Can foster parents have post adoption depression? I can’t say for certain, but I can tell my story.
My children arrived on a Friday afternoon many years ago. We had gotten “the call” on the Wednesday two days prior. You know what I mean by the call, the one you spend months waiting for, the one that makes you jump up and down with anticipation as you organize the sock drawer and wash the sheets on the spare bed. What would they look like? What would they like to do? We’re going to have so much fun together! I thought. Like so many people, I could hardly contain myself between the time time I said yes and the time two small children showed up at my door.
I’m not sure what I expected would happen first, but as soon as their foster caseworker left, the kids headed straight for the toy shelf and began unloading everything. They weren’t that interested in my attempts to engage them. After what felt like several hours but was really about two, I declared it bedtime and tucked them in for the night. They fell asleep almost instantly and I went and cried on the couch. What am I even crying for? I wondered. Was it them? Was it what they had gone through? Was it my own feelings of helplessness? I didn’t know, but the tears poured down. I felt exhausted. I hadn’t done anything that afternoon besides watch two children wreck a bedroom, yet I could barely muster the energy to change into my pajamas. I was certain it was just first day jitters. By 8:30 I had fallen asleep.
The next day was Saturday and my husband was working. I needed to take the kids to the pharmacy down the street and fill a prescription. That was the only thing on my agenda for the day. The 4 block walk suddenly seemed like an insurmountable task. I have to dress these children, and feed them, and walk them all the way down the street, I thought to myself. Followed quickly by Get it together Erin! Walking children down the street is not rocket science. I didn’t know why I was so overwhelmed by such a mundane task, but overwhelmed I was. At the same time I felt ridiculous for being overwhelmed. It’s not like I had never cared for a child before.
By the time Monday morning came I could not wait to return to work (an experience I have never looked forward to before in my life). I couldn’t wait to talk to adults and peacefully eat my lunch. As the day ended I looked at my watch with dread, oh no 6:00, I have to go home. The thought of going home was enough to get the tears going again. All the small things on the schedule, like dinner, baths, and reading stories seemed like too much. I knew I could make myself do them, but for some reason something inside me just didn’t want to. I arrived at the daycare and the kids ran to hug me, I hugged back while simultaneously feeling like I was trapped in a straight jacket by their arms.
Everyone kept asking how it was going. Great! It’s great! I enthusiastically told each and every person who asked over the next few weeks. And each and every time I felt like a big fat faker. I would smile, and laugh, and tell stories about all the cute things the kids had said or done. While secretly feeling certain I just wasn’t cut out for this whole foster parent thing after all. I considered calling the caseworker and letting her know that being a foster parent wasn’t the gig for me, but the fear of other’s judging my failure kept me moving forward. Numerous people had told me beforehand that I shouldn’t be a foster parent, that I was too young, that I didn’t know what I was doing, I couldn’t stand admitting all those people had been right. Fear of judgement kept me from reaching out for support. I continued to go through the motions, simply to save face, but each night I dreaded the arrival of the next day.
Slowly, things started to change. People always ask me how long it took. I can’t remember, I don’t think I want to. Several weeks atleast. It was a slow upturn. One night I found myself enjoying board games with the kids. A few nights later when they snuggled up for a movie I felt myself enjoying the closeness. A Friday came, and I found myself excited to have the weekend to spend with them. Slowly but surely I became the foster parent I thought I would be. I loved my kids and I loved getting to be their mom, even if it was only for a little while*.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned about Post Adoption Depression or The Post Adoption Blues which affect roughly 65% of all adoptions (the majority of that 65% being experienced by mothers who adopt children over age 1). As a foster parent, I’m not sure one can technically have post adoption depression, since one hasn’t technically adopted. But I think often times the same contributing factors are there. The stress, the new routine, the experience being different than expected. People at training can tell you a thousand times that bonding takes time, and older children come with a lot of needs, but until you are in the trenches, it’s hard to know what it will feel like. It’s no wonder such a large percent of foster parents quit within the first year. If I could relive those moments, I would have reached out for a support system sooner, and I urge anyone who is struggling to reach out to their agency or a professional now. I’m not sure that I would have been given an official diagnoses of post adoption depression had I visited a specialist, but I can definitely say that I struggled with some post placement blues. I think a lot of people do. I wish I hadn’t been so worried about saving face, it would have been nice to have someone assure me that the way I was feeling would pass.
*After fostering our children for 3 and a half years we were able to adopt them, but at the start (as is the case with most foster placements) we were told it would only be for a little while.
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