Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Books for the Wait: Post-Adoption Blues

I plan to profile books in three caegories in the last half the series on Situational Anxiety in Adoption:
  • stress and adoption specific books (education)
  • treasured books about Korea (escapism)
  • books that fed my faith during the wait

The first book is Karen J. Foli and John R. Thompson, The Post Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption. The authors are doctors and International adoptive parents and "get  it" because they've personally been there.

Sure: a book about situational anxiety during the wait would be even better. But until then, this book about the anxiety that can verge into depression after our child comes home should be required reading. From talking to other moms who've been there, I think someday research will show a predictive relationship between unresolved, higher levels of Situational Anxiety experienced during the wait (SAA), and post adoption depression experienced later (PADS).

Foli and Thompson's thesis leaves plenty of room for this possibility, suggesting that PADS develops when what we recieve (the real life experience) is significantly different from what we expected or imagined. The book helps parents double check their own expectations, and where necessary, set more realistic ones. Even though Foli and Thompson focus on the post-adoption period, there is much wisdom here for parents trying to get a better grip on the emotional dynamics of waiting. Here's the opening of Chapter 1, on parents' expectations for the adoption process:

"In all facets of our lives we have expectations that are shaped by our cultural, societal, and biological worlds. Our expectations help form our vision of the future and enable us to successfully prepare. They are an inescapable, normal part of the way we live our lives.

However, unless we're careful, we can build our expectations on shaky assumptions. Maybe because we're in denial or simply because we don't have sufficient or reliable information about a situation, we create unrealistic expectations that doom us despite our best efforts.

Many adoptive parents don't even realize that our expectations prevent us from seeing that certain possibilities exsist..." (Foli and Thompson, Post Adoption Blues, p. 15)

Let's try that out on the experience of waiting. I don't think anyone would argue that, "I will be given an update on my child between referral acceptance and travel" is an unreasonable expectation. So, safe in that assumption and anxious not to be perceived as annoying clients, we sit back and wait for an update on our child's development. And we wait for an update. And we wait for an update. The whole time we're growing more anxious about how our child is doing and we're beginning to doubt whether systems are set up in the best interests of children and their adoptive families --because if they were, certainly we'd receive updates routinely wouldn't we? Or so our thinking goes.

"our expectations prevent us from seeing that certain possibilities exsist..." What about the possibility that, like some families, you might wait eight or nine months for  travel and never recieve an update, occasionally even after asking for one? Yes: your expectation might morph into something like: "I will get an update if I ask for one and follow up to make sure I get one."

Because carefully evaluating your expectations, including realistically appraising what you as a parent do and do not have control over, is so key to managing situational anxiety during the wait, Foli and Thompson's book is valuable for families who are too early in the process to be concerned about PADS. Not to mention the fact that experiencing prolonged SAA may make you more vulnerable to PADS. Put feet to your wish you had been better prepared for the stresses of the wait: use this waiting time to become better educated about the post-adoption stresses that may be in your future. Then start applying some of the suggested coping techniques now.


Cori said...

It's so ironic that you posted this today. I am about 3/4 done with a post myself about it. I dealt with this very seriously after our first son came home, and I have been taking a lot of steps lately to prepare for these feelings again. This includes rereading this book, which singlehandedly changed my life and gave a name to the spiral I was in. I met Karen Foli last year at a conference and all I could do was sob and thank her.

Our Family said...

LOVED that book. I too think it should be REQUIRED reading for ANYOME adopting. Thanks for highlighting it.