When Fiona Dunn adopted her three children she thought her life was complete.
Fiona, 53, and her husband Neal, 52, always knew they wanted to be parents, but having met in their late 30s, they found themselves unable to conceive.
So nine years ago they adopted two girls and a boy, siblings who were part of a larger family, through an adoption agency.
But, despite her joy at finally becoming a mum, Fiona, a tax specialist from Rochdale, found herself plunged into a dark despair.
She was suffering from the little-known condition post-adoption depression, which doctors believe results when the idealized expectations of motherhood fall short of the reality.
It differs from postnatal depression caused partially by the changes in a woman’s body after childbirth, but can be just as crippling.
Here, in her own words Fiona tells her story, in the hope her experience will helped other parents going through the same thing.
“Our social worker found us our three. They were the only children we looked at. We just knew straight away – they were ours from that point on.
“They needed a home, we wanted a family. It just felt right. But our life was turned completely upside down.
“We laugh about it now, but at the time we were shell-shocked. As much as we had done all the training you really cannot prepare for it.
“We had had this incredible journey, all the euphoria and then reality hits home. I didn’t bond with the children as quickly as my husband did. I was fully functioning, I was putting tea on the table, playing with them, but I didn’t feel like I had connected.
“My husband, on the other hand, was an absolute dream. From the start he would put them to bed and tell them he loved them. I would be stood outside the bedroom, thinking ‘I cannot tell them that. I don’t feel like that’.
“I was getting ready to go back to work after about four months on adoption leave and this was the point at which I started to suffer from depression.
“I got very, very low about it to the extent that one particular morning I was stood in the shower crying, thinking ‘Just send them back’.
“At that point I realised I needed to do something, I needed to get help.
“At the time we were shell-shocked”
“I spoke to my social worker, my husband and my GP. Just the act of saying I didn’t feel brilliant, just talking about it, helped massively.
“I started taking some medication and within a few months I started feeling better.
“Our social worker says she knew I had turned a corner when one of the children’s teachers wasn’t particularly supportive towards her. I was very cross about it to say the least. The social worker says she knew at that point I had crossed the line.
“Awareness of post-adoption depression is a bit like post-natal depression was 20 years ago.
“Everyone expects you to be really happy because you have got what you wanted. But essentially you have brought strangers into your house. They have different ways of doing things, different ways of seeing things. And then you also have this fear of letting them down because you know what they have experienced and been through.
“At the time I wouldn’t have described it as pressure, but you do put yourself under pressure because you want things to be right for the children.
“And I was definitely guilty of expecting it to be easier than it was.
“It was also a bit galling that my husband just naturally fell into it, but he was fantastic because I knew the children had absolute security because he would do whatever needed doing.
“But you get to a turning point and the children become your children.
“I go to training courses with the adoption agency now and speak to people thinking about adopting.
“I’m very open and honest about the difficulties I faced and the difficulties they will face.
“Somebody said to me the other day ‘Why do you do it, why do you talk about what happened?’.
“I do it because these children are so precious and I would never want someone to run away from adoption and fostering. It’s so important we give these children every opportunity we can, but it’s also important the parents go into with their eyes open.
“I was guilty of expecting it to be easier than it was”
“I would say to anybody going through the same thing, be open about it. Talk about it. You are not a bad person. This is a very emotional journey and it will turn itself around.
“Fostering is the best thing we have ever done. We are a lot poorer, we are lot more tired, but we just love having children.
“It’s just that feeling you get from having a family with the common bond. Seeing these children go on to make the most of opportunities in life is fantastic.”
Fiona is an ambassador for adoption agency Caritas Care’s ‘Dear Adopter’ campaign, which aims to tackle concerns about adoption through the stories of adoptive parents.
Visit caritascare-iadopt.org.uk for more details.