Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Adoption Awareness: Preparing for the "bad" stuff

[Samren in February 2002. What unknowns would this child bring us? If only we knew!]

Sister Beta skipped all of the easy adoption questions and went right to the most difficult stuff!

She wrote...

"I have a question and would love to hear what an adoption coordinator has to say about it. I have friends who are foster parents and they have gotten children with SEVERE RAD (reactive attachment disorder)...to the point of being suicidal (a 3 year old). This poor child had really, really intense problems and ended up being put in a psychiatric hospital. My friends did an amazing job with the girl, but it was so difficult for them! How do parents prepare for that possibility, since sometimes symptoms are very masked (at first) and what type of support is there once the child is theirs? I'm curious as to how that works in adoption as opposed to fostering through the State. "

Adoption is definitely not a perfect thing. When a child becomes available for adoption it is because that child has endured a tragedy--whether the death of a parent, or poverty, or neglect, or abuse, etc.. The most important thing prospective adoptive parents can do is prepare themselves before hand that their future child may have severe and long-lasting issues related to their past, or even the "trauma" of being adopted. Many times first time adoptive parents want to see adoption as a picture-perfect beautiful thing. It is beautiful--but it is beautiful like a rock that is polished from years and years of heavy beating water. It is beautiful, but nothing about it is easy. The process of adoption is difficult in itself, but the really hard stuff doesn't start until the child is home.

Prospective adoptive parent need to learn, and learn, and learn some more--before their child is united with them. They need to truly prepare themselves for a child with attachment issues, post-institutionalization issues, food issues, post traumatic stress, and undiagnosed medical issues (just to start). They need to speak to parents who have been through it before. They need to hear the TRUTH from post-adoptive families (the hard stuff) so that they have real life examples of what it's like. Even the "easy" placements, with kids who will have no long-term issues, are really tough at first!

It's true that sometimes a child can "mask" their issues at first--a honeymoon period. Most kids do this without trying--it's just a coping mechanism. Eventually though, the honeymoon will end. For some kids we parents may not even be able to tell when a child has let down their guard. [There was no big difference between Kendi's "honeymoon" and her true self. There was just a settling in her spirit.] For other kids, it's very evident when the honeymoon is over. [Aggressive behavior, avoidence, sleeping too much or too little, stealing, gorging on food, etc.] I am of the opinion that there are usually signs very early on if a child is going to have long-term attachment issues. I think usually it is the parents who do not recognize them--rather than the child not exhibiting them. With our attachment-challenged child I can look back and see signs that she was distressed as young as 6-7 months old. I was just naive. I hadn't prepared like I should have. I didn't think babies could have these issues. Or maybe, I just thought it wouldn't happen to MY baby.

What happens when we do adopt a child that is not doing well? That's the really tough part. Most of the time I think families feel shame. They look at their other friends with seemingly "perfect" adoptions and wonder what they did wrong. They feel guilty for having thoughts like, "What have I done? I have ruined my family by adopting this child!" [Secret confession: Almost all of us have those thoughts at some point, I'm betting.] Parents get truly, clinically depressed, but are too proud to seek medical attention. When the parent isn't doing well, it is that much harder to parent a hurting child. In the haze of post-adoption depression it's hard to recall all of those wonderful tidbits you learned before the adoption. You feel as if you are failing at everything. My biggest advice for new and difficult placements: REACH OUT!!! Let people know you are struggling. Accept help. Admit that you can't do it alone. Listen to the advice of others that have gone before you. And, if all else fales, "Fake it 'til you make it." can be an effective strategy!

For kids that are not only having a difficult transition period but are also exhibiting behaviors that are long-term, it gets even harder. The help is out there, but it is hard to find. Hopefully your placement agency will be there to offer advice or refer you to someone in your state that can help--but the reality is that a placement agency not in your state can only do so much. One "missing link" in all of this (I think) is a lack of support from homestudy agencies after placement. I think that many agencies just want to do the required post-placements and be done with the family. I also think that most families want to do the post-placement reports and be done with the homestudy agency! There is an innate fear that the homestudy agency can do something to take your child away if they don't think you are doing a good job. Why would adoptive parents pour their hearts out to the people they fear could take their child away? I don't know how to fix this problem. I'm just saying, it's out there. In the end it is the job of the adoptive parent to find the help their child needs. If that means attachment-therapy, then you've got a responsibility to find it. If that means residential treatment (usually the last resort), then it's up to you to find it AND pay for it. That's the hard reality. The support I wish I could say is out there, is hard to find and hard to pay for. It's a problem.

Adoption is, in the end, a leap of faith. We are not guaranteed a healthy child (mentally or physically). For families that feel led to adopt, all they can do is arm themselves with the best information possible, and leap.


Nora 11:54 AM  

Hi Anita,

I have another adoption-related question for you. I have noticed that you have two Asian-born children, and two African-born children, and that you adopted them in order of age. I have read that it's recommended in a large family of adopted children to have at least two of the children "look alike" or share some cultural background, and that it's also recommended that the birth order be maintained (for example, not adding a "new" oldest child to the family, making the previous oldest child a younger sibling).

Did you do this on purpose? I know you believe that God planned your family, so did you feel that this was part of his plan? Do you suggest that others follow this pattern in adopting?

Thanks, in advance, for sharing all that you do with us!

Cindy 1:08 PM  

Thanks for the post Anita.

Jena 3:53 PM  

thanks Anita- great post... in the midst of National Adoption Month, i get a little sick to the stomach with all the "happy shiny" adoption stories... while adoption is beautiful like you said, it is more beauty from ashes than just about anything else could be...
It is SO SO important that we NOT gloss over the harsh realities of adoption, which includes not only attachment issues and RAD, but also child s x trafficking and participating in a global supply and demand for children....

Mama D.'s Dozen 5:32 PM  

Well said. Thanks for the honesty.

How do you respond to adoptive parents that are adamant that other adoptive parents NOT share the hard truths on their blogs. The people that think that "if the hard stuff is shared, than it will scare people away from adopting".

I have been judged very harshly for sharing the tough stuff on my blog. On the flip-side ... I have been thanked by others that were suffering alone, and needed to hear someone say that things are NOT always easy.

Just wondering how you would respond ...