Post-natal depression or delayed adoption grief?
How five little ducks and a little white whale called Baby Beluga helped me out of the adoption fog.
After my first baby was born I cried every day for 30 days. When I saw my doctor, he diagnosed me with post-natal depression (PND) and gave me a prescription for anti-depressants. He didn’t refer me for any counselling because, as he said, “the waiting lists are too long”.
I’m pretty sure he was right that I was depressed – I’d had a difficult birth and a lot of problems with breastfeeding. But was it classic PND, or was it delayed adoption grief? I think it took giving birth to my son to finally acknowledge the pre-verbal trauma I experienced at being separated from my mother.
Throughout my pregnancy the signs were there. I had started to feel new emotions about being given away at birth. Previously I had been very matter-of-fact about it all: my birth mother couldn’t care for me adequately, so she found a family who could. Simple. Looking back, it’s safe to say I was very much in the fog.
But now every time my pregnancy app beeped to say my baby was the size of a peach or a mango, I couldn’t help wondering how my birth mother might have been feeling at this stage. Not proud, excited and blooming, but (most likely) hiding her bump in shame and growing anxious about the impending birth. With this in mind, being constantly told that my baby could pick up on my emotions was very hard to hear.
So, yes I did cry every day after I had my son, but much of it was localised to certain triggers, for example, when singing about a little white whale called Baby Beluga in Mother and Baby Singing Class:
“Is the water warm? Is your mummy there with you? So happy.”
Is your mummy there? Why wouldn’t she be there? Where is she? Surely this is a rhetorical question? Oh there I go, crying at Baby Singing again. I’ll just hide behind my hair.
And don’t get me started on Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day. I’ve got abandonment issues, I’ve had very little sleep for weeks and you’re making me sing:
“Mummy Duck said ‘quack, quack, quack, quack’ but none of those little ducks came back.”
Please someone put Mummy Duck out of her misery and tell her all her ducks come back at the end of the song!
This period of crying may well have been a very natural, albeit very belated, response to being adopted. Why shouldn’t I feel grief at being separated from my biological mother and forced to bond with a new mother in order to survive? As I cuddled and cooed at my son, why shouldn’t I cry for the baby who listened in vain for her mother’s voice?
It took the birth of my son to realise that actually, whatever I’ve said in the past, I was affected by being relinquished. A ready-made family waiting to take me home from hospital did not negate the trauma. Five years later I am still processing all these feelings and accepting my new status as an out-of-the-fog adoptee.
What could help other adoptees when they become parents?
· Ask for additional support around pregnancy
If I had known I might experience PND, would I have asked for additional support when I became pregnant? Is this even something the NHS would be able to offer? How would doctors and midwives know the right questions to ask to put adoptees into a medium-risk category for PND? My advice would be, even if you don’t think your adoption has affected you, or you think it has but you’ve dealt with it, it’s always worth mentioning to your health professional.
· Share how you’re feeling
Looking back, one thing I wish I had done differently was to share how I was feeling instead of hiding the fact that I was crying every day. Although I didn’t have any fellow adoptees in my “mummy circle”, I did have friends who had experienced loss, so perhaps we could have shared how hard we were finding certain situations.
· Get help post-natally
Consider asking for additional help after your baby is born. This could be anything from hiring a doula if funds allow, to asking a friend to take any older children to the park for an hour, to setting clear boundaries with family members. (Remember many adoptees tend to be people pleasers, so perhaps ask your partner for help setting boundaries!)
· Find an adoption-competent therapist
In an ideal world, I would have dealt with all my adoption stuff before I became a parent, so I could have “enjoyed every minute” as the unhelpful cliché goes. But I didn’t, so I am working hard now to get to a place where I can a healthy role model for my children. And I think it’s good for them to know we are all a work-in-progress.
I have now found an excellent adoption-competent therapist – she is actually an adoptee herself – but she was not easy to find, and the sessions have been at my own expense. For advice, try the Post-Adoption Centre.
Over to you
I would love to hear from other adoptees – both women and men – who are now parents to see how this life stage has affected them, as well as their relationships with partner and baby. My hope is to put together some guidance for the health sector to recognise that adoptees may need additional support during pregnancy and beyond.
With thanks to Dr Emma Svanberg from The Mumologist who is @Mumologist on Instagram.