adoption, family

Are You My Mother?

What is it like to love someone who doesn’t love you back? Or maybe the better question is what is it like to love someone who isn’t capable of loving you in a reciprocal way? I ponder this all the time because I live it. Loving my daughter with attachment difficulties is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I’m her mom. To me, nurturing her comes second nature. I want her to be happy. I want her to do well. I so desperately want to help her after all she has been through.

For Mary the word “love” has an entirely different meaning. Nurturing in her experience means having a female figure who helps her to survive. The woman must give her attention at all times because even a glance away can mean death. Mary can remember what severe, chronic neglect feels like.  A woman who yells at her or hits her is still providing the attention Mary feels is necessary to survival. It no longer even matters who the woman is.

The “woman” is interchangeable. It could be anyone. Mary isn’t able to tell the difference between a healthy bond and an unhealthy bond. A woman who has just met her has the same value as one who provides food, shelter and affection. There is no standard here. The only burning need Mary must have fulfilled is that there is another woman and then another and another one waiting somewhere after that. This way Mary can never run out. This way she feels as if she can survive.

I do my best to meet the challenge of parenting a child like this. I always fall short when it comes to giving her enough attention. Having anyone else in my life is too much for her. My going to the bathroom is too much for her. When I watch the road while driving the lack of attention drives her into a panic. No one human person can provide enough for Mary to feel safe.

She will throw herself into my arms and snuggle and play and be happy for a time. I will feel like we are making progress. Maybe she is feeling safe. Then I will find secret letters she has written to strangers with nice jewelry. They will say, “I think you should be my mother now. My parents don’t want me. Maybe you can adopt me and we can wear necklaces.”

It sucks. I mean it is heartbreaking and sad. I know that the minute she can no longer see me I am forgotten to her. She’s moved on to another way of getting her needs met. She is a survivor and she will love the one she’s with.  I really hate this part of an attachment disorder. I understand it in a logical way. I just hate it.

Trying to explain attachment disorders to the staff at her last psychiatric facility (PRTF) is akin to nailing jell-o to a tree. “Please keep reassuring her that Family is forever. She has a biological family and an adoptive family that love her. We will always be here.” That facility let her call some of the staff “mom” and “dad.” A lot of them meant well, but were ill-informed.

They told her that her command hallucinations were “the devil,” and that she should keep him out. Don’t ask me how a psychoiatric facility has staff that aren’t familiar with auditory hallucinations, complex trauma or attachment disorders. They were the only PRTF for a child her age. Insurance gave us this or nothing. Mental health care (or lack thereof) in our country is a whole different story…

I found that some PRTF staff members had made secret pacts with our almost-11-year-old. They’ve told her they can call each other from Mary’s new RTC program. They told Mary it was alright not to mention it to us. They will find each other someday. They have known Mary for all of 7 months.

We moved her into the new residential treatment center (RTC) a few days ago. They specialize in complex trauma and use reserch-based treatment methods. I am pretty sure they don’t beleive the devil is causing her to hallucinate, or that she is collaborating with him etc. Instead, they greeted us with “Welcome Mary!” signs everywhere. They remembered everything from the information we provided. They kindly but firmly stated that staff are referred to by name and that only famililies have titles like “mom” or “dad.” Every staff member on the beautiful campus greeted her by name immediatley.

This is  a 45 day diagnostic placement to determine if she needs a residential setting to keep her (and us) safe while accessing her right to education. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We were beyond lucky to get her this placement  through an IEP with her school district. It’s almost impossible to do. Almost.

Impossible isn’t a word we use in this family. Nothing is impossible. Not even love.

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

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adoption, family

The Finish Line

He ours! He’s ours! He is finally our son OFFICIALLY! We made it. We finally made it to adoption.

It took us four years. Four long years. Four years ago we met a 16-year-old that was labeled as “troubled teen.” 3 years since the first time he asked to be adopted. 2-and-a-half years since he walked out and then walked back in again. 2 years since he walked out for good, before we could finalize that adoption. 1 year since he started coming back for weekend visits.

The night before the adoption I was still wondering if he would go through with it. 6 months was the closest we had ever gotten to finalization in the past. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be overjoyed. But instead I was apprehensive. Would he back out? Would he have second thoughts?

It wasn’t until the judge pronounced us a family that I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s when the joy hit. I am not at all embarrassed to admit that I cried the whole time. He has our last name. It cannot be a happy ending because our story isn’t over. He may still pull back at times. But we have made it this far. Whatever happens after this, he has our name.

Our newest “baby” is 20. We finally made it to the finish line. He’s ours

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

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adoption, family

One Last Adoption: the Prodigal Son

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Once, it was our “almost-adoption.” The son that was, then wasn’t, then was and then repeat again. Marcus was our Prodigal son. Each time he circled back to us I got more used to the push-pull of his affections. At first was a 16-year-old boy, desperate for a family while simultaneously terrified of family. He eventually turned into an 18-year-old with the same hopes and fears. Only then he was on his own, having aged-out of foster care.

Marcus has been back home since the end of September. He is 20-years-old now. A young man by all accounts, and yet he still needs his family. He’s asked us if we would still be able to finalize his adoption. Could he still take our last name? Could he still call us his “parents” in an official capacity?

Of course he can! And so we filed the paperwork for an adult adoption. He chose a name for his new birth certificate. He asked that we be listed as his parents. His new middle name will be based off of a favorite comic book character. It’s odd for a legal name but who am I to judge? He is an adult now. He can make his choices.

So now we wait. The fee has been paid and the clerk has signed off. Our court date will be sometime after Thanksgiving, either late November or early December. I should be overjoyed. I am overjoyed. It’s just that I’m also apprehensive.

Every time we got close to legalization in the past, he recoiled. It was as if he’d touched a hot stove and instinctively backed away. Then we would start over at square one to build a relationship with him.

It’s been so wonderful to have him home. It’s been great to hear, “Mom! Hey Ma! Ma!!” over and over (and over!) all day. Sometimes I think he is checking to make sure I’m still here. I am. I will always be here.

Eventually he may push us away again. He tends to follow a pattern in his relationships. But maybe, just maybe, it will be different if he has our name. Maybe then he will realize that no matter how hard he pushes, we will always be right here.

Marcus reminds me of Icarus from Greek mythology. He takes risks. He learns the hard way.  He wants so badly to love and to be loved. Like Icarus, he flies too close to the sun and burns. Perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps this time he will keep flying.

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

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adoption, family

Rearview Mirror: My Prodigal Son

“It’s your brother’s birthday party this weekend. I wish you were coming. We all miss you.” I sent this Facebook message onto the cybersphere with little hope of a response. It’s been a few months since we’ve heard from Marcus, our “prodigal son.” I went off of the assumption that he had just ghosted out again. He does this often. Eventually I figured he’d contact us if he needed something.

Imagine my surprise when the phone chirped back with, “I wud love to go.”

Just like that, our oldest was back in our orbit. He told me he had “big news.” Marcus insisted he could only tell me in person. My stomach dropped as I immediately tried not to think of the possibility that he was having a baby.  I’m pretty sure that I kept my fingers crossed the entire way to pick him up for the weekend.

Pulling up to a tiny, dingy, brick duplex, I spotted him hoisting an oversized zebra-print duffel bag onto his shoulder. It had pink writing on the pockets, and there was a pouch for a bottle on the side. Gulp. Marcus hopped into the car, stating the bag was his girlfriends. He is now living with this latest girlfriend-and-her-mother. Another girlfriend, another mother, another home, rinse, repeat. This is Marcus’ cycle. There are many people residing in the tiny apartment, including the younger brother (paternal) to Mary and Carl (Marcus has a different father.) Imagine trying to explain that our oldest son is living with his siblings’ younger sibling. Oh and he is also dating that sibling’s oldest sister. Sure….

Anyway, the visit went the same as usual. Marcus wanted to drive everywhere. He wanted to take out the trash, run the errands, help out around the house. We played Bananagrams (his favorite) and card games into the night. He gave Carl a ninja turtle Lego set and a red fidget spinner. He got me iced coffee from the local Dunkin’ Donuts. In other words, classic Marcus, or at least classic when he’s in his good place.

When he finally shared his big news, I could have cried with relief and happiness. Marcus signed up for the Job Corps’ electrician program. He’d have a guaranteed place to stay. He would have food, supervision, and training.  Did this mean he would be OK? Maybe I could stop wondering “what-if” with Marcus. Maybe he was doing alright despite never having been adopted. 

Driving home he recounted his weekend highlights. He loved visiting the farm where he had riding lessons when he lived with us. He loved Carl’s birthday party. His absolute favorite thing was going to the batting cage with Luke. It was one of those classic father-son moments where Luke taught him how to swing and how to watch for the ball. The difference being that most kids do this with their dad at a young age, not at age 19.

And then he played me Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s song “Trap House.”

“I used to have a trap house,” he commented nonchalantly. I could see him glance over at me to gauge my reaction. I froze in place, staring straight ahead at the road. A drug house. He used to sell drugs.

“After we knew you?” I asked quietly in a tightly-controlled voice.

“After I left.”

After you left which time??” I ground out each word with effort. It was when he was 18 and living with yet-another-girlfriend-and-her-mother. Rinse, repeat. I catch my breathe and sit in silence until I am sure I will not scream. Why did he choose this life over our family? Why?

It hurt to get the words out. “Do you know that I’ve never wanted anything from you except for you to be happy? I’ve only wanted for you to have a good life. I can’t make your decisions for you. No matter how you feel about me, I will always consider you to be my oldest. I will always care about you. I will never stop worrying. I will never stop asking myself why you couldn’t let us take care of you. ”

Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. When he got out of the car he caught me up in an enormous hug. Words of apology for his past choices washed over me. Reassurances that he was “staying away from that stuff” filtered through my ears like so much white noise. How many times over the years have we repeated this same conversation?

Driving away, I could see him standing in the road, adjusting his zebra-striped duffel bag  higher up on his shoulder. He looked so small. A part of me wonders if I’ll spend the rest of my days looking into the rearview mirror at Marcus.

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

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adoption, mental illness

Mania and Matricide: It’s Not OK

cdadlock

Installing deadbolts

It’s not OK to hit me. It’s not OK to bite me. It’s not OK that I have a scar on my head from where you split it open with a high heeled shoe three years ago. It’s not OK that our son has to live at my parents house because he isn’t safe here. It’s not OK for you to plan on stabbing me and stabbing your brother. Not with a kitchen knife OR with a bottle opener.

It’s not OK that we’ve installed cameras with motion sensors and night vision in all the public areas of our house. It’s not OK that we have combination locks on the cabinets where we keep all the “sharps.” It’s not OK that we had to install deadbolts on the doors to our bedrooms. It’s not OK that the motion sensor alarm goes off to wake me up at 12:30 AM when you are wandering the house in search of a “stabbing weapon.”

It’s not OK that you told your therapist today that “Mom has to die!” and then threatened to kill yourself and your brother. You’ve been planning this ever since your last few hospitalizations. Last time they called you “depressed” and started a course of SSRI medications. Not OK!

When you came home your depression became a manic state. You became a child with pressured speech so fast that you stopped using consonants. You started your “hyper phase,” which means you never sleep. You laugh harder and harder until you are screaming and then breaking things. It is not OK that we had to “toss” your room and remove all of the hard furniture and sharp objects. It is not Ok that your service dog found a jack-o-lantern carving knife and gave it to us (well, actually it’s very OK with me that the service dog probably saved our lives.) Did you find it during a night of wandering around the house? Your hand was always holding things under your blankie, ever aware of the cameras. This is not OK.

dakota1

Dakota Blue, the service dog

You want to know what else is not OK? It’s not OK that the inpatient doctors refused to call your PHP, your psychiatrist, your trauma therapist, or your in-home service team. It’s not OK that they sent you home with an active murder plan and a spiraling state of mania that escalates into more grandiose and diabolical schemes. It is not OK that the state’s voluntary services program we applied for does not consider planning murder to be “clinically acute” enough for a short-term residential placement.

There are some other things that are not OK. It was NEVER ok for you to be neglected as a baby. It wasn’t OK that your pediatrician never reported to anyone that you were in the 12th percentile for weight and selectively mute. It is NOT ok that DCF had been involved with your bio family for 10 years before removing all of you. They were getting hotline calls before you were ever born! It is not OK that any attention you got from your bio mom often became abusive. It is not OK that you lived in terror and learned how to survive the ever-rotating bevy of strange men in your home.

It is NOT OK that I wasn’t able to be your mom in the beginning, when the bad things were happening. It’s not OK and it is not your fault.

Here is what is OK. It is OK that we knew about your mental health concerns when we adopted you. We chose you because you are more than a diagnostic label. You are an amazing girl. You are OUR girl. It is OK that you need to be somewhere safe right now until you stabilize. It is OK to need medication to help you do that. It is OK to grieve the first mother you ever had. God, I wish I could give some of that back to you. The good parts at least.

Our family is going to be OK. It isn’t easy getting there. Yes, we “chose” this life. But I still say we chose the best children. Nothing in life is easy. The best things are hard. I’ve seen parents with profoundly disabled children flourish. I’ve seen severely autistic children learn to read. So yes, we will be OK. It is OK to decide we are not going to try for a biological child. It is OK to stick with the family we have.

it’s OK that it takes an attachment-disordered child a long time to overcome the fear of love. It’s Ok that you inherited some of your bio mom’s mental health concerns. It’s OK because you will never struggle on your own the way she had to. It’s OK as long as we can all stay safe. And I pray that we can. We have done everything in our power. The rest is up to you, sweet girl. Don’t doubt yourself. Mental health can be a manageable illness. Love will always be there for you. No matter what.

ycameran

night vision camera

 

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

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adoption, Attachment Disorders

If I Die Before I Wake

I pray the lord my soul to take. I wish these were just the words of a bedtime prayer. In my case, these words are real. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that our children have experienced an intense level of unspeakable trauma. Luke and I know this. We know how to parent therapeutically. We know how to get as many services as possible for our daughter. It doesn’t matter. She is a real danger to me and to her brother right now.

Our daughter has learned to survive. Her current diagnosis are PTSD-dissociative subtype and Reactive Attachment Disorder, with periods of psychosis. There is a lot of chatter about the RAD diagnosis, which I won’t get into here. Because I don’t care. Whether it be Developmental Trauma Disorder  (DTD, which never made it into the DSM-V) or RAD or PTSD or DMDD or any other diagnosis she’s had, it doesn’t matter. She still wants to kill me. A mother’s love is something she craves so badly that it hurts her. It twists her happy feelings into anger and possessiveness.

It all started the month we needed to buy her bras. She’s only 10 but here comes puberty. And so it began. In with the bras. Out with the effectiveness of her medication. She began hearing voices. SHe started to journal about my death. She began to tantrum and scream and fight invisible foes that only she could see. Oh, my dear little Mary, how I wish I could fight them for you.

Her love for me is desperate and all consuming. She needs me every second of every day. If I take a shower, she tantrums, if I leave the room, she explodes in a fit of rage. If I ask an innocuous question such as, “Do you like your new shorts?” She hears, “I hate you. I no longer love you. I am abandoning you.” When I turn to her brother for a momentary comment, she attacks. She will circle me and chase me with her little fists flying. She is trying to hit me in the spine. She will cripple me before allowing me to speak to Carl. So far, it hasn’t worked.

“If I can’t have you, ” she tells me, “no one can. I will stab us both.” In the night or early morning, she will loom over the bed, watching me sleep. “Mama?” she whispers, “Do you love me?” Of course I do. But I can never show her enough to quell her fear of losing me. She will make comments on my facial expressions. Why did my eyebrow twitch? Why did I move my top lip? Am I trying to get away? Have I stopped loving her?!The last 3 years of Trust Based Relational Intervention made all the difference, until now. TF-CBT made all the difference. Until now. Her anti-psychotic medication made all the difference. Until now.

The worst part is that it becomes unpredictable. We play mirroring games, and we snuggle, and I giver her all of my attention. Our time is spent connecting. As close as I stay to her, and as much love as I provide? I can never guess when a momentary glance at another person or thing will invoke her uncontrollable rage. We keep our knives and “sharps” locked up. You need the combination for a screwdriver in this house. Only, she finds other things. She shows me a bottle opener I’ve overlooked.

“You know this is sharp enough?” she casually quips, “I could stab you with this.”

The part that gets to me is how she discusses my murder without any observable emotion at all. Her brother tells me that earlier that she’s tried to figure out the combination for the lock on the knife cupboard. We only use plastic silverware in our house now.

As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. Nothing except the onset of puberty. Her intense violent rages happen every day. She injures herself most frequently.  She rips out her hair or punches herself in the face. She screams about murder. And blood. And the death of everyone on this planet who has ever hurt her. The bio-mother who abandoned her and hurt her. The mother she has now who sometimes needs to shower.

She is being released from the inpatient psychiatric hospital for the 5th or 6th time tomorrow. I’ve lost track. We have in-home services. We have an amazing trauma therapist who has worked with her for 3 years. We have a parent therapist for Luke and I. We have a partial hospitalization program set up that she has used more than I could even count over the last 3 years. There aren’t anymore services, unless the state agrees to help. Her medication no longer works. Today the inpatient hospital program told us they are releasing her tomorrow because there isn’t anything more they can do for her on the unit. Ever.

We’ve called a meeting with all of her providers for safety planning. We have PHP, Trauma team, And IICAPS (Intensive In-home Adolescent and Psychiatric Services) all concerned for safety is she is home. I miss my girl. I want her home. I’d just like to remain alive for her childhood. She hasn’t managed to truly hurt me yet, beyond a few arm and leg bruises. She hasn’t hurt Carl yet. It isn’t for lack of trying. It’s because Carl and I are too quick. We lock ourselves away and call for help.

Luke and I are doing the only things we can do. We are installing security cameras in all of the common areas of the house. Everywhere except for bedrooms and bathrooms. We need to objectively see what is happening. It’s entirely possible that we are unwittingly triggering her in some way. It is entirely true she doesn’t want anyone to see the things she does in the privacy of our home.

It is also highly probable that she’s spent a lot of time talking to “Josie” the “ghost” who orders my death (and possibly that of her brother.) The therapists in our home see her mood fluctuation and dangerous actions. So does her long term trauma therapist. But to most other clinicians? She is the sweetest most charming girl of all. She has always had to be this way, in order to survive her biological home. My Mary is a fighter. A survivor. For this, I am proud. I only wish she didn’t feel the driving need to survive being loved. 

Mary flipped out and began to yell at us and her inpatient therapist in the hospital today. She doesn’t like the cameras. She doesn’t want others to see her violence and destruction. She doesn’t want anyone to see her try to hurt Carl or try to attack me. When we don’t make progress with her on-call crisis team, we call 9-1-1. She will scream at the police and yell at the EMTs, but they never hear her plan my murder. Once we get to the psychiatric ward she is completely calm. Perhaps the video will help us to show what happens. After all, she only threatens or attacks those she loves the most. This kind of deep attachment-related trauma won’t be seen on a psychiatric ward. She simply does not require or crave deep relationships with revolving staff.

What she really needs from me is proof of my unconditional love. I try to give this as much as I can. Is it enough? It never is. What she is getting is 24/7 surveillance. Just in case. Because our daughter is trying to literally love me to death.

So if I never blog another post? Well then, I guess you’ll know why. 

 

yletter3

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

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adoption, PTSD

A Safe Place to Land

Everyone seems to know how to live this life better. This complex and confusing life of parenting children with severe developmental trauma. The life where your kids may have extreme behaviors, and/or mental health diagnosis. This life. This is a life that others are afraid to live. 

The part that most don’t understand is how this particular life could be one that I love. One that I have chosen. This life is fulfilling and joyful for me. I can be a hard person to buy material gifts for because I honestly just don’t care. I already have everything I could ever want.

Sometimes, though, I am scared. How will I continue to handle aggressive rages and outbursts? After almost 3 years of physical safety from my daughter it is hard to go back to that place. The place where her most common expression is one of anger. Her reactions to the slightest disappointment become violent outbursts. She is 10 now, and much taller and stronger than when she was barely 7.  I wonder how we got back to this place?! 

Loving my daughter is never the question. Sometimes, when I am in my deepest, darkest place, surviving her becomes the question. No matter how much love we put in or how many resources we find, the trauma continues to plague us all. This past week I’ve woken up several times in terror, covered in a cold sweat. I feel as though danger is imminent and I cannot catch my breathe. Since when do I have such a  visceral response to basic nightmares? Probably since Mary started raging again. 

There could never be an expiration on my love for her. There could never be an expiration on my commitment to her. Is it possible there could be an expiration on my ability to handle her violence? 

How did this happen? I naively thought we had conquered the worst parts. We still battle past traumas alongside our children. They still go to therapy. But I thought the days of her physical attacks were long gone. Perhaps that is why my reaction is one of panic. We left this place so far behind. Can we get through it all over again? 

I understand that professionals have a different perspective. In fact, they often lack perspective entirely. This life that I have chosen is actually quite rare. Not many “older children” get adopted from foster care. In essence, there is less chance of a doctor coming across a case like ours. The goal seems to always be to change their behavior. Change my behavior. To fix it. To fix her. How ridiculous.

I cannot fix what is already beautiful. All I can hope for is a bit of healing mixed with trust. I can love until forever. And I can hope for a safe place to land. For all of us. 

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

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