CircleBumpCheckedFilledMedicalBookmarkBookmarkTickBookmarkAddCheckBoxCheckBoxFilled

Navigating the Mixed Emotions That Come With Adoption

Five things adoptive parents should know about post-adoption depression and other common mental health struggles.
save article
profile picture of Aparna Iyer, MD
By Aparna Iyer, MD, Reproductive Psychiatrist
Published November 12, 2021
Hero Image
Image: Catherine Delahaye/ Getty Images

You’ve made the decision to adopt—congrats! It can be an exciting journey, and you’re hopefully imagining the warm cuddles and happy times ahead as a sweet new child joins your family.

A lot of prospective parents spend much of the pre-adoption waiting period emotionally preparing for the joyful goodness to come. But while planning and hoping and patiently counting down the minutes might feel protective for your mood and well-being, the reality is that adoptive parents are very much at risk for mental health conditions mid- and post-adoption. That’s why proactively caring for your emotional health is so important; it can help ensure that you and your new addition adjust more readily to this major life moment and transition.

If you’re on the path to adoptive parenthood, you’ll want to know what’s in store—and that includes understanding the effects the process can have on your mental health. Here are five things to know about navigating the emotional rollercoaster that is adoption.

1. Post-Adoption Depression Is Real and Very Common

There’s a plethora of data that has focused on how to foster the emotional health and well-being of an adopted child. This has led to research-proven ways to help children adjust and feel safe, stable and secure. But did you know that adoptive parents can also experience emotional struggles as they adjust to this change?

Post-adoption depression (PAD) occurs in both adoptive moms and dads at rates that are very similar to those of postpartum depression. This means that 1 in 7 moms and 1 in 10 dads will experience depression after adoption.

Depression can occur at any point in the long and process-driven journey, even before the adoption actually occurs. This is why it’s important to be aware of your emotional health needs in advance—for the sake of your growing family.

Related Video

Typical symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, diminished energy, sleep disturbances, guilt, changes in appetite, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and/or suicidal ideation. If you ever have thoughts of harming yourself or anybody else, it’s considered a medical emergency; call 911 or go straight to your local emergency room.

2. Some People Are More at Risk for PAD

Research has found that some adoptive parents are at increased risk for PAD. A prior personal history of depression, lack of social support, an unhealthy relationship between the parents, lower socioeconomic status, infertility, sleep deprivation and difficulty bonding with an adopted child are among the factors that can all individually or collectively play a part in depression.

Even if you don’t not have any of these risk factors, you may still experience some degree of depression during the adoption process. PAD can impact all people and all genders.

3. Mixed Emotions Around Adoption Are Normal

Expanding your family may be all you’ve ever wanted, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel unflinching happiness and fulfillment throughout the entire adoption process. Nevertheless, negative or conflicted feelings that occur alongside your joy might be downright confusing.

Having conflicting emotions around this transition into parenthood is known as maternal or paternal ambivalence. Many parents report a sense of shame or guilt when they have these mixed emotions, but it’s a completely normal and common experience that occurs with biological births too. Feeling this way doesn’t mean you’re any less of a loving or dedicated parent. Of course, if these confusing and upsetting emotions persist or start affecting your ability to adjust to life with a new child, consider consulting a therapist; they can help you explore and process your feelings.

4. Your Emotional Health Can Protect the Emotional Health of Your Child

When parents take care of themselves, everybody wins! This is especially true as it pertains to your emotional health. Extensive research following the biological children of moms with significant mental health difficulties shows that kids benefit in many ways when their parents take steps to treat any mental health conditions. A study examining the emotional health and wellness of adopted children mirrors this finding; this suggests that good emotional health in adoptive parents can be highly protective for adopted children as well. Parents who take measures to care for their mental well-being have a greater chance of raising children who adjust better and have fewer behavioral challenges.

5. Treatment for PAD Is Very Effective

The good news is that you’re not alone. Lean on your community. Join a support group for adoptive families (your adoption agency can likely connect you with one). Support from friends and loved ones, other adoptive families and mental health professionals can help ensure a healthy transition into adoptive parenthood.

Many forms of therapy can be highly beneficial too; one of the most powerful therapeutic strategies commonly employed involves shifting the narrative and perceived framework around the adoption experience and any expectations. For example, it’s helpful to know that it might take time to adjust and bond with your child—and that this is completely natural and normal.

Many families choose to pursue group counseling after adoption, but some members of adoptive families may also benefit from individual therapy or marital counseling support. In many cases, antidepressants and other psychotropic medications can also be used in conservative and judicious ways to help individuals and their families.

All people and all parents—whether welcoming a child through adoption or biological birth—can suffer from depression or other emotional struggles. The adoption process can impact your mental health and have a ripple effect, so check in with yourself, your partner and your children to stay on top of it. And don’t hesitate to reach out for additional support if you need it.

About the author:

Aparna Iyer, MD, is a board-certified holistic reproductive psychiatrist practicing in Dallas, Texas. She is an author and has been featured in several academic and popular media outlets. She is also a speaker for several organizations, focusing on maternal mental health and emotional wellness. Follow her on Instagram and learn more at www.draparnaiyer.com.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

save article
ADVERTISEMENT

Next on Your Reading List

Same sex couple smiling and looking at laptop together on the couch.
LGBTQ Adoption: How to Navigate Your Rights and Options
By Maggie Overfelt
Women's professional soccer players Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger adopt a newborn baby.
Soccer Stars Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris Have Welcomed a Baby Girl
By Nehal Aggarwal
Embryos are frozen and stored in the cryo store at Birmingham Women's Hospital fertility clinic on January 22, 2015 in Birmingham, England.
Alabama Puts Law in Place to Protect IVF Clinics and Patients
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
Lala Kent at the "Vanderpump Rules" Season 11 Premiere held at the Hollywood Palladium on January 17, 2024 in Los Angeles, California
Vanderpump Rules’ Lala Kent Is Pregnant With Baby No. 2
By Wyndi Kappes
HGTV's Brian Patrick Flynn & Hollis Smith Are Expecting via Surrogate
HGTV's Brian Patrick Flynn & Hollis Smith Are Expecting via Surrogate
By Wyndi Kappes
Actress Bridgit Mendler walks the WE Carpet at WE Day California 2016 at The Forum on April 7, 2016 in Inglewood, California
Multi-Hyphenate Bridgit Mendler Reveals She Adopted a 4-Year-Old Son
By Wyndi Kappes
Amit Shah and Aditya Madiraju with surrogate
Amit Shah and Aditya Madiraju on Fatherhood and Parenting With Pride
By Nehal Aggarwal
ADVERTISEMENT
father looking at a book with young daughter while sitting on the couch at home
How to Talk to Your Kids About Surrogacy
By Elizabeth Narins
khloe kardashian with son at home
What Khloé Kardashian Wished People Told Her About Surrogacy
By Wyndi Kappes
Israel Houghton and Adrienne Bailon attend the Elton John AIDS Foundation's 30th Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party on March 27, 2022 in West Hollywood, California
Cheetah Girls Star Adrienne Bailon Shares Her Son's Birth Story
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
dads denied ivf by insurance write children's book "you come from love"
Dad Initially Denied IVF by Insurance Pens Children’s Book
By Wyndi Kappes
Lucy Liu attends the "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" UK Special Screening at Cineworld Leicester Square on March 07, 2023 in London, England
Lucy Liu Shares Her Surrogacy Journey and Unique Path to Parenthood
By Wyndi Kappes
Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas attend The Fashion Awards 2021 at the Royal Albert Hall on November 29, 2021 in London, England.
Priyanka Chopra Addresses Critics of Her Surrogacy Decision
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
twin baby feet in black and white
Record-Breaking Twins Are Born From Embryos Frozen 30 Years Ago
By Wyndi Kappes
two people touching a pregnant belly, surrogacy concept
Independent Surrogacy vs. Agency Surrogacy: How to Decide
By Maggie Overfelt
woman touching friend's pregnant belly with sunset in the background
How to Navigate the Intended Parent-Surrogate Relationship
By Yelena Moroz Alpert
liquid nitrogen straws with frozen embryos and egg cells
Frozen Embryos Linked to Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure
By Wyndi Kappes
ADVERTISEMENT
Kaitlyn Munoz and her mother, Chalise Smith, after giving birth to her daughter in the hospital
50-Year-Old Mom Who Served as Daughter’s Surrogate Welcomes Baby Girl
By Wyndi Kappes
kourtney kardashian and travis barker at the oscars
Kourtney Kardashian Opens About Her IVF Journey With Travis Barker
By Nehal Aggarwal
adoption and surrogacy books gif
The Best Children's Books About Adoption and Surrogacy
By Elizabeth Narins
ADVERTISEMENT
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List