We Are Now Published In German by Beltz

A different book jacket and title that translates roughly into “The Car Is Parked At The Bridge. I Am Sorry. A Father’s Search For Answers To His Daughter’s Suicide.”

With over 80 million people, Germany is the largest country in Europe.

9783407864161

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.

Five What-To-Do’s When Adopting Your Child

For those of you who read this blog you know that our adoption experience ended tragically with our daughter, Casey’s, suicide in 2008. I chronicle the difficulties we had in raising her and the mysteries surrounding her sometimes-extreme behavior. Yet for all of the difficulties and heartache there was far more joy in being the father of this amazing child. I simply couldn’t have been luckier to have been Casey’s dad. I never had the slightest thought of “what if,” as in what if we’d had a biological child. Still, we were shrouded in ignorance and the results were catastrophic. In my as-yet-published book, The Girl Behind The Door, I share all of my lessons learned about how to do adoption right to minimize misfires in an imperfect system of creating a family.

Here are five what-to-dos in the initial phase of adopting your child. You could also call this, Five Things The Brookses did – Now Do The Opposite. One caveat here – these assume we live in an ideal adoption world, and this world is far from ideal.

couple-meeting-with-adoption-agencyBe skeptical about adoption agencies or intermediaries who sugarcoat the downside of adoption and parenting. Both sides come to this relationship with conflicts of interest that can skew judgment. In our case nothing was known about potential pitfalls with adopted children down the road, so we went in blissfully ignorant. Adoptive parents are aching for a child while adoption agencies are in the business of placing children with families. This is a noble cause, but it also risks being compromised by pairing the wrong children with the wrong families. I know ow difficult it is for adoptive parents to challenge the “gatekeepers” when they feel so vulnerable. Just prepare for a healthy dose of skepticism and ask about how best to prepare for parenting once your child is home.

Casey Photos 1991-96_0024Once your child has been identified, find out as much as you can about her family, medical history, behaviors, and personality. This is a “no duh” suggestion, but oftentimes reliable answers are elusive. They were for us. Could we have tried harder? We’ll never know. And of course by now once you’ve seen that first photo of your child you’re hopelessly in love. So there is a natural inclination to not rock the boat and blow the deal with too many nosy questions.

n1051794010_19775_9940If you meet your child at an orphanage scope it out, take photos and videos. Again, easier said than done. I remember how petrified we were at the orphanage in Poland. We could barely speak let alone have the presence of mind to ask intelligent questions, a fact complicated by the fact that we (or I) didn’t speak Polish. We just wanted to grab Casey and race away as quickly as possible. We were shown to a visitation room but never saw any other part of the orphanage, and we were too afraid to ask at the risk of insulting the staffers (or our lawyer) and blowing the deal. If I could’ve had a redo, I would’ve wanted to see where Casey slept – the room, her bed, her playthings, other children she may have interacted with. How did she sleep? Did she rock herself? How was her eating? How would she spend the day? I know, easier said than done, but we didn’t even know to do.

Casey Photos 1991-96_0042Very important and not so obvious: Ask to take something of hers with you from the orphanage – some clothes, pajamas (even if they’re smelly or dirty), a pillow, a stuffed animal. As an attachment specialist and adoptive mother told me at UC San Francisco Medical Center, “It’s a child’s instinct to cling.” Of course we knew none of that while we dressed Casey in new, clean American girly clothes. Up till the time she met us all she probably knew was about things being taken from her – no constancy. Adoptees need that familiar attachment to the only home they’d ever know.

Child-View1Once you’re home find a qualified adoption or attachment specialist. Get your child assessed. This is especially important where there are possibilities of exposure to mental health or substance abuse problems. As I’ve said repeatedly, not every adoptee develops attachment or other troubling behavioral issues, but best to chart a plan early on with the right professional. We never did. In fact, after Casey died (after being seen by a multitude of medical and mental health professionals), I visited my GP on an unrelated matter. When I told him what happened, the first thing he asked was, “Was she ever assessed?” And he wasn’t an adoption specialist.

Indeed, many of these to-do items are wish lists in a perfect world where information is freely available and forthcoming, but if you are at least armed with the right questions, you’re far better off than we were back in the darker ages of adoption.

Adoption and Orphan Care in Poland – Part 2 of 2

First of all, happy Father’s Day to all. It is one of those “family” holidays I’ve avoided since losing my Casey. But I’m slowly emerging from the darkness, so that I can at least tolerate it. Life marches on, n’est pas?

warsaw-greenspace

Now to Poland. I’ll start with a little travelogue because I’ve become fascinated with the country of my daughter’s birth. It is roughly the size and population of the State of California. It’s capital, Warsaw, sits at a latitude above Vancouver, Edmonton, Paris, London and Berlin, but south of Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Moscow. When we were there in 1991, it was suffering through a grueling transition from communism to capitalism, where the cost of living was roughly at parity with the West yet wages were stuck in the East. It was not a pretty picture.

Fast forward to 2013. Unemployment remains high at about 10%. It plans to join the Eurozone but still uses the Złoty. While much of Europe is mired in recession, Poland is growing, albeit modestly and, fortunately, it’s debt to GDP is a fairly benign 50%. So I’m rooting for Poland!

Onto orphan care. Some-of-Polands-thousands-of-war-orphans-at-the-Catholic-Orphanage-in-Lublin-on-September-11-1946-where-they-are-being-cared-for-by-the-Polish-Red-Cross.-Most-of-the-clothing-as-well-as-vitamins-and-medicines-are-provided-650x462After WWII, Poland was demolished and left with an estimated one million war orphans who made their way into the state Dom Dziecka system. Dom Dziecka (the c is soft) means “Children’s Home.” That’s where Casey ended up.

In the course of writing my book, I connected with a couple in Poland – Vic, a South African, and his Polish wife, a social worker named Joanna – who gave me an illuminating view of orphanage care in Poland. They run a charity called Agape-Trust.org. I encourage you to check them out.

z11714463Q,Dom-dziecka

As we found in Mrągowo, the children’s basic needs were met – feeding, diapering and so on – but emotional needs were sorely lacking. In Casey’s orphanage I estimated that the orphan to caregiver ratio was roughly 10:1, not uncommon. What blew my mind, according to Vic, was that caregivers were trained NOT to bond with the children, even to the point of holding them face-away. It was considered unprofessional, much like a therapist-patient relationship. To make matters worse, as many as two thirds of the children in Casey’s orphanage were handicapped, so the caregivers’ top priority was protecting them from hurting themselves. The quiet ones, like Casey, were left on their own.

This system is changing, much like it did in the U.S. after WWII. Now with an estimated 25,000 orphans, the Dom Dzieckas are being phased out in favor of foster homes – smaller living units with better opportunities to form healthier relationships with caregivers. Foreign adoptions remain highly discouraged. Vic wrote to me recently about their work, something I always find fascinating. Here is his latest email.

We have registered our Polish charity, the Fundacja Dzieci w Rodzinie (Children in Families). We have been granted EU funds to run a series of workshops called “Creative Parents, creative Children.” This is aimed at disadvantaged families to help parents (mostly mothers) to broaden their vision and build self esteem.

Our focus is now on helping families in this area to prevent children ending up in the orphanage system. We still keep on with meetings for the orphanage children on Sunday afternoon/evening. Some of these children/teens will be the next generation of dysfunctional families. A few of the girls come out of the system already pregnant, and many are pregnant soon after leaving the system.

Unfortunately, young sociopath men have pathological radar that senses these vulnerable young women, and they have such low self esteem that they accept being abused. Even women with a good self esteem can be broken down if they are isolated from their family and friends by their abuser. These young women have no family worth that name and lack friends outside their depressive environment.

Lack of attachment is the primary reason we cannot connect properly with many of these children. Reading on your new website I found it very insightful the difference between bonding and attaching. We are hoping that we will be able to help some of these children, teens, and young adults about attachment with the help of animals.

We were given a couple of goats and bought a couple more. None of these goats were used to people. I tried to connect with these goats as an exercise by, as it turned out, attaching as opposed to bonding. It was done on the goats’ terms. It worked great, but of course these goats had been attached to their mothers, so I was building on something that was there already.

Well, we will see how this develops.

Good luck on finding a publisher. We will be praying for you.

Best regards,

Vic      

God bless you Vic and Joanna!

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.”