Dying With Dignity Versus Suicide

cover-768Sorry that this is a bit off-topic, but I’ve been following this story about 29 year old Brittany Maynard who was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. She moved from California to Oregon because she wanted to end her life (legal in Oregon) rather than suffer through a longer and painful death from the spread of this terrible disease. I completely sympathize with her and other victims of terminal illnesses who want to “die with dignity.” If I were in their shoes I’d probably do the same thing.

What bothers me about this is how the media treats it. Let’s call Ms. Maynard’s decision what it is – suicide. The media treats her decision to end her life as something noble and admirable with fawning coverage from major newspapers to supermarket tabloids to morning television. She is very telegenic and, again, I mean this in a very sympathetic way.

Unfortunately, all too often the suicidal don’t suffer from a terminal illness but from an excruciating inner pain for which death seems the only antidote. That was my 17 year old daughter Casey. Unlike Ms Maynard, Casey and so many others who took their lives didn’t get the cover shot on People magazine or interviews from traditional and online media. No, their same decisions were met with scorn and derision, as there remains a cloud of shame and stigma over suicide as opposed to “dying with dignity.”

I’m sure that the media will salivate over Ms. Maynard until her final moments, and I wish her and her family the very best. This is a terrible decision for a young woman to make. I just wish that my daughter and so many other victims of suicide (like, most recently, Robin Williams) were accorded the same degree of respect.

More Reviews For The Girl Behind The Door

Part of promoting a book is, well, self promotion, something I’ve never been comfortable with. But I’d like to give a big shout out to two fine  adoption organizations for taking the time to review Casey’s story and share it with their members in these two excellent reviews. I really admire and respect organizations like these. All too often, stories like Casey’s are swept under the rug and hidden. It is just too sad and may discourage adoption. Make no mistake – I’m hardly against adoption at all but I’m just now awakening to the fact that adoption – particularly from the most important person’s perspective, the child’s, is concerned – is far more complicated than adoptive or prospective adoptive parents’ realize.

If only I’d known of their existence in 1991, perhaps Casey would still be here. Who knows?

Adopti1507740_10152086636294799_487492033_non Network Cleveland is dedicated to supporting anyone touched by adoption – adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, foster youth and alumni, foster parents and professionals. They have received many awards and honors since their founding in 1988. Here is a link to their book review.

 

 

 

fruaFamilies For Russian And Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA) provides international adoption and post adoption support resources for families on the journey to adopt across a wide swath of Eastern European, former Soviet and Central Asian states. So the name “FRUA” is a bit of a misnomer. FRUA believes that every child deserves a forever family and celebrates the rich heritage of their birth countries. Below is their review featured in their recent newsletter, Family Focus.

 

FRUA

 

Recent Radio Interviews

As a self published author it’s hard to get media access which stinks when you’re trying to reach a broader audience. Among producers, agents, columnists, reviewers and other gatekeepers there is still a bias against self published works. So we persevere and do workarounds. Here are two interviews I did recently, courtesy of friends in the business and persistence.

18_480On August 6th I was on with Bill Meyer’s morning show on KMED-AM/1440 in Medford, Oregon. It bills itself as news and conservative talk, with all my “favorites” like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, a bit incongruous for a liberal like me. But Bill Meyer, the host, did a great job, and we even had some very positive call-ins. Here is the link to the archived podcast. Just scroll down to August 6th, 2014.

 

 

blogtalkradio-logoThen on August 27th I was on blogtalkradio’s AAC Adoption News and Views channel with host, Pam Kroskie. Pam is president of the Amercian Adoption Congress, and this channel features everything about adoption. Here is the link.

I’m expecting more reviews and features on the book in the coming months.

Dr. Phil Doesn’t Get it

Normally I don’t watch The Dr. Phil Show during the day but Erika taped an episode yesterday that was a “must view.” Titled “Parents Divided Over Disowning Their Son,” the show featured two adoptive parents and their 24-year-old adopted son, Adam. The father in particular was ready to disown and sever his relationship with his only child. Why? Violent and threatening behavior, substance abuse and several brushes with jail.

Not knowing the complete story, I couldn’t help but see Adam’s behavior as symptomatic, at least in part, of his early life trauma, separation from his mother and subsequent adoption. This looked like classic attachment related behavior, albeit on the extreme end of the spectrum.

The parents shared with Dr. Phil and viewers a laundry list of “diagnoses” and buckets of meds, all geared toward treating symptoms, never the core, and obvious, issue. As much as I cringed at the father’s “solution” to disown his only child, I also sympathized with their feelings of being beaten down and defeated. They seemed to be as much in the dark with their son as we were with Casey, even though Casey’s behavior was nothing like Adam’s, but could’ve been.

What made matters far worse was that Dr. Phil never ONCE mentioned anything about Adam’s early abandonment and adoption, and how that might’ve contributed to his behavior. It was all about treating Adam’s symptoms and behaviors. He even brought in an “expert,” not in adoption but in substance abuse and extreme behavior. They got close to the real problem but only by mentioning disorders Adam may have inherited from his birth parents.

I wonder if Dr. Phil even believes in attachment disorder.

Erika and I were on the show in October 2008 as part of a story about Golden Gate Bridge suicides. I was skeptical about it but wanted to take the chance that we could get Casey’s story out along with the tragedy of GGB suicides. It turned out to be a positive experience. Since publishing The Girl Behind The Door, I’ve been trying to get back on the show, but the young producers we met are long gone. And now that Dr. Phil seems to display ignorance about attachment and adoption, I feel that much more compelled to get on. But self-published authors are routinely shut out from the media in favor of “real” authors with representation.

So if anyone reading this post has any magic channel into Dr. Phil’s staff please let me know. Otherwise I’m stuck with filling out their online “Contact Dr. Phil” form.

Adoption Stories Worth Checking Out

Philomena_posterPhilomena, The Book – As I wrote in a previous blog post (1/26/14), the movie Philomena was incredibly powerful and has gotten rave reviews, as well it should. Recently I had a conversation with a birth mother who suggested I read the book, Philomena. Why would I do that? I saw the movie. She said, it’s told from a different point of view. She was right. Whereas the movie is told from the birth mother’s point of view, the book is told from the son, Michael Hess’ (née Anthony Lee’s), point of view. It is just as powerful as the movie. I would recommend that anyone who loved the movie should also read the book, particularly any adoptive or prospective adoptive parent. I just can’t emphasize how important it is for our branch of the adoption triad to understand the other two branches – adopted children and birth parents. It is truly humbling to see where we fit in this incredibly complex relationship.

 

 juno_ver2_xlgJuno, The Movie – You may remember Juno, which came out in the fall of 2007. In brief it tells the story of Juno MacGuff (played wonderfully by Ellen Page), a 16-year-old Minnesota teenager who gets pregnant with her not quite boyfriend, Paulie, (played by nerdy but cute Michael Cera.) The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Notably, Juno’s father Mac is played by J.K. Simmons, now starring in Farmer’s Insurance commercials (at least here in California), Rainn Wilson of The Office and Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, who play Mark and Vanessa, a yuppie couple desperate for a baby.

I have a particular affinity for this movie because, other than her pregnancy, Juno reminds me so much of Casey – a girl determined to go her own way and be her own person. And what a mouth on her, straight from her dad and step-mom. But also it may well have been the last movie Casey saw in a theatre before she died. I can’t help but think if this movie touched Casey beyond the fact that it is very well done and very funny, in a dark sort of way.

Birth mothers may be put off by this movie, but so might adoptive parents. After rejecting an abortion, Juno decides to have the baby and find him good parents, thus Mark and Vanessa. She continually refers to the baby growing inside her as “it” or “the thing” which may strike some as repulsive. But this is a light comedy and Juno is only 16. So my theory is that this is a teenager trying to distance herself – perhaps terrified but not showing it – from the baby growing in her belly. But that’s me.

Likewise, Mark and Vanessa come across as alternately sincere, genuine and narcissistic. Mark, in particular, becomes extremely inappropriate, leading one to wonder if wants to be the father of Juno’s child, Juno’s father, Juno’s cool friend or Juno’s boyfriend (I think it’s #3). Ultimately Mark is not ready for fatherhood, but the baby finds a good home – Vanessa.

Putting on my Roger Ebert hat, I think this movie deserves a sequel. Juno believes that the best thing for her newborn son is a closed adoption, which seems impractical considering Juno and Vanessa live only an hour apart. But suppose it was? The sequel: Juno is now 30 and her son is a teenager. They reunite. I’ll leave the rest to a screenwriter.

admission_xlgAdmission, The Movie – I’d have put this on my list of movies to rent but wouldn’t bother with the theatre list. But it’s actually surprisingly good, especially if you are part of the adoption triad. Tina Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer – Portia – and Paul Rudd – John – an alternative school teacher trying to get his gifted student into Princeton. I mean, who doesn’t love Tina Fey and Paul Rudd? Turns out the boy prodigy, Jeremiah (played by Nat Wolff), is adopted and not much is known about his family. Thus the Paul Rudd character takes a special interest in him, not to mention the fact that he IS gifted. But then there are more story twists. Turns out John is convinced that Jeremiah is Portia’s son, as it is disclosed that she had given up a child for adoption in her past. But then there are even more story twists, so I won’t be a spoiler here. Yes he does get into Princeton. But does he go?

Casey’s Story in The Marin Independent Journal Sunday Spotlight

20140711__MIJ-L-SNAPBROOKS-0713~1Many thanks to the Marin Independent Journal and their reporter Mark Prado for featuring Casey’s story in their Sunday Spotlight profile. The IJ has been way out ahead of other Bay Area news outlets in their coverage of the Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier and the plight of the families who’ve lost loved ones to the bridge.

When I joined others in the movement to stop suicides from the bridge – the deadliest structure on the planet by a wide margin – our group was treated slightly better than leapers. We testified repeatedly in front of the Golden Gate Bridge board, most (but not all) board members disinterested and disengaged. I met with my congresswoman’s aide who, after hearing Casey’s story and seeing her pictures, was utterly unmoved. “Perhaps she hung out with the wrong crowd,” she said. It was all Casey’s fault. I was nearly thrown out of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s office in the midst of presenting him (or rather his aide) with a gift – a framed picture of Casey in front of the bridge – after the mayor declared himself against the barrier … over aesthetics. The Bishop of my former church, the Episcopal Archdiocese of California, declared his support for the barrier after hearing that a young parishioner had died provided, of course, that it was not architecturally intrusive. Opinion pages were ho-hum, and the Bay Area public – mostly ignorant about and untouched by suicide – remains decidedly against the barrier.

But the times they are a changing. The Bridge board is now unanimously pro-barrier. Metropolitan Transportation Commission members including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and San Francisco city supervisors, David Campos and Scott Weiner, among others, told us in moving tones during yet more testimony that it was our personal stories and persistence in presenting reams of facts about the success of deterrents elsewhere that won them over. Their only regret was that it took them too long. Even Gavin Newsom is now for the barrier.

During this same time, I wrote The Girl Behind The Door, my search for answers to Casey’s suicide. Why did she do it? What did we miss? What could we have done differently? My search led back to her infancy in a Polish orphanage, the trauma she likely suffered from birth, and the attachment disruption that explained so much of her behavior, everything that the “professionals” missed. We learned too late that when we put ourselves in the hands of therapists and psychiatrists to help us understand and deal with our loved ones at risk, they don’t always get it right. Sometimes the consequences are tragic.

20140711__MIJ-L-SNAPBROOKS-0713~2I searched for an agent. All but one ignored my emails and calls; she was an adoptee herself. Bless her heart, she tried her best to shop the story. But publishers told her it was too sad. Even people who should’ve read the story would probably be turned off, they said. People want “happy” stories. I don’t think they ever read past chapter one. So I self-published the book only to learn that most media and news outlets have a built-in bias against self-published works. Bookstores won’t carry them. They want the stamp of approval of a “real” publisher.

But a funny thing happened. Hundreds of people read Casey’s story and loved it, posting dozens of consistently superlative Amazon reviews. Mental health and adoption professionals, adoption, suicide and attachment groups, people within and outside of the adoption “triad,” even New York Times best selling authors all gave it a big thumbs up.

So now that I know how strongly Casey’s story resonates, my challenge is to find more readers who would love the story if only they knew. So please tell your friends!

The Girl Behind The Door is available on Amazon and Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and iBook, among other ebook platforms.

Disrupted, “Failed” Adoptions and “Re-homing”

This is a very disturbing story that I happened to hear about this morning on the Today Show (yes I admit to watching it.) I’ve heard of “failed” and “disruptive” adoptions. Some people have referred to my experience with my Casey as a “failed” adoption, something I correct immediately. If it was a “failed” adoption my wife and I would’ve had regrets about having casey in our lives, but nothing could be further from the truth, notwithstanding the tragic ending.

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I’d never heard of “re-homing” until this morning. I’d heard of failed adoptions, such as a few from Russia where the children were given a plane ticket – and nothing else – back to the motherland. It’s difficult as an adoptive parent to read these stories as I think that we are all under indictment for the mishaps of a few. This Reuters story chronicles the experience of a teenage Liberian girl adopted by an American couple who couldn’t handle her. So they went online to find new parents. There must be more to the story, because assuming they adopted through legitimate adoption channels, why wouldn’t they go back to those channels?

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I have a friend who had a similar experience. A single mother with a successful career and 2 mainly grown biological children, she adopted 2 girls from a Third World country. We never discussed why she did this, but clearly she was not some crazed child-abuser looking to prey on vulnerable kids. Her intentions were completely honorable. But she became quickly overwhelmed by these 2 girls to the point where she realized they couldn’t stay. It wasn’t good for anybody. Fortunately in her case she found a family that was appropriate for her girls and, hopefully, they are adapting well to their new life.

As I watched the Today Show reporting from Rockefeller Center, one statement stuck with me: “the real problem is the lack of support for adoptive parents.”

Even today, more than 20 years after we adopted Casey from Poland and raised her in the dark, the darkness persists. More is known about attachment and other issues in adoptees, adoptive parents have more support systems available to them, but too many couples are simply not equipped to deal with these difficulties. That means that they either need far more attachment parenting instruction than they may have gotten, or they are not fit parents at all.

This is why I’m hesitant to vilify adoptive parents who appear to be monsters until I have the complete story.

Thank You!

Well, The Girl Behind The Door has been out now for a little over a month and we’re off to a pretty good start. I’m ranked about 300,000th in sales out of 3,000,000 – a little ways to go – but the reviews have been genuine and terrific.

“I am crying at how much you loved her.”

“John Brooks hands us his heart and soul in this deeply personal account of his and his wife’s unconditional love for and ongoing parenting struggles with their adopted child Casey, who at the age of 17, took her own life.”

“This book is a painfully honest memior of one family’s experience with international adoption and reactive attachment disorder.”

“If tragedy is partly defined as “good intentions gone badly”, then John Brooks’ family story is a showcase of tragic beginnings, tragic circumstances, and tragic endings.”

I’m reaching out to a broader group now and wanted to share this video trailer for The Girl Behind The Door.

TGBTD-eBookCov_03-600

Open or “Closed” Adoption. Is One Better Than The Other?

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Dr. Nancy Snyderman With Daughter Kate and Kate’s Birth Mother

As we in the adoption community know all to well, the process of adoption has evolved dramatically over the years. Up until the 60’s or 70’s it was much like as it was depicted in the movie, Philomena (the movie version being a bit at the extreme end of the spectrum.) The adoption was a hush-hush affair on all sides, the adoptee never knowing that she was adopted. Instead, she was told a lie where she was in fact the biological offspring of the adoptive parents. In most cases there was nothing malicious about this; it was thought that this was best for all concerned, particularly the child. Well, we know how that worked out.

Then there was the stage in which we found ourselves in the early 90’s. The adoption wasn’t kept a secret at all. Unfortunately, many adoptive parents knew little or nothing about the birth parents and birth parents. Oftentimes, the birth mother gave strict instructions that she was not to be contacted, as was the case with us. Again, this was probably not out of malice but, rather, shame or fear. Perhaps the mother had a husband and family. Her pregnancy might have been the result of an affair, which if revealed, could destroy her marriage. Who knows?

For lack of a better word, ours was a “closed” adoption. We were told that Casey’s mother did not want to be contacted. We never told her that out of fear that it would’ve been too hurtful. So we made up a story, the classic, “your mother loved you very much but wanted you to have a better life.” And that was probably true, but then how would you explain the fact that she had other children?

In our neighborhood in Marin County, Casey had 2 other friends who were adopted under different circumstances. Ian was adopted at birth from a birth mother in the Midwest; his parents had her contact information. Esme was received by her parents under an open adoption; her birth parents lived in the Bay Area, and they visited her regularly.

While we always assured Casey that if she ever wanted to contact her birth mother we would do everything we could to reach her. These days, with the Internet, an increasing number of adoptee reunification services and private investigators, it is increasingly possible to connect adoptee with birth mother. But secretly, Erika and I had our fears and reservations. Would the experience blow up in Casey’s face, leaving her even more emotionally scarred? Would we have to endure a complicated, uncomfortable and potentially jealous relationship? Would we be taken advantage of? Would Casey pit both sets of parents against each other? On the one hand I was dying to know what Casey’s birth mother was like, what she looked like, what kind of personality she had, what mannerisms Casey inherited from her. On the other, I was just as happy to keep her at arms length.

I don’t know that there is a magic answer that suits every adoptive family. Open and closed adoptions each have their weaknesses and benefits. But knowing what I know now, I do believe that an open adoption is better for the child, just to have that primal connection with the person who brought you to life. There is always the possible that a reunion could prove disastrous, but I think it’s a risk worth taking. Many adoptees – Casey (and her friend Ian) included – insist they want nothing to do with their birth mother, and that’s understandable. But as one adoption therapist asked me, “Did you believe her?” It never occurred to me to challenge her.

Perhaps a middle ground could be to provide the child with the mother’s contact information, just enough to let the child explore on her own in her own time at her own pace. That’s why we have Facebook.

The Girl Behind The Door: A Memoir By John Brooks

TGBTD-eBookCov_03-600“This book should be a wakeup call to all adoptive parents and professionals about the urgent issues adoptees and their parents face.”

Nancy Newton Verrier, attachment therapist and author

The Primal Wound and Coming Home to Self

A Marin County, California father embarks on a journey to understand what led his seventeen-year-old daughter, Casey, to take her life. He travels back to her abandonment at birth and adoption from a Polish orphanage. His search leads to a condition known as attachment disorder, an affliction common among children who have been abandoned, neglected or abused. It explained everything. The Girl Behind The Door integrates a tragic personal adoption story with information from the experts to teach other families what the Brookses learned too late.

Who should read it?

    Anyone with a connection to the adoption “triad.”
    Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.
    Anyone who cried through the movie Philomena.
    Anyone who knows us and wants to read our story.

Available now on Amazon in print and Kindle version. Soon to be released on the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble online, Sony Reader Store, Kobo and more.