A Word From Our Sponsor…

I haven’t posted in a while. I have been writing. I have not been sharing what I write. I have been contemplating why I share my writing here. After taking a break, I have found an answer that I am willing to sit with for now. I write because it helps me clarify my thoughts. I share because I do not want to be alone.

To sponsor something is  to support an event, activity, person, or organization financially or through the provision of products or services. My writing is my product . I am supporting my sanity. It sounds overly dramatic. Living in a place/space where the word “normal” has no meaning makes it easy to lose sight of the road you travel on. We are in the middle of change. The girls have each faced their own challenges… challenges made more difficult because change in its self is difficult for them.

 

GB is in a new class. The old class wasn’t working and was beyond what I could fix. Even though there was only eight students sharing the teacher and the two aides, the teacher was unwilling to have her working at her speed. While I was trying to determine why this class was no longer working for GB, I found out that in the two and a half years GB was there, the end of the year reading scores were not data based. It was the teacher’s best guess. Since GB’s IEP was based on this information, her IEP did not satisfy legal requirements. The school is anxious to meet GB’s needs anyway they can. I have not yet figured out what I want them to do. The class GB is currently in is larger, with thirteen other students. On the plus side, four of the students are girls and GB is developing a nice friendship with one of them. Her anxiety level is subsiding. Most days she is relaxed and happy. The downside of this class is its academic level. None of the students are close to functioning on grade level. Right now, GB needs what this class has to offer socially and emotionally. It is not a long term solution. I plan on leaving her there for the rest of the school year, so I have time to look for something more permanent.

Hope has not had a good month. She has taken the physically aggressive rages into the school. She bit one of the classroom aides. The spike in unacceptable behavior was accompanied by Hope feeling sad for the first time. This is a huge development. Hope has a new therapist. Besides working with Hope, she is helping us develop a treatment plan. She also insisted on us defining where the line was that would put Hope in an RTC. She reasoned that by defining it a head of time we would avoid making a rushed decision in a crisis. Hope’s treatment plan is still being constructed. We are working to keep everyone safe while Hope tries to deal with her very difficult feelings.

There is a lot more to share, but there is time. Nothing needs to be rushed. I wanted to end on a good note, so I am closing with this picture: GB’s favorite activity in her new class is learning to play the recorder. “Hot Cross Buns” never sounded so good.

GB practicing the recorder.

GB practicing the recorder.

 

 

 

When Adoption Doesn’t Work

MendedNobody goes into adoption with the thought “What if this doesn’t work”. Nobody. I have been quiet here because I have been busy thinking. There was a minor brouhaha at another adoption blog. The blogger is in a tough spot and I would not personally have the gonads or the presumption to tell her what the right thing to do was. Apparently, there were enough people who put their opinions out there. There were the “protect your *real* children” crowd, which were inevitably followed by the “all the children are *real*  children crowd. Last I looked, the *real* issue is safety– no more, no less.

Her situation really wasn’t out of the ordinary. She had adopted an older child, a teenager. The child had mental health and behavior issues. When you adopt an older child, that is what you have to deal with. This lady, in particular, had the added weight of being days away from delivering a child and having her husband walk out on her. She was physically unable to keep her teen, younger child, herself, or a new born safe. Families do not work when the parent(s) can not keep everybody safe. It is not a matter of choosing one child over another because of their *realness*.

Serious mental illness is more common  in adopted children, but biological children are not immune either. The mental health resources in this country are scarce and insufficient to meet the needs of the people, including children, who need them. Families who are fortunate enough to have their own resources to use can keep their families together by such over the top measures  as renting two apartments or buying a second house. For most people, that kind of solution is out of reach.

I have more than a few friends who have had to disrupt an adoption. Like the vast majority of adoption that don’t work, mental illness and traumatic experiences were part of the child’s experience before they were adopted.

The parents have used every resource they found- social workers, therapists, medication- read every book, tried every method and hit the same wall- nothing they do keeps their child safe. Disruption or dissolution of an adoption is never easy or pain free. These people have poured more of themselves into their child to make the adoption work then any outsider could imagine. They freely give of their resources; emotional, financial and physical. When their adoption fails, the pain and guilt stays around for a long time- sometimes forever.

The real solution to the disruption/dissolution dilemma is to fix the underlying problem. This country has outstanding medical services. It is time we had mental health services to match.

 

No Answers

Another tragedy. Another shooting. Still no gun control. Still unwilling to fund necessary mental health treatment.

Politicians insisting on protecting unborn fetuses, while refusing to commit to caring for these children after they have taken their first breath.

Having several adopted children with RAD or the adult version of Borderline Personality Disorder, yet not having community support or even a consensus of what treatment will help.

My youngest is still struggling every single day. I did not take her from her mother. I did not cause the damage that torments her. I try to make a difference and then hear RAD is just an excuse to abuse children.

I have no answers. Do you?

Tower of Babel

We have all the support we can get for Hope. There are six professionals- one shrink, 2 therapists, 3 workers- and none of them agree on how to help Hope, much less on what the next step should be. I interact with each of these people and I am unable to keep who said what straight. I have tried to pin them down via email summaries, but two of them flat out refuse to do emails.

Hope has still not been alone with me since the end of August. I have not been attacked. Most people are thrilled at this huge progress. It doesn’t excite me. I AM happy my body is healing and I have been able to have some mother-daughter interactions with her. But the core problem is there. Nobody has even tried to work on Hope’s physical aggression. One worker hands her ultimatums, another worker reasons with her,and the third worker believes that at almost seven, Hope is too young to deal with these issues and I have to work on letting what happens on one day flow through me and start fresh the next day.

I am close to overwhelmed again. I see my own therapist tomorrow.

Hair?

With all of Hope’s difficulties at home and school, I was totally caught by surprise this weekend. A black friend who provided respite this weekend took one look at Hope’s hair and said,”She can’t go out in public like that!”. I was speechless. Joe has a nasty bite on his hand, I have 2 emails and a phone call from the school just in the first four days and I should care about her hair?

Hope had her hair braided today. She looks cute. She has never left braids in for more than 3 days and she won’t let me touch her hair.

I am sure it is cultural. I will make it a point to ask other friends who are black. With Hope’s current problems, I didn’t think hair was on the radar screen.

World FASD Awareness Day

Today is World FASD Awareness Day. My granddaughter/ adopted daughter has FAS. She is loving, joyful, and the hardest worker I know. It is so difficult to watch her struggle and know the brain damage that causes her struggles was 100% preventable. Her birth mother choose to binge drink throughout her pregnancy. GB and I went out to lunch today and talked about World FASD Awareness Day. We talked about the woman we know who are pregnant. She asked if she could write in my blog and post on Face Book. This is what she wanted to say:

Please all pregnant mothers: take care of your unborn babies. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t smoke. Eat healthy food. I wish my birth mother had.

GB is awesome despite the struggles prenatal alcohol exposure caused. I hope, someday, FASD is a thing of the past.

To Those Who Want to Adopt

*** Disclaimer- most of this post is from my experience. The parts that are factual have still been filtered through my point of view***

Adoption is a great way to build a family. I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, it is not the same as adding to a family by the usual making a baby route. There are similarities, but the differences can’t be ignored. There are many ways to adopt.

When thinking of  adoption, many people think of adopting healthy newborns. People trying to adopt healthy newborn usually can’t conceive and/or carry a baby themselves. It takes a lot of work, time and money to adopt a healthy new born. Some people operate under the illusion that they have control and know what they are getting. It is an illusion. Sometimes, adoption results in the child that was expected. Sometimes it doesn’t. I adopted two healthy infants. Over twenty years later, I can tell you that Bipolar and FASD is part of who they are. We ended up in Holland, not Italy.  Control is always something of an illusion, even when giving birth. Once that egg is fertilized by Mr. Sperm, there are things out of your control. Of course, you will eat right, get prenatal care, give up smoking, refrain from alcohol, and avoid sick kids. But even with all that, you may not end up with a neurotypical child. Life does not come with guarantees. The odds are probably more in your favor, but I know a lots of people who conceived and expected healthy babies and ended up with kids with special needs- from mild to profound.

People who adopt special needs newborns usually have a good idea of what they are getting into. Few know it all. When adopting a child who is not a new born, you adopt all the experiences they have had and all the experiences they missed. It is a package deal. When I was 23 and started out on this journey, I was convinced love was all that mattered. It could overcome anything. Adoption can’t work without love, but there is so much more needed.

Genetics is important. It can not be changed. Your child’s prenatal experiences are theirs’ forever. No matter how many times GB tells me she wants to grow in my belly for nine months, I can’t make it happen. The limits of their intelligence is already set. No matter how many books I read to MK over her childhood, she does not have the capabilities to do college level work. Your child’s genetics determine their skin tone, hair texture, and facial features. By themselves, these things mean nothing. But in this place, at this time, it determines, at least initially, how society reacts to them. Since they are now part of your family, you will need to deal with racism on a regular basis, be it institutional, unconscious, or blatant racism. When I chose to be an interracial family, I was young and naive. My parents were very careful not to pass their biases onto my siblings and I. We grew up with little exposure to anything other than white, upper middle class kids. Yet current events, the civil rights movements, the Kennedys, and Watergate were all dinner table topics. Equal Rights, in the abstract, were considered God given. We had close relatives who were bigots, but whenever their bigotry was expressed, they were called out on it and we were told they were wrong and ignorant. Still, when my first baby was biracial, the shock was apparent in both my parents facial expression and tone of voice. J was their first grandchild and he won my mother over quickly. My father took about 13 years longer, but it happened. My husband’s parents kept waiting for my black children and I to disappear. They missed out on having a real relationship with any of them.

It is difficult for white parents to recognize when racism is at work and when it is (mostly) other factors. When MK came home from a friends birthday party in third grade, upset because the friends mother had said she was the wrong color and they couldn’t be friends anymore, I was so taken by surprise, it was difficult to come up with a useful response. Once I digested this incidence, I decided that racism needed to be an open, continuous conversation between our family and schools, sports teams, and neighbors. It still is. One of the reason’s we changed GB’s school was because it was the same school my kids went and racism was still a much larger player at that school than at any of the other district schools. I also realized how unfair it was to my kids to always be the minority. Joel did not have another child of color in his grade (85+ kids) until he went to junior high. Joel and I joined a black church, with a strong youth program,  were he fit in and I was the only white person. Several months later, the whole family switched. Some of the people I met at this time are still close friends.

Even if you chose not to go the interracial route, adopted children are estimated to have Bipolar Disorder as an adult at ten times the rate of non-adopted adults. Bipolar Disorder has a strong genetic component. If you adopt internationally, especially from some parts of Russia, fifty to seventy percent of the children have FASD. Any adoption from an orphanage raises  the risk of an attachment disorder. The worse the orphanage, the higher the risk. But truthfully, in any adoption, you can’t assume you have all the information you need or even that the information you have is accurate. The paperwork on my J said he was born to two white parents. Neither parent had a history of Bipolar Disorder. As far as I was ever able to figure out, if the information wasn’t known, it was made up. I know it happens that way in some foreign countries. A close friend adopted a three year old from South America. He had the usual attachment problems. When he seemed to hit puberty at the very early age of ten, bone scans  revealed that he was almost 13. My friend lost family connections, her church, and her social life while she and her husband fought to get their son what he needed.

It is not unusual to lose the support of family and friends when a child you adopted unexpectedly has special needs. Most of the time, inexperienced people, whether they say it out loud or not, are thinking that if THEY had that kid, the kid would be fine in no time. What YOU are doing is wrong and the cause of the problems. If you depend on your family’s, church’s or friend’s approval, you should reconsider adopting. If you are uncomfortable being out of the mainstream, you should reconsider adopting.

Most of all, if you are uncomfortable with change, take time consider whether you really want to adopt. Every child you adopt changes you in ways that are unpredictable. Your days are full of surprises. They bring out talents you never knew you had, hurts that you had buried deeply within yourself, strengths you were unaware of, and sort out the chaff from the grain in your relationships with other people. None of this is comfortable. It is very lonely at times. If you can do it, it can be very rewarding. I love my kids and am grateful for everyone of them. I can still imagine my life without Hope. It has only been a year. All adoptions take time to forge connections. With older child adoptions, connections take more time. The more trauma involved, the more time the connections take. One day, I will realize I can’t imagine living without Hope. When it comes, that day will take me by surprise. I will have changed without realizing it.

A Child’s Future: Determined by Economics

Foster Abba, over at The Final Maze has been writing thought provoking posts on the cost of special needs adoption. They have been banging around my head, but nothing jelled until a friend made the comment that the services her RADling needed were available in her town. So why isn’t the child receiving them? Their state medicaid won’t pay for them and they can not pay out of pocket.

GB is getting exactly what she needs from the school district. Our school district is better than most local school districts, but the real reason GB is getting what she needs is that we could afford a lawyer, and paid her almost seven thousand of dollars. Until three months ago, all of GB’s psychiatric care was paid out of pocket because nobody competent accepted ANY kind of insurance. Thousands of dollars. I don’t know exactly how much because I didn’t want to know and am fortunate enough to be in a position that the money was available. We recently switched the girls to a provider who accepts our insurance. She wasn’t taking new patients, but with finesse (yes, me), persistence, and a little outside help, we eventually got them in. It only took seven months. She has just the right experience and I am thrilled. Until this morning, I hadn’t given the fact that the provider she belongs to doesn’t accept medicaid. GB’s medicaid waiver was approved last week. I applied now so that as an adult she would be eligible for all the DDSO services. Now, she could receive pca and respite hours and  social groups. Even without the medicaid, GB would have these services. I want DDSO services for when I am no longer here to take care of her.

Where am I going with this? The way the system works now, a special needs child may be looking at two very different outcomes for their life, depending on how much money their adoptive family has to pay for private services. That is wrong on so many levels. Society is responsible for these children and when they take on this responsibility, they we take on the obligation to do it right.

I wrote this from the perspective of an adoptive parent. I haven’t been a foster parent for many years, but as I reread what I wrote, the argument holds up for foster children as well. If we take a child from their biological family, we take on the responsibility  and obligation to do it right.

Economics should never determine a child’s future. Society has an obligation to provide what each child needs.

Love isn’t always enough…

My little RADish, Hope, is currently holding her own. Not doing well, but she can be contained within our structure. As of this moment. Until something changes.

I have many friends  who have/are doing their best to raise deeply traumatized children. All give all their love, all try many types of professional help.  This week has been a long week for many of them and they have struggled with decisions no parent should ever have to consider. Psychiatric hospitalizations, RTCs, even dissolutions.

If you have a friend IRL struggling with a RADish, have compassion. If you read a blog and someone seems on overload, suspend judgement. No matter who they are, nobody goes into adoption expecting failure.

Support, pray, love these people. They are trying to do an impossible job, and do it well. They have my admiration.

If You’re Thinking of Adopting…

If You’re Thinking of Adopting… this post is for you. A long time ago, my husband and I started fostering emotionally disturbed teen age boys. We dealt with guns, stolen cars, truancy, pot growing in underwear draws, and kids that set fires. Every time  the police knocked on the door and I answered, they always started with “I am so sorry to bother you, but (whoever) seems to have done (whatever). I always felt so bad for the nice policemen, who would really rather be anyway else but at my door. After  four years of dealing with the kids that our local RTC couldn’t deal with, I figured I could handle anything adoption threw my way. So did the social workers. I was wrong. The social workers were wrong, too, but they never seemed to notice.

J was born Bipolar, probably genetics activated by prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs. Back then, Bipolar wasn’t even considered. He also had a neurological processing disorder that they couldn’t pinpoint,  although they could and did 20 years later. No matter where I turned everybody told me how bright he was and how his problems were because of whatever I was doing wrong. They never could tell me what it was I needed to change. He was also biracial in a white world. It had not occurred to me how much of an issue it still was in this country, so people flinging hate at him pierced my heart. I had not developed protection from the hate.

Even church, which had always been my sanctuary, added to the problems. They were good people, but blind to the biases and hatred that was  buried deep in their souls. For the first twenty years I pretty much soloed. My husband was busy earning a living and he had been brought up to believe if you ignore problems and refuse to acknowledge them, eventually they would go away. Mental illness scared him. Confronting people about how they treated our children wasn’t his style. Medication would be admitting something was wrong. He had never learned to control his temper, so all the kids did better and it was easier for me when he was out of town. He was out of town a lot.

Nothing much changed until GB became ours when she was 5 months old. I insisted from the beginning we would do it my way. This time instead of fighting a child’s disabilities, he wanted to learn. He spent as much time with her as he could. When she was sleeping, he doggedly plowed through every book I gave him. He went to every meeting where results were discussed- Early Intervention, developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, psychiatrist, PCSE and eventually CSE meetings. His involvement made a big difference with Family # 2. With J and MK, it was so much harder. It is very difficult for one person to do it all. The biggest drawback is not having someone who is just as invested in the child as you are to bounce ideas off of. Your thoughts just rattle around your brain and you miss the opportunity that a different perspective gives you.

Unexpectedly, the hardest part of adoption was isolation. My special needs, differently skinned children were not welcome by the parents of the white NT kids. We were an island unto ourselves. We found a small black church in a small city 1/2 hour away. We consciously reached out to become part of their community. More than half of the people we met were just as narrow minded as the people in the white church we had left behind. It took more than five years, but we made lasting friends. They are an integral part of my girls lives. Most of our pre-adoption friends are long since gone. With our high maintenance kids, especially Hope, just leaving them with a baby sitter really isn’t an option.  That leaves The Dad and I out of a lot of normal social situations. Most new adoptive parents who adopt special needs kids never consider whether their social support systems will stand up to the challenges that these kids can present.

Even infant adoptions run a higher risk of having a child with a mental illness. Once you get into older children adoptions, a lot of kids have some environmental damage. We adopted Hope at 41/2 years from a disruption. We knew she was RAD. I am experienced and have a great support network. Yet, I still would be reluctant to adopt a child with RAD as a single parent. I know how hard it is. I have seen single parents adopt RADishes successfully. I am just not sure I would be strong enough.