Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The "Trauma Survey"- Part 2

Hanging with my kiddos this evening
Merry Christmas!  Again, this is NOT a Christmas post.

I was grateful for the positive response from the first section of this survey. I was concerned that some people may have felt I over-shared.  However, many of the comments I received were expressing appreciation for a glimpse into the not-so-peachy side of an adoption story.  Here is the scatterbrained second half of the survey (you can read the introduction and the first part <here>)

The questions addressed in the first half were:
  1. How did you come to the decision of adopting the child?
  2. How old was the child when adopted?
  3. How old were your children?(if any) 
  4. Was there any trauma that came with the child? 
  5. How it affected your children?(if any)
  6. Were the biological parents easy to deal with?
  7. How long did the adoption process take?
  8. Coffee (milk) with Uncle Daniel
    after our Tae Kwon Do class

And the second half:
  1. Did you have to deal with any problems that the child had? Again, that is somewhat a redundant question. Since adoption is infused with loss from all angles, there are naturally “problems” that arise. In fact, that adoption exists in the first place means that “problems” existed. I’m not sure that “problems” is a good term. I think what you are asking is “What challenges did you need to overcome as you brought this child into your home?” If that is the question, then the answer is somewhat lengthy. Both our kiddos had intestinal issues as they came home. This is quite normal, since they had lived in a third-world orphanage most of their lives with limited access to clean water. In fact, while we were visiting the town where they were born, we were served coffee made from river water. This is not "gross" or a lapse in courtesy. It is quite normal and just how things are done there.  No one thinks twice about it. So, we had poop issues. In fact, by the time we arrived home, Anya was wearing her last pair of pants, since she had pooped through the rest of them. I scrubbed poop out of the airplane carpet, and off the airplane walls.  Besides poop, English was the third language the kids had
    been exposed to. They were not familiar with English words or sounds. When we met the kiddos, we were the first white people they had ever seen. Hours of screaming ensued. That was traumatizing in itself, for both them and us! The kiddos needed to adjust to our diet, and we needed to learn what foods would not negatively affect their systems. We learned that Anya is sensitive to dairy. Random things would scare the kiddos, and inconsistently. For example, a few times someone would walk into the house and Anya would cling to me and wail. These were people she knew and previously liked, but for whatever reason she was terrified of them that day. Not just fussy, but trembling with fear and unable to even look at them or release her vice grip on me. She has since overcome that and I still have no idea why it happened. For a while, we needed to be careful in groups.  It is natural for friends and family to pick up and touch and kiss a baby. However, while Philip and I know these people, my children do not. Even grandparents are initially complete strangers, and a kiss from a grandparent can make a child feel vulnerable and undermine the feeling of security that we work towards. 
  2. Did it take long for the child to feel accepted into your home?
    I’m not sure that “feeling accepted” is the issue as much as “feeling safe, secure, and belonging”. For my kiddos, there wasn’t any problem of acceptance. Our friends and family did a wonderful job opening their hearts to my small folks, and the kiddos never experienced any negative emotions from family and friends. I would say, though, that it took Jayce 6 months to really laugh after he came home. He was incredibly solemn for so long.  For Anya, we are just beginning to see her initiate affection towards me. Just a few weeks ago she asked for me to comfort her (a bumped head) instead of Philip. This is a HUGE step towards attaching and bonding with me. Showing a preference is healthy: everyone is not the same in her eyes. It was the first time she asked for me, even though her Daddy was available. Each adoption is different, and each family and story is different. We are blessed that we have not experienced many issues that could arise in similar situations.  Helping our children feel safe and secure is, and will continue to be, an ongoing and purposeful process.
  3. My daughter is beginning to learn to
    dress herself....  with varying measures
    of success
  4. What were/are the positives and negatives? The positives and negatives of adoption? Well, adoption is not for everyone. If someone sees adopted kiddos as somehow inferior or less ”real family” as a biological kiddo, then they should not do the disservice to a child in adopting them. Kiddos that have been adopted are just as much a part of a family as those kiddos born into it. An adoptive mama is just as much a real mama as one who has given birth. There is a LOT of negative perceptions and downright wrong information regarding adoption. Racism is alive and well, despite what people would tell you. BUT, while people might not feel ready to adopt, there is NO CHILD that is “ready” to be an orphan. EVERY child deserves a loving and safe home, no matter their background, disabilities or abilities, birthplace or status. So, adoption gives value to human life- something that I think is lacking in today’s culture. It is a picture of redemption and love: taking a child that is otherwise without hope and placing them into a family where there is hope and a future, and love and care. This is not based on the merits of the child, but on the love, choices, purpose and values of the parent. Every adoptive situation is tragic. The fact that a child needs to be adopted means that somewhere, somehow, tragedy happened. Part of the adoptive parent’s job is to help that child heal. That is a huge responsibility and an astounding blessing, to be used to influence such a precious creation. Adoption is a legitimate way to have a family, and is not inferior to birth. It is a fallacy to believe that adoptions happen as a “last choice” for couples to have children (i.e. “We can’t get pregnant so I guess we’ll have to adopt.”). This is often not the case at all. Adopted kiddos aren’t “lucky” to be in a loving family. The set of circumstances that got them adopted is, in fact, very “unucky”. So I am not sure how to address the “pros and cons” of adoption. I suppose part of it would depend on the value system of the parents. Adoption is not the “easy road” to a family. It’s not smooth sailing or a responsibility to be taken lightly. However, I firmly believe that it is not as unattainable as many people would believe it to be. There are MANY resources for adoptive parents, including parents whose children are having troubles working through their past. There are financial resources to help families (like scholarships at college), support groups for various challenges like learning delays or medical concerns. There are resources to help parents and children bond, therapists and counselors that are dedicated to helping adoptive families. 
I do apologize for the barrage of information, thoughts, and lack of structure.  Many of the questions raised a variety of multifaceted responses.  Hopefully I was able to bring various ideas to light that maybe non-adoptive families haven't processed before.  Parenting a child with adoption in their background does raise some issues that other parents don't need to consider.  However, with a good support group and adequate education, many families could adopt and add to/create their family.  Yes, my children's story is complex and often traumatic.  However, there is nothing more rewarding than watching them grow and mature and learn to feel safe and be happy.  It is a blessing to be a part of that process.

Feel free to ask other questions, and I'll answer them the best that I can!

Some other posts that relate:

Monday, December 21, 2015

The "Trauma Survey" - Part 1

Mama and Daddy in
the Christmas spirit
Merry Christmas! This is NOT a Christmas post.

A few weeks ago, a young friend contacted me about a project she was doing for her sociology class. The topic she chose was "trauma in adoption" and she was contacting various adoptive parents requesting their input. Her questions seem to reflect the general curiosity of folks not connected to adoption, so I thought I'd share her survey and my answers.

My friend's survey was relatively short, but I ended up writing a 6-page paper in response to it!  I can only write from my perspective, based on my own experiences and observations.  Not being a professional in this area, I can't speak to the scientific side of the topic. For your sanity's sake, I'll break this post in half and post the other half soon.

Adoption Survey 
At our friend's construction-themed party
  1. How did you come to the decision of adopting the child? It’s a long story, but we love other cultures and wanted to bring that into our home. There are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia, and as we researched the country and the history and culture of Ethiopia, we decided to pursue children from that country. The need is huge. Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations on earth, and it’s people and customs are so beautiful. 
  2. How old was the child when adopted? Jayce was 21 months and Anya was 15 months when we brought them home (at the same time). They are now 3 years 2 months, and 2 years 8 months old.
  3. How old were your children?(if any) I did not have any children at home when we brought home our two kiddos.
  4. Was there any trauma that came with the child? Adoption itself, by nature, is born of heartbreak, trauma, and great loss. There is always trauma in adoption. The question is, “how have my kiddos’ experiences shaped them into the people they are today? How have they been affected by the difficult circumstances they have had in life?"  Jayce was almost 6 months old when he was placed in the care of the orphanage. He had experienced a mother’s care until that time, and leaving the mama to whom he had bonded was very traumatic, as it should have been. He was placed in an orphanage where he didn't know anyone, didn’t know what was happening, no one and nothing was familiar. Jayce is wise beyond his years, and as he stayed in two very different orphanages, experienced at least 4 sets of caregivers (including us), 3 languages, and two cultures, he grieved each change and loss, and he hurt. My daughter was born at the orphanage. She didn’t know anything different than orphanage life until she came home with us. She also experienced many sets of caregivers and multiple languages, but transience and change was a part of life for her. It was more difficult for her to feel “permanent” in our home because she has never had a place of permanence before. It is more difficult for her to feel safe and secure and connected to us as parents because she has never been safe and connected before. Jayce, however, did have those experiences, and they were ripped from him. 
    Baby Girl playing with
    her auntie's scarf
  5. How it affected your children?(if any) Jayce had a more difficult time adjusting to home because he understood from past experiences that nothing was permanent, even the things that were supposed to be permanent. He grieved deeply, usually manifesting itself in hours of screaming, wails, and thrashing. Now, he has a more secure connection to us, and he acts like he feels pretty safe. Anya had an easier transition initially, since change was all she has ever known and the strong parent-child bond was never there for her. However, she continues to struggle to feel safe and attached to us, since developing those strong ties is a new concept for her. She has never done it before, and does not have the innate skills to develop those significant bonds. Often her struggles will manifest themselves in a lack of eye contact, unresponsiveness, and difficulty understanding that “mama and daddy” are different from other people-- we are not just more caregivers that will eventually be changed with new ones.
  6. Were the biological parents easy to deal with? “Dealing” with birth parents was not part of our adoption equation. I think a better question is “How did you feel about your interaction or lack thereof with any birth family?” I know this isn’t something people intuitively know how to
    My daughter being adorable in
    a hard hat and glasses
    phrase in a way that expresses their kind intent. Here’s the thing: I met my daughter’s birth mom. It was a privilege I will never forget. I never got to meet Jayce’s birth mom. I wish I could have. Both of those ladies have been through hell and they have my eternal respect for what they did on behalf of their kiddos. I know that in many situations and in many adoptions, birth family can be challenging, and it is a tough balance to weigh and decide what is best for the kiddo. Because of our international adoption, we did not have direct contact with birth family. In an adoption, there is a TON of pain and loss that the birth family experiences. Not just the birth mom, but all the members of the birth family experience loss. Part of respecting the birth-mother is acknowledging what she and her family have gone through. My time meeting with Anya’s birth mom was precious and priceless. The opportunity to share with Anya someday my memories of her first mama will be very special, and hopefully encouraging to her. I hope that what I know of both their birth families will help both of my kiddos work through some of the pain and loss they have experienced in their lives.
  7. Getting ready for the church
    Christmas program
  8. How long did the adoption process take? From the time we submitted our application to the agency until the time we brought the kiddos home was 4 years.  We received our referrals (matches with a child) a year before we were able to bring them home.  Most adoptions do not take this long, but because we were working with a third world government and all the uncertainties that brings, our process was more complicated and lengthy than it normally would have been. 

Questions in the next post:

Did you have to deal with any problems that the child had?
Did it take long for the child to feel accepted into your home?
What were/are the positives and negatives?

Feel free to ask other questions as this post unfolds, and I will answer them to the best of my ability.

Our whole family in costume by the manger