Karen and John-were
awed, humbled, and honored by these parents so generously shared with
us. They shared their hopes and dreams, their heartbreaks and struggles.
But what they ultimately shared were their triumphs as a family. They
were motivated by the thought of helping others on their journey of adoption
or kinship parenting. They have changed our lives, and we are forever
grateful to them.
These dedicated parents offered us the chance to glimpse their personal lives-flawed, human, and beautiful. But the most important gifts they offered us were proven, home-tested strategies learned through trial, error, and the experience of forming a new family. Reflecting on what they had found to be the most helpful ways to cope when faced with unexpected emotions and overwhelming events, these parents shared with open hearts.
In addition to the
generosity of these parents, we were moved by the commitment and intelligence
of the adoption professionals we contacted to better understand the many
ways in which adoption creates and changes families. Almost a dozen experts
in the field of adoption from throughout the country-experts with hands-on,
day-to-day experience with adoptive and kinship families-contributed their
ideas to our work. These folks do not live in ivory towers. They help,
advise, and counsel parents who need objective insight and feedback as
they stabilize themselves and their families after adoption. Some of our
experts are adoptive parents themselves; one is an adult adoptee. We chose
these extraordinary people because they didn't just think about adoption
as an intellectual enterprise, they live the adoptive experience.
This book blends the
experts' counsel and advice with the wisdom of the parents. We share with
you what our experts, through years of their own research and heartfelt
efforts, have found to help families. Our experts also recommended many
of our "Selected Readings" found on page 230. These readings
will help fill in parts of the adoption story that are beyond the scope
of this book.
As authors, we speak
not only from our research and study, but also from experience with both
the joys and unforeseen challenges of adoption. We are the parents of
two children by birth and one child by adoption. We met our daughter for
the first time in an airport, when she was carried off a plane from Kolkatta,
India. That memory will stay as close to our hearts and as vivid as the
births of our other children. We saw a tiny baby-almost five months old-in
a thin pink sleeper, her small hands clinging to her escort's shirt. As
she was gently jostled up the jetliner's ramp on a dark, warm March night,
our daughter came closer and closer to us for the first time.
This moment marked
a new beginning for our daughter and our family, the symbolic birth of
Annie. What we didn't know that night was that we were meeting an infant
who carried the effects of an early life without consistent care, a life
that had already endured so much stress. Her challenging behaviors-and
more notably, our lack of preparedness-led us to struggle as a family.
Karen was particularly susceptible to the mass of contradictory post-adoption
emotions that we address in these pages. Karen felt shame, guilt, and
the fear of being judged by others. All these toxic emotions kept her,
for a time, from embracing her role as Annie's parent and showing what
was in her heart.
After so many months
of longing for this child, Karen wondered how she could be so unhappy.
Shocked by her own emotions, Karen tried to deny them and silence them,
to handle them on her own. But they wouldn't go away. Slowly, she began
to trust her friends and her husband.
John, concerned about
his wife's sadness and anxiety, felt unsure how to help. He offered Karen
support and his belief that, with time, she would be able to bond with
Annie. Above all else, he continued to love both his wife and his daughter
For Karen, the journey
toward bonding with Annie was confusing and difficult. She actively sought
information and found what little there was on the Internet. Suddenly,
she realized she wasn't alone. There were others who had felt this way.
No, it didn't mean she didn't love Annie. One by one, she was able to
confront the emotional secrets that were putting distance between her
and her family. As these feelings were resolved, understood, and overcome,
she and Annie fell in love.
We want this book
to bring those unspoken emotions into the open and to mark the start of
a new era of open conversations about post-adoption feelings. For too
long, these emotions have been viewed as disloyal to the world of adoption.
Some people seem to believe that if we talk about post-adoption difficulties,
we might somehow discourage others from adopting. This old belief does
a disservice to families who need help. Harboring these secrets perpetuates
isolation and endangers family functioning. We believe the post-adoption
transition period is normal; a certain amount of stress is to be expected.
Denying that these feelings exist seems to imply that confronting your
emotions is futile-and that ignoring your emotions will make them go away.
The coping strategies in this book strongly contradict this belief. When
you use these techniques, we believe you can transform your feelings into
actions that will positively influence you and your family.
We see parents' post-adoption
emotions on a continuum-from a twitter of anxiety to a devastating sadness.
Even a small, but lingering uneasiness has to be acknowledged and a support
system put into place. Without these interventions, post-adoption stress
can evolve into the post-adoption blues-a kind of depression discussed
openly in this book.
Like so many other
adoptive journeys, our story continues to evolve and change. Karen is
forever changed by being Annie's mother. Annie is forever changed by calling
Karen "Mama." And the family is forever changed because of these
experiences. We believe we're stronger, closer, and more appreciative
of the love we share as a family. As we live this journey, we've learned
to embrace our children for who they really are: infinitely precious beings.
In the pages that follow you will find a path that leads you to an even deeper appreciation of your adoptive family. Together, we will explore how you can consciously acknowledge the expectations that may be contributing to your struggles, make sense of the nagging emotions that can keep you from the joy you deserve, and help you moved forward confidently and happily as parents and as a family.
|© 2004 Karen J. Foli||Contact Karen|