Thursday, March 15, 2012

Underneath the Skin of Adoption...

So, this post may piss a lot of people off. Meh. Been there. Done that. Haven’t written the book on it yet.
Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

If you just found my blog…this is not one of those "warm and fuzzy-cutie-adoption-blogs" keep-on-surfing that ole’ google search button.

Yes I have nine children.
Yes they are ALL adorable.
Yes each one has incredible talents and strengths.
Seven of my children are adopted.
Seven of my children had someone else make a life choice for them that severed something deep in who they are, who they might have been, and how they must pick up the pieces. They were too young to understand how deep their loss is, so most of their loss just equals unexplainable shame. ALL OF THE TIME.

One comment routinely that makes me want to punch people in the face help correct people so that they might understand better is ;
“Oh but they were SOOO young when you got them, I wouldn’t expect anything to be wrong with them.”

Yeah, I know, RIGHT?

How is it people brag about how SMART babies and young children are, unless we are talking adoption? Then thank goodness they are too young and stupid to not realize biologically you are not that original voice that lulled them to sleep in the womb, you are not that heart beat that arithmetically reminded them everything was safe. You are not the walking pattern that soothed and rocked them in the womb. How is it a newborn can seek his mothers voice out of a crowd…but  not considered intelligent enough to realize when another surrogate comes available to take the original ones place?

That was my new born adoption preparation. NADA.
I was there to resume a role, naturally fall into sync with a child I didn’t give life, because he was 3 days old and wouldn’t know the difference.
Can I just say it?

You see I had biologically experienced that wonder and miracle of that instant biological connection with my daughter. I knew what being a mother meant. Then we adopted.
When they placed that beautiful baby in my arms, the love and adoration I felt for him was over whelming, it was life changing, I have never loved or wanted a baby boy more. Still it was not the same. I will admit that.
He did not smell, feel,  his heart beat to heart beat was not in sync with mine like it had been with  my daughter.
Shoulder shrug, moving on, I WAS a new mama!

I had kept my breast milk in by pumping and borrowing friends babies to hold and smell while I pumped. I was going to breast feed this new son…but then a enormous realization began in my world. He. did. Not. Want. Me.

How? How can a new born not want to be nursed, not want to be cuddled, prefer anything, his car seat, a swing, lying on the floor on a blanket, than his mothers arms?
But he did. He would STOP CRYING, if I would just leave him alone.
I remember calling the agency, embarrassed I was doing something wrong, possibly I had missed something in the training, but all I got was “Maybe it is you, maybe you have post pardem, it can happen with adoption.”

and so I began to believe that myth.
You know the one…the one that says “what your child is struggling with is YOUR FAULT.”

I had a perfectly happy, sweet two year old daughter that loved me. So I couldn’t be that terrible/failure of a Mother,Right? but I was.

From the time he was little I deeply loved my son. He cried, oh how he cried. He cried all of the time. Especially when I was trying to comfort him. His swing was his favorite thing…but I refused batteries and had to push it, so I would be near him. Same with his Johnny Jumper, and he would let me rock him, if he was facing out…facing in towards me, he would push away and scream. I sang and rocked him every time before I layed him down for bed or naptime. Unlike my other babies, and nieces and nephews, he would not let me rock him to sleep. He stemmed once he could sit up, humming and rocking him self against the crib.

There is nothing more painful than being rejected by your baby. Nothing.

It took until he was 20 months old for him to spontaneously reach out for me, and hug me. I remember the day. I was 8 months pregnant with Peanut butter, He was wearing striped footie pajama’s with Cowboy boots over the top…I was holding his hands and jumping on the bed singing “Ring-a-round-the-rosies” and we all fell down, and his eyes lit up, he gave a glorious laugh, he looked right at me and he hugged me. 20 months.

Now six years later, I understand. I have been able to forgive myself and that sweet baby, but not forget the hurt those years ago afforded me. As that familiar primal rejection hits me in the face over and over gain with my other children I have more understanding, education and empathy to deal with it. Though it still breaks my heart.

I don’t remember where I heard it first. “New born and Baby adoption and abandonment is not just a loss to the child, it is an amputation”.

Nancy Newton Verrier, Ph.D. author of The Primal Wound said;

"I believe that the connection established during the nine months in utero is a profound connection, and it is my hypothesis that the severing of that connection in the original separation of the adopted child from the birth mother causes a primal or narcissistic wound, which affects the adoptee's sense of Self and often manifests in a sense of loss, basic mistrust, anxiety and depression, emotional and/or behavioral problems, and difficulties in relationships with significant others.”

Ummm yeah, how, how would a teeny child, so very vulnerable and needy who loses the only thing familiar in their lives not have trust , anxiety and other issues?


But I still get questions. Questions and comments about Dude and his chronic crying/whining. “He came home at 17 months old, right, he should be fine.”

Dude was dropped off at an Orphanage, at 12 days old. Put in a crib, and in his limited understanding abandoned and left to die. Food is not the only thing that sustains a human soul.
and now I raise this angry little 3 ½ year old. Never in my life have I felt so much rejection, hate, defiance and control from another living being., and do I wonder why? NOPE, the kid survived didn’t he?

May I suggest a theory. I ain’t no Docter. I’m really not much of anything but a mother, desperate in this journey to help my children heal the things that we can, have tools to cope with the things that we can’t and no matter what let them know what it is to be loved and accepted for exactly who they are.

I believe beginning at conception our children’s story begins being written in their bones, behind their eyes, with the growth of each little their skin develops and they are born those words begin being written on the inside of their skin.

It is written on very thin lines with a sharp pencil. Everything. Everyday, every moment.
These daily, moments, second by second experiences recorded forever within their bodies. Some of these words and stories happened preverbally , I can not get to those places. The other places of their stories have ingrained and written their belief systems, their recipe’s for survival, their understanding of cause and effect, their deep belief in story after story that they are unworthy of love, that they will be abandoned again, hungry again, abused again, alone again. These are their first stories, why would they not believe them the most. They were true.

I am NOT saying ALL of my adopted children don't trust me, or are not bonded, some of them are, deeply. NOR am I saying all adopted children are hot messes...some of my kiddo's really and truley are doing incredibly well, as I expect are some of yours. That doesn't go to say that some day, some time in their lives they are not going to experience the loss that them being separated from that first mother for whatever reason has afforded them. I as an adoptive Mama, have to own that and be prepared for that for them.

and so for my children that are struggling now, and may always,there are dates and times that trigger my kids from their past stories, written on the lining of their hearts that terrify and torment them. There are sounds and smells and people that are not safe or to be trusted, for they have that proof written there as well.
The beautiful hard, the time and sensitivity it takes, and what I have come to realize…is parts, slowly they will show me, let me into, and help them re-write some of those stories.

But just like when I am helping Chatter with her homework, the stronger she has written and pressed the pencil into the paper, the darker she has written the wrong answer, the more gentle and patient I have to be with the erasure. The harder I try to do it quickly, and with out patience, the more likely I am to rip the fragile paper.

There are far to many stories, far to many words that have been written in my childrens hearts, and heads, behind their eyes, and skin that tells them LOVE is not safe, that TRUSTING someone else to protect and care for them is a LIE…and so each day is another story to be written to defeat those beliefs…some days are even opportunities to go in and rewrite…but we, parents, therapists, family members and fellow humans can not discount their stories.  We can not discount that even if their stories of being in a SAFE, LOVING, Forever Family began at 3 days old, 3 years old or even 13 years old, that those stories have not been written, have not become the intricate belief system that created who they are and what they believe about themselves.

When people say adoption is no different, when people say, it is the same, the love is the same, the family is the same…it is not.
That does not mean what we have is not beautiful, and meant to be . But as a mother adopting children from hard places, even if that hard place was a hospital at three days old from Utah. If I am not excepting my children’s stories, seeing their losses, truths and struggles, I am not seeing my children., and I want to see my children, every.beautiful. inch.


  1. I think it is all a convoluted mystery. I really do. I know some moms who gave birth to their children in all the right ways (in one case the nine-month obsession, the doula, the home birth, etc. etc.) and still felt ambivalent toward them.... And I love my kids so wildly. I feel the same physical attachment to them, felt the same upsurge of love when I first laid eyes on them as I did when I gave birth.

    I do think that everything you wrote is right, though, in general. People don't understand it now as they will in ten or twenty years when all the information we are getting from brain research is common knowledge.

  2. Everything in me is all fired up and screaming and jumping around inside after reading this...and yet I'm at a complete loss for words. I'll I've got is "AMEN." You nailed it straight on.

    Someday I pray your children will let you in enough to discover the truly AMAZING and SELFLESS woman that you are. Even if your kids aren't keen on you being their mom right now, I'm so proud to call you my friend. I mean that from the depths of my heart. And I can't wait until I get to hug you in person again!!

  3. Grown up adoptees I have met say that Verrier has it right. She also says that children given for adoption are not born in a file cabinet, - they have a relationship with their mother.
    Verrier also challenges us to imagine getting off an airplane at one on the busiest airports in the world, walking into the waiting area, scanning the crowd for the person we KNOW, we TRUST is going to meet us - we are a stranger in this city - we know no other person. And that person NEVER. SHOWS. UP. That, she says is newborn adoption.
    Can you say it doesn't affect that baby?
    You cannot.

    Dr. Henry Cloud is the one I know of who says that separation a mother and child before the age of 2 is amputation.

    Sucks, doesn't it?

    For us - I believe it is what the littles' parents are medicating - his mom died of an aneurism when he was 5 months old - left his room one day and NEVER. RETURNED.
    Her mom left when she was 2, I believe both her parents may have been involved with substance abuse.
    Who wouldn't self medicate?

    1. Perfectly awesome post! You said so much of what I've been trying to tell others around me for the past 8 years. I wasn't sure how much I "believed" it when they put that baby in my arms when he was less than 24 hours old. (Like you, I had NO newborn adoption prep at all.)

      I believed it all a bit more when my little guy was around two. I didn't have the rejection problem at all. Quite the opposite really. My guy didn't want me out of his site. Ever. I don't believe anyone except another adoptive mother ever experienced the separation anxiety issues my little guy gave me. (He screamed for hours simply because I was on the other side of the gate put up in our living room to keep him safe so I could work in the kitchen.)

      Now that my cherub is 8 years old - I want too want to punch a few people in the face. No, he's not just going to "get over it". He's going to have adoption triggers for the!

      Beautiful post. I will be sharing in many different places!!!!

    2. need to clarify quickly - my "reply" was supposed to be a general one (not a response to Eileen). Not that anything is wrong with Eileen's response, mine just makes more sense in context. Sorry I clicked the wrong button.

    3. I read you as a reply to Lindsay.

  4. Love this..."the stronger she has written and pressed the pencil into the paper, the darker she has written the wrong answer, the more gentle and patient I have to be with the erasure. The harder I try to do it quickly, and with out patience, the more likely I am to rip the fragile paper."

    I will carry that word picture with me as a poignant reminder.

  5. My sweet precious soul sister, you nailed it. Perfectly. Love you. (((hug)))

  6. Soooo beautiful to share this with all of us. I was really lucky with my newborn adoption we were soul mates from the start. She was and is my mini me. She never had any identifiable bonding issues.
    But when I adopted my sons I learned much about RAD, Sensory Disorder, FASD, Mental illness, and more. They were older. 3 and 5 when they came to me. It was a whole different life with them. They didn't want me or have an attachment to me at all for a very long time.
    I have come to a place where I no longer judge myself for the injuries to my children that occurred before we had even met. They are mine and yet pieces of them will always belong to and with somebody else.

  7. Seriously some of the most real, poignant words I've read about what adoption truly is. People seem to get it more when I explain j's trauma because he was 4 when he was dropped off at dhs , but I can totally get why people don't get the infant thing. I am so thankful that both our foster babes have done as well with bonding as they have, cuz especially with their medical issues, they are already at higher risk.

    Anywho, I love you. Thank you for putting these thoughts in words. They needed to be put out there.


  8. If you were in a fire when you were 3 days old and burned over 90% of your body would you remember the fire when you were 3 yrs or 13 or 30? But you would still have scars over 90% of your body.

    If you were in a terrible accident when you were 2 months old and lost your arm . . . would you remember the accident when you were older?
    Would you have an arm?

    I did not understand it before we adopted. But now we live it every day. The pre-verbal wounds are so deep and raw.

  9. Thanks, Lindsay. I needed these words today... and we just continue to pray for healing. Hoping and praying that we can survive.

  10. This is an incredible, raw, truthful post. thank you for this.

  11. wow, I like CC's example too - the scars remain. My daughter was just over a year old when I met her, and people still told me she was too young and wouldn't remember everything. But I know the pain was in there. It was real. They're not stupid - they know when something's gone/missing even if they can't put words to what it is. It's there in the cries and fits and calling out for "mama" though you know it's not you they're calling for. Our son, at almost 5, has probably transitioned far. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. I have explained the newborn thing to so many people. It is hard to understand.... but it is TRUE.

  13. What you write is so true! my son home at 18 months old was one hot mess. he was brought in at 2 weeks and was taken care of more than most because they thought he was sick! Still NO ONE ever said anything about an angry baby! NIght Terrors were a normal nightly thing and even today 9 1/2 years later there is sometimes that he needs to know where I am.. So yes, he misses his birthmom deep in his heart even if he doesn't realize why he acts out!
    He is abeautiful loving child most days, but sometimes I have to remind myself to let go of the hurt!

  14. I adopted my daughter from an orphanage in Romania when she was 3.8 years old. She is now 24.8 years old. She has been diagnosed as dissociative, reactive attachment disorder and borderline personality disorder. This all stems from being abandoned at birth, neglected in the orphanage. Of course, I didn't find this out until the last couple of years. I have since gotten the "help" I needed through this hard time. I found a wonderful ministry named, Clean Vessels and the woman that helped me has many years of helping others with these problems. My daughter refused to see this counselor because to do so, you have to trust in the Lord to help you. I highly recommend every adopted child/parent to seek out Dr Lynda Irons help in overcoming these obstacles of adoption.

  15. RAD didn't become an official diagnosis until the 1980s, right? But well before then, kids endured trauma, were neglected, got adopted at birth or 3 days old or 11 years old, survived wars and concentration camps and sexual abuse and other horrors and somehow managed to get on with their lives.  Without "therapeutic parenting".

    You just don't hear a whole lot about kids with RAD in, say, refugee camps in Afghanistan or DRC or Nepal. Or their depressed parents. And god knows, those folks have a LOT to be depressed about.  It strikes me that if you're 100% focused on survival, you just don't have the "luxury" of falling to pieces, since you know there's no one with the energy to put you back together again.

    This is a roundabout way of asking -- how do you know your "therapeutic parenting" approach to your kids is working? As in, not making everything worse? Given that for thousands and thousands of years babies somehow managed to get over the trauma of being adopted at 3 days old... 

    Ok, it is an imperfect analogy... what made me curious is that, among me and  my errrr upper-middle class and smart, well, I'd like to think, girlfriends, having some sort of a depression/breakdown is scarily common -- like, bad enough to land oneself in hospital for a week, on meds and in intensive counseling for the next six months, and I include myself in this group... but my equally smart and in similar places in their life -- like grad school -- but not well-enough-off to have the "luxury" of falling apart since they had no parents waiting in the wings to ensure they got in-patient treatment who were able to pick up the HIGH cost of counseling that crappy insurance, of course, doesn't cover. My (possibly misguided, mistaken and decidedly anecdotally based) takeaway from this is that if you HAVE to cope, you basically do, ie maybe as a posh  parent, coddling/indulging/picking up the therapy tab for your kid is what paradoxically "allows" your kid to fall to pieces. And so maybe doing the same for a kid with trauma "allows" the ongoing appalling behavior?? Would an "it is unfair, it was awful, but hey, you survived, so shape up kiddo" approach not garner better results?  Presumably this is the approach used by parents of kids who survived the genocide in Rwanda or losing most of their family in a concentration camp, since, errr, if you are the parent of that kid, it's not like you have other options. 

    Would that approach not at least be worth giving a shot to, given that the one you are presently using appears to have not been so successful, 2-7 years into it??

  16. Staee,
    I wonder if you'd be as quick to share your ignorance with a mom of a child with Down's Syndrome, cancer or one who has no legs? I'm sure if those moms would just tell their kids to behave and learn 'normally', get well and stop acting sick, and get out there and run and play like all the other kids- those kiddos would straighten right up.

    Lindsay- I hope that nothing she said has made you question or doubt the amazing love and healing you're pouring into your kids.

    A name for behaviors doesn't create the start of those behaviors. We've LONG heard of 'orphan' kids being taken in by other families and then burning their parents/families in their beds. It's no new thing- there are just FINALLY professionals who are recognizing and working with families and children to help them heal.


  17. In response to Stacee.., I often wonder what happens to the families and kids who survive the trauma you talk about without the luxury of therapy. How many of them go on to have substance abuse, disfunctional families, etc.? I know in my kids ' bio families, the trauma, abuse, etc goes back at least three generations. No one ever got over it. They just passed the problems on to the next generation.

  18. If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound?

    If a child is attacked and screams for help, but no one comes, is the child still afraid?

    Enquiring minds etc.

  19. Stacee, apparently has the luxury of not having any idea at all of what some of our kid's or their families' lives are.

    I don't know what her intentions were, she hit A LOT of nerves.

    And, gee, why didn't we all think of that?

  20. Just like my dear friend, who is the mother of a diabetic child, has to factor his dietary needs and risks into EVERY SECOND of EVERY DAY, (even as he sleeps) so do we blessed with RAD survivors. Things are different for us. Things are different for the mother with a wheel chaired child, or the mother whose little boy needs a feeding tube.
    It's part of what makes us moms- we do what is best for our kids. We DO NOT just expect them to buck up and ignore their differences.

    As my youngest has healed some, she has developed an immense empathy for the hurting and abused, be they animals or people. I love this in her. I look to my older daughter who is just a RAD mess, BUT she sees the patterns in herself- which is more than I can say for some- and realize the growth there.

    There are moments where "buck up kiddo" is appropriate... Dealing with soul scars and completely altered mentalities due to trauma are obviously not that moment. Do you tell the 27 year old rape victim "enough already!!! Get over it!" NO... so imagine how the same unprotected level of crime affects an even more defenseless child.

  21. I've had my foster child since she left the hospital at 2 days old, but she still gets weekly visitation with her mother. Reading this, I wish I could see her interact with her mother to see if there's a difference. She is the best baby, so happy and good-natured, almost never cries and never has, and her entire face lights up when she sees me. I've had her brother since he was 13 months -- he was taken from his parents at 6 months of age and lived in another foster home for 7 months before coming here. I first saw signs that he acknowledge me as his mother after living here about 3 months. He acts like every other child his age that I see with their parents, as far as how he interacts with me and is bonded with me. I know the abuse and neglect and separations from caregivers he has experienced had to have impacted him in many ways, but it's sure hard to tell now that he's ever had another mother. He had weekly visits with his parents until he was 21 months old and his social worker said from the way he acted, she didn't even think he knew who they were. I don't doubt your own experience at all, but I can't help but wonder if it's simply a variation in children and the personalities they were born with. Some people are simply more resilient than others, and two people could experience the same trauma and one come out unscathed and the other suffer with it the rest of their lives. I also have a 5 year old that I think will fit the latter category based on where she is right now. THAT affects bonding on my part, as I am far more closely bonded with the younger two and often *forget* that they aren't biologically mine than with the older one whose behavior is a constant reminder that she wasn't mine from the start.

  22. Wow! You are RIGHT ON with your post. It doesn't matter if it pisses people off. Change pisses people off. The truth is the truth.

  23. I loved your post. As a fellow "Trauma Mama" you were right on. I am so tired of trying to not tick off people with my opinions. The 9 months in the womb does mean something, something huge at that. Some kids suffer more trauma from the same experiences and events than other kids. I don't know why but it is true. Why the judging? We are all doing our best to parent these kids. Are we parenting these kids a 100% right all of the time, heck no, but I know we all want to be. You rock! Keep up the good work and screw the rest of the people trying to tell you otherwise.

  24. I am an adoptive mama to 4 and one bio. A lot of what you say makes sense and you bring up things I've never even thought of before. Thanks for putting my feelings into words. :)

  25. I'm an adoptive mom to a girl who was 7 when she came to live with us 5 years ago... she has struggled a LOT. We see slow progress, but there is still so much pain and anger. I hope that someday we can connect without all of that between us and especially that she can heal from the trauma and grief that her mother's death and her adoption to a new country have put her through.

    I'm also an adoptee (adopted at a few weeks of age) who was broken, and I feel sometimes I will never function "normally." I have a wonderful relationship with my adopted mom now, but there were years where I kept them at a distance. Now we would call it RAD. No, you wouldn't know it to look at me, talk to me, or even if you were my friend. But there is a feeling of never really belonging, never really fitting in, feeling that there is something wrong with me that persists. Depression and shame are chronic. I always thought there was something fundamentally broken and wrong with me that my own mother would throw me away. Perhaps I know better as an adult with 4 children, but my soul doesn't seem to understand it, even after all of these years....

  26. I'm late to the party, but this post is really making me think. I have one bio child who I love immensely, but I didn't have the whole "angels singing in the heavens" experience when I first held her. We have fostered 3 newborns now and I haven't yet experienced any of the newborn rejection you described, but I definitely think this is a loss they will carry all their lives. We try to be very open about birth families and I am sure we don't talk about them enough.

    The one thing I would say to Stacee, beyond that I admire her courage for posting her comments, is that I am sure she is familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of needs and when survival is what you are working on there isn't time or energy for the other stuff. Clearly the children in this home are provided for and so they progress up that hierarchy and work on the love and belonging pieces, so to say "buck up kiddo" would actually be pushing them back down to more basic needs. Maybe this only makes sense to me :) Blessings and your blog and family has amazed me in just the few entries I have read!

  27. Amazing perspective. Thank you for writing.

  28. I am the adoptive parent of three kids adopted from foster care. When you are focused on survival, you push trauma down. Later, when things become safe, the trauma emerges. Look at how long after the fact a child sex abuse victim, for instance, might suddenly experience symptoms. There are recent articles on Rwanda, for example, on how the orphans of the genocides are now adults and are acting out with severe drug and violence problems.

    The bottom line is adoption is complex. In some cases, like mine, there is strong attachment and very minimal difficulty even though the prognosis would have been bad. I think this in part because I accepted them where they were. My kids have learning disabilities, FASD and other diagnosis. That is okay with me. I do not try to "fix" them. I try to accept them and help them. I do think one challenge in therapeutic parenting is being very, very honest with ourselves if we are trying to change a behavior to meet OUR needs and expectations. If we are, we may expect failure, especially if that behavior is rooted in biology or trauma. We cannot help kids re-wire their brains unless we start from the place of genuine acceptance of where they are at right now. I am convinced kids can smell and feel our unacceptance of them otherwise. Another key aspect I am convinced helped my children, which is unfortunately often discouraged—I have pursued open adoptions. NOTHING has helped my kids heal more, or faster, than having safe, limited and healthy contact with their parents. Even if those birth parents abused or neglected them, having that contact has been huge. I see this as a cup that only the birth parents can fill. It is one of my concerns with a lot of international and closed adoptions: I don't think the importance and healing of birth family contact is given the weight it deserves.