family, adoption

The Evolution of the Hug

When Carl first came to us at 8-years-old he didn’t know how to hug. He’d grab and pull or thrust himself at full speed into my arms. His expressions of love left red marks behind. He was a fighter. He would not be forgotten.

During visits with his biological mom he’d shove the baby away from her arms and forcefully climb into her lap. The social workers would say how sad t was that he was trying to get some kind of affection from her. Carl seemed to be always angry then or at least always on the verge of tears.

Before visits he would tell me that Luke was going to marry his biological mom and they’d be happy together with the kids. After visits he’d yell at me and tell me to get lost. Sometimes he’d tell me I was an awful mom and he knew I wanted to hit him. Carl would scream at me to just hit him already. He’d say he hated me.

But things would change before bed on those nights. I’d tuck Carl in and he’d dissolve into tears. The little guy would clutch me so tightly that little half-moon claw marks speckled my arms.

“Mommy?” he’d ask me, “Are we going to stay here with you and Daddy? If we can’t go back, I mean. Then can we please stay with you?”

He’d tremble and sob and ask me why she couldn’t take care of them. He’d ask if we could “play baby” and I could hold him. So that’s what I did.

Many times neither biological parent came to the visits. The office was so close to Bio Mom’s apartment that the kids would watch it out of the window, hoping to see her emerge. Often she didn’t.

Carl didn’t have as much anger on those days. Instead he was afraid. He’d clutch my left arm with his whole body. He was a solid 8-year-old but he’d ask to be picked up. Luke was the king of piggy back rides in those early days.

Eventually, Carl would come to me on his own for comfort. He’d climb into my lap and grab onto me roughly. He’d say, “You have to love me!” And I did. We dubbed him “The snuggle monster.”

When friends would come, when I’d watch TV, when I’d talk on the phone Carl would push his way in as close as possible and grab on tight. He might shout in my face or fist his hands tightly into my hair. His actions spoke so loudly to me. They said he didn’t want to be abandoned. They said he would get his needs met by force if he had to.

Carl always loved animals. He was so rough with the cats at first that he’d grab their tales or squeeze them too tightly. He seemed utterly baffled that they wouldn’t like that. He would be so rough with me even in the tenderest of moments. I had to wonder if he really knew how to do this. Was it possible he just didn’t know, “gentle?”

We taught Carl to be gentle as best we could. We’d make a game of it and practice a hug or an arm stroke. Then I’d ask, “Was that gentle or rough?”

By the end of the third grade Carl was the king of hugs. He replaced what we referred to as the “attack hug” (running at full speed and body slamming us) to a normal embrace. If he felt like he desperately needed the contact and we were busy, he’d use our code word, “applesauce.” Looking back it seems ages ago.

Carl became a warm and gentle snuggler. He’d lay his head on my arm and tuck his body into my side. He’d allow me to make phone calls without diving head-first into my lap.

He’s thirteen now. It’s hard to remember that he’s a teenager. He never cries “Applesauce!” anymore. I still have the urge to take his hand in a crowded parking lot, but I refrain! Carl is getting to an age where it’s probably uncool to snuggle with mom so much. He still won’t leave for school without a quick hug and an, “I love you, Mama!”

He’s getting older but I hope his hugs stick around. Perhaps a time will come when I am the one calling out, “Applesauce!”

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

I Missed Open House…Again

I seriously, honestly, for real, no excuses planned to go to Carl’s open house this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet your child’s teachers and see their work. I didn’t make it last year. I’m pretty sure it’s because Open House conflicted with one of Mary’s visits.

This year I had it circled on the calendar. My best laid plans were derailed when Luke needed surgery. I still thought I could go if my parents could just drop Carl off at football practice, I could pick him up after the open house. In my imagination Luke went home to bed and slept without my help for a few hours. Since Luke needed to be in at 7:00AM the day of the surgery I was sure I’d be home for the 6:00PM open house. Wrong!

I didn’t make it. We got home around 7:00PM. Luke was completely blind and in pain. He needed me to take care of him the way he’s taken care of all of us a hundred times before. So I skipped Open House. Again.

Carl has two band events coming up that I can’t make, either. Worse, he can’t go because there are a lot of moving parts and tight schedules around my surgery. It really stinks. When we started the adoption process I didn’t see myself this way.

In my before-mommy strategies I saw myself at all of the PTA meetings and school events. I thought we’d go to all the outings put on by the foster care association. I’d volunteer for things. I’m a teacher so I assumed I’d be involved in all the school things.

Reality was different. I hope we didn’t let these guys down. I think it’s OK, though. Maybe I didn’t make it to every school function. Maybe I didn’t get to every sporting event. But I did other things. Luke and I sort of triaged what the kids needed at any moment. He’d take Marcus to another court appearance while I took Mary to another therapy appointment. Luke and I haven’t ever missed a week visiting Mary. We’ve never missed a PPT or a treatment meeting.

I manage to be there at the times my kids need me but maybe not all of the times both of us would like. Last night Carl was up on three separate occasions in the night. Sunday nights are difficult for him. I think he experiences anxiety about starting the school week again. The first time he woke up he was stressed out that Luke (in the shower) had left or decided not to wish him goodnight. Our kids are always freaked out about people potentially disappearing from the bathroom.

The second time Carl woke me up to ask for help. He was holding a wad of tissues to his nose and dripping red blood down the front of his shirt. A bloody nose had awoken him to a crime-scene worthy amount of blood on his sheets and pillow. He was understandably panicked.

I stripped the bed, and tossed the soiled sheets and jammies in the washing machine sanitary cycle. I cleaned up Carl, and put fresh sheets on his bed because he was shaking too badly to do it. Once he was calm we tracked down and plugged in his humidifier.

The third time Carl woke me up by banging against the wall in an urgent call for help. The insistent BANG BANG BANG(!!!) pulled me out of a deep sleep and right to my feet. When I got to Carl’s room he was hidden under a mountain of blankets, stuffies, and our 109 lb therapy dog.

He poked his head out and tearfully told me that the power had flickered. To Carl this automatically means the power will go out which he places right next to “terrorist attack” and “nuclear bomb detonation” on his fear scale. He needed a battery powered nightlight. He was frozen in terror at the thought of being alone in the dark.

Even at 13, my teenager needs me to chase away the nightmares. So here I am. I didn’t make it to the open house (again) this year but that’s probably OK. I show up when it counts.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

On the Frontlines of Food Insecurity

I heard the most ridiculous thing at a training given by the Department of Children and Families. The session was about health and safety for kids in foster care. The speaker was a registered nurse whose job it was to approve all medical treatment for the foster children in her region. Don’t even get me started on the times she described vetoing a medical doctor’s recommendation based on her shoddy anecdotal evidence.

The comments that irked me into feelings of mild violence were her views on food insecurity. “Oh that’s not really a problem. I don’t why people come to me with this. Just offer a variety of foods at dinner time.” She called this a “food tour” and opined that it always worked.

Seriously?! Ummm…no.

All of our children, to some degree, suffer from food insecurity. Because they spent large amounts of time without food, without enough food, or without appropriate nutritional fare, they have food insecurities. Two of our children don’t even feel safe unless they have a stash of non perishables in their bedrooms.

When the kids first came home, Carl couldn’t handle family meal times. His behavior escalated to what seemed like bizarre levels. We would sit down to a meal and politely pass the food around from plates in the middle of the table. Carl would grab between 3 and 6 dinner rolls and then scream at anyone else who tried to take one.

“Stop it! There will be none left!!!”

Carl would sit on his feet in a crouch with his arms protectively over his plate. No amount of cajoling or reminding got him to sit on his bottom would last for more than 30 seconds before he hopped up and perched protectively over his plate again.

His pupils would dilate and his heart rate would pick up. His voice got louder and his words were more oppositional. It was like watching someone handle being the victim of a hostage situation. Pure panic.

Inevitably the dinner stress would be too much for Carl. He would start by complaining he hated the food and would never eat it. This would progress to trying to grab all of the remaining food on the table. ALL of it. At some point after that he would throw his plate/cup/meal directly at me and run away screaming that we were starving him. Sometimes he would punch me.

At the same time, Sean would gobble huge amounts of food as if it were a race while Marcus and Mary sat turned away from the table, staring at the floor. They would not respond in any way, even if spoken to. It was as if they weren’t even there.

After everyone left, Mary would take her plate underneath the table, or to the floor, and finally eat her dinner. Marcus would eat whatever was left over when he awoke in the middle of the night.

None of it made any sense to me at the time. We did everything we could think of to manage this behavior. We put limits on the amount of ___ the kids could put on their plate at one time. We proactively switched over to paper plates and disposable plastic cutlery. My apologies to the environment but experience has literally shown me it’s better to have a plastic knife hit you in the face than a steak knife. After Carl’s outbursts he’d have to finish eating in his room. I didn’t know at the time that he felt much safer eating there.

Eventually we learned that our kiddos had a past history of stressful mealtimes. We already knew they spent a lot of time fending for themselves as toddlers and young children. Hence, Mary developed a taste for dog food and would sneak it whenever no one was watching. Apparently when bio mom was manic she’d begin cooking at 2 or 3 AM. Then she’d wake the kids up and insist they eat. Other times they existed on the Monster energy drinks and Jolly Ranchers they stole at the local corner store.

To this day, when Carl is feeling stress or anxiety it flares up. He will binge eat in the middle of the night. There is a far off, unfocused look that comes over him while he stuffs huge amounts of food into his mouth at an alarming rate. He’s often crying at the same time.

Have you ever seen a hamster stuff it’s cheeks full of food? This is sort of what it looks like. Carl will swallow without chewing. His cheeks swell to an unusual size yet still he keeps going. He stuffs more and more food into his mouth even before he swallows what’s already in there. This leads to choking and vomiting. As soon as Carl finishes puking, he immediately resumes guzzling food. Then he vomits more and eats more and so on. He chokes a lot when he gets like this because he forgets to breathe.

Last spring he suffered scratches to his esophagus because of the sharp edges of un-chewed food (think crackers or nuts.) He had also vomited so much that the acid was eroding soft tissue in his esophagus and stomach. He threw up so many times a day that eventually he was vomiting blood. The wait to see a specialist for pediatric GI took forever. We ended up in the emergency room at the children’s hospital four times in one month.

In the meantime we would wake up in the morning to find vomit, blood, and food wrappers of one kind or another all over the house. It was terrifying. This is when we got combination locks for the fridge. Our cabinets were already locked overnight to keep Mary out of the cutlery. Finally we got him in to do a series of tests, including an endoscopy.

The specialist concluded that Carl was reacting to his past, so it couldn’t be medically treated.  He asked me, completely straight-faced if we’d ever considered Cognitive Behavior Therapy. He told me that sometimes children who were traumatized need therapy. I burst out laughing. Yes, we’d been working on that for 4 years.

After the first winter together, the snow melted and revealed a surprise. Carl had buried all of his school snacks in the snow. Every day at school he would tell the teacher we refused to give him snacks. Meanwhile, he built up a stock in case he ever ran out of food again.

Carl would ask strangers for food at the store, at parks, at the lake, basically anywhere. While I stood behind him with a rescue-bag of goldfish in my hand I would hear him beg strangers desperately.  “Please,” he’d urgently whisper, ” Can I have some of that? My parents NEVER feed me. I’m starving!!!”

Once a well-meaning older lady kindly explained to me that children cannot go for long periods of time without eating. She kindly suggested that I consider snacks for the children. In response I pulled gently on Carl’s outside coat pocket. Imagine her surprise when three granola bars and a bag of almonds fell out!

Some things have helped. We developed a calm dinner routine where we take turns appreciating one person at the table for something they did that day.  Our goal was for Carl to feel safe at mealtimes. His therapist, L, helped him develop a self-talk manta. It goes, “I will have enough to eat. I will have these foods again.”

We let him keep boxes of power bars and granola  in his room. For years he slept with them in his bed. This was preferable to the chicken drumsticks and other perishables he used to hide in his pillow case!

We got frozen pizzas that Marcus could prepare and eat in the middle of the night. We stopped buying “high-value” foods that would trigger Carl into a binge. This included peanut butter, Nutella, candy of any kind and cream cheese. During the stressful spring season we padlock the fridge to prevent Carl from getting hurt while out of control at night.

Some things have never changed at all. For example, Mary literally does not know how to drink water.  If a glass is placed in front of her she will chug it as fast as possible without breaking. It doesn’t matter how much liquid you put in front of her. I tried to give her a huge water bottle once to see if it would slow her down. It didn’t. Instead she threw her head back and guzzled until I was sure she’d drown.  Instead she began choking and crying while continuing to gulp. Mary wouldn’t put the bottle down until I physically pryed it away from her mouth.

When chugging her water Mary still tilts her head as far back as she can. She also flings her left arm out straight to grab and hold onto whoever is nearest. She will clutch onto them until she is done rapidly swallowing everything in front of her. It looks exactly like a baby drinking from a bottle. Mary is stuck in this phase.

Unfortunately this also makes her vomit. Because of how unpleasant it is for her to chug liquid down and then puke, she usually refuses it entirely. She claims she is “allergic” to water and it always makes her sick. She physically cannot sip from a cup. That skill simply isn’t in her repertoire.

Eventually we learned to pour out two fingers of liquid at a time for her to drink or else we’d give her a straw. She was able to appropriately use the water fountain at school.

My point is this: food insecurity is terrible.  If a professional gives advice on this they should have some actual experience with kids exposed to starvation. Healing takes hard work and years of patience. Even then, that trauma is always with our kids to some degree. Because, really a “food tour” is NOT going to fix the problem.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

Report Card for a Trauma Mama

On the last day of summer vacation I brought Carl to the lake, all the while keeping a diligent eye on my son. It was hard to peg him at a distance. Carl spent the summer outdoors baking in the sun until his brown skin perfectly matched the dock color.

I hate to admit it but I panicked a little. Where did my kid go? I could see the headline now: “White Mother is Complicit in Hispanic Son’s Drowning.”

He kept bobbing in and out of sight as he swam away, and then back to, the dock. Drowning statistics were running through my head. Doesn’t it only take 30 seconds or something? The peaceful water lapping at the sand became suddenly ominous.

Through my sunglasses I glanced at a sign that read “Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult.” This gave me pause. I realized in a flash that Carl turns 13 in two weeks. He will be a teenager. He can technically, by the law of the lake, swim alone in two weeks. What on earth was I panicking about?

Also, what could I even do if I saw him in distress? Paddle slowly over to him at the speed of an octogenarian or snail? I certainly couldn’t pull or drag him to safety. My back injury would completely sideline me on a rescue mission. So basically, I spent a good hour on the possibility that I might just watch my son drown. In this situation my mom skills were nonexistent.

I settled back in my ergonomic beach chair to contemplate my role as he ages. The house seems strangely quiet these days. Out of 5 children only one remains at home. Soon he will be a teen. I think it’s time to re-evaluate my skills. Let’s face it. I am most certainly not always up to the task of parenting. Sometimes I am magical and wonderful and thisclose to being Mary Poppins. Sometimes parenting adopted children from trauma gets the best of me. My report card is as follows:

Areas where I am crushing it:

  • Persistence- I don’t give up on my kids. I advocate in schools, in psychiatric hospitals, RTCs, therapists offices and so on with the persistence of an emperor penguin. No, seriously, an emperor penguin. These animals are persistent AF. Google this!
  • Scheduling- I can remember to throw laundry in overnight on the delay timer setting. I switch it over in the morning and go from there. I can rotate chores, emergencies, sports schedules and my medical treatment like a boss. I should probably admit here that Siri helps me.
  • Using Siri-I am totally counting this in the mom-skill plus column. Yeah, she can do anything. Enough said.
  • TBRI- Its a form of therapeutic parenting known as “Trust Based Relational Intervention” and I’ve gotten pretty good with this over the years.
  • Research- I’ve read books, taken classes, and done many a webinar on developmental trauma. I can quote Deborah D. Gray, Bassel Van Der Kolk, Karyn Purvis and Heather Forbes verbatim. I LOVE reading.
  • I bake my own bread- Yes, this one is real. It’s also not as cool as it looks. I have a bread-maker so I just add 4 ingredients in the morning and set a delay timer. Voila! Fresh homemade bread for dinner and it is hot out of the…er…oven.
  • Crockpot Usage- I am a crock-pot ninja.
  • Saying “no”- I don’t mean to my kids. I mean to everyone else who wants something from me.  My kids have worn me out with trauma drama. I’m sorry. I can’t volunteer for you. I just don’t want to.
  • Naming and validating feelings-If you’re having a tough day then I am here for you. I won’t advise. I will name and validate your feeling and then ask you (therapeutically of course!) how you think you might handle the situation. I can validate your feelings like a boss!
  • Apologizing- I’m not above it and I need to do it a LOT.

Areas where I need to take the remedial training:

  • Naming animal facts- see above under “persistent.”
  • Sports- Umm, I can totally get you there but I don’t know what you’re doing. Hooray for ball points!
  • TBRI- Hey, some days I’m a therapeutic master and some days I am back to grasshopper status.
  • Research- I’ve read everything I could find. I still don’t have all of the answers when it comes to helping my children heal from trauma.
  • Making dinner- OK, being the queen of the crock pot and the delay timer on our bread maker are my ONLY cooking skills. The stove and I have a tumultuous relationship that once ended up with me melting a leggo on the back burner.
  • Saying “no”- When it comes to a therapeutic recommendation or treatment for my children, I have a hard time saying “no.” Even if it isn’t evidence-based or isn’t helping I’ve given just about everything a try. This has the unfortunate effect of working me to the bone while the children either ignore or actively evade the treatment.
  • Naming and validating feelings- I forget my own all the time. I think our entire family would be better off if I could admit to having feelings rather than waiting until the boiling point.
  • Apologizing-  I just HATE to be wrong. I’m sorry, Luke. See? I can do it.
  • Letting go- This is the hardest one. I can’t actually do the healing for my children. At some point I need to give them more freedom to make decisions and hope they make the right ones. You don’t want to go to therapy (Carl) anymore? OK well then it’s up to you to practice the skills you’ve learned. I’m not staying up with you until 3:00 AM because there might be maybe a bug alive somewhere in the world. You want to live in your car (I’m looking at you, Marcus!) for no apparent reason? I’m going to sleep in my nice memory foam mattress and love you from over here.

All in all I think my report card breaks even.  I’ll just give myself an A and pick up takeout.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together

“Maybe he gets better. Look at Mary. She’s getting better!”

These are words I didn’t expect to hear from Carl. We were, of course, watching Once Upon a Time. It is rife with both redeemable villains and impossibly terrible adoption stories. Thank you, ABC! I was making some comment about a villain not being worth all the trouble. This was Carl’s reply to me.

After everything he’s been through with Mary I am so thankful his heart is still open. I often wonder how we will ever put Humpty Dunpty back together again. How can we transition her home from residential?

We all suffered a great deal of trauma from Mary’s instability. This past year that she’s been gone is the safest we’ve had in awhile. No more bruises. No more blood.

Yesterday Carl chose to come with us to visit Mary. We took her off grounds and we had lunch followed by some window shopping. She was making a Herculean effort to include Luke and Carl in conversation.

For the most part Mary only wants to talk to me. Her love twists into something possessive and controlling. She feels she needs to have a female figure (any female) to belong to her alone. Any gap in attention from this female figure can spark rage and dramatic violence.

However, she’s been open to talking about this a bit. The last few months have seen an increase in this Mary-Mommy only dynamic. She was only calling me on the phone unless she couldn’t get an answer. Then she’d call Luke and ask “Where’s Mommy?”

During a meltdown at school she mentioned missing me and Sean as the reason. After that we had a tough conversation where I told her in no uncertain terms that it will never be just the two of us. She needs to accept the entire family. It’s an all or nothing kind of deal. Mary didn’t like the conversation but I could tell it got her thinking.

Fast forward to yesterday’s visit. She would start a sentence with, “Mommy guess what?” Then she would quickly add, “and also Daddy and Carl. Guess what?”

The four of us really did have a great time. It’s been over a year-and-a-half since we’ve all gone out somewhere together. The best part for me was that Carl seemed more relaxed. He didn’t have his guard up. I didn’t notice any flinching or defensive body posture from him. Mary also made an effort to let me talk to Carl which is something I told her she would need to accept.

I am so hopeful that this continues. After all, like Carl says, she’s getting better.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, family

I Don’t Want My Daughter

I don’t want my daughter. I don’t. It’s sad and it’s horrible but this is true. We’ve been discussing what steps to take to help Mary when I have my next surgery at the end of September. Luke will take over the day-to-day interaction with staff and clinicians for at least a month, maybe two. He will continue to visit Mary every week. Luke will play point-person while I recover.

The family clinician at the RTC thinks that perhaps Mary can come home to visit me on a day pass following surgery. He thinks this would be good for her. His theory would need her to safely manage a one-hour car ride back to our house. There she could visit with me while my spine is healing from the latest fusion. Then I guess she would safely make the hour trip back to her residential school.

For whatever reason I nodded and smiled while calmly discussing this.

“Maybe,” I said.

“She might be triggered to be at home.” I said.

“She might be triggered by my post-operative-using-a-walker-taking-pain-medication state.” I said.

She might she might she might she might…..

Then I got home and promptly had a panic attack. I woke up from vivid nightmares the following three nights in a row. Each time I clung to Luke shaking and struggling to breathe. The thought of having her here threw me into a dark place emotionally.

The thing about having a spinal fusion is that it is HARD. My body takes forever to recover. I’m exhausted. I’m in pain. It throws the entire family off. The kids revert into fight/flight mode.

I’m not talking about how hard it is on Mary. I’m talking about how hard it is on me. 

My last spinal fusion had the added difficulty of maintaining physical safety from my violent child. Mary was triggered when she saw me in a weakened state. Mary came at me hard. She came at me frequently.

Carl and I spent a lot of time hiding behind a dead-bolted door waiting for the police while she attempted to break it down. Luke had to switch to part-time per diem work so that he could be home when she was home. Carl and I needed him to physically protect us from Mary.

I don’t want that stress again. I don’t want to be reminded of how vulnerable I was. I don’t want to be reminded that I was helpless to protect Carl. He has always been terrified of her. My strong line-backer son cowers in a paralyzed fear when his little sister begins to laugh/scream. I don’t want her here.

A lot of what we do is to help Mary’s healing process. All of the therapy, the meetings, the research. We bend and contort our family life in intricate ways to control her world. If we can make her feel safe then she can recover. If we can manipulate all the variables perhaps she won’t rage as dangerously etc.

How would a home visit work? A staff member could accompany her. Luke would be here. We would probably be safe. I doubt she would try to attack me with an “outside” person present.

I still can’t do it. I went back and said no.

I do not care if that makes me a bad mother.

This time it isn’t about Mary’s recovery. This time it’s about my own.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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The Myth of Secondary Trauma

As an adoptive parent of children with complex trauma, I hear about “secondary” trauma a lot. I find this to be…reductive. I’m not sure why we would diminish anyone’s trauma but it happens.

Supposedly, secondary trauma happens when a caretaker develops compassion fatigue. As in, your child is anxious and views the world as scary. Due to their anxiety, you take on these anxious characteristics and experience your own anxiety. Your new anxiety is “secondary” to your child’s.

I disagree. If you are anxious then you are anxious. Period. If you are sad and depressed over the difficulties of raising a complex kiddo, then those are your emotions. We all have our own feelings and I fail to see how they are secondary to anyone else’s. We can be quick to identify our children’s trauma. They often experienced it at the hands of biological family. It’s strange that we don’t consider this to be secondary trauma. After all, the perpetrators here most likely experienced their own trauma at some point, and are now acting on it.

Our daughter has been extremely violent. Often. She’s been homicidal. She’s been dangerous. She’s physically hurt herself and the rest of us, especially when she first came home years ago. Our adopted sons can also be violent. They caused property damage and personal damage. Our drywall is full of holes and every single closet door is dented and off the tracks. We don’t even bother to try and repair them anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, our children act this way due to their developmental trauma. My daughter is a beautiful, precious girl with a significant mental illness. Regardless, these acts of violence caused their own trauma.

Before I was a mother, I had never been beaten. When I became a mother in 2014 I was hit, kicked, punched and assaulted with objects on a regular basis. I scoured websites of domestic violence survivors for tips on how to hide the bruises. This isn’t because I was some kind of afterthought to someone else’s trauma. It’s because I, too, was living through domestic violence. In my case, it was hard to get support. Getting help for a dangerous child is ridiculously difficult.

Eventually, with therapy and medication, our kids got better. Not completely safe, but better. Our daughter stabilized for a long time. When she relapsed, it was that much worse for me to live with. I have my own PTSD. If a spouse physically hurt me this way, I’d be considered a victim of domestic violence.

Believe me when I say, it isn’t secondary. Having trauma after multiple beatings is just plain trauma. It’s that simple.

I jump at loud noises. I cringe sometimes when people make arm gestures while standing too close to me. The door to our bedroom sticks in humidity. When my husband pushes it open I jump. Every single time.

It’s gotten better for me over time while Mary has been in residential treatment. It’s gotten better now that Sean no longer lives here. My bruises may have faded away but my fear lingers on.

My point is, I don’t really believe in secondary trauma. My trauma is primary. If you’ve been living in a violent situation then so is yours. I think it’s OK to claim something as our own. I think it’s OK to take care of ourselves, too.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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