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.

“I Hate Adoption” From The Blog Those Sweet Bare Feet

dads-053I don’t remember where I found this blog post “I Hate Adoption” but the title must’ve caught my eye. What did the writer hate about adoption? The writer, “sistertoten” posted on her blog Those Sweet Bare Feet about her experience as an adopted child whose family swelled with many more adopted children. Adopted or not, in my opinion, her parents were either saints, masochists or both. Come on, readers, having a dozen kids under one roof?

I share it here because it is a very raw and honest experience about adoption and what it really means to the children, warts and all. To this day there are adoption magazines that post only the good stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Children are incredibly resilient and can overcome almost insurmountable odds. But many can’t. I speak to them.

Attachment Disorder Or RAD?

angry-kidsI’ve learned over time that in adoption circles some people describe the sometimes unusual and extreme behaviors seen in orphaned and abused children as “attachment disorder” while others label it “RAD” (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) What’s the difference and who’s right?

If Wikipedia is any help, it defines attachment disorder as follows:

“A broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between 6 months and three years of age, frequent change or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts resulting in a lack of basic trust. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder.”

Wikipedia describes reactive attachment disorder (RAD) as follows:

“It is described in clinical literature as a severe and relatively uncommon disorder that can affect children. RAD is characterized by markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially in most contexts. It can take the form of a persistent failure to initiate or respond to most social interactions in a developmentally appropriate way—known as the “inhibited form”—or can present itself as indiscriminate sociability, such as excessive familiarity with relative strangers—known as the “disinhibited form”. The term is used in both the World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems and in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

My reading of both terms as a layman is that they are interchangeable, saying essentially the same thing. The difference is that RAD is the official term used by professionals featured in medical journals. So in that sense, those using RAD are probably technically correct. The problem I have with this is that too often RAD is used as a pronoun, as in “my RAD” or “my RADie” and other variations thereof, as opposed to “my child.” I cringe at these references.

I realize that many exasperated adoptive parents at their wits end need anonymous places to go online and rant. I wish I’d known of such places when I was an adoptive parent. Trust me, I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I slapped (or tried slapping) my teenage daughter Casey for her attitude and language; she could hardly complete a sentence without the s-word or f-word. Of course now that Casey’s passed, these are things my wife Erika and I laugh about. How trivial in the grand scheme of things.

But when RAD becomes a pronoun, even anonymously, it seems to further stigmatize a child who is already stigmatized. One’s child is no longer a child, but a thing. Why encourage this type of thinking?

The broader issue, as I’ve learned from attachment experts, is that both attachment disorder and RAD are overused as convenient labels for behavioral problems that are far more complex. The experts are quick to note that there are multiple factors that play into an orphaned child’s behavior that can’t be diagnosed due to the lack of information about birth families – fetal alcohol syndrome, substance abuse and a wide range of mental health issues from depression to bi-polar to schizophrenia. So when I speak about attachment I’ve learned to use the much broader term “attachment issues” rather than attachment disorder or RAD.

I just hate to stigmatize children for behaviors – as irritating as they are – from experiences that they never asked for.

Join Me For My Next Author Event, San Rafael Downtown Public Library Wed Dec 17 @ 6:30P!

Dear Friends and Neighbors – The San Rafael Public Library – Downtown Branch – has been kind enough to invite me to speak and read from my book on Wed Dec 17 from 6:30P-7:30P. My first event went super well and I have more planned and hoped for in Tiburon (Mar 2) and Mill Valley and San Francisco (TBD).

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Check Out This Blog – Portrait Of An Adoption

blog-71-128Portrait Of An Adoption is a wonderful blog produced by Carrie Goldman, who lives with her family in the Chicago area. Her blog aims to raise awareness about adoption by chronicling a wide range of adoption stories and books, especially now given that November is National Adoption Month. Carrie is the author of the multiple award-winning book Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. She is also a co-founder of the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition, and she also runs Team Bullied. These are such important issues affecting our children in today’s cyber world.

Today Portrait Of An Adoption featured Casey’s story, titled I Want Someone To Fix Me: The Agony Of Attachment Disorder. I’m very grateful to Carrie for sharing Casey’s story with her followers.

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.

The Preemie

Last week I wrote about Twinless Twins. Casey was a Twinless Twin but she never knew it. Her sister was stillborn and we never told her out of fear it would freak her out. But that wasn’t her only challenge when she came into this world on May 3, 1990. She wasn’t ready. Her mother went into labor six weeks early – week thirty. Casey’s birth weight was only three pounds.

This is what a three-pound preemie looks like, her hand not much bigger than an adult thumb.

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But don’t worry. This little girl’s doing fine. Here she is at seventeen months.

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Casey probably went straight from the delivery room to an incubator, where she likely spent much of the next two months before she was sent to the orphanage in Mragowo. Who even knows if her mother ever held her?

When my wife and I learned about Casey’s premature birth, we tried to learn everything we could, a task made difficult by the fact that this was 1991; we couldn’t just Google “preemie.” We were years away from a home computer. So we consulted an old high school friend who was a neonatal intensive care nurse.

The long-term effects of a premature birth were terrifying: learning disabilities, vision and hearing problems, digestive and respiratory problems and cerebral palsy, among other things. And what we first learned about Casey at ten months did nothing to ease our concerns – she couldn’t sit up, stand, crawl, feed herself or do much of anything. Some people (who shall remain nameless) seeking to protect us, urged us to back away. But we couldn’t.

We assumed there was a good chance she might have had CP. Best case scenario? She’d probably have developmental delays, learning disabilities or frail health. She might’ve been the smallest kid in the class. As concerned as we were for Casey’s future we’d already fallen in love with her, and then we saw her first image (at ten months).

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We couldn’t get to Poland fast enough.

The bigger picture never dawned on us, and the doctors we consulted never brought it up – an unwanted pregnancy, traumatic birth, a dead twin, life devoid of human touch for two months followed by limited human contact in an institution for a year. That was Casey’s life before we even met her, but we brushed this off. Just love her enough and everything would be fine.

The fact that Casey defied those odds to become the incredible human being that she did is either a testimony to her amazing willpower or to the basic survival instincts of children faced with impossible odds.

The Twinless Twin

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I first heard this term mentioned today by someone who commented on a post I made to the ACEs Too High blog. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this site and its companion, ACEs Connection, I’d encourage you to visit. It’s a great resource for those of us trying to make sense of childhood trauma, whether it was abuse or neglect, while seeking support from kindred seekers.

Casey was a twinless twin. We were wide open with her about everything we knew, but we never told her about her twin sister who was stillborn for fear it would freak her out. We planned on telling her when she was “old enough” to handle it. At what age that might have been I can only guess. Olsen-Twins-mary-kate-and-ashley-olsen-17173254-1280-1651

After her death, and armed with the knowledge I gained from the experts about early childhood trauma, I spent a lot of time trying to imagine her experience of living in the womb with a kindred spirit and then being separated forever. Did her sister die in utero or at birth? Casey was born first, her sister second, dead. That’s all I know. Her t

herapists never followed up on this crucial bit of information. Yet when I connected with a Bay Area adoption therapist and shared this with her, I asked, “Do you think Casey knew about her twin?”

The answer was, of course, “Yes, on some level.”

Here is the comment from my post. It’s very illuminating.

Many people do not realize that the loss of a twin, even in utero or at birth, leaves the surviving twin with a profound sense of loss that is inexplicable to anyone not born of multiple birth. There is a bond that forms between twins and higher order children like triplets that is unique to children of multiple births and starts in the womb.

The tantrums, the crying jags, the defiance, a sense of isolation are all common to twinless twins, regardless of the age they lost their twins. I think that this more primal loss was the real factor in Casey’s pain and what eventually led to her death. Many twins, who lose their twins at an older age, turn to suicide because they cannot take the separation from their twin.

This is something that you may not have heard of or understood. I think it is important though, given Casey’s background.

Wow. That blew my mind.

There is even a support group for twinless twins, called Twinless Twins Support Group International. It was founded by Dr. Raymond Brandt, who lost his identical twin at the age of 20. The group exists to support and help twins who lost their twin, either through death, adoption, separation or estrangement. Their website is http://www.twinlesstwins.org.

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“Letters From The Unloved”

bigstock-close-up-of-a-thermometer-with-20825984Greetings from sizzling Northern California! We must be on the northern edge of the heat wave that has gripped the Southwest over the past week. We don’t have air conditioning but rarely have spells like this, and to make matters worse we’re in a temporary rental during a home construction project. So I’ve watched as the outdoor thermometer read 100+ and indoors 85. I never thought of 85 indoors as tolerable!

I wanted to share this post from another blogger, Jane Stevens, of ACEstoohigh.com. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. She writes about the effects of early trauma in children. It isn’t specifically dedicated to adoptees – trauma could come from abuse or neglect by biological parents – but the adoptee experience fits squarely into the childhood trauma spectrum.

“Letters from the Unloved” reveals the lives of troubled teens, young adults

lettersThey’re short; they’re long. Some are poems. They’re all sad. Teens living through serious adversity because of interactions with their own troubled parents, and young adults struggling with memories as they live out the consequences of a troubled childhood. It’s a window into the lives of families that need or needed help. These are stories that are all too familiar to teachers, counselors, and social workers.The letters are among hundreds sent over 10 years from teens and young adults around the world to two sites: EQI.org (“a place where you can find useful, practical and important information about emotions and life”) and WhatDepresses.Me. Steve Hein, who runs EQI.org, says that he and the woman who manages WhatDepresses.Me (and who prefers to not be named in this post — here’s her story)  obtained permissions when they could. If the email addresses weren’t valid when they tried to contact the authors and the letters were from people under 18 years old, they changed details to protect the identities of the authors.Here are excerpts from a few of the letters:Things my mother has said to me…

– I wish I’d never given birth to you

– You’re not my daughter, no daughter of mine acts like this

– I’m everything, you’r (sic) nothing

– Anyone that cuts themselves should be locked up in a mental institution

– Piss off and never come back

Is cutting really a bad thing?

It doesn’t seem like it to me. You’re not killing yourself, only marking up your body. I’m careful that I don’t bleed to death even. But it feels good. Like it’s some release that helps me through the day. 

I was sexually abused by an uncle

I’m no teenager anymore, I’m 21, but I cut myself (do

lots of self-harm) since I’m 12 or 13. My scars, I can’t tell you how many I have so far… But my wrists, my chest and the top of my legs are all very very taken by them. 

I was sexually abused by an uncle when I was 10 or 11… maybe this was the very beginning of all this… My parents didn’t believed (sic) me and… forced me to live together with my uncle (who sexually abused me) since then. I felt guilty of what happened, I thought it was my fault. That he would never had done that if I were “normal”. 

I wanted my mom to die so I can be free

…I’m 16 years old….when I was five years old, my mom punched me in the stomach. I don’t remember all the reasons why but I began to dislike my mom a lot after that…She had beat me during my 7th grade year…once again the school called Child services on her. But Child services never did anything…and the abuse continued so I stopped talking.

My mom is a single mother with four kids. She’s a nurse and highly stressed all the time. And I understand that but she deals with it the wrong ways. By calling us bitches, ungrateful motherfuckers, stupid, assholes, we’re all mistakes, we don’t deserve shit etc etc. 

Now I’m 16 soon to be a mother because I felt that it would be the only sure way I could leave this place. I also believed it would help me focus better. I would no longer have to be responsible for my siblings or anything having to do with my mom. Four weeks ago, I left home because mom put me out. 

…My mom believes I got pregnant to hurt her. To her, hurting her is my main goal in life. Honestly now, I don’t give a shit about her….I don’t wanna become like her. She’s not happy and doesn’t want anyone else to be.

You can download a PDF of the 79-page book at eqi.org or from WhatDepresses.Me for a donation, or order a print copy from lulu.com. Hein says if someone cannot afford a donation, then he’ll email that person a PDF.

Six Ways That The Adoption System Fails Our Children

In my search for answers to Casey’s life and death, a sad irony began to reveal itself – an adoption chain that fails these children miserably despite the best of intentions!

Here’s how.

1. Adoption agencies don’t warn adoptive parents that institutionalized children may have severe behavioral problems, no matter how normal they seem or how quickly they catch up.

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2. Orphanage caregivers obey instructions to stay emotionally distant from the children.

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3. Adoptive parents, particularly those in foreign countries with limited fluency in the language and legal system, don’t ask questions for fear they will lose the child.

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4. Friends and family are too quick to tell concerned parents what they want to hear, that the tantrums and lack of affection are normal, a stage.

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5. Mental health experts, partly out of ignorance but sometimes out of professional arrogance, mis-diagnose, lecture, fail to connect, ignore the elephant in the room (adoption) and may leave the child feeling even worse about herself, maybe even blaming her for not cooperating.

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6. Government agencies erect Chinese walls between the child and the birth parents out of concern for privacy, believing that it’s better for all concerned not to know.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. Somehow this adoption system needs to change and, in some respects, it is. I’ll talk more about this in future blog posts.