UPCOMING RADIO EVENTS: MONDAY MAR 7 2-3PM KPFA-FM/94.1 AND MONDAY MAR 14 10-11AM KQED-FM/88.5.

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Please tune in for these upcoming radio events.

 

logoMonday Mar. 7 2-3PM on KPFA-FM/94.1 I will be interviewed about adoption and attachment along with internationally renowned adoption expert, therapist and author of the adoption bible, The Primal Wound, Nancy Newton Verrier, on the show “About Health” hosted by Rona Renner, RN. You can also LISTEN LIVE on KPFA.org or listen to the archived show.

 

KQED_logoMonday Mar. 14 10-11AM on KQED-FM/88.5 I will be on a panel discussion about survivors of suicide on the nationally syndicated “Forum,” hosted by Michael Krasny. You can also LISTEN LIVE on KQED.org or listen to the archived show.

 

STAY TUNED FOR MORE MEDIA AND SPEAKING EVENTS!

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REMINDER: Girl Behind The Door Author Event at Book Passage San Francisco Wed. Mar. 2nd at 6PM!

9781501128349Please join us for an author event for The Girl Behind The Door, published by Scribner, at Book Passage San Francisco in the Ferry Building on WEDNESDAY MAR. 2nd at 6PM

About The Girl Behind The Door:
Early on Jan. 29, 2008, Casey Brooks drove from her Tiburon home to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Why?
* Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award.
* Winner of the Kindle Award for Non-Fiction.
* Recommended as an Elaine’s Pick.
* Recommended as a Marin Magazine Local Page Turner.
* Featured in Books Inc’s non-fiction titles.

About Scribner:
A premier imprint of Simon & Schuster founded in 1846.

About Book Passage:
One of the Bay Area’s premier booksellers.
Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Sausalito, San Francisco Ferry Bldg. #42

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STAY TUNED FOR MORE EVENTS. ON MONDAY MAR. 7TH AT 2PM JOHN BROOKS AND ADOPTION SPECIALIST, NANCY NEWTON VERRIER, TO BE INTERVIEWED ON “ABOUT HEALTH” WITH RONA RENNER ON KPFA-FM.94.1.

Who’s The Hero?

top_ten_superheroes_image1How many adoptive parents, like me, have been told what heroes we are and how selfless we were to have adopted an orphaned child? How many of these same (well meaning) people have told us how lucky our children are for having been adopted by us?

I have.

Indeed there are many couples out there who truly are saints. They become foster parents and bring children into their families who otherwise might never have a home at all. They take on the challenge of raising children with severe difficulties and addictions, emotional and physical, that can bring chaos into their homes. And somehow they deal with it without any self-pity. For some, it’s a religious calling, and that’s fine. To me, these people are truly selfless; they are the real heroes.

If I were to look in the mirror and be brutally honest (and I have), my wife Erika and I would have never journeyed to Poland or submitted ourselves to the emotional roller coaster that led us to our daughter, Casey, the centerpiece of our lives, had we gotten pregnant. But we didn’t.

That’s a hard truth to swallow because I simply could never have imagined my life without my Casey, even as it ended tragically with her suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge at only 17. But had we gotten pregnant there would have been no Casey. I hate to admit this, but it’s true – she was plan B. And I can moralize and rationalize all I want but that’s the harsh truth.

I don’t consider myself a hero or selfless at all. Heck, Erika and I wanted to be parents! And if we couldn’t make a child we’d go find one. That’s the unvarnished truth, the truth we try to sugarcoat.

Was Casey lucky to have been adopted by us? Perhaps. After all, she lived a privileged life in Marin County, California, and was accepted at elite Bennington College in Vermont. But what I’ve learned about orphaned children is that that is often not nearly enough. They bare the scars of abandonment, and I don’t think any amount of love and material comforts can make up for that. Though Casey never took our repeated invitations to delve into her past, I often wonder if she’d ever thought “why did my mother give me up instead of my siblings” who, for all I know, lived with their grandparents in a cramped farmhouse in rural Poland.

We adoptive parents are well aware of the supply/demand dynamics in adoption. Adoptive parents far outnumber available healthy (and white) infants who are the most desirable. Though Casey was deemed “special needs” in 1991 and, thus, not of interest to many Polish couples, it turned out that she wasn’t a special needs child at all. If it wasn’t us, I’m quite certain that she would have ended up with another couple from the US, UK, Europe or Australia. As her father, that’s painful for me to imagine.

Now since Casey’s suicide, I’ve become a suicide advocate, speaking to groups (particular adolescents) about mental health issues with a group of teens, and we get a lot of kudos from people. But like adoption, I wouldn’t be giving these presentations either or fighting for a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge if I hadn’t lost my Casey. I’d be blissfully ignorant, living my old life. No the real heroes here are the teenage girls I work with who haven’t been scarred by loss; they simply participate in these presentations out of the goodness of their hearts. They are the real heroes.

So, no, I don’t feel like a hero, but I do feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad for 16 of her 17 years. I just do what I need to do to keep my precious daughter’s memory alive.

 

A Sobering Article on International Adoption

18adoption_ss-slide-I1HM-master1050This story made the cover of yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Magazine. It is a sobering account of the plight of Korean adopted children (now in or near adulthood) who had been adopted in a wave that extended throughout the 80’s and 90’s. It brings up a number of issues that may be difficult for adoptive parents to digest yet they are all so true. In many countries from Asia to Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and Latin America, culture, shame, economics and lack of support often thrust women into the gut wrenching decision to give up their children for adoption.

I remember when we adopted Casey from Poland in 1991, her mother was reported to have given instructions that she never be contacted. But now, 24 years later, I look back at those same instructions and wonder, did she really mean it? Did she sign a document only to regret it later? How could she not think about her daughter? This same logic applies to the Times article. It points out so many things that parralleled my own conclusions about adoption, all of the misconceptions and myths that I bought into. Simply removing them from an orphanage and loving them wasn’t enough, at least for us. But many adopted children do just fine.

The title of this story says it all to me: “Her Choice Was No Choice At All.” Precisely. In the adoption triad, we adoptive parents have choices, even if we find them difficult. Birth mothers also have choices, but they are all pretty much bad. Adopted children have no choices. They could be spirited away from an impoverished land and home to the lap of luxury in America, Europe or Australia, but they didn’t ask for it, so don’t be surprised if they don’t lay on the gratitude.

This article confirms a number of things I’ve learned that run completely counter to my belief system when we adopted Casey, but you have to put the child’s needs first.

  • You can’t simply paper over the complexities of an international adoption, especially where race is involved. We didn’t have the race issue as Casey was Polish and could easily pass for our daughter in the Safeway checkout line.
  • Open adoptions are healthier for the child even if they’re difficult for the parents.
  • Separating a child from her origin, race and culture can be damaging no matter how well intentioned the adoptive parents.
  • As such, maybe an international adoption should be seen as a last resort.

The bottom line is, put yourself in the child’s shoes. How would you feel if this was your life?

 

10 Painful Lessons I Learned Too Late As An Adoptive Father

blackboard_iStock_000016212764XSmallLately I’ve been stumbling across various blog postings about things people have learned about [fill in the blank], things they want you to know about [fill in the blank], things you wish you could say to [fill in the blank.] They come from adoptive families, adopted people and others within and outside the adoption triad. I mean no disrespect, but I thought I should add my own painful lessons learned too late about adoption since my precious daughter Casey’s suicide.

  1. Adoption is a very complex and, in some respects, unnatural arrangement between birth parents, adoptive parents and, most importantly, the adopted child in the middle. Consider this: the animal shelter waits weeks before it gives away a puppy but humans hand over children as early as birth. Unfortunately this is the best system we have for now to help children who need homes find them.
  1. All too often (but not always) raising adopted children can be extremely difficult, a constant tug of war. Just loving them enough may not be enough. The adoptive parents may have to accept that their family experience will be nothing like the Hallmark Moments of their own childhood. They may feel like they’re spilling blood for their adoptive family while getting little in return.
  1. Within the adoption triad, the adoptive parents have choices, whether they’re good or bad. The birth mother also has choices, but they are probably ALL bad. The adopted child has no choice. No matter how loving or lovely her new home and family are compared to where she came from, she didn’t ask for this.
  1. When adoptive parents receive their child – whether in the delivery room or from an orphanage – there is a natural inclination for a fresh start. Give her a new name, new fresh clothes and, hopefully, whitewash the past. That’s what we did all the while meaning the best for Casey. But consider keeping her birth name as that is her identity. Keep something with her from birth or the orphanage, even if it’s dirty or stinky. As one adoption therapist told me, “It’s in the child’s nature to cling to something.”
  1. An open adoption may be uncomfortable for the adoptive parents but may be in the best interests of the child. Like our daughter Casey, as she grows up she may deny any interest in her birth or birth family. But I’ve met many adopted adults who are almost universally obsessed with re-connecting, even if it’s painful. The birth mother may have asked to never be contacted, but how can we know that those instructions were genuine. At least have some channel available to your child if or when that need to re-connect emerges. How can a child NOT think about where they came from?
  1. Parenting an adopted child is completely counter-intuitive if you are to follow the professionals. Adopted children need to know that their new home is safe no matter how badly they act out. They need to know that their feelings are respected. Classic forms of discipline – like time ours and withholds – can backfire. Attachment parenting involves some parts discipline and structure but a much greater part helping the child self regulate her emotions. Remember she didn’t ask for this.
  1. You may find yourself in seemingly endless fights and power struggles as your child navigates through adolescence. Controlling her environment is often vital to an adopted child who came into this world with no control whatsoever. So prepare to lose a lot of power struggles.
  1. While many adopted children do just fine in their new world, there are many who need help beyond just devoted parents. As a group, adopted children are at a higher risk for a range of behaviors and disorders, from never-ending tantrums to self-harm and suicide. How could they not? So consider having your child assessed by a qualified professional early on. Many of their behaviors (like rages and tantrums) seem normal for a two year old, but not for a sixteen year old.
  1. If the adoptive parents decide to seek therapy, it is imperative that they find a professional qualified in adoption and attachment therapies. Oftentimes they are adoptive parents, birth parents or adoptees themselves, and are thus better equipped to gain the confidence of the child as they have lived that experience. They know what questions to ask and how to ask them. We had no idea such specialists existed, and thought that a high priced suburban “expert in troubled teens” was enough. That was a fatal mistake.
  1. A qualified professional should be able to provide a proper diagnosis of your child, and without a proper diagnosis she can’t be properly treated. The professional should distinguish between behaviors that suggest attachment disorder from ADHD, FAS, autism, Asperger’s, etc. Attachment disorder and “RAD” are too often casually tossed around when other illnesses may exist as well.

After reading these it may seem as though I’m anti adoption. Nothing could be further from the truth. Make no mistake, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad. After her death, I learned the painful way that just about everything I thought I knew about adoption was wrong. So I honor her by sharing with others what I’ve learned about adoption since her death. I want to do what I can to help other families avoid our tragic mistake.

John Brooks is a blogger and author of, The Girl Behind The Door, a memoir about his search for answers to his daughter Casey’s suicide. It is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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

 

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.

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