Six ans après avoir adopté deux garçons, Michelle Brau était incapable de créer un lien avec eux. Maintenant, ces garçons se trouvent dans une nouvelle maison. Elle aurait souffert d'une condition que plusieurs ne comprennent pas encore: la dépression post-adoption.
La minute qu'elle a posé ses yeux sur son fils adoptif, un garçon guatémaltèque de sept mois, Michelle Brau savait que quelque chose n'allait pas.
Au lieu de la joie, elle a ressenti de la peur. Au lieu de vouloir réconforter l'enfant, elle s'est trouvé à ne pas le vouloir du tout. Les émotions négatives l'ont attaquée par surprise.
Elle et son mari, Jim, aspiraient adopter et ajouter à leur famille de quatre enfants biologiques.«J'aime les enfants», dit Mme Brau, qui vit dans Springville, Utah.
Mais elle n'a pas pu se mettre à aimer son nouveau fils en bonne santé, ni un deuxième garçon de 2 ans que le couple a adopté en provenance du Guatemala quelques mois plus tard.
Mme Brau dit qu'elle supposait que son affection pour eux grandirait avec le temps. Toutefois, pendant plus de cinq ans, elle a évité leurs étreintes et a été plus sévère avec eux qu'avec les autres enfants.
C'est ce que rapporte Globe and Mail, le 13 juin 2009, dans These boys deserve so much more than I can give them où on pourra lire la suite dans la version originale anglaise.
Dans la suite de l'article, on aborde la dépression post-adoption. C'est ce dont Mme Brau aurait souffert.
J'aime l'honnêteté de cette dame, mais j'ai quand même du mal à ressentir de la sympathie pour elle. Mme Brau savait qu'elle ne pouvait aimer son premier fils adoptifs, et malgré cela, elle a adopté un deuxième enfant quelques mois plus tard. Quant à l'époux de Michelle Brau, on ne sait pas s'il a pu créer un lien d'affection avec ses fils adoptifs. Lorsqu'elle s'est confiée à lui, il a cherché sur l'internet et a conclu qu'elle souffrait de dépression post-adoption.
Ils ont donc contacté une agence pour leur trouver une nouvelle famille adoptive. Depuis que leurs adoptions ont été dissolues, la dépression est partie et la dame se sent à nouveau elle-même.
Beaucoup de parents adoptifs comparent l'adoption à une grossesse. Ils appellent ça "grossesse sur papier". Certains disent même que c'est plus difficile qu'une vraie grossesse parce que c'est plus long, d'autres disent que c'est mieux parce qu'ils ont porté leurs enfants "dans leurs coeurs" au lieu les porter dans leurs ventres. Mais, la dépression post-adoption est certainement très différente de la dépression postpartum à moins qu'il existe aussi des cas de dépression postpartum qui ait duré six ans.
These boys deserve so much more than I can give them
Six years after adopting two boys, Michelle Brau was still unable to form a bond with them. Now they're in a new home. She may have suffered a condition many still don't understand: post-adoption depression.
The minute she laid eyes on her adopted son, a seven-month-old Guatemalan boy, Michelle Brau knew something was wrong, she says.
Instead of joy, she felt dread. Instead of wanting to comfort the infant, she found herself not wanting him at all.
The negative emotions blindsided her, Ms. Brau says. She and her husband, Jim, had yearned to adopt and add to their family of four biological kids.
"I love children," says Ms. Brau, who lives in Springville, Utah.
But she couldn't bring herself to love her healthy new son, nor a second boy, aged 2, whom the couple adopted from Guatemala months later.
Ms. Brau says she assumed her affection for them would grow with time. For more than five years, however, she avoided their hugs and was more strict with them than with her other children, she recalls.
Consumed by guilt and shame, she told no one about her inability to bond with the adopted boys.
"I felt like a monster," she says. "I longed to be dead."
When she finally confided in her husband six months ago, he did some research online and concluded she had post-adoption depression, a condition being studied by researchers but not yet recognized as a psychiatric disorder.
According to adoption professionals, post-adoption depression can range in severity from a few weeks of the blues to a major depression that lasts months or longer. Like postpartum depression, it may bring intense feelings of anxiety and guilt, fantasies of running away, and suicidal thoughts.
Ms. Brau consulted two therapists, she says, but her feelings of desperation did not change.
So this spring - nearly six years after they adopted the Guatemalan children - the Braus contacted an agency to find them a new adoptive home.
"These boys deserve so much more than I can give them," Ms. Brau says, adding that her depression has lifted since the adoption was dissolved last month. "I feel like me again."
The Braus' case may be extreme but the potential consequences of post-adoption depression are recognized by a growing number of adoption professionals.
Left untreated, it can lead to the breakdown of the adoption, says Brenda McCreight, an adoption counsellor in Nanaimo, B.C. "I've seen it break up marriages too."
Post-adoption depression didn't have a name until 15 years ago, and it remains a new area of research. Early studies suggest it's "as prevalent, or more so, than postpartum depression," says Karen Foli, who co-authored The Post-Adoption Blues with her husband John Thompson, a child psychiatrist.
A study published last month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Affective Disorders found the rate of depression in women after adoption was about 15 per cent - the same rate found in women who have given birth.
Dr. Foli, a professor of nursing at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., is partway through a study to assess whether the tools used to diagnose postpartum depression are valid to screen for post-adoption depression. Unlike mothers with postpartum depression, who have a biological explanation for their bleak mood, adoptive mothers cannot attribute their depression to a sudden drop in estrogen levels (although some researchers suggest that nurturing an adopted child may trigger hormonal changes).
"We desperately need to understand it more," she says.
The syndrome appears to be more common in women than in men, Dr. Foli says, since women tend to be the primary caregivers. Stress, sleep deprivation, lack of social support and a history of depression can put women at greater risk for post-adoption depression, according to experts in the field.
Also, many adoptive mothers have no parenting experience, notes Sandra Scarth, president of the Adoption Council of Canada. For a career woman who has enjoyed years of freedom, the demands of parenting can be a shock, especially if the child isn't attaching to her well.
"Suddenly she's home all day with a child who really doesn't like her very much," Ms. Scarth explains.
When depression strikes, adoptive mothers are often secretive about it. They feel pressure from family and friends to rejoice in the child they brought home after years of waiting, often at huge expense.
Most are reluctant to seek help from social workers, fearing the child may be taken away - an unlikely event, according to Dr. McCreight.
Nevertheless, an estimated 11 to 18 per cent of adoptions break down for various reasons during the probationary period (usually at least six months), according to American researchers, and about 2 per cent of adoptive families cannot cope after the adoption is finalized. In both cases, the child returns to child-welfare authorities and may be readopted.
As awareness of post-adoption depression grows, some agencies are addressing the syndrome in their pre-adoption training sessions. But people who long for children tend to believe it won't happen to them, says Dr. McCreight, who has adopted 12 times.
"We think we're going to be the most wonderful parents and we're going to form a family identity with no problem - and that's not going to happen."
The expectation of "falling in love" with a child at first sight may be unrealistic, according to Dr. Foli, since most relationships take time to blossom and mature.
But the guilt of not bonding with a child immediately can be "overwhelming," says Dr. Foli, who coped with depression after she adopted her daughter from India about 10 years ago.
For Dina Rodrigues, post-adoption guilt cut deep. She sank into melancholy and began to feel "really run down" a month after she brought her 11-month-old daughter, Sierra, home from China, she says.
Ms. Rodrigues had no problem caring for her daughter's physical needs, she recalls, but she worried she wasn't connecting with her emotionally.
"It's like you have this amazing, wonderful child and you can't really enjoy them," says Ms. Rodrigues, who lives in a suburb of Detroit.
Her anxiety intensified when her husband, Ashok, bonded with Sierra easily. "I just felt there was something wrong with me," she says.
Having suffered from depression earlier in life, Ms. Rodrigues says, she recognized the signs. Five months after the adoption, she saw a therapist and started taking antidepressants "for my daughter's sake."
When a parent gets depressed, it doesn't mean the adoption has failed, says Dr. McCreight. "It just means that you should get help, get it fixed and move on as a family."
Major depression requires prescription medication, she says. As well, a post-adoption counsellor can help parents find ways to get child care and emotional support.
After Ms. Rodrigues began treatment, her daughter fell ill with a stomach virus and wanted to be held by her day and night. The event marked a turning point in their relationship, Ms. Rodrigues says.
"I was able to be emotionally there for her, and I think she saw that."
That was two years ago, she adds, and they've had a close connection ever since.