Let me begin by saying this might not be universally true for every adoptive family. This is my experience. Or rather, my perception of my experience. So, that’s that. The adoption day was a whirlwind. Special hair, special dresses, happy smiles, the judge finally pronouncing our children as ours. This would be the last time this particular ceremony was part of our lives in this chapter at least. Our beautiful girls were now ours forever and my heart was so full it could burst. 

We adopted them the week before Christmas so, of course, the days right after were a bustle of travel, gift-giving, and well-wishes. It wasn’t until we settled back into whatever our “normal” looked like that I stopped to take a breath and look around. And I realized, for the very first time, I was all alone with these kids. My spouse was, of course, part of the equation, but as the designated house spouse, I had the lion’s share of tear drying, potty training, ABC learning, sibling negotiating, and so many other tasks. 

I was not only exhausted. I was bone weary. My body ached with terrible pains that I’d later learn were caused by stress. My body was giving me its last ditch effort to say “stop doing the thing that is making you exhausted.” Except I ignored it. I chased it away into corners with energy drinks, Tylenol, and guilt. “Your kids need you” my mind shouted on repeat, the angry harpy part of me that sounds like my mom and looks like my fear. 

For some reason, though I had depended on so many people, willingly and unwillingly, during the pre-adoptive phase, and during foster care, I found myself isolated. The emotional high of adopting children I love settled down into a depression of “they deserve so much better than me”. 

What is worse, all the oversight and help I had received with and without my consent or desire evaporated into nothing. These kids that everyone had doted on now apparently didn’t need help because they were no longer “orphans;” which was true. But that didn’t mean, as people suppose, that I didn’t need help. 

Just as I was adapting to our new normal, so were our kids. They were every part, if not more afraid, and confused. Their beloved caseworker, whom they knew longer than any other adult in their lives, no longer visited with them to ask if they were being treated nicely and to let them play on her phone (a thing mommy forbids after someone threw her phone in the toilet).

Their safe person, the one they could tell when the “mean” foster parents didn’t let them do what they wanted, disappeared without a trace. Though they said they understood adoption meant forever, they were, after all, only 3 and 4. Three and four-year-olds lack quite a lot of understanding of the world around them, and this was no different. The four-year-old would routinely threaten me with “I”m going to tell Miss Page on you” in the sassy way only a four-year-old can manage. She didn’t love it when I told her she could call Miss Page, but she’d not be able to do anything for her. 

My four-year-old’s big threat for the next almost two years was “I’m going to tell Miss Page I hate it here and we’ll get to move to someplace without rules.” She really did not understand that no one was coming to get her because she didn’t like picking up her socks off the floor. In fact, Miss Page had never moved her to another foster home because she asked for it. I couldn’t break her heart and tell her that, though, so I just let her rage. Eventually, she grew out of it. 

In addition to their caseworker from the state no longer visiting, my friend, our agency caseworker, didn’t have a reason to visit regularly anymore either. She was busy and we lived far away. I found myself wishing for those several hour-long chats where we problem-solved and discussed how things were going. She is a delight and for her to suddenly not be an active part of our lives was jarring. 

In addition to the obvious, caseworkers, lawyers, judges, etc not interacting with us regularly anymore, the whole foster care community became something I was no longer a part of, but outside of. Sure I could and can offer helpful advice. I can organize a meal train like a champ and I’m your girl if you need a midnight Walmart run for stuff you forgot. But the camaraderie, the in-the-trenches-together part of it drifted away. Which, in fairness, makes sense. 

Foster care is different animal from adoption. It is full of unknowns in a way that adoption is not. There are still unknowns of course, but one of them is not “Is the caseworker going to call tomorrow and come take my kids to another home?”  I wouldn’t want to be reminded constantly how permanent my relationship with the kids I love isn’t. In fact, I wept attending a friend’s adoption party because I couldn’t imagine seeing my kids leave, but I also couldn’t imagine a future where they’d get to stay. Turns out I was all worried over nothing, but that doesn’t change the way I felt at the time. 

What hurt the worst was the feeling of how no one cared anymore. I didn’t want applause, but I did wish people could still come to help me clean up the 10,0000 messes my terror trio made that day. But now that these kids were mine, no one felt I needed any more help. It didn’t matter. 

It wasn’t until I fell into a particularly low place in my depression that I was even aware of what was bothering me. I am an introvert. I exist the most happily all by myself piled under a heated blanket, sipping coffee, alternately staring out a rainy window, and rereading a favorite book. Being by myself was never something I minded before. And that didn’t really change, but my ability to say “hey, I need a break, could you watch these kids for an hour while I nap or shower without an audience or my house being destroyed?” seemed to leave out the door with the caseworkers. 

How much of this is my fault is up for debate. I could take all of the blame of course. I tend to isolate myself when I feel overwhelmed. But it is something our community could do better. I might need more help now that they are all mine and the state has no say in the decision-making processes. I think post-adoption is twofold. One, make sure your support network is in place before adoption is finalized; and two, normalize asking for help when you need it. It shouldn’t need to be couched in the terms of “our foster kids” for our need to be very real.