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

While She is Gone

So many things happen while she is gone. There are birthdays, holidays, and family outings. There is so much lost time. And yet, I ask myself: what really happens while she is gone?

Mary has been at a psychiatric residential treatment facility (PRTF) for 5 months. People will ask me, “Do you get to see her?” Yes, of course we get to see her. She isn’t in jail. We have visits and day trips and we’ve even made it up to almost 8 hours at home on a handful of occasions. Ok, maybe just 2 occasions, but we are working on it. It’s just not enough.

Luke and I travel the hour drive one-way to see her about 3 times a week. Once is for a day-trip visit. once is for a family therapy session at the PRTF. The third is for an attachment-focused therapy session “off-grounds” with a psychologist. This last one is the ONLY therapy session in which she will participate. I’m almost certain the psychologist is part wizard.

In the PRTF session she mostly screams at the clinician, Mrs. T. Mary runs away, laughs uncontrollably and then smashes things during Mrs. T’s sessions. Afterwards she asks me to take her to lunch as if nothing has happened. Instead, I’ve begun to call in for the PRTF sessions because nothing beneficial is happening during that time.

Mrs. T has decided that whatever happens in therapy will be Mary’s choice but if she won’t go to session her “level” will drop. So Mary goes and sits in the room. She screams and slams things. Mrs. T assures her they will only talk about what Mary wants to talk about. They will only do what Mary wants to do. Not being a therapist herself, Mary makes some interesting choices. She chooses a lot of yelling and foul language at said clinician. Eventually she colors some pictures about why she hates therapy. Mrs. T praises Mary and sends her on her way.

I know they care about Mary at the PRTF. Mrs. T wants her to do well. Everyone wants Mary to improve. Everyone except Mary. Maybe she is too scared to try. So all of us keep trying while she is away. Mrs. T acquiesces and cajoles to no effect.

Not so with Dr. P, the off-grounds psychologist. He calls Mary out for her avoidance tactics. He lets her know that mom and dad will go to lunch and she will stay behind if she won’t participate. After all, it’s her session. She has to finish it but we do not. Oddly, she isn’t upset by this. Instead, she responds fully. He somehow magically draws her out of her shell. She would never scream at him. So Luke and I attend this weekly session together, every week. Dr. P has Mary sit in between us to “feel the love all around her.”

Dr. P has many insights into why it’s so hard for Mary to share Mom. He is very, very good. I still spend so much time wondering: what is really happening with her? How much progress is really taking place while she is there? While she is gone, we are all safe. Are we really accomplishing anything else?

Because life is happening while she is gone. Our family is healing while she is gone. The world continues while she is gone.

https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

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

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adoption

Fierce Trauma, Fierce Love


Any color of paint mixed with black will transform into something darker. Light, beautiful pink will transform into the rusted color of blood. Sky blue morphs into the inky black-blue of the deepest ocean. A dark blue where monstrous creatures hide beneath the waves.

So, too, does trauma color the love my daughter has for me. A drop of black paint distorts the simple happiness of love and acceptance. It becomes darker, more intense. Her love is fierce and possessive and frightening. It leaves behind a dull stain on our relationship, even in the happiest of days. Trauma is always there, coloring her world.

“Remember,” Trauma says, “Remember the love of your first mother. Remember how it hurt you.”

She has a deep entrenched fear that I will abandon her. I will leave, I won’t care, no one will take care of her. The second I turn away, her body tells her that death is imminent. She’s spent too many of her earlier years surviving a mother. How can she possibly enjoy one now?

When we discuss her brother, Carl, in therapy, she stares at me accusingly. She claims I love him more, I always have.  She complains heatedly that all I do are “mom chores” like dishes, when I should be playing with her all day. The psychologist queries if I should go to work, make dinner, or go to the bathroom. Her resounding “NO!” hits me like a slap. Hatred flickers through her gaze while her tiny manicured nails grip my arm in a stranglehold. She will not lose another mother. She will not let go.

But Mary’s not home. She’s in a short-term treatment facility. It’s somehow easier for her to live in an institution than at home where she’d have to watch me turn my attention elsewhere. I’m wracking my brain. How can I let her know that I am steady? I am the mom-that’s-always-here. I love her. I keep coming back, no matter what. The daily 15 minutes of one-on-one child-led play for each child comes to mind. The “Mom and Kid” days I spent with her ignoring mundane things like chores, responsibilities, or other people, didn’t help. Even then I’d look at the road while driving. I’d turn my attention to traffic signals while she screamed, “I said to LOOK AT ME!!!” from the backseat, her face turning bright red and splotchy.

I would like to think that nearly four years of therapeutic connected parenting has helped. In some ways, it has. Her trauma causes fear, which comes out as anger. TBRI, a model developed by Karyn Purvis and others at the Texas Christian University, has helped us to disarm that fear. But with Mary? That fear runs so much deeper. We have parented her at the developmental age she is. We try to return what she has lost. Still, even toddlers’ moms have to watch the road when they are driving.

She called me today in a flurry of righteous outrage. A little boy had been throwing rocks at the RTC program’s van while it was transporting children. When the staff pulled over to inform the boy’s mother, she wasn’t concerned. According to Mary she said she didn’t care and left her child standing in the road while she walked into a store. He fell and skinned a knee and was left to cry. Alone. Mary is incensed. Only, it isn’t directed at me. She is mad at this stranger for not being a better mother. I’m shocked. To my knowledge I am the only mother she has expressed any anger towards.

“She left her baby! He was only like 2 or 3-years-old,” through the phone I hear Mary’s outrage.

“What kind of a mother doesn’t care?! She is a bad mother. I yelled at her out the window. I told her that my mother would never leave me in the road. She would run to me even if her back was broken! No matter how old we get, my mother takes care of her kids! I have a good mom!”

As awful as it sounds, I am so glad my daughter was able to express her rage to this unknown mother. I’m so glad she didn’t somehow believe it to be my fault, and call me in anger. And I am forever grateful to hear that Mary sees me as a mother, she sees my dedication. That is beyond priceless to me.

Children often have nurseries painted in quiet pastel colors. “Baby Blue,” and “Baby Pink” are the names of colors designed for such a purpose. Nurseries are often like a sunrise with lightness and bright things everywhere. Our story is colored differently. We have dramatic shades of deep gold and royal purple. Perhaps we are the ferocious beauty of sunset.

Our daughter shines with all of the beauty of the stars in the night-black sky.

 

 

*If you’d like to hear me interviewed about parenting with trauma, check out my interview on “Adoption Unscripted” here:

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/102008/raising-kids-with-trauma-how-do-we-respond

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

 

 

 

 

 

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