I was interviewed for this article, Adoptive Moms Get the Baby Blues, Too, and was happy to get to see it go live this week.
As Sarah Gonser wrote in the recent Motherlode article, Who Will Screen for Postpartum Depression, most women don’t get screened or postpartum depression by their OB/GYNs when they go in for their first check-up after having their babies. When you consider that there is no post-adoption medical checkup, you can assume that adoptive moms get screened even less often.
Most adoptions require post-placement visits either due to state laws or because the adoption agency requires it but I haven’t read any discussion about screening policies for post-adoption depression by visiting social workers.
This needs to change.
While I haven’t seen any research about using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) for post-adoption depression, it’s the screening tool of choice for PPD. Given that there are no research-based screening options specific to post-adoption depression, that the EPDS is free and can be self-administered (meaning you can take it yourself and bring the results in to your doctor or therapist), I hope that post-placement social workers will start using it as an initial screening tool and then follow-up with a more extensive assessment.
Here’s a PDF of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to download.
Heather and Kat sent a whole slew of questions along for the first segment of the Open Adoption Book Club. We’re talking about Megan’s Birthday Tree: A Story About Open Adoption.
This is the one I chose to write about:
In the story, Megan struggles with the fear that her birthmother will forget her if she no longer has the Birthday Tree to remind her. What fears have you struggled with in your adoption journey? What helped you overcome those fears?
One of the things we were told repeatedly by some of the workers at our agency and the world at large is that our child-to-be’s birthmother would “move on” and become less of a presence in our open adoptions. This was often stated as a selling point. Even the agency expectation that we send cards and letters once a month for the first year and then annually thereafter was a nod to the myth that open adoptions naturally become less open as time goes on. The philosophy behind those annual cards and letters is that once the raw first year was over, everyone could get back to “normal.” Normal, apparently, meant not necessarily forgetting but at least less need.
That has most decidedly not been our experience and in talking to many adoptive parents, birth parents and adoptees, that is not most people’s experience. Although it’s true that some families lose touch with each other, I have yet to meet anyone who forgets and blithely moves on.
Still that cultural idea is very present in adoption and Megan’s concern is common to adopted kids whether or not the adoption is open. And certainly one thing is very true about life post-adoption; nobody stands still. People don’t move on but they do move and big changes (new babies, new homes, new jobs, etc.) require what can sometimes be hard adjustment.
Not every child feels safe to voice the fear that their birth families have forgotten or will forget them. Some are afraid of saying out loud something that feels so true because it might confirm it’s truth. Others are afraid that birth or adoptive parents won’t understand or will be dismissive. Or maybe it’s both those fears all wrapped up and tied together.
Many parents are afraid to ask their children if they worry about this for similar reasons. What if their child isn’t worried about it until their parent asks? This is why Megan’s Birthday Tree can be a valuable book to open a discussion. Birth and adoptive parents who read this book with their children may feel more comfortable observing Megan’s feelings and then asking their child, “What do you think about Megan’s being afraid that her birth mom will forget her? Is this something you think about?” Having some distance (speaking about imaginary Megan instead of themselves) can also give kids space to address their worries in the guise of helping Megan address hers. What advice would they give her during different points of the book? What do they think about how the story ended?
Very often parents tell me that their children won’t talk about their feelings around adoption but our goal isn’t necessarily to get them talk; it’s to let them know that it’s safe to talk. Safe means bringing hard subjects up without pressure and respecting their boundaries so don’t fret if your child rejects your overtures. Knowing that you will give them room to talk and room to not talk will go a long way. Meanwhile make sure books Megan’s Birthday Tree is out and easy to access so that children can revisit the story without making a fuss about it.