Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt.
Changes in sleep patterns.
Restlessness and irritability.
Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
Changes in eating habits that resulted in weight loss.
A list of symptoms noted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM5) and used by mental health professionals to tease out a Major Depressive Disorder. If the symptoms start following the birth of a child, it’s categorized as Postpartum Depression (PPD).
Perhaps the form of PDD I struggle with doesn’t get a shout out in the DSM5; perhaps no one has ever heard of it, but it is still very real: Post Placement Disorder (PPlacementD).
Depression as a result of the significant life change of adding children to our lives through the foster care system.
The decision to embark upon a fostering journey (in hopes of adopting) resulted after four long years of complicated struggle to have children of our own. Multiple pregnancy losses, a life-threatening pregnancy emergency, and failed (after first successful) IVF.
We knew it had been placed on our hearts to be parents and adoption seemed the next logical option. We were introduced to a foster program through which we could adopt if all attempts at reunification with biological parents had failed. It seemed the right choice for us given our financial resources were quite strained from IVF (private adoption posing an additional financial burden we couldn’t take on), and I felt confident of my ability to navigate the difficulties of the foster system and children given my education and professional experience in mental health.
Surely, I was well equipped to take this on in my own life, right? Wrong.
We put in the time completing all the classes, physicals, and invasive home studies required to become a licensed foster home. We were finally nearing the finish line and I had my eye on a couple of kiddos who were in a foster placement with another family. I recall the first time I laid eyes on them: I’d met my girlfriend at the park with her tribe of biological and foster children and my first, very confused, thought when I saw these two blond-haired, blue-eyed beauties was those are my children.
Knowing my friend’s family was struggling with this placement, my husband and I provided a couple of rounds of respite for them. Then, a phone call: our friends had spent a lot of time in prayer and felt strongly that they needed to give their notice and have these children moved from their home. She informed that both she and her husband had had our names laid upon their hearts for these kids. She wondered if we would be open to taking them.
Everyone agreed, and so we did.
I assumed the transition would be made easier because we already knew these children, and they had familiarity with our home. We were enthusiastic, ready and willing.
It seemed the stars had aligned, right? Wrong.
Our foster children, 21 months and 9 months at the time, entered our home and lives like a tornado. No honeymoon period. We launched immediately into chaos.
I didn’t know children could be so against sleep—that every nap and bedtime would be a two or three hour battle of hysteria. I didn’t know a child could rage—screaming nonstop from the deepest pits of their stomachs and foaming at the mouth—for hours without their bodies eventually just exhausting and seeking out sleep. I didn’t know that no amount of soothing, re-direction, or distraction would be sufficient to settle the all-day-long screaming and crying that ensued for days that turned into weeks and eventually into months.
My mental health tanked. Quickly. My physical health followed shortly thereafter.
Everything in me screamed for this to end. For someone to come get these children and free me from the insanity happening within my home and inside my mind. I went so far as to insist my husband call our foster agency and tell them that, after just two shorts weeks, we couldn’t do this.
The foster agency suggested a weekend of respite.
I felt defeated and worthless. Respite shouldn’t be needed after just two weeks, right?
I complied because I didn’t see any other option. I was mentally, emotionally, and physically drained.
I’d lost more than 10 pounds in 2 weeks and was physically ill. All I could hear amongst the echoes of screams was my flesh saying bow out. I needed time for quiet so I could rationally determine what needed to be done about this situation.
The weekend of respite allowed my soul to settle and a quiet to come over my mind. I knew what we were supposed to do. Despite my resistance, I knew these children were to remain right where they were: here in our home. I would have to navigate the PPlacementD.
I didn’t seek traditional talk therapy (except for bending the ear of my fellow colleagues in the industry) or medication support. Instead, I focused on getting a support network in place. This was something I had been attempting prior but continually hit dead ends.
Doors finally began opening and the right supports started falling into place.
I placed an emphasis on self-care which included basics like ensuring I was getting nutritious food into my system and drinking enough water as well as spending more time feeding my spirituality and engaging in activities I once enjoyed. When my husband offered help and the option for me to hide away in the bedroom with mindless TV and a chocolate bar, I took it!
Our lives continue with varying degrees of craziness. Once we get through a rough spell, the next one is right on its heels. Having resources in place as well as having the courage to call out an SOS and get extra support onboard through especially rough times are helping to manage my PPlacementD.
My only wish is that I’d been more in front of it to begin with. That said, I’m not sure anything could have had me fully prepared for this foster placement. The one that finally made me a mom this side of Heaven. The one that, despite all the struggle, turned from foster into forever.