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 home.

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.
Our book is designed to do two things: The first is to explain the common issues that face most, if not all, families during the post-adoption period; and the second is to provide simple, effective help for you, the adoptive or kinship parent. We define post-adoption as the time after placement of the child in the home and onward. For our purposes, post-adoption encompasses the "post-placement" and "post-finalization" periods (see "Glossary" on page 226).

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 unconditionally.

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.

The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption

© 2004 Karen J. Foli Contact Karen