He sees me.

There isn't one area of life that our foster daughter hasn't touched. In a little over three months, she has left a mark on our bank account, on our kitchen table, all over our schedules, in our marriage, in our parenting, and on our hearts.  She has taught us a new way to live, which I sometimes appreciate but often resent.  I feel completely spent in almost every way, almost all of the time.

For the past week and a half, teachers in Oklahoma have been on strike, which means that my four-year-old has not been at Pre-K, nor has my three-year-old foster child been attending her preschool class for kids with developmental disabilities.  Consequently, I've been home all day every day with three small humans, a job which many moms gracefully undertake whether or not teachers are on strike.  I, however, have consistently felt ill-equipped, defeated, angry, stressed, and impatient as I've had these kids at home.

Last Wednesday, K started counseling with a therapist who comes to our house.  The whole thing was an absolute disaster for an abundance of reasons that I won't discuss here.  The therapist left after a day which had already included crying, feet stomping, hitting, poopy pants, whining, breaking a bench, and screaming.  Thankfully, the weather outside that day was gorgeous, so I sent the girls to the backyard, sank to the kitchen floor, and burst into tears.  The weightiness of foster care once again hit me like a ton of bricks.

We were discussing our situation in the home of some friends recently.  We were called to be foster parents, but we often wish that we weren't.  One of our friends responded simply,

he sees me

"God sees you."

Those three words have changed everything.

When I got home later that evening, I looked up the Bible passage (Genesis 16) which inspired our friend's words to me.  To paraphrase, a woman named Sarai could not have children.  So, she told her husband to sleep with her slave, Hagar, in order to continue the family line.  Afterward, Sarai became bitter toward Hagar and severely mistreated her, so much so that pregnant Hagar ran away to the desert.  Alone, empty-handed, and afraid, Hagar met "the God who sees" by a stream in the desert.  He heard her cries of misery and promised to bring forth many powerful descendants from her.

He gave her a stream in the desert.  He gives me himself, the Fountain of living water that never runs dry.

She ran away.  He pursued her.  I try to flee from this hard calling.  He finds me, calls me by name, and speaks gently with me.  

He heard her.  He hears my feeble cries for help.

He saw her.  

He sees me!  

On the days when I'm feeling hopeless and looking for an escape, he sees me.  He sees me wiping snot for the fifty billionth time today.  He sees me struggling to love people who I do not like.  He sees me in a pile of emotions on the kitchen floor.  

He sees me with compassion and grace, just as he saw his Son in the garden thousands of years ago, sweating drops of blood.  He sees the tears and sweat and catches every drop.

Son or daughter, child of the King, He sees you, too.

Foster HOPE

"Why did you decide to do foster care?" the case worker asked me on the Monday after our first weekend with a child in our home.

foster hope

"Well, we have room in our home and love in our hearts" is the answer that I gave that day, and it's the answer that I give today if most people ask.  It's easy, and it's fairly honest. 

But about a million times a day, I have to keep coming back to the rest of the story, the other unspoken reasons for why we are foster parents.  Because about a million times a day, I question if we made the right decision.  I've done some hard things in my nearly three decades of life, and this is the hardest.  It's tough in all of the ways that I imagined it would be, plus a hundred more.  If people knew all of the ins and outs of this broken system, no one would willingly sign up for the job.

So why do it?  Why do we give up our time, our budget, our comforts, and our very lives for this little girl, and for any others who may come through our doors in the next months or years?  I can think of a few reasons, though I'm sure that there are more than the ones I'm going to list here.

1.  God tells us to do it.  As Christians, we use the Bible to guide our lives, and God tells His people over and over to care for widows and orphans.  Though I don't believe that everyone is called to be a foster family, I believe that caring for vulnerable children in some way is a calling on the lives of all followers of Jesus.  Sometimes I wish this wasn't our calling.  I want my life to be easy, and foster care is anything but that.  However, I have so clearly experienced God giving His strength and presence to those whom He has called to do His work.  He tells us to rise and say "yes" to His plans each day, so we choose (not always joyfully) to listen and obey.- for our good and His glory.  

2.  It's needed.  I realize that not everyone reading this blog is a Christian.  For you, the Bible does not provide a valid reason to participate in foster care.  Maybe statistics do, though.  There are nearly 10,000 children in Oklahoma alone who are currently placed in DHS custody.  When you woke up this morning in your own home, there were approximately 428,000 kids across the country who did not.  Those numbers are on the rise.  The number of safe, loving homes for those children is not.  Clearly, this is a problem.  

3.  Being pro-life is not simply a matter of opposing abortion.  I could say a lot on this point, but ALL lives matter.  It is unacceptable to fight for the rights of unborn children while doing nothing about the children already living among us in unsafe and abusive situations.  

4.  Foster care is not only about the child, but about the birth family, too.  We have a unique opportunity to invest in K's mom as the temporary caregivers of her daughter.  Our job is not to say, "This is how you raise kids correctly," but to come alongside her in her desire to be a good mother.  I don't think that she has had many people in her life say, "We love you and we are on your team," and we get to do that.  We don't only want a happy life for K; we want true joy for her mother, as well.  Apart from grace, I might find myself in exactly her position, and I would hope that my child's foster family would treat me with humility and compassion.  I would also hope that they would let me participate in my child's life as much as is appropriate.  

5.  We get to provide and be part of many of her "firsts".  Though she is barely three and would be experiencing lots of "firsts" regardless of her placement in foster care, we have the privilege of giving her more.  She first said her name in our car and first used a toothbrush in our bathroom.  She had her first real birthday party last weekend and her first experience with "school" last week.  We don't do these things to try to prove that we are great parents.  We do them because, for the next week or month or year, she is part of our family, and this is what we do with our own children.  While these "firsts" sometimes seem tedious or expensive, I feel blessed that we get to see them and sad that her mother does not.

6.  Foster care can help to break cycles of abuse, incarceration, and addiction.  The more I learn of K's story, the better I understand why she is the way she is.  She faces many of the same issues that her mom does, as do her grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts, and uncles.  Ideally, K's mom can get the help she needs and bring K back into a safe and loving home, thus giving K a better life than the one she had and breaking a generational cycle.  If not, perhaps we can humbly show K that although her birth family will always be her family, she does not have to continue in some of the destructive patterns that she has perceived to be "normal".     

7.  We do it for our kids.  Sometimes people ask us if foster care affects our own children, and it definitely does.  It affects all of us, but probably not in the negative ways that others envision.  Do our girls have to learn to share some of their things and give up some of their comforts?  Yes.  Do they receive a little less of our attention with the addition of this third child?  Yes.  Do they, like us, have to show patience and kindness when K doesn't follow the rules of our home because she has been raised differently for nearly three years?  Absolutely.  These are difficult lessons for our whole family, but they are good lessons that need to be learned.  Though our girls are two and four, they can do hard things.  I truly believe that, while they are being stretched, our kids are also being molded into more gracious children, as we are being stretched and hopefully being molded into more loving parents.  There have been numerous days when I have felt that they are more sacrificial and understanding than we are.

8.  She's changing, but really I am the one who is.  I can easily become frustrated that our foster daughter does not use manners, go to the bathroom, or comprehend the unspoken rules of our family.  The longer she stays with us, the more she grows in those and other areas and "fits in" with us.  She is changing.  But I'm changing more.  My heart and attitude are still so gross, but she is teaching me lessons which could not be learned in any other way or with any other human.  I am a far cry from "patient," "loving," "joyful," "gentle," and "generous," but every day that I choose to say "yes" again to this hard calling, God is putting more of those qualities into me, slowly but surely.   

 This is a bumpy road that we're on, but I know that it is leading to somewhere beautiful beyond where I can currently see.  Fostering isn't only about taking in a child; it is about giving hope.  He knows the plans He has for us.    

Postpartum Depression After An Adoption: Yes, it's a real thing.

*I originally composed this entry about a year ago on Blogger, but I'm reposting it here because I think that postpartum depression following an adoption is still a real and relevant issue that needs to be brought into the light.*

***

postpartum depression after an adoption

I have put off writing this post for awhile.  Partly, I didn't realize until recently that I was haunted by postpartum depression for the better part of a year following Piper's adoption.  The bigger reason for my delay, though, is that I was afraid to admit my struggle.  People discuss postpartum depression in general, but not typically following adoptions.  Well, it's time for that to change.

When Caroline (my biological child) was born in August 2015, I struggled with some semi-expected "post-baby blues" for a solid three months.  During that time, I held onto the hope that the things which were causing distress and insomnia would one day return to "normal," if only I could ride out the waves.  

And things did return to normal.  My hormones quit freaking out, I didn't cry at the drop of a hat anymore, the pain and swelling subsided, I got my pre-pregnancy body back, Caroline learned how to sleep, we found a solution to reflux, and Piper remembered that she had been potty trained at some point before her baby sister arrived.  We continued making daily adjustments, as adding a person to the family seems to somehow multiply the craziness of parenthood, but I was able to successfully navigate the difficulties as they came instead of being overwhelmed by them (most days, of course).

Flashback to June 2013 when Piper (my adopted child) entered the world.  The depression hit me like a ton of bricks before we even left the hospital.  Instead of dissipating in three months as it did following Caroline's birth, the despair worsened.  Piper's birth brought changes which were gut-level and permanent.  I wasn't dealing with a recovering body or out-of-control hormones; I was plagued by intense emotional trauma which people who haven't adopted have difficulty understanding.  Nothing would ever be "normal" again.  

I am not a doctor, but I am convinced, from personal experience, that postpartum depression after an adoption is a real thing.  Four years ago, I was in the throes of this depression and didn't know it.  Thankfully, I have now arrived at a healthy place in which I can objectively look at that period of my life and attempt to explain some of the reasons for my depression.

  • Regardless of how an adoption story unfolds, the emotions leading up to the addition of a baby or child to a family have been all over the map. Coming back down from the highs of being chosen by a birth mother and the actual moment of taking that baby home in the carseat for the first time can be likened to running a marathon. At the beginning, adrenaline carries you. In the middle miles, supporters come alongside you to encourage you in your weariness of the process. The last haul to the finish is practically unbearable, and you keep reminding yourself over and over that this is something you wanted to do. Then, there is a glimpse of the finish line that drives you to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Finally, it's over. You did it. You ran a marathon. (You adopted.) Elation surges through your veins as you take in the fact that a dream just became reality. But then, after they hang the gaudy medal around your neck, after the photos, after the many pats on the back from friends and family ... it's usually a Sunday and so it's back to work the very next day. Your muscles are sore in a million places that you didn't know existed, and even though life will never be the same for you, everyone else has already forgotten and moved on, because it's another random Monday, and that's what they're supposed to do. In a marathon, and throughout the adoption process, adrenaline can carry you quite a long way. And then the actual thing happens, and maybe it is what you expected, or maybe it isn't, but either way, the adrenaline subsides, and you can hardly find the strength to get out of bed in the morning because that thing you just did took all that you had.

  • Watching Piper's birth parents walk out of the hospital empty-handed left me with a profound sense of guilt that I couldn't shake. For weeks after Piper came home with us, I would cry at even the thought of Anna (her birth mother). I knew that there was nothing in me to make me more deserving of raising a child than she was, and yet, I was the one who was holding this sweet baby in my arms ... the baby who she loved and carried for nine months. I was supposed to be happy, and I was, but I have also never hurt for someone else more. I hated that my joy was, to a certain degree, connected to her sorrow.

  • Sometimes, when people become parents for the first time (or the second or fifth), it brings them closer together as a couple. This was not the case for Andrew and me. Communication has always been a struggle in our marriage, and then we added the difficulty of raising a child, causing each of us to put walls up and seek comfort within ourselves. He was a great dad, and I was an okay mom, but the two of us began slowly drifting apart like continents. It wasn't noticeable at first, but after several months, the slight separation became a chasm that neither of us had the resources to bridge. This part was not specific to adoption, but it played a part in my depression nonetheless. (Counseling helps.)

2013 July - Piper Fenrick-4728-2.jpg
  • "You got that thing you wanted, aren't you happy? Isn't motherhood wonderful?" I came to dread these two questions, or any variation of them, and they bombarded me constantly. All I could do when asked them was nod weakly and give the response that people wanted to hear. The real answers, "Yes, but I still feel empty," and, "Yes, but motherhood is plain hard 90% of the time," were too messy, and I began to believe that my most genuine, raw emotions needed to be hidden from the world. I especially felt that I could not share any of these thoughts with our adoption case worker. During our home study preceding Piper's birth, nearly every aspect of our lives had been opened up for outsiders to scrutinize. The most minuscule of offenses, such as a traffic violation from high school, could have been used to determine that we were unfit parents. We had both spent weeks upon weeks trying to prove that we were worthy of raising a child, and even after we brought our daughter home, there was still a period of six months during which Piper belonged to our agency and we were not her legal guardians. I was always careful to portray the "right" image to everyone out of fear that someone would realize that there were better moms out there for my baby. Y'all, it is exhausting to constantly have to feign perfection.

  • "What did you most consistently feel throughout the adoption process?" a friend recently asked. Fear and anxiety. Those were persistent. There were moments of joy and excitement, but I'm convinced that even people with complete trust in the providence of God experience doubt about the unknown. Will I be able to handle an open adoption? Even after the baby is born, the birth mom can decide that she wants to parent. Will we get to keep our baby? Is someone ever going to look at our profile and think that we are enough? Will I bond with this little person? These people know more about me than my husband does. How will this child fit into our family? What if ... what if ... what if ... ? Adoption is risky, and the anxiety surrounding all of these question marks kept me up at night, which certainly did not help with my mental state.

  • When Piper was born, we had struggled with infertility for almost three years, and then we endured for another year and a half before we were blessed with the miracle of pregnancy. (Doctors had said that IVF was our only option.) Four and a half years. In the grand scheme of life, I know that this is truly the blink of an eye, but infertility feels like an eternity when you're wading through it. I thought that becoming a parent for the first time would take away the pain of not being able to have biological children. Don't get me wrong: I loved Piper immensely from the moment she was born, and she could not have felt any more "ours" than if I had carried and given birth to her. I know this because the feelings for our adopted newborn were exactly the same as the ones for our biological one born two years later. Piper was and is the most precious girl on earth. But she didn't take away the sadness and anger that we had experienced leading up to her birth or the questions afterward. What is still wrong with us?

I love adoption, and I think that everyone should be aware of the need for it.  But people also need to know that depression is a very real possibility that could come with adoption.  I hadn't expected this, and I've never felt more alone than I did after we brought Piper home.  

If you're an adoptive parent reading this blog and wondering if you're crazy because no one told you how hard and isolating this whole experience could be, you're not.  You're not crazy, you're not alone, and this really will pass (with lots of help).  

If you know someone who is adopting or has adopted, keep walking with them.  Ask the tough questions, and listen to the real answers, not just the ones that are easy to hear.  

Postpartum depression after adoption is, I would guess, far more common than most people realize, but the fog does lift.  There is hope.