Post-Adoption Depression: Symptoms

*Disclaimer:  I’ll be sharing a few tips about recognizing post-adoption depression and what you can do if you find you may have symptoms of it. I’m certainly not an expert, and don’t intend to replace the advice of your medical or mental health providers.  I am simply a fellow adoptive parent with lived experience sharing pieces of our story in hopes you won’t feel alone in your journey.
I hope you will find these posts informative and encourage you to connect with a therapist, and also an adoptive parents support group, who can help walk you through your next steps if you find that you are experiencing any symptoms of post-adoption depression.  If you are having suicidal thoughts, please immediately call 911 or the national suicide hotline at 800-273-8255.


It took years to convince myself that Post-Adoption Depression was an actual thing.  The symptoms were there, but I didn’t really know how to pinpoint what was going on with me.

Adoption-Post-Adoption-Depression-3Post-Adoption Depression isn’t something that is really talked about, or at least it wasn’t at the time when we adopted, and I began to feel those symptoms. I found myself questioning:

Am I not happy?

It this how it’s supposed to be?

Does this mean we made a mistake?

Why is this happening to me and why I can’t I shake these feelings?

 > Can you relate?

Studies have shown that as many as 30-60% of adoptive parents have experienced Post-Adoption Depression.

Yet, it’s still a very taboo topic.



Did you know that many foster-adoptive parents might not experience post-adoption depression symptoms until after the adoption was finalized – which can be months or years after the child was first placed in their home?

While this topic isn’t exactly rosy, it’s worth bringing awareness to.

Many parents may not recognize the signs or understand why they’re feeling the way they do. Being aware of the realness and the symptoms of post-adoption depression are key first steps to getting the help you need for a future of healthier parenting.

It wasn’t until I gave birth to our IVF baby and felt the effects of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety that my suspicions were confirmed.  I had been experiences Post-Adoption Depression.

Wasn’t I happy we adopted our sweet boys?
Of course I was!

But, my body and brain were experiencing a great deal of emotions and hormone changes from the stress of the entire process – the roller coaster of foster care, moving through the adoption process, and “graduating” from it all and forever becoming a family together.

Truth is, while adoption has been an absolute blessing for us, and brought some much excitement and joy, there is also much more happening tandem to those emotions.  There is another side that feels exhausting, scary, and very isolating.

While peers were scheduling ultrasound appointments, we were in the thick of fostering our sons whose case plans had some curveballs thrown in at the eleventh hour before the termination hearing in otherwise very quiet and uneventful cases. 

The emotions parents feel through adoption, especially when a child has already been in your home for a lengthy period of time, it can be overwhelming to manage the stress your body is experiencing. 

Many parents may not recognize the signs or understand why they’re feeling the way they do. Being aware of the realness and the symptoms of post-adoption depression are key first steps to getting the help you need for a future of healthier parenting.


The symptoms of Post-Adoption Depression can vary from parent to parent.

You may only notice one of these symptoms, or many – either in cycles or at the same time.

For me, I think I felt more anxiety at first than I did depression, though many of these symptoms were there.  And the longer I went without getting help, more symptoms would pop up for worsen. 

I’ve had some really great days, and some really rock-bottom days.  I’ve experienced anxiety, guilt, frustration, irritability, anger, rage, feelings of hopelessness, weight gain, spending less time with friends and family, intrusive thoughts, brain fog, lack of energy, inability to make decisions, and more.  

I felt a lot of pressure to care for a child I did not birth. 

I understood how great of a responsibility and a blessing this is and didn’t want to “mess it up.”

I felt anxious about forever caring for a child with extra needs that we were still working to understand. I was so worried about not getting him into services early enough, and stressed about healthcare professionals not listening to me and him falling behind with all the things we were advised to start early with him.  

Time and time again I felt guilt for adopting him.  On one hand I felt guilty that we were given this opportunity and his birth mother wasn’t able to.  On the other hand, I felt guilt for parenting a child with special needs and feeling like maybe someone with more knowledge, or experience…. shoot, more patience, would have been a better mom for him.

First of all, let’s address the issue that spiritual warfare is in play when these thoughts enter your mind. When you’re doing what you know God has set into motion for you, expect to be attacked and stand firm.

Secondly, it’s important to remember that the adoption process is exhausting.  It is stressful and does a number on your mental, emotional, and even your physical health.  You may have had similar feelings as I did, or you may have even experienced something from this list:

  • Excessive Guilt, perhaps about having a child the birth family doesn’t
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Feeling undeserving
  • Sense of Hopelessness
  • Feelings of Powerlessness
  • Feelings of Worthlessness
  • Irritability, Frustration, Anger, Rage
  • Loss of Interest or Enjoyment in Activities You Used to Enjoy
  • Loss of Energy, Drive, Ambition
  • Retreating from friends, family, or other supports
  • Difficult Sleeping/Increased Need For Sleep
  • Difficulty Concentrating or Making Decisions
  • Significant Weight Change or Fluctuations in Weight
  • Intrusive Thoughts
  • Suicidal Thoughts or Ideation

These symptoms mirror many of the symptoms associated with postpartum depression, which is why it may be so difficult for parents to realize what’s actually going on.

Biologically birthing a baby causes stress to the body and hormone changes which can trigger PPD, but so can having a baby struggling to breastfeed, mothers not feeling immediately bonded with their baby after birth, babies with colic, lack of sleep, exhaustion, and so much more.  

Likewise, there are many things that can trigger PPD in fathers, and depression in adoptive parents.


There is no single cause of post-adoption depression.

The cause may be different from parent to parent, and may actually be caused from more than just one thing.

The adoption process can be very long and stressful.

It can be taxing on your mental health and your marriage.

Adoption might include things you weren’t expecting, or happen differently that your originally planned.

Whatever the cause or risk factors, please remember it is not your fault.  You do not need to feel shame, and it’s important that you speak with someone about what you’re feeling.  Depression can sneak up when you least expect it, and can effect individuals who haven’t experienced depression or anxiety before.

Some people are more susceptible to depression and anxiety. 
You might be at a predisposition for depression, and this can be due to genetics, like MTHFR mutations, or biology.  People who have struggled with depression in the past, or a previous trauma, are also more susceptible to experiencing depression after adding a child to their family.
Unresolved grief can also lead to a greater risk of experiencing Post-Adoption Depression. 
You may have experienced infertility or pregnancy loss.  You may be grieving the inability to control family planning and parenting not going exactly how you pictured it. Whether you’re just looking into adoption, starting the process, already matched with a child, or years after the finalization – it’s important to work through an unresolved grief and trauma.
The pressures of parenting are another risk factor.
There is certainly pressure that comes from becoming an instant parent, and no doubt many parents feel the pressure of being “good enough” and do “all the right things” when they are parenting a child who biologically came from another parent.  You may have set expectations of what life with your new child would be like and reality tells a different story. You may be parenting a child with special needs or without a full scope of their history which brings even more pressures and trials.
Exhaustion is a major cause of depression in parents.
Whether you are postpartum or post-adoption, parenting a newborn is bound to exhaust you.  Babies need more of our time throughout the day and night, and can cause us to lose those precious hours of sleep we are used to.  And if you adopted an older child, you can bet the transition period will cause some sleepless nights and big emotions from everyone adjusting to a new family life. 
Bonding may not happen right away.
It may not come immediately or easily for you or the child, or both!  It can be really discouraging when you think it will be love at first sight, and instead you’re left putting in so much work and feeling like you’re not making progress.
Finally – Isolation.
While you may have a crowd of people cheering on your adoption journey from the sidelines and praying for you throughout the process, parenting through adoption can still be very isolating.  You may not be given those same fun milestones of the parenting process, such as a baby shower, or the experience of ultrasounds and bonding with a baby growing inside you.  You may not feel the same support from friends and family after placement as many people might receive recovering after delivery.  Your family will have extra needs that biological families do not experience.  You may receive loads of unsolicited advice, comments and opinions about adoption, your child, or your parenting style.  It can be a lonely road when you don’t have people in your circle who have been there.

Visit our next post, Post-Adoption Depression Part 2: What Now? to read more about how you can ease the symptoms of Post-Adoption Depression.

For more information on Post-Adoption Depression, speak with a trauma-informed therapist and visit these sites:


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