I’ve been a foster parent, along with my husband of 4 years, for 10 months. It’s been the hardest 10 months of my life.
In July of 2011, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and my fertility was described as "iffy."
My doctor tried to reassure me that PCOS was not necessarily a fertility death sentence -- that with changes to my diet and increased exercise, I could reverse some of the effects. So good news, my fertility was shitty now, but salvageable. Bad news, my husband and I would have to do the traditional "try for 12 months" before we could look at any fertility treatments.
After this stunning news landed, my husband and I began exploring our other options for growing our family. From the early days of our relationship, we had always tossed around the idea of fostering or adoption (my husband is adopted), in addition to more "traditional" avenues of growing our family, which now, apparently, would be a challenge for us.
Before we knew it, we were neck deep in the interview process for foster care. After praying about it (yes, our faith played a role -- we're fans of that whole "take care of widows and orphans" bit of Christianity), we decided to proceed. We were stable financially, had room in our house for a kid's room and room in our hearts. We didn’t know anything about being parents, but figured we were reasonably smart people, had lots of friends with kids, and I had maternal urges out the wazoo. So, we’d be fine, right?
We went through the rigmarole of DHS: application, house inspection, home study, and 21 hours of training. We started in October of 2011 and were certified less than 6 months later. We got our first placement less than 2 weeks after we finished training, in late March 2012.
Our first placement was a set of siblings -- African-American brothers, 6 & 8. It was a relatively short placement, only 3 months, but it was full of wild experiences. We popped ALL of our parenting cherries, we thought, with those guys -- first tearful car ride to school, first mind-blowing trip to the art museum, first minor league baseball game, and idyllic family bike rides to the neighborhood pool. As far as placements go, The Boys were a breeze. They had few behavioral issues, ate well, slept well, and obeyed instructions well (for the most part).
They did tire us out though. I've never BEEN so tired -- their bedtime was 8:30 and my husband and I were often comatose on the couch by 9.
After The Boys, we took a break for about a month. But one Friday afternoon in July, I got a call of our worker, asking if we’d be willing to do a short-term respite placement. Respite is providing care for foster kids so that the foster parents can have a break. We said yes, thinking it’d be just for the weekend, maybe a week.
We had a blast that weekend -- we ate pancakes and went swimming and took the kids to the park at least 3 times.
As it turned out, the kiddo’s current foster parents needed respite because of mega health issues and ultimately, couldn’t take the kiddos back. At that point, we could either keep the kids and become their foster parents or send them back to the shelter. Although we were completely not set up for a baby -- no crib, no changing table, nada -- we had already fallen for the kids in the few days that we had them. There was NO WAY we were going to send those babies back to the shelter! If they were with me, I knew at least they were being taken care of.
The baby, who has special needs as a result of physical abuse, was a challenge at first, but once we converted our home office into a nursery for him, he settled in just fine.
But soon the baby was the least of our problems, as Little Miss demonstrated that she was capable of throwing tantrums of epic proportions. Like, 2 and 3 hours of unrelenting crying, nicely alternating with high-pitched screaming. No amount of calm voices, logic or even pleading seemed to break through.
During a particularly rough patch -- lots of tantrums and late nights -- I remember having the clear and distinct thought, "Man, if I got pregnant right now, I would ABORT that motherfucker."
Just before the Labor Day weekend, I was dealing with some bad menstrual cramps. I hadn’t had my period since July, but chalked it up to the PCOS and stress of a new foster placement. Turns out, I was pregnant and those cramps landed me in the ER, actively miscarrying.
And despite what the doctors tried to tell me about what causes miscarriages (um, nothing?), my Evangelical guilt kicked in and I blamed myself. In my brain, I knew that thinking about abortion didn’t cause my miscarriage, but in my heart, I feared that I deserved that consequence of my evil thoughts.
Things are better now with Little Miss, and we're nearing the end of our placement -- which leaves me wondering...are we up for another placement? And should we try to get pregnant again? Having experienced the brutal reality of parenting -- without the mythical payoff of unconditional child-like love -- I am deeply unsure that I want to parent again any time in the near future.
And it's not that there weren't good points -- we have fun, we laugh at baby antics, we go on adventures at the neighborhood park, we read stories and get hugs and kisses. I love to snuggle the baby and nom on his fat cheeks, love to see him overcome his physical limatations and learn to walk, at almost 2.
I love to watch Yo Gabba Gabba with Little Miss and braid her hair and make headbands for her; love to help her explore the world and learn to read. Parts of being their "mom for now" are great.
But -- so many things about parenting are so, so hard. Harder than I thought and more horrifying that I anticipated. Myself chief among them; my own reactions to the everyday occurrences of parenting make me wonder if I’m equipped to do this for real, for 18+ years.
The brutal reality of never sleeping past 8 am makes me so grouchy. How could I ever do middle-of-the-night feedings?
Having my meals rejected outright -- Little Miss physically recoils like the chicken and rice casserole is going to bite her -- makes me see red! Eat the food, dammit!
Being screamed at -- for hours -- on a random weeknight, after a full day of work, makes me say words that would make Baby Jesus blush.
Putting a 5-year-old back to bed multiple times, after following an exhaustive bedtime routine, sucks. It is low-grade torture, I’m convinced.
Getting kicked in the boob by a toddler who doesn't want his diaper changed -- that shit just hurts.
Why in the world would I do this again?!
This is what scares me about having kids of "my own": me. My own emotions and reactions. My own fears and doubts. Maybe I'm more selfish than I want to admit. Maybe I'm scared of a responsibility that doesn't have an end date. Maybe I don't trust my mommy friends (and even my own husband) when they try to reassure me that "it'll be different when you have your own."
I’ve lived with the good, the bad and the ugly side of parenthood for the last 10 months. Between the biological urge of my body, and the now raging doubt in my brain, I am stuck. I love my foster kids, all 4 of them, but I just don’t know if I want to do it again “for real.”