What I’ve Heard From Other Parents

Before I get into this I want to emphasize two things: 1) I’m not a professional but a reasonably well educated layman and 2) I don’t paint all adoptees or other children who’ve suffered abuse or neglect with the same brush. I deal in degrees, nuance and probabilities.

There are many children who’ve overcome early deprivation to go on to lead very happy and productive lives. They have a healthy self-image and relationship with their families. But I do believe that their early experience leaves them more vulnerable to attachment related disorders and behaviors that can haunt them for years and rob them of the kind of fulfilling life they deserve. One professional I quote in my book believes that ALL adoptees should be treated as at-risk for attachment disorder and, at the very least, be evaluated by a trained professional early.

911While writing this book, I’d been continually frustrated in my efforts to shed a spotlight on attachment disorders with groups that would seem to be most interested – adoption groups. One foreign adoption coordinator essentially slammed the door in my face.

“I’ve facilitated many adoptions from foreign orphanages,” she wrote, “and I never had a problem with these children.” So either Erika and I were either unusually incompetent parents or we picked the rare short straw. Every other adoptee was well adjusted, happy and healthy. This opinion was echoed by one of this woman’s clients, whose adopted son had a similar early life to Casey’s. “So sorry for your loss,” his father wrote. “Our son is doing just fine.”

Could we really be that incompetent?

Then we connected with other adoptive parents whose stories mirrored ours and, I dare say, made our challenges with Casey seem like child’s play.

One mother wrote about her son delivered to an orphanage at five months old; he lived there for two years. His adoptive mother had unusual access to the orphanage, describing a clean, production line existence of almost ruthless efficiency. Bath time was like a car wash. Boys and girls – all under age five, lined up naked and crying – stepped into a tub where one caregiver soaped them up, one rinsed them down, one dried them off and another dressed them in pajamas. Potty training was a group activity with half nakedchildren learning the ropes while seated in a half circle on their potty seats. At mealtime, there weren’t enough hands to go around, so the kids learned to feed themselves. Though her son ate everything in front of him, he was nutritionally starved. When she offered him an apple, he ate everything, including the core, seeds and stem. At the time of her writing to me, he was an eight-year-old at the emotional level of a five-year-old. Though he had recovered from early developmental delays, he was still prone to meltdowns, anxiety attacks and struggles with self-esteem.

anger - 2A twenty-one year old girl I met with spoke about her birth to a prostitute; she believed her father was a client. She’d spent two and a half years in an orphanage before she was adopted. She was very close to her adoptive mother until middle school when she began to pull away, avoiding any kind of intimacy. In high school, their relationship deteriorated into screaming matches, power struggles and defiance. She remained externally stoic but admitted to low self-esteem that had led her to cutting, eating disorders, drugs and destructive relationships.

Another mother shared that her daughter was born to alcoholic parents, unschooled and neglected until she was placed for adoption at age seven. Her mother received her at age eleven with a range of challenges from growth deficiencies to language delays and learning disabilities. At the age of eighteen, she had the emotional maturity of a nine year old. Though delightful most of the time, her mother reported that the slightest provocation could send her daughter into a rage or sobbing fit. She could be sweet and charming to others but defiant and hateful to her mother. Left unsupervised, she was prone to risky behavior. She couldn’t be trusted on her own.

Yet another mother wrote that her son was given up shortly after birth, landing in a shabby orphanage that housed about two hundred fifty children. He was adopted at three and a half. There was no play area outside so the children remained indoors virtually twenty four-seven. With coal for heating expensive and scarce, it wasn’t unusual in the winter for the younger children to be confined to their cribs. Their diets consisted of lukewarm teas, soups, watery juice drinks, canned fruits and breads. Potty breaks amounted to sitting on chamber pots out in the open; diapers were non-existent. Years later at twenty-one, he was emotionally immature, prone to violent temper tantrums, depression and learning disabilities.

More stories emerged of teens and young adults suffering from early neglect. Depression, moodiness, self-mutilation, screaming fits, defiance and academic struggles were part of life. They left home and broke contact with their adoptive families. Job instability, unplanned pregnancies, suicide attempts and stints in disciplinary, rehab and psychiatric programs weren’t unusual.

The point of these vignettes is not to demonize foreign orphanages. Most do the best they can with woefully limited resources. Oftentimes their policies are well intentioned but misguided.

Despite the hardships of raising these children, their parents were clearly devoted to them. Through the chaos they’d found support. In numerous cases their children had been able to forge a life path with career aspirations, attending college and trade schools.

Most importantly, I never detected a sense of “buyer’s remorse,” although on extremely rare occasions there are “failed” adoptions. These parents had hope for their future. One mother, speaking about her troubled teenage daughter, echoed my own thoughts about Casey. “She has brought more love into my life than I ever thought possible.  She’s everything to me and I’ll do anything to protect her.”

9 thoughts on “What I’ve Heard From Other Parents

  1. Over 600 hits, that has to be encouraging. I am sure the first few posts may come easily, but maintaining interesting material may be the challenge. I, personally, find your commentary to be very enlightening as it helps me better understand what you went through and why the hurdles were in your way.

    I presume I can simply hit “reply” right?

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    Donald Brooks

    Northeast Regional Sales Manager

    Fax – 215-659-7740

    Cell – 215-837-0104

  2. Our son was adopted at 14 months from EE 7 years ago and lives with people predetermining his impending RAD, depression, and criminal lifestyle already – I also have several friends that dealt with depression in early adulthood including suicide & suicide attempts that were not adopted. I don’t want to take anything away from your story or your daughter’s – but I fear this might perpetuate the idea that ‘all adopted kids have problems’ rather than encourage people to realize that we ALL have problems – children who are adopted just have a specific hurdle that is complex.

    I wish you would describe yourself as Casey’s ‘father’ rather than her ‘adoptive father’ – it pains me when people refer to me as my bio daughter’s ‘mom’ and as my adopted children’s ‘adoptive mom’ – as if it is different (for good or bad reasons) – our kids know they are adopted – it is a badge of honor and something we are happy to talk with them about whenever they have questions – we do not discount their birth parents – but when we are given the chance to define ourselves we call ourselves ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ – nothing more.

    I am terribly sorry for your loss – Casey seemed to have a bright future and I cannot imagine that hole in your lives. I pray your book can be helpful for those who are struggling to know that adoption may be a piece of the depression puzzle – I pray that it does not perpetuate the stigma that plagues so many who have been adopted.

    • Hi. Thanks so much for your insightful comments. You are correct. I’ve tried to be very careful here, especially with my latest post, to not stigmatize ALL adoptees but rather to raise flags about probabilities of risk for adoptees vs. other kids. I’ll make sure to continue to underscore this theme in future posts. Speaking for my wife and me, we feel like the luckiest parents in the world to have been Casey’s parents. And as for “adoptive” father, I hear you 100%. I only use this qualifier in titles so that surfers can get what this is all about. Otherwise it was not a qualifier I ever even considered when Casey was alive. But I have to acknowledge what I now know. Hope this helps. Thanks again for your great insights!

      John

  3. I would like to start off with my sincere condolences on your daughters death. I can not even imagine the pain of loosing a child. I would also like to thank you for all the information you have provided. I adopted my daughter at 13 months from Russia 10 years ago. Her records stated she was abandoned at 3 months but I was told “off the record” she was actually a newborn, not that it even matters. She was malnourished, had anemia and developmental delays. I like to think that I educated myself prior to adopting her on RAD, FASD etc., so I was aware of what to look out for. As it turns out (which I suspected all along) she was diagnosed with FASD & ADHD 4 years ago. We bonded (and hopefully attached) pretty quickly, as she has always been very affectionate, kind & loving, still is to this day at 11 yrs. After reading your story, and how your daughter was happy the majority of time, outgoing etc. I am going to be on the look out as she gets older for any underlying attachment issues. Although some of the “signs” you posted regarding Attachment Disorders fits her, it also fits with FASD, as well as normal childhood, depending on how you classify “frequent”. It is very hard to find any kind of doctor that is familiar with children raised in orphanages and the issues a child can have, they are few & far between in my experience. I do my best to read as much as I can, but it would be so nice to have a professional to consult with that is knowledgable. Thank you for trying to get the word out there!

    • Hi KJ. Thanks for your kind note. You are correct. The signs can be very confusing. As I learned from experts signs of many disorders can look alike to those not properly trained, so children can get a wrong assessment or, in Casey’s situation, no assessment at all.

  4. Timing is everything. So after a long evening of 3rd grade homework, vision therapy, and normal household stuff, the breakdown began. Came out of his mouth as being upset that his younger (also adopted) brother got more attention, better toys, etc. I’m pretty sure that the core of the recent spat of emotional drama is due to transition problems (end of school year, executive function issues).

    We search for clues and evaluate on a regular basis. Try new things. Sucked it up and even went to a ‘hippy doctor.’ There is no miracle drug or therapy. Gonna take a bit of everything and constant work. Exercise and sleep are his friend. Thank goodness we have the resources for a private school for small classes and nice kids.

    I watch the 21 year-old down the street, also adopted from Russia, who while not an academic genius, as found his way with holding a job, girlfriend, trade school etc. Good kid. Out-grew some of the issues we are currently dealing with. Carry on……

  5. Thank you so much for writing this blog. I can’t tell you how important it is to hear all of this from a father’s perspective. We adopted our daughter from a Russian orphanage almost 5 years ago at 11 months old, and her disabilities have resulted in her being labelled as autistic. We are still trying to unravel all the issues, but as her health improves and her head clears we are seeing more behaviors that we are sure are rooted in attachment issues. I believe she’s lost the autistic label, although there are still many issues to be addressed. Your posts are kind and insightful. Please continue your writing because you are correct, there is not enough information out there for parents of institutionalized children, their educators, or their health and behavioral providers. I will be a regular reader of your posts.

    • Thanks Sandy. I really appreciate your comments. What made Casey’s situation particularly challenging was that her behaviors were relatively subtle, and hidden behind a charming facade that fooled everybody, especially those who shouldn’t have been fooled. But make no mistake, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad!

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