adoption

The Month All the Mommies Leave

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It’s March again, and I can never stop this month from coming! This is the month our children were removed from their biological home during a drug raid. It was a particularly warm March the year they went into foster care. I know this because I looked it up. Carl is 11 now. After living with him for a few years, we’ve noticed that his fear and/or misbehavior increases drastically every spring. As soon as it gets warm, Carl’s “traumaversary” kicks in.

In all honesty Carl’s been cranky in a pre-teen sort of way so far. He yells at us and stomps around, slamming doors. He reminds yells at us for being “stupid,” or “aggravating.” Then my sweet boy runs to me, head hanging down, for a hug or a snuggle. He admits that he is very angry and can’t figure out why. I’m hoping this is the worst of it. things seem to get a little easier every year. I really hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this!

Anyway, as things get easier for Carl, we are noticing some significant separation anxiety in Mary. I’m not sure if this has happened every year or not. Have we overlooked her because Carl’s reactions were so extreme? Are her reactions more extreme this year because she has started puberty and gone through some medication changes?

All I know is that when I am out of sight, Mary starts to become agitated. At a recent doctor’s appointment my husband brought me to, they sat in the waiting room. When the nurse came to get me Mary started kicking the seat, trying to bait Carl into an argument, and being defiant to Luke. These are all signs that her fear is increasing. Her fight or flight response was taking over.

Luke took her outside to the car, where she could safely tantrum, and get all of her screaming and kicking out. It didn’t last very long and everyone was safe. She just really needed to let her big feelings out. She’s also having big feelings at school about missing me. I sent in a picture of Luke and I that she can keep in her desk, and look at when she is lonely.

Mary has also started to sit outside the bathroom door when I am showering. She is sleeping upstairs outside of our room. We’ve taped a picture of mom and dad on the wall next to her pillow. She’s like an extra cuddly  mom-magnet following me around everywhere. When I do my physical therapy exercises, she does them too. When I sit down, she plops herself as close as she can to me. Short of crawling directly into my ribcage, I’m not sure she could get any closer.

Somewhere, deep inside, they remember this as being the month that they lost a mother. This is why the month of March is a tough one for our kids. As my mom explained to me, this must be the month when our kids feel like “Mommies Leave.”  Every year, I hope their fear eases a little more, as they heal.

Too bad March. I’m not going anywhere! This mom is here to stay!

 

 

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

 

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family

Don’t Wipe Your Nose on Papa

papaplay

It’s supposed to be a gesture of affection. Mostly it has become a way for Carl to wipe away the boogers in his nose or the sweat from his face. He buries his head in the nearest family member and just swipes from side to side. Carl does not believe in tissues or napkins. He didn’t have them in his biological home. He prefers to use his shirt. When I tell him not to wipe his nose on his own shirt, he turns to Papa’s shirt. Clearly my parental guidance is lacking somehow.

My parents have become a major fixture in this family. They are always here for us. When they moved halfway across the country to live in our town, it was like a lifeline being thrown our way. Now our little family is bigger. The best days for me are the ones that are really rough as a parent. On those days I can tell my own mom how hard it is to be a parent. She comes over for coffee, no matter how big of a tantrum one of the kids is having. She’s brave. She loves us, warts and all.

On the phone Carl tells my mother that “this will probably be the last time I ever see you in my life.” It’s such an odd thing for a child to say, but it is so true for him. Of course, my mom has the solution. She comes over with pictures of Nana and Papa in little frames. Now Carl cannot help but to see them in his life. There they are, right next to the remote!

Nana brings us a map of Missouri. She has marked the areas where they will travel. Each town is circled in red pen. Here in Connecticut, we can follow their progress. This concrete reminder will show us all that they are still out there. Carl has a toy VW beetle that we placed on a map of the US to track their move from Missouri to Connecticut. Now they will be bringing the real life VW home.

We call them throughout the week and track them on the map. On the day they finally come back we have therapy. Mary cries in the therapist’s office that she doesn’t think Nana and Papa are ever coming back. Carl explains to her that are because they have to come back for their cat and we have the map etc. etc. Logically she knows they are coming but she feels like she won’t see them again.

After therapy we drive straight to their house. Mary is overflowing with amazement. “They came back!” she exclaims. Carl buries his face in Papa’s sweatshirt. I forget to remind him not to wipe his sweat on Papa. Secretly, a small knot of worry in my stomach unravels. I breathe a sigh of relief. It isn’t just Mary and Carl. I needed my parents, too. I think we are all learning the truth about family. When you love someone, you show up. Family shows up. Family comes back.

 

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

 

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adoption, family

Recovery: Adventures in Healing from Trauma

Maybe I needed this to happen. I think I needed a major back injury to put things into perspective. I am about 4 weeks post-op from spinal surgery. The more I move around, the more my back hurts. On the plus side, I can now walk and I can feel my right foot again. I was hoping that I would be magically cured by now and back to normal activity. I’m not. I’m still in pain but I am leaps and bounds from where I started.

This seems like the perfect analogy for my childrens’ trauma. Despite all of the hard work and therapy we put in, it is still there. Their trauma responses and attachment are leaps and bounds better from where they started. However, the fear they have is still there. It’s a long process and we are still working on it.

This summer Mary has reverted back a bit in terms of separation anxiety. Mary wants to be with me every second of every day. She hugs me until I cannot breathe. She watches me intently as I eat a sandwich or enjoy a cup of coffee. She proclaims “Oh, Mommy! You’re here!” at least 5 times per day. When I come out of the bathroom and open the door, she falls in because she has been pressed up against it on the other side. Mary cannot get enough of mommy-time. Each morning she exclaims, “I missed you all night! I’m so glad you’re here!”

She has been waking up in the night again. She is having some difficulty separating from us at bedtime. She says, “I just feel like I don’t get any time with you. I want a mommy and girl day where I can love you all day!”

All of her attention is very sweet. She really loves me. A lot. To the point of suffocation. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful and happy to be loved by such an awesome little chicken. I really lucked out as a mom. It’s just that I’d like to be able to carry a conversation with someone else once and awhile. It would be nice to pee in private without someone listening intently on the other side of the door!

She mentioned in therapy last night that she is afraid I will die. (Did I mention that her therapist is back from maternity leave? She came back! Thank goodness!!) Mary has even thought about how I will die. She has imagined or dreamed that:

  1. One of her biological mother’s boyfriends will find us and beat me to death.
  2. I will be in a car accident.
  3. I will get shot.
  4. I will have a heart attack.

Mary told the therapist that she worried her biological parents would find us. She imagined them flying around in a plane and seeing us playing outside. She felt worried and anxious and afraid.

Mary has been working on the difference between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Her therapist helped her tease out the difference between her worries and real-life logic. This is so hard for children with significant trauma history. Mary has a world-view that moms leave or get taken away. Because she thinks I am a “good mom,” and an “appropriate mom,” she knows I won’t leave her. So now she worries that it will happen some other way.

Through all of the healing these kids have done, they still have the underlying fear that all of this could be taken from them. They fear that the trauma of their past may come and reclaim them. It’s getting better, but it’s a long process.

As I got down on the floor today to do my stretches and back exercises, Mary got right down with me. Like a mirror image, she copied me move for move. Together we stretched our back muscles and exercised our core. It’s a long process. The road to recovery isn’t easy but we are getting there. Together.

 

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

 

**If you’ve ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure.

 

 

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adoption, family

Disapearing People: Abandonment Fears in Adoption

“Where are you going? Why are you leaving? Where is Nana? NANA?! WHERE ARE YOU???” This was Carl’s reaction when my mother walked around a corner. I’m not sure if he thought I’d done away with her, a black hole had gotten her, or that she possibly fled in fear. He had to see her to believe in her presence. Once we rounded the side of the house again he exclaimed, “Nana!” as if seeing her for the very first time.

The fear of abandonment runs deep in our children. When I think about it from their perspective, it makes sense. Children only know what is concrete and in front of them. The nuances of life outside of their experiences are lost on them. What our kids know about abandonment comes from their own personal history.

Their biological parents left them. Their foster parents left them. They changed schools, doctors, therapists, and homes more than once. In their experience adults leave. Some adults don’t come back. This is what they know.

For the most part, our children have started to believe that Luke and I will come back for them. Over the last two years we have amazingly been able to go to work, go to the mailbox, go to the grocery store, and even go to the bathroom while coming back. Every. Single. Time.

And then… the Littles’ therapist went on maternity leave. She left them. Of course, she had a very good reason to do so, and I am able to understand that. (OK, I’ll admit it. That little baby girl has seriously inconvenienced me! I mean, how could she be more important than my children. But, it isn’t polite to argue with a baby…) Carl and Mary, on the other hand, need to process that their therapist will, eventually come back. (Oh, please, please, come back!!)

I’m beginning to think that our children need their therapist more than a fish needs water. They’ve been with her for over a year, give-or-take. Through the last 2 years our kids have been through all kinds of therapy. Group therapy, inpatient therapy, intensive outpatient therapy, in-home intensive therapy and individual trauma therapy.

The most effective thing has been finding the right treatment providers. Therapists who were well versed in the effects of prolonged early-life trauma on kids. Therapists who believed that our kids could attach to us and would attach to us. People who believed in family, our family. I found it in the therapist who I see weekly. We were lucky in to find all that in a trauma therapist for Mary and Carl.

Since their primary therapist has been away on maternity leave, a lot of Mary’s past anxieties about being abandoned have come up. She is melting down into sobbing, gut-wrenching wailing tears daily. She hates for me to go anywhere or pay attention to anything other than her. She is fighting with Carl every day. To his credit, he tries very very hard not to fight back. Mary has had a few tantrums at night, screaming and throwing things, demanding to be tucked in over and over again. Refusing to lie down. Screaming at the top of her lungs that I am just like her bio-mom because I don’t love her and I am leaving her to go to bed. “You’re leaving me!! You’ll never come back!” she screams. Meanwhile, I am left sitting next to her bed wondering where I have gone.

Carl, bless him, has been working hard to control his anger. He is in an intensive group therapy program right now. Every day he tries to show me in little ways, that he loves me. That he loves Mary. That he is sorry he was smashing things and having violent rages a few weeks ago. He is still uncontrollably angry at times, but his fear is what I am seeing the most of. Fear that we will leave him. Fear that we won’t come back.

Every time my husband picks up an extra shift, Carl gets a tension headache. He crawls into my lap moaning and crying and clutching his head. “Why won’t he come back?” Carl sobs. When I ask him what hurts he tells me he has “a head anxiety,” because “Daddy is at work.” Sometimes his headaches make him throw up, if he is crying hard enough. Medicine doesn’t help. For Carl, the only cure that works is family.

After Luke came home the other night, he tucked Carl in twice. A half hour later, Luke and I were snuggled in bed watching “grown-up” TV shows when we heard a whimpering shuffling noise on the stairs. Carl crawled dramatically into our room and flung himself on the bed. His “head anxiety was too much to handle Daddy working,” he claimed. Carl squirmed into the middle of us, face down, in a fetal position. We all squished in tightly, and watched a more PG show. He tgradually relaxed into a normal resting pose.  We just rubbed his back. After 20 minutes of snuggle, Carl had “enough of the Mommy and Daddy love” to feel better. While he went back to bed I pondered the fact that our mere presence could have that much of a healing effect. All we had to do was be there and love him.

All of this brings me back to their therapist who has shaped our family in so many ways. She has worked miracles in fighting that horrible  early childhood trauma. She has helped our kids see that they are safe enough to attach to us. I realize that while she is home with her new baby, she is doing much of the same work. Her new baby is learning that family means safety and mothers give love. This child will grow up feeling secure in the fact that food, warmth, affection, and love are all things that come with parents. She is providing her baby with all the things I wish someone had provided for Carl and Mary. I find this comforting because, let’s be honest, my kids aren’t the only ones feeling this separation anxiety right now.

In the end it’s all about family, and ours is here to stay. Thank goodness we have a therapist who understands this. Now if she would only come back! Had anyone ever heard of therapists cutting maternity leave short after being offered homemade cookies???? Flowers?? A fruit basket…?

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

*If you’ve ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure.

 

 

 

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