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Adoption Grief vs. Depression: Understanding the Difference and When to Seek Help

By Laysha Macedo

The adoption journey—no matter how planned out—can affect birth mothers emotionally for a number of reasons. The journey, planning, and decision-making alone can cause low points across the months of the process. These emotions are completely normal. For this reason, raising awareness of these complexities is vital to the wellness of birth mothers everywhere. Grief and depression, while distinct, are common and related among birth mothers. At Adoption Choices of Kansas, we hope to provide information and an understanding of grief and depression in birth mothers. For birth mothers, families, adoption triads, and anyone involved in this journey, knowledge is key to providing support.

Grief vs. Depression Among Birth Mothers 

Grief and depression are both valid and complex experiences, but they are each distinguished by different factors. Experiencing grief is a completely valid reaction to any loss. It emerges as an immediate response to it and can be an entirely new process on its own. After placing their baby for adoption, birth mothers may experience grief while making sense of their new normal. It may occur as they prepare themselves to sign away their parental rights or soon after the birth of the child. Regardless, these feelings are natural, and having support around will help ease the grieving process.

Depression, on the other hand, is a medical condition diagnosed by a professional. A person must present multiple symptoms of depression to be diagnosed. Depression is a much more long-term condition than what grief entails. While grief has a direct cause and may ease with time and effort, depression requires more. From medications to therapy, depression is persistent and, if untreated, can be detrimental. There is not a specific cause for depression that distinguishes it from grief. If a birth mother has previously been diagnosed with depression or was diagnosed at any point in this process, it is vital to check-in.

Grief and depression can present themselves in birth mothers’ lives. This is why knowledge is a valuable resource to provide the support that they need.

Emotional Challenges Specific to Birth Mothers

Once the child is born, there are a new set of emotional challenges that birth mothers face. Depression can more specifically affect birth mothers through postpartum depression. After delivery, postpartum depression can cause difficulty in adjusting to life post-adoption. While coming to terms with the adoption process alone, this condition could potentially worsen negative feelings. 

A lot of the stories we’ve come to know about postpartum depression come from mothers who are parenting their child. In this case, birth mothers who have experienced the adoption process live through this condition without the child. It is necessary to validate their experience and feelings. Birth mothers of adoptees have gone through the same physical and emotional challenges with an unplanned pregnancy. On top of the many stigmas and misconceptions of adoption, birth mothers do not need their medical conditions to be invalidated. 

Understanding Birth Mothers’ Emotions

Coming to terms with placing your baby for adoption is a difficult task. There are likely not many people in your immediate circle who have gone through the same process. This can make it harder to understand how you feel or have someone to talk to. Aside from that, the long list of tasks and responsibilities being a birth mother can weigh a lot on the individual. Fortunately, many paths a birth mother can take to hopefully help manage some of these emotions and stresses. There are many ways to begin this process. Some people engage in physical activities such as exercising to ease stress. If that is not working, journaling or even talking to a friend can help express these feelings so they are not kept within. 

One of the most vital things to do is to become more aware of one’s emotions. After birth, it may be a scary time for the birth mother. After this long adoption process has come to an end, the question in mind may be, “What’s next?”. The uncertainty of this increases the stress of grieving, only exacerbating the process. It is important to begin looking within and figure out how you are feeling at this point. 

Being there for the birth mother is of the utmost importance in navigating these complex emotions. Grief or depression, listening to the birth mother’s needs, and being there on their terms is of much help. It is vital for the birth mother to have a support system with her so she is not alone during this time. 

Seeking Professional Help During the Adoption Process

If you experience any postpartum depression or depressive disorder symptoms, seek support from mental health professionals. These conditions can have a significant impact on your quality of life. To complement your support system and other methods to aid your emotional experience, it is important to also seek professional help when needed.

Adoption Choices is Here to Help

Grief and depression can cause difficult emotions and conditions to experience. Being informed as a birth mother and as a family member or friend can help a great deal. Through articles like this and countless resources, birth mothers can identify key differences between these two emotional experiences. As a result, they can know how to address depression and the grieving process within themselves. Especially when they are seeking additional professional support. If you are a birth mother experiencing difficulties during the adoption process or seeking adoption, we are here to help. At Adoption Choices of Kansas, we will do what we can to provide the resources and support necessary during this time.

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