Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Something I Wish I Had Been Told. . . .

I still belong to several Yahoo Groups focused on adoption. Some specific to our orphanage, some specific to Haiti. Lately, it has come to light that a LOT of horrific abuse occurred at the orphanages (I don't for a second doubt that this abuse occurred; it DID occur.)

Typically, and the latest disclosures provide no exception, lot of arguing exists between those who have adopted and those who want to adopt and/or are in process. When parents post their real-life post-adoption experiences, it often upsets those are in process. A huge fear exists is that an orphanage may be shut down, and their in-process children will be no longer adoptable. That was a huge fear when I adopted my boys. I think that is a fear for nearly everyone adopting from internationally.

Sometimes, though, I am saddened (and truthfully, alarmed) by people who firmly believe that this will not happen to them. That the children they are adopting are not in danger. That they expect the "typical adjustment issues," and that they'll get through it.

Nearly every week, I field inquiries from people who would like to adopt, or who are in process and would like to know how to speed up a Haitian adoption. Several times it has been blog readers.

I posted this today on one of the Yahoo Groups, and I'm reposting this here. Because this is information I wish I knew before we began our adoption process.

Here goes:

"I think it is very important for all families who are considering adoption/in
process/just getting kids home to realize that Trauma is involved in adoption.
Without exception. Especially when you adopt from unstable countries where
there is a lot of pain and suffering. I'm of the personal belief that you can't get children home from those counties untouched by trauma.

You may think that you can get healthy kids home, untouched by abuse. And you
may actually succeed in that. But good health/lack of abuse DOES NOT MEAN that
you will not be dealing with trauma.

I have two little boys, age 6, adopted from Marie/PAC. Both boys were placed
with Marie around 15 mos. of age. We brought them home late summer 2009, right
before they turned 5.

Compared to many of the abuses suffered by many, many children coming home from
Haiti, my boys were pretty damn lucky. They were among the first children Marie took
in. They both speak of Marie with great love. One of my boys has cried for
hours about how much he misses Marie and Haiti.

My one son came home in the 80& 90 % for height and weight. Neither boy has a
single cavity. Healthy? You bet.

Yet, all of that being said, both of my boys suffer from Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder. They each have attachment issues (and yes, it isn't a question of
"will my child have attachment issues or not?" It is a question of: To what
extent will my child's attachment issues be?")

Trauma in Adoption is so pervasive for many reasons. A handful:

* Trauma exists when a woman is pregnant under stressful situations. Maybe she
knows she'll have to relinquish that baby right away. Maybe she's worried sick
wondering how to feed her little one because she sure isn't being fed regularly herself. Maybe the baby is a child of rape or maybe she isn't ready to parent. Research is now out, showing that children are born out of traumatic situations often have a physically different brain structure.
Trauma affects children even before they are born.

* The situations leading up to a child's placement in an orphanage are
trauma-based situations. Just that act alone creates trauma. Compounding that
are the influx of cortisol/stress hormones in a little one's body. Add lack of
consistent caregivers, emotionally unavailable caregivers, too many
caregivers/children ratio, etc., and this is a terribly difficult situation for
a child, even if everything looks happy and good "on the outside."

* Trauma WILL not only affect your children, trauma WILL affect you. And your
spouse. And your children. Trauma will affect EVERY SINGLE RELATIONSHIP you
have in your life. It will affect the way you handle your extended family, your
friends, people at your church.

Nothing is the same in our house as before.

Am I saying "Don't Adopt!"? HECK NO!


Think before you pursue this.
Don't think: "I'm a good parent; I've raised good kids; we have good medical insurance. We can do this!" Because, honestly, that's not enough to even remotely adequately prepare you.

Check into those resources before you begin the process. Literally. Write down
your findings. Talk to other adoptive parents. Are there good trauma
therapists in your area? Are there long waiting lists? How do your schools
handle their special needs kids?

Truly consider if you have the time to put into this. All summer long, one of
my sons went to therapy 3X a week. That meant for 3 hours plus travel time, I
had to make arrangements for my other children. EVERY week. Then my other son
started, 1-2X per week. All of that time away/attention away did affect my other
kids, no matter how hard I tried to make sure it didn't.

In addition to my boys going, I go. Because I don't know what the hell I'm
doing somedays. And I doubt myself a lot. My husband goes. We go together as
a couple, because suddenly we're in this pressure cooker parenting situation,
and our teammanship has suffered the effects of it all. My kids go. Some
individually. Some as a group.

Trauma does not leave anyone alone.

Both of my sons have different needs. One's trauma manifests as anger. The
other manifests as this huge need to always have love and attention,yet that
love and attention is never enough, so there is always a need for more. More.

Adoption has stretched us and strained us in ways that I never thought
imaginable. I had to learn an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT way of parenting. Nothing
feels natural. I have had to drop my ego (which is good!), my preconceived
notions, and I had to pray for a lot of humility.

Adoption has made me stronger and more resilient. While at times I feel
defeated, I know how strong I am. I know that no matter what hellfire we have
to walk through, I love my boys and I will do whatever I need to do to give them
the services they need.

But those needs are huge. HUGE. This was not just adding children to our
family. This was SO MUCH MORE.

I don't know of a single family who does not feel this way. Older
domestic/foster adoption; international adoption, etc. I know MANY families
where the abuse was horrific--nearly unimaginable, except for the fact that it
happened, and their trauma issues are far worse/more dangerous than ours. I
also do not know of many agencies/professionals who truly understand trauma and
can point to good trauma resources. We were lucky in that our Haiti-agency had a been there, done that adoptive Mama. But our local homestudy agency? Ha ha ha ha ha! The second we mentioned the words 'trauma' or 'attachment issues,' we received blank stares.

Anyways, those are my thoughts on the trauma matter. I wish that someone had
pointed these things out to me prior to beginning the process. Not that it
would have deterred us from adopting, but we probably would have approached the
process in an entirely different (and more helpful) mindset.


ManyBlessings said...

I am SO glad you posted this. Will it make a difference? I'm not sure. I think pre-adoptive parents can't understand because they truly can't fathom the issues. I know I certainly couldn't have. I had heard everything ahead and I just would think, "oh, that won't happen" (just like you said). But no matter, it NEEDS to be said. And it needs to be said over and over and over and over until agencies admit that adoption is trauma in and of itself.

Bless you.

Megan said...

Amazing, Amazing, Amazing! Thank you for writing this. I also field a lot of questions from prospective parents who absolutely do not realize what they are getting into. I'm going to start sending this link in all the emails that I field!

Well said!!!

mary said...

Thanks for your post - I'm hearing all the same things again and again from the books that I'm reading, but somehow it hits the heart even more reading it from a current-day-living-in-it-right-now mom.

People always ask, "so are you excited about the adoption?" (we're expecting referrals in the new year from DRC). And I can't really say that I am - it's hard to be excited when I'm neck deep in attachment-research. But am I feeling called? And like I'm walking out on a tightrope of faith? YES - and I guess that's exciting in its own way, energizing to know that I'm choosing a different path than the status quo. But it's also incredibly terrifying and confusing...

Anyone have ideas how to get this info to husbands who aren't big readers? Anyone watched any good videos/listened to teachings together as a couple? I think that might work better for us to learn/discuss together.

kcg family said...

thank you for not sugar coating - we have 3 kids, completed two domestic infant adoptions and will in the future be pursuing a foster care adoption and hopefully international adoption.. i need people to share honestly their struggles, i appreciate it

Corey said...

I'll be honest and tell you I don't even talk to (first time) adopting families. For some reason, I tend to get the "how do we disrupt" and the "my child just sexually assaulted our other children, WTF do we do now?" questions.

I don't think I would have listened to you (or me) when we were adopting. I thought trauma was the anomaly. Now I understand how clueless I was.

Adoption (like marriage) can be a beautiful thing. But it can also be EONS harder than we ever could have imagined, and sometimes it can tear your family to shreds.

Elizabeth @ My Life, Such as it is... said...

@Mary - there are some awesome videos done by a friend of mine about attachment parenting/trauma. She has uploaded them to YouTube. Search Christine Moers and you should find them. Her blog is WelcometoMyBrain.net for links there too.

We adopted domestically at birth but I find her parenting tips helpful all the time.

Kathleen said...

Great post. Oh how true that the trauma affects everyone in the family, and relationships beyond.

Mom to bio's 21 & 16 & Adopteds 22, 21, 20, & 15 - adopted 11.5 years ago and still dealing with the trauma and attachment issues.


Erika said...

My thoughts exactly! I have found that there isn't a single parent planning to become a foster parent who really wants to hear what I have to say - and none of them have considered the possibility that the child they'd be fostering might have difficulties due to repeated, overwhelming trauma. Few of them have read the books that they need to read.

Cate said...

Great post. I tend to find that most in-process families don't want to hear anything about it. But then when the perfect dream shatters I get the calls. :(

Marta said...

I'm just so glad to know I'm not alone! I have to admit, before the adoption was final, I thought all those things, especially "that won't happen to us". I sure was wrong about that. Humility is a great lesson and a great teacher.

Amy said...

Amen, sister!! And that's why I wrote this blog post http://thisthatandlifesjoys.blogspot.com/2010/12/adoption.html (and linked to you) and then followed up with this post http://thisthatandlifesjoys.blogspot.com/2010/12/clarification.html because we got so many questions about what the heck was going on at our house and in this post http://thisthatandlifesjoys.blogspot.com/2010/12/post-with-pics.html the junk is still going on, at least with some humor though. Oh, I just spent $265 getting the fridge repaired too. Sigh... Great post. I really think prospective adoptive parents need to read this stuff. Thanks for posting.

geralyn said...

I'm almost 14 years into our adoptions and I'm still learning. What fascinates me is how resilient kids are, and by happenstance, us parents too.

I'm amazed at how after 19 months our Haitian boys have adapted so well and with such minor issues. I'm also amazed at how many issues our domestically adopted at birth son has. We see his struggles daily and we watch how his needs impact the whole family. It amazes me that out of some grand scheme I have been chosen to be his mother and that each day I get up, bang my head on the wall and continue to give him the best I have.

Great comments, but you left one thing out. This is not for the faint of heart and you MUST have a sense of humor. It's the one thing I can count on to save me when I feel like leaping from the window. Sadly, it's not high enough to kill me, just break my ankles and land me on crutches for months on end.

bbbunch said...

Thank you, Sarah. Our talk this morning was exactly what I needed, and you were the only one that could have helped :)

I love you,

Jodie said...

Fantastic Post! I wish this post was on the Congo Adoption Board as well. Agencies and families seem to be flocking to adopt from the DRC from Ethiopia now that 2 trips are required and I don't think there is the background and education going on to help educate potential adoptive parents on the trama that many of the children in the DRC have experienced in their short lives. We have adopted from both and have seen the stark difference first hand