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.

adoption, family

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.


Why Can’t I Blog???

Why is it that I cannot blog? I am simply un-savvy when it comes to the blogging app on my phone! I recently downloaded the mobile version of this site so that I can blog whenever the mood strikes me.

I find writing about my experiences is therapeutic and helpful to me. I don’t publish a lot of what I write. Sometimes it’s not about adoption so it isn’t pertinent to this blog. Sometimes there are too many details about the children’s abuse to share with the general public. Sometimes I write an abysmal post that doesn’t need to be published.

Unfortunately, with the mobile app, it seems to be deciding for me. I created a beautiful final draft of the post “The Mother Load” and it reverted back to a rough-draft version that was frankly hard to read. I’ve since cleaned it up but I have completely lost the polished version with a great introduction.

Not only that, it seems like I have been inadvertently moving previously published posts to the trash bin. Help! I tried to correct this, too, but darn-it if I can’t tell what’s missing!

Either way, I did manage to find two previously unpublished or missing-in-action posts from 2015 and 2017. It’s sad to look back and see all of the therapeutic parenting and all of the hope I had for Mary. In the end, she still needed residential treatment.

Anyway, enjoy the lost files and bear with me as I rectify my app-illiteracy.

adoption, family

The Storm Has Passed

I wonder if 13 is a fun age for mothers to enjoy their sons. Carl is less than a month away from turning 13 and so far we’ve been having a blast. Springtime is his annual storm of violence and rage. Thank goodness that season has passed.

I remember a similar phenomenon when Mary was 8. She was finally stable on medication. Her violent rages were gone. We went everywhere together and just enjoyed life. Shopping trips, singling along to Taylor Swift in the car, and sharing little jokes comprised our days.

At this time, Mary was really interested in whatever I was interested in. Rather than playing “school” over and over until exhaustion, she wanted to accompany me to set up my actual classroom.

Carl and I now seem to be hitting the same stride. With summer came an end to his emotional storm. Springtime brings out his fiercest trauma-related behaviors. Summer seems to bring calmer, more rational, times. His age brings out a new set of unexpected bonuses.

For the last two weeks we’ve been taking some time to hang out. We’ve been to the local lake. He’s started to watch more interesting PG-13 shows and movies. I’m finally able to bid Spongebob Squarepants adieu!

I think part of this happy period is that Carl can separate from me a bit. Generally, he can be very anxious as to my whereabouts in the house. I’ll often find him sitting right outside the door when I exit the bathroom. If he looks up and doesn’t see me he will shout a panicked, “Ma-ma? Ma-ma??? MA-MAAAA!!!” much like a toddler. It can all get a bit overwhelming.

At almost 13, he now wants to spend some time with his friends. They don’t necessarily think it’s cool for Carl’s mom to join in the Pokémon game every time. His poor friends don’t have to wait on playing with the matchbox cars while I finish dinner. Gone are the days where Carl says, “Wait for my mom. She has to be the yellow car!”

Not having to participate actively in all of his social interactions is freeing. As a mom, I’m supposed to want to spend every second with my child. I don’t. I enjoy alone time to pursue my own interests. Carl’s doing just fine navigating on his own. This gives me a bit of much needed breathing room.

Football season has started again. Unlike last year, Carl is able to accept that I’m not going to sit and observe a two hour practice each night. He isn’t so scared to be without me. I get to shop, grab a coffee, or catch up on some reading. A bit of me-time makes it easier to be a calm and happy mom.

Oddly enough, Carl seems to have entered the stage where he’s interested in what I’m interested in. I like reading horror novels, so he wants to explore the genre. I bought him a few of the young adult R.L. Stine books to start with. I don’t actually want him to be too scared. I like to read the news app on my phone, so he regales me with the news alerts that pop up on his tablet.

I’ve been watching “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix this week. It’s the ultimate girly-show. Carl has started to watch with me. He asks a lot of questions because he doesn’t know any of the fairytales referenced. Before adoption, his early childhood consisted of “Chucky” movies rather than books.

As we watch he’ll say, “Does everyone know about Excalibur? Who is the girl in the red hood that brings things to her granny? Why do they keep mentioning a glass slipper? How do people know this???” It gives me an opportunity to tell some of the stories he might not be otherwise interested in. I can catch him up on a bit of what he missed in his younger years.

When I make a cup of coffee in the morning he’ll sometimes brew himself a decaf one. He’ll sit and watch the morning news with me and share his thoughts on the topics.

Don’t get me wrong, I like playing matchbox cars as much as the next mom. It’s just sometimes fun to do more “grownup” things!

The most important thing is that Carl isn’t acting out violently right now. This soothes some of my own anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I’m not sure what adolescence has in store for us.

All I can say is that I am really enjoying this part.

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


The Mother Load

My mother has perfectly coiffed hair at all times. Her blonde matches my own, but that is where the similarity ends. She has shiny, obedient coif arranged perfectly around her face. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her with a flyaway except maybe right after a wash. I have wildly curly hair that I attempted to tame in my teenage years. I flat-ironed the curls, set it in rollers, attempted blow-outs and relaxers. As I got older I grew it longer and just left it down to fly free. Why fight nature? My hair does it’s own dynamic thing.

Unfortunately, she ended up with me for a daughter. I was a messy child. I’m a little cleaner now, but I never dust, and sometimes my bed goes unmade. I wear flowing skirts and very little make-up (if at all.) My skin care regimen consists of soap and sun screen. Fingers crossed I end up with my mother’s complexion which is somehow impervious to the passing of time.I listen to Bob Dylan or Phish. I eat with paper napkins. My elbows are forever on the table and sometimes I even sit cross-legged during dinner.

One Thanksgiving, she called me and asked what my centerpiece was. I was confused. I said, “Isn’t that where the food goes?”

While out at the grocery store on a sweltering August day last week, I donned my summer uniform of bohemian maxi-dress and flip flops. As long as the clothes feel soft and allow me to move easily, I’m happy. This used to be an added bonus when Mary was violent and attacking me. It allowed me to dodge and dart away. Now she is in a residential school and my days of darting are behind me.

I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. I’m not as likely to scan for exits and double check that the police are a speed-dial touch away on my phone. I can wear my long and flowing dresses without long-sleeved cardigans in the melting summer heat. The reason is simple. I am no longer covering arms awash in multi-colored bruises from a violent child.

A elderly man approached me in the frozen food aisle and let out an appreciative whistle. At a certain age I think people can get away with just about any behavior and still seem endearing. He told me it was a long time since he’d seen a “real woman” dressed “properly in a dress or skirt.” He claimed my husband must just “love all over me” (spoiler alert: he does!) and that he was lucky not to have a woman always in pants. I thanked the man dubiously as I helped him reach the steam-able carrots. It occurred to me that I might tell him I wear pajama-jeans in a completely un-ironic way in the Fall. Obviously he assumed I was dressed up rather than the truth which lies somewhere around my ambivalent attitude towards underwear.

Maybe I am more like my mother than I think. I certainly hope I grow to be just like her as I age. My mom may be different than I am in many ways. However, she supports this family without another thought. She moved with my stepdad halfway across the country, braving frigid New England winters and high taxes, just to be close to us. No matter what drama our family was experiencing, or how bizarre this family/herd-of-chickens gets, she is with us. In my darkest hour, I am not alone. My mother is the tree trunk to my spreading branches. I want so badly to be this way for my own daughter.

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed it yet. I can’t. My daughter is living in a residential therapeutic setting. Someone else tucks her in at night. Someone else restrains her when she rages. In her darkest hours I am simply not there. I wish it could be different. It can’t.

How will she view our mother-daughter relationship one day? If I’m not the trunk to her branches, will I be the house next door? If I am not Mary’s steadfast base, am I at least Mary-adjacent? I hope so. I hope that one day she is comparing our preferred music and fashion rather than wondering why we lived apart. I hope her memories of me are not filled with being abandoned or pushed away.

It is hard to do this from a distance. I try but even in her physical presence, a gap divides us. How will she view me one day? Only time will tell.

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

adoption, family

Sobriety Not Required: Biological Parents

I am forever curious about how other adopted families do this. How does everyone else manage incorporating the first family into their child’s world? I admit that I don’t know much about domestic infant adoption or foreign adoption. All of my experience stems from children placed in foster care because their parents were unable to properly care for them. I suppose other situations might be vastly different.

We do have an open adoption with Mary and Carl’s father, Dad C. The biological mother does not want contact. Marcus is an adult and manages his own contact with family so I won’t detail that. I’ve only written about the relationship with Dad C because that’s the only one at this time. Mary is not mentally stable enough to participate in contact right now. We had one visit that was very detrimental to her last year. At the advice of her therapists we are holding off until she can handle contact.

For us, it was never a question of if  biological family fit in, it was more how to fit them in. Our children are older and therefore remember their first years with these parents. It’s a part of who they are and so we try to respect that. I’ve gotten a number of emails asking about our open adoption so I will do my best to answer them below. I am in  no way an expert so please don’t take this as advice. I mess it up all the time in a hundred ways. This conversation is what happens in our family only. I’d love to hear what it looks like in yours!

Private Information: Dad C has our address, has been to our town, and has seen the kids’ schools. He isn’t allowed to show up to these places and all parties are aware of that. He hasn’t been to our house. I think it helps that he knows the kids are in a nice area. He’s met my mom and the kids’ godparents at football games.

Photos: During one of our first visits with Dad C he asked apprehensively if he could have permission to take pictures. He asked if he could be allowed to post them or share them with his family. Luke and I didn’t hesitate to agree. We took pictures with his phone so that he could be in them. This is one of those pieces I don’t entirely understand. A stranger could come and sneak a picture of my kids on their phone. It really doesn’t affect us if Dad C posts pictures of the kids or tries to paint a Facebook-friendly image of a family that is still together. Who cares? We live in different states and don’t move in the same crowds. I might feel differently if people in the community thought the kids were “back” with Dad C. Probably not, though. Our friends know what’s going on and everyone else can think whatever they like.

Sobriety: I have had some questions about requiring bio parents to be sober. It has even been suggested that bio-parents present a clean drug test for a period of time before being allowed visitation. Personally, I think this is more for a foster-care situation than an open adoption. If the parents could maintain sobriety then they might have been able to parent their children. Since the time  to prove they can stay clean and resume parenting has passed, I can’t see that it’s my business.

The bio-parents are only required to be 100% sober for visits. Our children will not have contact with anyone under the influence or behaving erratically. Other than visitation times, it’s their life. I hope they do get clean. If not, it doesn’t change anything. We adopted these children. We parent them safely. If they can feel loved by multiple people and have positive interactions, I think it’s good. Our kids know about their bio-parents problems. They already lived through it.

In-person visits: Luke and I supervise these. We only have them with Dad C because bio-mom does not want contact. We schedule them when/if Carl wants to see Dad C. We will give gentle reminders or prompting that this is available. Typically Carl isn’t that interested in seeing Dad C but he likes to get letters in the mail. Carl also likes when Dad C attends a few sporting events to watch him play. We support this and arrange it as best we can. During visits Carl can give us a signal if he feels uncomfortable or is ready to end the visit. Dad C does not drive Carl anywhere or take him to another location. We usually have a post-game meal at a fast-food restaurant together.

Luke and I field requests for visits. If Carl doesn’t want to see or speak to Dad C, we handle it. It’s OK with me if Dad C thinks we are keeping him away sometimes. It’s fine with me if he believes we are mean for not giving him holidays. We take care of our kids first. We protect them from having to say “no” or be in an uncomfortable position. Luke and I are only concerned with the well-being of the kids.

Letters and presents: Sure. Bio parents can send these any time. We do read them first to make sure they aren’t triggering or inappropriate. Dad C likes to give the kids money. Cool.

I also post pictures and report cards to a closed Facebook group for bio-family.

Boundaries: This one is hard. Dad C doesn’t seem to understand, or at least admit, why he doesn’t have any of his children. This is fine as long as it’s not a conversation with our kids. We know he has several more although he only mentions one other son. This is his private business so we don’t ask him about the other kids. He sometimes mentions he “lost his case” because he didn’t have enough money. We know this isn’t true at all. The kids know this isn’t true and obviously remember why they aren’t with him. We ask that he does not mention the case. We require that he avoids adult conversation, violence, and inappropriate language. He is not able to ask the kids why they didn’t want to live with him etc. On the flip side, he can answer anything the kids ask him.

Do we get along: I guess we do. It’s more about getting along in front of the kids than anything else. Even if I am annoyed or unhappy with something Dad C has done I try not to show it in front of Carl. I dislike that Dad C spends a lot of the visits crying and saying he misses Carl and thinks about him every day. This is probably all true. However, I don’t think it should be Carl’s burden to make Dad C feel better. I don’t think the visit should be about Dad C’s feelings at all. It should be about the child.

I don’t like having to provide prompts and reminders over and over (and over!) again about the children’s ages and birthdays. I am frustrated at trying hard to plan visits and give reminders, directions, and more prompting only to have things fall apart. Dad C and his wife aren’t good at this stuff.  Since this is my personal problem and not the kids, I keep it to myself.

I really dislike the different treatment Carl gets in comparison to Mary. He always gets a card and money for holidays and birthdays (as long as I give multiple reminders first.) Mary has never gotten the same. On her last birthday she was overlooked for about 4 months despite reminders. She wrote a sweet letter asking for a card or letter. Eventually she got a card with less money. This came with another card for Carl with money. Luke and I had to make it clear that both children had to be treated the same.

I don’t like that Dad C’s new wife considers herself the “stepmom” and wants the kids to hug her. It’s weird. They don’t know her. She talks to me a lot about asking the kids if they want her to have a baby. We do not allow that conversation because it shouldn’t be Mary and Carl’s burden to handle big adult decisions. She also talks a lot about how the kids are bonding with her and accepting her. She thanks them and says she loves them and talks my ear off about why this is a big deal for her. I know I’m being unfair but that is just plain annoying. It shouldn’t be about her. It should be about the kids.

Neither one of them has ever asked about how the visit was for the Carl. They’ve never asked if he had a good time, if he wants to do something different or how he felt about it. Both of them just talk a lot about how the experience was for them and what they might like next time.

Look, I don’t think we are ever going to be BFFs. As long as we maintain a polite and functional communication for the kids I feel accomplished.

The Takeaway:

At the end of the day it’s their relationship, not mine. I tell the children the honest truth about everything if they ask. I keep my judgments and opinions to myself as much as possible. I honestly don’t always do a good job. It’s complicated  and fraught with my own emotions. In our case Dad C has been respectful of boundaries and we’ve never had an actual problem. During one visit he became angry and struck the table a bit with his fist. Carl wasn’t present for that. Dad C’s wife intervened quickly before he got too angry. This is the only hint I’ve personally seen that he has aggression issues. If he had raised his voice, if Carl had noticed, if anything had escalated we would have terminated the visit. However, cooler heads prevailed and it ended on a pleasant note.

Someone in the blogosphere recently suggested to me that the state lies to kidnap kids and adopt them out. No. Just…no. I’ve seen the evidence in this case. I believe the DCF reports about how my kids lived before they came to us. More than that, I believe my children when they describe how things were in their first family.  As accepting and open as I try to be, I’m not an automaton. There are things in my children’s past that enrage me. There are things about these first parents that chill me to my very core. But still, the bio-family belongs to my children. So I try and then I try again.

No matter what happened, no matter what their biological parents did or didn’t do, my children love them. Carl will be thirteen next month. He has such a wise perception of the events in his earlier years. When discussing his biological dad he says, “It’s not my fault he did those things. He made bad choices. I know he loves me though.”

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


Days Like Today

The days like today are the ones I hold dear. Days of quiet. Days of kindness. Days of peace.

Carl has come out of his Springtime traumaversary. It’s been several weeks since he’s had a violent meltdown at home. My lovely cuddly boy is back. He bakes me with, we watch “Brooklyn 99” and play the card game “Dos.” These lazy summer days stretch on and soothe my battle-weary soul.

Mary is responding well to treatment at her residential school. We went on an off-grounds trip to Dunkin Donuts the other day. It was just the two of us. For a few minutes I forgot that the police were programmed on my speed dial. Instead I simply enjoyed her conversation and marveled at how she’s big enough to sit in the front seat.

We haven’t heard from Marcus at all since he came to get his things. In all likelihood no news is good news. We will hear from him when he is desperate or in trouble. For now I’ll have to let it be.

Luke gave me some Eucalyptus bath salts for Mother’s Day. I finally have time to use them. Here I sit in aromatherapy heaven, counting all the ways that I am lucky. Some days are very hard. Some days I count all of the things that have gone wrong, all of the things I must face.

Not today. This is a good day. Days like these are what I need to hang onto.

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