After the Airport: My Journey with Post-Adoption Depression

large smiling group at the airport, post-adoption depression story

Five and half years ago, I stepped off a 14-hour plane from Hong Kong with my husband and newly adopted baby boy. As we left Customs and Immigration, I remember standing behind those double doors that open at DFW Terminal D Arrivals with bated breath. On the other side of those doors stood more than 20 people ready to greet us and welcome our new son home to Texas. It was the moment I had been working towards and dreaming about for the last two years.

And the airport moment was everything I’d dreamed of: balloons and signs and new siblings and six new cousins for this precious little boy who had no clue what all the fuss was about. I cried happy tears and tears of relief that we were home. 

And then…we drove home as a new family of five.

mom smiling and holding small child, post-adoption depression story

We got home on a Friday night and picked up our favorite donuts Saturday morning. We went to church two days later, like normal. That following Monday, I drove my kids to preschool.

Everything was the same, and yet nothing was the same at all.

The paperwork was over. The waiting was over. The anticipation was over. Fundraisers and grant applications were a thing of the past. I wasn’t working anymore as we made the decision for me to stay home with him and build attachment.

I remember spending those first few months at home with our little guy just going through the motions of life. I’d zone out in Target aisles and spend hours scrolling my phone. The house was a mess, and while it was easy to blame that on having three young children, the truth is that I spent most of those early days trying to numb out. I cried a lot, blaming exhaustion, but knowing full well it was more than that. 

Despite all this, I never doubted our decision to adopt. I knew we had followed God’s leading for our family, and we were so grateful to the hundreds of people who rallied behind us to bring him home. We were completely overjoyed he was here. Friends brought meals and hand-me-downs, and everyone wanted to know how he was doing. He was thriving and learning and wonderful…all while I was falling apart inside. 

mom on boat holding sleeping child, post-adoption depression story

And then one day, a close friend asked how I was doing. And not in a casual way—she truly wanted to know. It came pouring out of me. I felt so confused as I explained to her how I felt. I loved my son and was so thankful for all he had already added to our family, but something wasn’t right. And she encouraged me to do the thing I had been dreading: to ask for help.

Two months after we walked off that plane, I finally woke up and realized I couldn’t keep going this way. Thankfully, I was able to get in quickly to see a counselor who helped me identify what I was going through. I had never heard of it, but I had something called post-adoption depression.

Post-adoption depression is a thing. And it’s far more common than you think.

The National Library of Medicine estimates that between 10% and 32% of adoptive parents experience post-adoption depression. After several months of weekly sessions, I crawled myself out of the hole I found myself in, but it was not an easy road. I walked into that office thinking I was crazy or that something was really wrong with me. I hadn’t been pregnant and hadn’t given birth; heck, I didn’t even have a newborn! And yet, I had been through a similar emotional roller coaster, and my body was reeling from the stress of it all.

The symptoms of post-adoption depression and postpartum depression are similar and should not be ignored. These can include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, feelings of guilt or regret, hopelessness, problems focusing, and fatigue or exhaustion.    

If you have any of those feelings, I want to encourage you today to reach out to your physician. They can help you assess your symptoms and refer you to a counselor or psychiatrist who can help. Just like you wouldn’t try to treat a broken leg at home, please don’t try to ignore this or fix it yourself. Therapy is truly such a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful every day that I listened to my friend and sought out professional help for post-adoption depression. 

Read More:
3 Ways to Find a Mental Health Therapist in Collin County

20 Things I Wish I Knew Before Adopting

Allison and her husband, Blake, grew up in Dallas and made the move to the 'burbs in 2010 when she began teaching middle school in Frisco. After attending Texas A&M for her undergrad, Allison came back to Dallas to pursue her Master’s in Education from SMU. She has a huge love of writing and taught everything from preschool to eighth grade before obtaining her certification as a Pediatric Sleep Consultant. Today, McKinney is home for her circus which includes three children (four if you count her husband) and a troublemaking lab. Allison and her husband are both passionate about orphan care and adoption, a calling that led them to their adopted son from China and to pursue their foster care licensing during the pandemic. Keep up with all her shenanigans on Instagram!

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