Shortly after bringing K home from the hospital, I was diagnosed with PADS: Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome.
I've written a little bit about my issues with mental health on this blog, but I haven't gone into too much depth. It's not that I'm ashamed or afraid of what people might think or say. It's just incredibly difficult for me to talk about. I'm going to attempt to write about it now, in part because I think it's an important (potential) aspect of both the adoption and infertility process, and because I know that other people are dealing with similar issues.
Doctors first diagnosed me with depression when I was 18, so this is something that I've dealt with for about 10 years now - at least dealt with in the sense of knowing what I was going through. I think that before my diagnosis, I attributed most of my feelings toward hormones and simply being a teenager. Mental health issues also were not discussed as openly as they are today. In fact, after my diagnosis, my family and friends ignored it. They acted like it never happened. I don't blame them for this. It's what most people do, or did. It's hard to know what to say - to know what's right or what's wrong.
College was probably the best time for me as far as treatment was concerned. As a student, I had access to free counseling. I was on medication, too, of course, but the counseling is what helped me truly understand what I was going through. I went often, sometimes, once a week. I tried different types of therapy. Collectively, therapy made me realize what I'd been dealing with on my own. It was during this time when I learned that depression wasn't something I could cure. It was only something I could manage, and my therapists taught me how to manage it. It would involve medication, but it would also involve being proactive in my own thought process. I would have to be aware of when things were slipping from me and adjust my life, or my thinking, accordingly.
I went through bouts of depression that were sometimes more difficult than others. When we lived in Nashville, I started seeing a counselor again to talk about some of my underlying issues - what caused my depression and those feelings of anxiety to resurface. I saw several therapists while going through infertility, as well, though none of them lasted long-term. I found that they couldn't quite understand or relate to what I felt at that time as well as other women going through the motions could.
Then, we became parents. I certainly didn't think that becoming a parent would be easy. Not by any means. But I did (naively) believe that I would be happy 100 percent of the time. After all, I was finally getting to experience what we had worked so hard for. I was finally a mother. What could possibly trigger my depression at this point?
What I failed to realize was that every aspect of this circumstance was a recipe for disaster when it came to my mental health. Do you know what doesn't help a person who suffers from depression? Do you know what doesn't help anyone? Sleep depravation. Schedule changes. Sudden altering of life's routines. Stress. The pressure and anxieties that come with having a baby in the NICU for FIVE weeks, and living there while she has tubes coming out of her from every angle. Arguing with doctors and nurses about her continuity of care.
It's a little surprising that I didn't reach a breaking point while still living at the hospital, but it wasn't until after I got home when I completely melted down. I lost it.
While I was somewhat embarrassed to admit that I needed help, I'd been through episodes of depression enough to realize that I had to see someone. I went to my GP and she put me back on my medication, which helped tremendously. I reached out to friends who'd been through post-partum depression for advice and comfort. It wasn't easy. I was basically admitting that I was unhappy despite finally bringing home our baby. But what people might fail to understand is that it had nothing to do with adoption. It had nothing to do with bonding with my child or feeling like a parent. It had everything to do with my previous mental health issues. It also had everything to do with the overwhelming stress that comes with bringing home a newborn - whether you birth that newborn or someone else does. It doesn't matter. It can - and does - happen to anyone.
The feeling passed quickly. However, this time, I chose to stay on medication. While I've had the typical "funks" that one with depression gets since K's birth, I certainly haven't slipped into a depression like the one I experienced when we brought her home.
Yet, I still think about it when people bring up what it's like to finally meet your child through adoption. I think about it because, inevitably, people ask me if I feel like a real mother. People ask me if I still wish I'd been pregnant. People who are considering adoption want to know: how will they feel after they experience this life-altering event.
The answer is the same as any new mom: you will feel scared shitless. Overwhelmed. Yes, you may experience bouts of depression. Yet, I can tell you with certainty that I would have experienced that same depression if I'd given birth. Why? Well, because becoming a parent is scary, stressful shit - regardless of the way it happens. It's like someone flips a light switch in a dark room and your entire perspective, your entire viewpoint on life changes. And in those initial moments, when your eyes are still trying to adjust, it can be hard to find your way.