Monday, June 29, 2015

an adoption disrupted

This is one of the hardest things I have ever written. Yet it has been pinging around, unsettled, in my soul for years and years, and it is time to bring it into the light.

(It was first shared on Find the Lovely as part of the Adoption Stories Series, which features the stories and insight of parents, advocates and others who want to give more perspective to the often-misunderstood world of adoption and foster care.)
Disrupted. Such an unlovely word. Yet this one word embodies the essence of our experience with adoption.

Ten years ago and several kids into foster parenting, God gave my husband Greg and me a deep desire to give a child a forever home.  Even though we were already empty nesters, we moved into the murky waters of the state foster care/adoption process and prepared to begin parenting anew.

They found us more than we found them. We were captivated.

Terran and Kiki. Beautiful. Ages two and three. Separated after removal from their home due to horrific living conditions. Kiki was taken straight to the hospital with extra-pulmonary tuberculosis from eating feces from the bathtub. She was neglected, wounded and so very sick, but she was fostered straight from the hospital by a wonderful woman, Cindy, who nurtured and loved her well.

Terran, on the other hand, went into another nightmare. He was separated from Kiki by a misunderstanding, and the results were devastating. At his foster home, he was locked in a closet in the dark for the better part of nine months. He didn’t walk until he was nearly two years old, was simultaneously terrified of and detached from every conceivable person and circumstance. He had almost no language, and at 2 ½ years old weighed 26 pounds.

By the time we met them, parental rights had been severed and they were both placed with Cindy. But that last paragraph, up there? We didn’t know ANY OF IT. We were completely misled by the agency, and as a result, wholly uninformed.

We visited back and forth for a few months, and then they moved in with us. To their forever home. We were over-the-top crazy in love with them, and we saw our whole future in the light of this beautiful adventure.

For a few weeks, all was well. We were aware of Terran’s delayed development, and took steps to catch him up. The kids were funny, sweet and affectionate.

But then. The honeymoon period ended, and chaos took over our home. We learned the painful reality of reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and discovered the depths of Terran’s woundedness. He became alternately withdrawn and viciously aggressive toward us and toward Kiki. Once we woke to Kiki screaming and found him sitting on her chest choking her. He kicked, hit, bit, and screamed for up to an hour at a time, and I had to forcibly restrain him to keep him (and me) safe. I was covered in bruises. Often we would find him curled up asleep in his closet, on top of all the blankets and pillows from his bed.

When we were in public, though, he was darling. Friendly, affectionate … too much so. This is a hallmark of RAD, and while we were beginning to understand it, few others did. We felt isolated and frustrated and that we were failing miserably. We were angry to discover the circumstances of his first foster placement. In short, we were at our wits’ end and no one else had a clue. Guilt and pain ruled us, even as we desperately sought answers and solutions.

We took him to a psychologist specializing in very young children like Terran, and he was diagnosed with RAD (no surprise) and bipolar disorder (HUGE surprise). Medication was not an option because of his age, and we learned that young children suffering from this illness can cycle rapidly between mania and depression, up to 30 times a day.

Finally we had an explanation for the extreme opposites in his behavior. Sadly, though, we found no lasting solutions. We read everything we could get our hands on, prayed without ceasing, got him into counseling and behavior modification programs, and just tried so hard. SO hard.

In the end, we couldn’t do it. After six months, we were exhausted and broken, and ultimately realized that we simply were not equipped to parent him. We were neglecting Kiki, who had RAD and developmental delay issues of her own, and Terran just wasn’t getting any better. He continued to escalate despite our best efforts.

So we made the most difficult phone call of our lives. Sadly, “giving up” on one meant losing both, as the State of Kansas would not separate siblings until two adoption attempts have failed. Disrupted.

And giving up is exactly what it felt like. Logically, it was the only thing that made sense. Emotionally, we were devastated. The social worker showed up the next morning and swept them away from us. They were so young that we couldn’t even explain what was happening to them. But their forever family? We were not. We were two more people in a long line who had failed them and not followed through on a promise that really, really mattered.

In the days and weeks to come, we grieved. A stray sock in the laundry, too many spoons in the silverware drawer. The aching loss, the empty house, the guilt and the wondering and the simple fear for their future. The frustration over the way the system had so abjectly failed them and frankly, us. The disappointment and isolation of judgment by those who simply didn’t understand why we had “sent them back” because all they saw was the sweet, adorable, funny little boy.

For so long I couldn’t understand why God had seemed to grant us the desire of our heart, only to have it snatched away. The future we had imagined disintegrated. Our lives were completely disrupted. Today I realize that we were simply a stop on their journey to an unknown-to-us destination. We poured into them and gave it all we had, and that was what God required of us.

It was the end of our foster care career. Our hearts were shattered, and the system is broken, and the children are not the only ones who suffer.

I know that this isn’t a happy story. I know there are readers who will not be able to understand our decision. But I also believe it is a story that needs to be told, because we are not the only ones to have lived in the darkness of this dream-come-true turned nightmare. 

We are not the only ones who were judged harshly at the greatest point of pain in our lives. I write to give a voice to all of us who feel like we failed, who are told that we just didn’t try hard enough, trust God enough, pray fervently enough, who still wade through layers of misunderstanding and pain. I write to bring it into the light.

When faced with something this painful, we have choices in how we move forward. We can let bitterness and despair rule us. We can live in the shadows of guilt and shame. Or we can trust that God will care for those precious kiddos, and trust that He is good even when things don’t make sense. We can trust His leading, even if it runs contrary to popular opinion. And it is only in the trusting that I have found peace.

Ten years later, I weep as I write this. I prayed that they were happy and whole, and that they landed somewhere full of love and healing for them. With someone who was equipped to handle their brokenness in a way that we were not. I still pray for them, and I will love them forever.

God was merciful to give us one last glimpse into their lives. The second adoption placement also disrupted. That couple was brought up on charges of child abuse against Terran. But in the end, Kiki went home to Cindy, where she was desperately loved and wanted, and Terran was adopted by his special needs teacher who is surely well equipped to parent him. The two families know each other and go to church together. And there I find the lovely.
We were not their final destination, but we were painfully privileged to be part of their journey. 


Saturday, June 13, 2015

broken open ... on sexual abuse and the Duggars

I think I have to write this. I generally stay away from "hot topics" and media-inflamed types of things but this time I just can't. I tried, believe me. I've let it sit and simmer and have tried, so hard, to put it away or at least out of my reach. But I just can't.

I'm not going to get into the "he-said, she-said" or the interviews or what I think about the way the whole thing was handled by that family. In the end that's their business, even though they have chosen to go public.

It's the very public-ness of it all that I can't get past. I can't stop thinking about how the abuse has been underplayed and the forgiveness has seemed easy and right and that erases it all away. Like it never happened.

But I believe that survivors of sexual abuse have been demeaned and shamed and made to feel like they should just be "over it" or worse, should never have been affected by it in the first place.

What's never spoken of is the stolen innocence and trust. Of a lifetime of wondering, was it my fault? Or will I become an abuser? What if I had ... resisted, told someone? What if I hadn't ... frozen up, kept quiet, just "let it happen"?

Because maybe it was a family member. Or close friend. Or a bully. Someone you were scared of. Because you might question whether it really even happened.

Because you know how far-reaching the damage was. Because you live with flashbacks, triggers and bad dreams still today.

Maybe because as a parent, you didn't know. How could you not know this was happening to my beloved child?

And, most likely, because you are living in shame, feel guilty, and that goes on and on.

Because even with healing and forgiving, you still live with the aftermath and it affects your most important relationships. And then you feel guilty and shameful and like SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU.

There is. You were violated, Your innocence was stolen. You weren't protected. Even if you think you put yourself in a dangerous or self-destructive placed that "caused" the abuse to happen. (You didn't, by the way.)

You question your judgment. You question trust and love and wonder what if, what if it had never happened. Who would I be? Would I be whole? What if I had protected myself? Should I have known better?

Put simply, the aftermath is devastating. All manner of pain, self-destruction, bad behavior may follow.

And what of intimacy? Can you ever truly trust yourself to another? Your deepest pain, your self-loathing, your fear, your shame, your guilt?

Can you keep it at bay and move ahead in denial even as every relationship is affected and you.don't.even.know?

Have you seen the meme?

Well guess what. They are your monkeys, and therefore it is your circus. And you were powerless under the Big Top.

So what to do?

Perhaps you become powerful and self-reliant and protect your inner broken self at all costs. You build an impenetrable hard shell. You develop coping skills so strong they define who you are, instead of being defined by who God created you to be.

Perhaps you become so painfully shy that you are paralyzed. Maybe you shut down, or lash out, or become bitter and angry, or engage in self-destructive behavior.

Maybe you refuse to to give yourself fully to anyone out of fear and shame even though you think it's really strength.

You probably freak out at unexpected touch and you've pushed it so far down you don't even know why.

You feel like you need to protect others from the truth because it might hurt THEM, even though you weren't protected and it changed your life forevermore.

And your view of God is warped. After all, if my protectors didn't protect, how can he and furthermore why should he even?

And time goes on. And with each passing month or year or decade, you are more unwilling and unable to take it out and examine the pain and loss and shame and guilt because after all you've moved on and it wasn't really that big of a deal anyway.

This, all of this, is what minimizing the effects of sexual abuse does. Highlighting the remarkable resilience of the Duggar girls sends us the message that we should just forgive and forget.

But you carry it with you always, and even your detached, logical self, cannot, in the end, change the truth.

I wonder, for real, how much it has impacted them and what the theft has taken from them and what might happen when they find out, perhaps, that they're not quite as "over it" as they think they are.

God help us not to be further shamed and confused. God help us not to retreat further into denial. God help us to face the truth. And God help them if their denial is shattered.

There is hope and healing to be found, for sure. There is help and there is hard work and there is bringing the darkness into the light and that brings freedom and finally, forgiveness.

But please, while the survivors live where they live, while they are where they are in the process, please have mercy.