The pediatrician waited for me to respond.
She’d just told me everything the mother of a newborn wants to hear – the baby is healthy. He’s at the top of the growth chart. He’s tracking movement.
So, why was she staring at me like something was wrong? She scooted her chair closer. She put her hand on my knee. And, she gently broke the news:
“Heather. You have postpartum depression.”
I’d heard those words before. Exactly two years ago, I’d watched the doctor write me a prescription for an anti-depressant.
But, that was different. Back then, I’d just given birth. Everything hurt. My hormones were all over the place. And, that doctor was my doctor.
I didn’t give birth this time. I was never pregnant. This was a foster child.
I see now that the signs were there all along. I struggled so hard with PPD the first time around, I knew deep down that it was back. But, how? The doctor sensed my confusion:
“Many people don’t know that postpartum depression happens to moms who don’t give birth,” she continued. “It happens with fostered and adopted children just the same. It’s normal. And, it’s going to be okay.”
Since my second-time-around diagnosis, I’ve learned a few important things that have helped me navigate the seas of PPD and begin to heal.
Foster/adoptive moms, don’t ignore your instincts.
It may not seem possible for you to feel postpartum depression, or even the baby blues, if you didn’t give birth. After all, how can you feel detached if you never actually carried the baby?
The truth is, PPD is about more than birth. Your hormones play a major role, and your body is a miraculous machine with the ability to toy with your hormones regardless of pregnancy. Not to mention, that whole newborn stage. Sleepless nights, crying, isolation. That happens to all of us.
In fact, a study performed by researchers at the University of Iowa found that:
In summary, the severity of depressive symptoms does not differ between postpartum and adoptive mothers.
So, don’t ignore your feelings because you think you’re immune. Your mental health is much more important.
Ask for help.
I know, I know. Asking for help isn’t always easy. But, I’ve learned it can go a long way on your road to recovery to reach out when you need a hand. Chances are, there’s a group of people ready to take action if you just let them know they’re needed. Motherhood isn’t a walk in the park for anyone, and foster/adoptive moms are no different.
If you know someone who just received a placement, be there.
The truth is: many foster/adoptive mom won’t ask for help because they feel guilty. They struggle in secrecy because of the overwhelming voice saying: “you wanted this. You can’t be sad now.”
When a foster/adoptive mom receives a newborn in her home, it’s no different than if she just gave birth. Yes, she doesn’t have to recover from the process of labor. But, she probably only had hours to prepare for this new life. She will have her own struggles. I encourage you to ask if she needs anything, bring her a meal, or just be someone she can lean on.
Because motherhood, no matter the path, is hard. And when you’re battling depression on top of it, it can feel like there’s no way out. You may lose sense of who you are. The world can feel like it moves outside your window, while you remain still.
If you can relate to these feelings – whether you gave birth or not – please don’t ignore them. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will get through this.
And I promise, it’ll be worth it.