Thursday, April 15, 2010

We are the Truth no One Wants to Hear: Successful Adoption

My parents were the best. They taught two significant and amazing principles to live by. They told me not to be afraid to fight for what I believe in and that the "truth would set me free". Maybe the love and respect for my parents and my fond memory of their support is one reason why  I was upset when the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) put out a mass email and Call to Action called “We Are the Truth” . Their mass emails urged the condemnation and prosecution of parents like Torry Hansen.  In fact, adoptive parents were encouraged to blog today about their successful adoptions.  The call claimed that the truth about adoption was not in children who were prone to set fires or parents who acted unwisely out of desperation, but in successful adoptions. The JCICS says, "You know that families who encounter difficulties do not simply abandon their child.  You know that help is available, that solutions are found and that families can thrive." Well JCICS, I don't know of anyone who really sees "help" as readily available. Readily available predisposes there is mental health insurance without huge deductibles, and that those skilled with young traumatized and attachment disordered children will be "readily available"   ----  "Thrive" The definition of thriving is to prosper; to flourish; to succeed --- I am not sure we fit that successful thriving family (fairy tale) definition either. But we love both our girls dearly!

I have two beautiful daughters, one who grew under my heart after 7 years of infertility treatment including 4 miscarriages and a boat-load full of drugs, and the other who grew in my heart through adoption. I doubt the JCICS is looking for stories like ours though.

After we decided to adopt and be completely done with fertility treatment, we looked for an agency. We settled on America World Adoption Association which at the time (2000) was exclusively doing Chinese Adoptions. Although our story is the type of adoption story that is usually swept under the carpet and excluded, we consider it successful --- not due to any support from the agency (which is typical) but because we dug, scraped and researched to find the appropriate services our daughter needed. Not because there were readily available solutions either -- there were not. But because both my husband and I had backgrounds and resources that enabled us to spent the $50,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses it costs to find the right kind of therapies and resources.

Our (NSN -- non special needs classified)adopted beauty came to us at 16 months and weighing in at only 13 pounds (having been starved and tied in a Chinese orphanage for most of her young life. Her affect was completely flat and she had a vacant stare. When we saw her, she was totally silent and immediately and completely shut down. The "co-called" caregivers taunted and laughed at her in front of us. She wouldn't eat or drink and then slept for the first 36 hours. We also had some problems getting her out of the country. These problems were not well defined. There was a lot of language exchange between the interpreter (from AWAA) and the Chinese but no real interpretation to us about these exchanges. It was clear from the reaction of the medical personnel when we did their superficial physical that there was concern over her status. Of course there was --- the child had been starved and was the size of a 2 month old at 16 months !  To our benefit however, before leaving for China to pick up our daughter, our friends who had been with the State Department, introduced us to the then  director of Chinese personnel at the American Embassy (in China) who eventually migrated to the US. Thanks to her, we were able to get her out of the country. I'll never forget the words of the American in charge of our final outgoing interview. She said, "Are you sure she is alright?" To which I replied, "Yes, she's just sleeping a lot."  Then the American said, "You know just what to say don't you?" My husband (a teacher) and I (a certified special education teacher) agreed before we filled out one piece of paper, that we would parent whatever child was provided to us. We felt that this child was meant to be our child. I had acquaintances and advocates in the adoption field.

The first year or two home was like being in a fog. Our daughter woke up every 2-3 hours until she was 7. Our post adoption report was late. The agency would call and tell us they needed to do it and actually was upset with us because we didn't jump right in and tell them what they wanted to hear. We were overwhelmed with our daughter's lack of eating, drinking , dissociative state, screaming rages, one of which lasted 4.5 hours, self hurting and aggression behaviors as well as medical problems. We did finally get the report done. I asked for a copy but it was not sent. I had to really badger the agency for a copy of the report. When I finally read it, I couldn't quite figure out whose child they described - it certainly wasn't ours.

Once we navigated the "maze" trying to find appropriate resources for our daughter she has made progress but thee was NO readily available help. Our help came from other parents who went before. There are many parents - too many to count who have children like ours.. Moms who would lay down their life for their children but who are stressed to the max with problems no one ever mentioned. We spent the last 9 years immersed in evaluations, therapist searches and visits, medical intervention etc. At this point our daughter is still so orally defensive that she remains mute. When we take her to the dentist they have to use sedation just to look at her teeth. She remains terrified of running water in enclosed spaces but not the pool. She is terrified of any stranger entering our home too. There are still screaming flashbacks and trauma responses. Aggression is much better but can surface when she is terrified or triggered into a trauma response. The school district where we live retraumatized her and then came after us.One of the things they did to her in pre-school was to withhold food (her lunch) in order to try and make her speak.This is an illegal and immoral form of restraint -- and done to a child who they knew had been starved.  They regressed her to point that we had to start over at 7. Her team of therapists and doctors told us if we didn't get her away from the school personnel as well as any others without the proper experience with trauma and attachment disorder we would lose her permanently to mental illness. The schools do not have programs that are trauma sensitive -- so she is home with me 24/7. And although our school districts brag about the money they spend per pupil (more than $18,000 a year for regular non special ed students) they have exiled us and continue to violate our daughter's right to a free appropriate public education.

My husband can't retire because the therapies and resources needed for our daughter has wiped out our savings. We now have a second mortgage and credit card debt (all medical) and her sister has no college fund. It is not unusual for us to spend $50,000 out of pocket in medical expenses. It took us 9 years to get our daughter anxiously attached to us. Would we ever abandon her -- no way. Are there readily available resources for the thousands of parents who have these issues with their internationally adopted kids -- no way. It is so easy to blame the parents. Don't get me wrong, the parents of the little Russian boy were absolutely WRONG to do what they did. But it deeply disturbs me that there has been a real rally to demonize them.

The sad truth is that agencies do not do justice to any real kind of post-adoption services. Services are NOT readily available. Unless you are well educated on how to manipulate our health care system and really good at it, (and that presupposes you already have a health care policy that even covers mental health)  the odds of finding the right help for a child with trauma and attachment disorder are almost "0%"

I recently asked our agency to stop sending us solicitation emails -- something they have not honored. I tried to speak to them and offered them my list of resources (which our pediatrician readily accepted) but they do not return calls or emails -- they do continue to solicit for donations however. 

The photo above is of my beautiful younger daughter and her service dog.

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  1. Yes Nancy! It is the truth but not the truth poeople want to hear! Resources are not readily available, many do not know what is available and what little there is, is not covered by insurance.

  2. Great Blog Nancy! Let the "real" truth be told!! Now if only people would actually listen!