A Theory of Parental Post-Adoption Depression: What’s New is New Again

Welcome to guest blogger Karen J. Foli, PhD, RN, FAAN,
Associate Professor,
Director, PhD in Nursing Program
Purdue University School of Nursing
Here she discusses the challenges of interacting with public media
about her theory of parental post-adoption depression (PAD)

Recently, I was contacted by journalists from Denmark and the New York Times. In both cases, they wanted to interview me about my middle range theory of parental terpost-adoption depression (PAD). I was honored to be asked about my work, but what struck me was a feeling of déjà vu. When my book, The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoption (2004 and co-authored by John Thompson) was published and then followed by several empirically driven papers published in peer-reviewed journals (see references below), the press was out en masse.

It’s tricky talking to the press. I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned with every interview I’ve given. But back to the content of these interviews – parental post-adoption depression. The first questions I can count on are: “How does this compare with postpartum depression? What about hormonal changes? How common is PAD?” First, I try to explain that we now see postpartum depression as encompassing the perinatal time period. I describe how we really don’t know about hormonal changes with adoptive parents, but there are differences in the experiences of these two parent groups. In terms of prevalence, we’re not sure – my best estimate is 10% to 20% of adoptive parents may experience depressive symptoms.

Adoptive parents reach into society for a license to parent a child born to others. They go through a rigorous, invasive process during which they are waiting, and ultimately matched with an infant or child. Often, parents “sell” themselves as “super parents,” beings that set themselves up with high, often unrealistic expectations. Herein lies the heart of my theory: unmet expectations of themselves as parent, of their child, of family and friends, and of society and others, are associated with depressive symptoms. Based on my research, expectations of themselves are the hardest to meet.

The question becomes: how do nurses and nursology fit into this? Based on my research and writing (see also Nursing Care of Adopted and Kinship Families: A Clinical Guide for Advanced Practice Nurses), the answer is more than you would suppose. Social work is the historical and current default profession that we defer to when children are relinquished and for home studies that evaluate the fitness of adoptive parents. Yet we understand that adoptive children visit healthcare providers more frequently than birth children. Herein lies our opportunity as care providers to support families.

Many adoptive parents experience significant shame when they struggle with PAD. Sometimes, when they share their feelings, they will be met with: “But isn’t this what you’ve wanted?” Nurses in myriad specialty areas can make a positive impact. Pediatric nurses can assess the dynamics between the child and parent and look for cues of impaired or delayed bonding. Nurses providing care to older adults can also assess for PAD – relative placements in foster care and in informal arrangements are surging (also known as kinship caregivers). Primary care providers have multiple opportunities to look for signs of parental depressive symptoms post-adoption and ask about expectations that were or were not met.

To end, when parents experience depression, we know the kids suffer too. Nurses can be savvy caregivers to this special and vulnerable group of parents and their children. While this blog is too brief to relay all that we know about PAD, it’s a welcomed beginning.

References

Foli, K. J., Lim, E., & South, S. C. (2017). Longitudinal analyses of adoptive parents’ expectations and depressive symptoms. Research in Nursing and Health, 40(6), 564-574. doi: 10.1002/nur.21838

Foli, K. J., Hebdon, M., Lim, E., & South, S. C. (2017). Transitions of adoptive parents: A longitudinal mixed methods analysis. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing31(5), 483-492. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnu.2017.06.007

Foli, K. J., South, S. C., Lim, E., & Jarnecke, A. (2016). Post-adoption depression: Parental classes of depressive symptoms across time. Journal of Affective Disorders200, 293-302. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.01.049

Foli, K. J., South, S. C., Lim, E., & Hebdon, M. (2016). Longitudinal course of risk for parental post-adoption depression using the Postpartum Depression Predictors Inventory-Revised.  Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 45(2), 210-226doi:10.1016/j.jogn.2015.12.011

Foli, K. J., Lim, E., South, S. C., & Sands, L. P. (2014). “Great expectations” of adoptive parents: Theory extension through structural equation modeling. Nursing Research, 63(1), 14-25. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0000000000000006

Foli, K.J., South, S.C., & Lim, E. (2014). Maternal postadoption depression: Theory refinement through qualitative content analysis. Journal of Research in Nursing, 19(4), 303-327. doi: 10.1177/1744987112452183

South, S. C., Foli, K. J., & Lim, E. (2013). Predictors of relationship satisfaction in adoptive mothers. The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships30(5), 545-563. doi: 10.1177/0265407512462681

Foli, K. J., Schweitzer, R., & Wells, C. (2013).  The personal and professional: Nurses’ lived experiences of adoption. The American Journal of
Maternal/Child Nursing, 38
(2), 79-86. doi: 10.1097/NMC.0b013e3182763446

Foli, K. J. South, S. C., Lim, E., & Hebdon, M. (2013). Depression in adoptive fathers: An exploratory mixed methods study. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(4), 411-422. doi: 10.1037/a0030482

Foli, K. J., South, S. C., Lim, E., & Hebdon, M. (2012). Maternal postadoption depression, unmet expectations, and personality traits. Journal of the American
Psychiatric Nurses Association
18(5), 267-277. doi: 10.1177/1078390312457993

Foli, K. J. (2012). Nursing care of the adoption triad. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 48(4), 208-217. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6163.2012.00327.x

Foli, K. J., South, S. C., & Lim, E. (2012). Rates and predictors of depression in adoptive mothers: Moving toward theory. Advances in Nursing Science35(1),
51-63. doi:10.1097/ANS.0b013e318244553e

Foli, K. J., & Gibson, G. C. (2011).  Training ‘adoption smart’ professionals.  Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 18(5), 463-467. doi:  10.1111/j.1365-2850.2011.01715.x

Foli, K. J. & Gibson, G. C. (2011).  Sad adoptive dads:  Paternal depression in the post-adoption period,International Journal of Men’s Health10(2), 153-162. doi: 10.3149/jmh.1002.153

Foli, K.J. (2010). Depression in adoptive parents: A model of understanding through grounded theory. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 32, 379-400. doi: 10.1177/0193945909351299

Foli, K. J. (2009). Postadoption depression: What nurses should know. American Journal of Nursing, 109, 11. doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000357144.17002.d3

2 thoughts on “A Theory of Parental Post-Adoption Depression: What’s New is New Again

  1. Very informative post! I was not previously familiar with this theory, but will be looking into Dr. Foli’s work in greater detail. I work with a local non-profit (The Never Alone Foundation, http://www.laurelsmessage.org) that grants money to adoptive families – one grant specifically being for post-adoption counseling.

    Like

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