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.

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?

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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.

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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!