Depression after Foster Care Placement :: It’s a Thing

“Please fill this out while you wait.” The nurse said to me as she handed me a postpartum depression screening. Before I handed it back to the nurse, I realized what I was answering, so I folded it up and hid it in the diaper bag.

I could not be depressed. Everything was perfect.

Foster Care

Shay came into our lives like a tornado. We received THE CALL and less than 24 hours later, Shay was at home. We were suddenly balancing a new baby, our then four-year-old, figuring out “maternity leave” from our jobs and all the baby stuff. Plus, we had the added layer of dealing with the foster care system. So we added weekly visits with social workers, nurses, attorneys, visits with birth families and so many other things to our lives.

I found the crumpled screening tool a few weeks later. Sure enough, my scores meant I had postpartum depression. But how was that possible? I didn’t give birth to my son! Research shows as many as 65 percent of people experience something similar to postpartum depression following a placement of a foster child or adoption. No one ever told me this! My new life was supposed to be only great things.

Life wasn’t perfect and was tough, I felt like a failure.

I kept smiling and moving forward. I parented our then four-year-old. I didn’t look depressed or like I was suffering. I looked like a capable mom, who was really tired but surviving. In my case, depression was a quiet withdrawal and a constant sense of being overwhelmed. It was living on the “edge” all the time, waiting for the ONE thing that would push me over.

And yet, every time someone asked how things were going, I would paint a smile on and say “Great! We are so lucky to have him.” And we were lucky to have him, but things were hard. I was tired, so tired and struggling to find enough time to fit everything into a 24 hour day. I didn’t find joy and wonder in middle of the night feedings. I just wanted things to calm down and for us to find a new routine, our new normal. This emotional rollercoaster was okay. And in fact, it was normal.

foster care depression

No one ever told me adjusting to a new foster child could be bittersweet. I missed the days of sleeping through the night and having an actual conversation at dinner. I missed having playtime with our four-year-old. But at the same time, I adored and loved Shay. In some ways, I had already forgotten what life was like before him. Watching Caeden play and love on his little brother was and still is a favorite of mine. All of these conflicting feelings added to the depression. Life felt confusing and unpredictable. It took months, years maybe, for things to settle down and for me to adjust to the unpredictable nature of life with multiple kids.

Life changes are hard, even if we wish and fight for them.

When I talk to new or prospective foster parents, I always talk about my post-placement emotional roller-coaster.  I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it is okay to ask for help. And that it is okay for life to feel hard and the adjustment to a new family member is tricky. Foster/adoptive parents don’t have to be perfect parents.

No one expected me to be perfect. Except me.

The greater Milwaukee area has some amazing resources for foster/adoptive parents that are listed below. Some people also find support in their church and neighborhood communities.

  • Connecting Bridges: Connecting Bridges offers support for foster parents so that foster parents can provide the best care to kids. Connecting Bridges offers in person meetings and has a vibrant social media presence.
  • Coalition for Children, Youth and Families: The Coalition is the single source for neutral, objective, and current information about every aspect of foster care and adoption. Prospective families, foster and adoptive families, and the professionals who work with them turn to the Coalition for support. The Coalition offers a variety of trainings, resources and phone support.
  • Adoptive Families: Adoptive Families has existed for more than four decades and provides resources for all aspects of foster care and adoption.

To the other foster/adoptive parents out there, you go this. I know it feels impossible at times but you’re doing it. Reach out, accept help and snuggle up on those kiddos. Time really does fly by and soon, this will all be a memory.

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