Saturday, February 12, 2011

In Situational Anxiety's Wake

While garden variety situational anxiety is a normal part of the adoption process, prolonged situational anxiety during the wait can have negative effects which linger after the child comes home. That's why learning to cope effectively is so important. Our goal should be to minimize the SAA experience to, if possible,  prevent it from morphing into the forms that may have post-situational consequences. In this post I want to address three of theses lasting effects:
  • externalized anxiety (anger)
  • internalized anxiety (depression)
  • future anxiety (in subsequent adoptions)

Adoption agencies are acutely aware of the first aspect: the potential effect on their agency's reputation. This danger seems to arrise when waiters (often men) externalize their anxiety. In the absence of sufficient information and in the presence of the paranoia that is a hallmark of SAA, ordinarily rational people may impute all manner of untrue motivations to the people perceived to be in power in International adoption: the U.S. and the International partner agencies, and/or the governments of both countries.

The irony is that the client is typically convinced that he (or she) is righteously angry and crusading to expose injustice while the misinformation and untrue allegations may actually undermine legitimate child welfare efforts, including the process that will bring the child home. Agencies have been quick to grasp the fact that while these manifestations of SAA may be transient for the client, the effects of slander on agencies and their  programs could take years to ameliorate.

Far more common in my circles (mostly populated by women) is internalized situational anxiety. Higher levels of internalized SAA, especially when prolonged over time, too often become Situational Depression (like the mom from Alaska in my story, who had an extreme case).  I am not aware of any research investigating the potential correlation between SAA and Post Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS). My impression is that people who experience typical levels of SAA are no more prone to PADS than average. But I suspect that if researchers worked backwards from a pool of people who experience PADS, they might find that many in that group experienced higher and/or more prolonged than typical levels of SAA during their wait.

I will be returning to the possibly carry-over between SAA and PADS in a separate post. But before I move on to the third lingering effect of SAA, I want to observe this connection: it seems as if externalized anxiety in men is often triggered by internalized anxiety in their wives. Husbands observe depression in the woman they love, and the effects this has on their family, and get angry at the bad guy who beat her up: the system.

The third long-lasting effect of SAA is that parents who experience higher levels during one adoption seem prone to developing higher levels earlier and/or with little provocation during subsequent adoptions.  For better or worse, it seems parents tend to revisit the emotional territory mapped during their earlier visits to the isle of situational anxiety, picking up their beach-walk at the point they left off last time.

So although the short-term feelings of situational anxiety vanish when the situation changes (temporarily assuaged by information, or erased by news that the child is coming home), the long-term consequences of the experience may shadow families formed via adoption, and the adoption community at large, for years.

I, for one, am tired of the idea that this is just the way adoption is; we all  experience it, we all live through it; we just have to do the best we can to make it through. With this series of posts on SAA, I am rejecting that idea. Nobody should have to enter the potentially most challenging phase of adoption, the transition of the new child into the family, emotionally exhausted by the wait.

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