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Disrupted Adoption: A Different and Personal Perspective

Adoption is something that is very close to God’s heart and it’s something that’s been close to mine since before we adopted our daughter in December 2004.

he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— (Eph 1:5)

Adoption is “in accordance with his pleasure”, according to this scripture. It pleases God when his children come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible also says that the angels in heaven rejoice when even just one sinner experiences the saving grace that is only offered through Jesus (Luke 15:10). In the same way, I believe God’s heart is also especially warmed when a family, some separated by miles and oceans, welcomes an orphaned child into their home.

Because of God’s great love, I also believe he is grieved whenever one of these earthly adoptions is disrupted. Knowing the infinite bounds of God’s love and my own limited, often skewed, understanding of it, my heart is also saddened when I hear about such things.

By now, most of you have heard about the 7-year old Russian boy adopted by a single mother in Tennessee, who was sent back to Russia on an airplane, all by himself by that same mother. I cannot imagine what went on in the mind of that poor boy as he boarded that airplane and rode all by himself back to his native land, not knowing what lay in store for him there. From the video footage I’ve seen, he looked very confused and stunned. My heart breaks even thinking about it. Here’s a boy, not even old enough to have experienced a full decade of life and he’s already gone through more than his fair share of horrible experiences that would probably cause most of us to withdraw from that life and give up on it.

Many of us are wondering what could be going on in the mind of the adoptive mother. Why would anyone ever do such a thing? Why sould someone adopt a child and then just return them like a rejected package? Why?

Let me be clear in this…I absolutely believe that what this woman did was flat-out wrong. When you adopt a child, they are yours in as morally and legally binding a sense as if the child was your natural-born son or daughter. However, I think many are jumping from a morally acceptable judgment of her actions to outright condemnation of her without knowing what her family has gone through. Unfortunately, my wife and I have a good amount of knowledge about and experience with what this mother has experienced.

Imagine how you would feel if you discovered that you could not have children of your own. Some of you reading this have experienced the heartache that comes with that discovery. That’s what happened to my wife and I. My wife more than I grieved over this unfortunate thing in our lives. Eventually, we decided we would try to adopt. It was a little difficult for my wife at first because she wanted so badly to be able to experience the natural course of bearing a child and raising him/her to adulthood.

Imagine how you would feel when you find a child waiting to be adopted and the euphoria you experience when your submitted paperwork is approved, dates are set, court proceedings are finalized, and the trip to where this child is waiting is planned out. Imagine how you would feel when you finally welcome this child into your arms and finally your home.

After all these intense emotions, you feel as if you’re finally ready to settle down to the daily tasks of raising this child, teaching them about life, and guiding them through all the things that other children experience. You want them and yourselves to live as normal a life as possible, despite the hardship they’ve endured to get to this point. Then imagine the utter heartbreak, despair, and feelings of helplessness as you begin to experience the sometimes uncontrollable rage that this child has built up inside their fragile little heart over the course of their short existence. All the hopes and dreams of a happy family that you had conjured up in your mind are suddenly dashed to the ground.

Here is part of the text of a letter that was sent with the boy, written by his adoptive mother…

This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues. I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. …

After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.

From additional descriptions I’ve heard of this story, I gather that the boy has FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Without even going into the physical problems this can cause, there is also a host of psychological, behavioral, and emotional problems that result from it. We’ve experienced that with our daughter, i.e., several hour long temper tantrums, screaming at the top of the lungs, severe verbal abuse, hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, destruction of property, throwing of objects, etc.

We’ve undergone now years of counseling with various therapists. Sometimes it seems to be helping and other times, well, it just seems like nothing works except to weather the storm. We’re told to remain as calm as possible and to try to help her know that we understand her feelings, can relate to them, etc., and try to help her calm down. That’s all well and fine and we’re able to do that for the most part but imagine how short your fuse might be after hours, days, or even weeks of being worn down to an emotional nub. Imagine the dumb things you might feel like doing to this child because you’re simply ready to give up.

There have been times where our daughter has simply been so out of control that we just don’t know what to do. Many times, we’ve had to resort to therapeutic holds but, when you’re at the end of your own rope, not to mention your child being at the end of theirs, you simply don’t want to put yourself in the situation where you might overdo it and harm them or, more likely, you just don’t have the energy required to do it. In those cases, we try to separate ourselves from the situation by locking ourselves in the bedroom or something like that. The only problem with that is it doesn’t work. We’ve been in our bedroom trying to calm down and relax but our daughter is beating so hard on the door that it is literally separating from the frame by several inches. I’m still surprised that we still have the same door and that it hasn’t been torn off the hinges.

Let me relate a specific experience from early on with our daughter…Even at the very beginning, my daughter would rather spend time with me than anyone else, at the complete exclusion of my wife at times. Remember what I said about my wife grieving over not being able to have a natural-born child? You can imagine how she felt when she was rejected by our daughter for me. Anyway, I went back to work about a week after we returned from Europe. That first day, we thought it would be a good idea for them to come and have lunch with me. That all went fairly well and we enjoyed our lunch and time together.

However, I guess all hell broke loose on the car ride home. If I remember correctly, I got a call at work from my wife, saying that our daughter had screamed bloody murder all the way home. My wife couldn’t tell what she was saying but, through an interpreter, we discovered that she was yelling for her daddy and thinking that she would never see me again. Her little heart was breaking because all she had ever known was that people you care about don’t stay around. Anyway, my wife told me that our daughter was out of control and that I needed to come home right away. She had called the children’s pastor from our church at the time and she was able to come and help for a while as well.

I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face when I got home. It looked like she had been in the fight of her life. She literally had scratches and bruises from nearly head to toe. She’d been spit on, head-butted, kicked, punched, scratched, etc., and even had snot purposely smeared on her in my daughter’s attempt to take out her anger on her. Though that was probably the worst outburst we witnessed, there have been many other similar experiences. Fortunately, they don’t happen as often anymore but we still have the occasional bump in the road. Anyway, due to the inordinate amount of abuse my wife experienced compare to what was directed at me, she sincerely wanted to send our daughter straight back to where she came from. It seemed like a hopeless situation.

I wish we had videotaped some of those episodes because I just don’t feel like my words are sufficient to describe the things that have happened and the pain and heartache we went through and still do go through on occasion. It’s frustrating sometimes trying to explain to people what it’s like. Unfortunately, you probably just can’t understand the despair and agony unless you go through it yourself and I certainly don’t wish that on anyone, including my worst enemies.

Somehow, we’ve managed to stick it out. We truly believe…No, we don’t believe. We KNOW for a fact that our sovereign Lord and God led us to the point where we made the decision to adopt our daughter. We knew, from discussing what little information we had of our daughter previous to the adoption, that she MIGHT have FAS or FAE (Fetal Alcohol Effects) but not how bad. We made the decision to go ahead with the adoption and we now don’t regret that. We’ve experienced many blessings that we would’ve missed out on had we not trusted God and followed His leading. We know he led us down this path for a reason. We still don’t know what that is but we try to trust Him with each step we take. I praise the name of Jesus that we’re His children because, if we weren’t, we likely would have given up long ago.

Part of that journey that God is guiding us on is continued counseling and therapy. We’ve seen many therapists, some of which we think helped and others that didn’t. The point is that we keep trying and don’t give up. I think that’s one of the big mistakes that this mother in Tennessee made. From what I’ve read, they didn’t go through any therapy. Love simply isn’t enough. Therapy is essential.

Medication is also often necessary. I wasn’t a proponent of medication at all prior to this. However, the right medication can enable a child with severe emotional trauma to be able to control themselves and give them the space to heal. Without therapy and medication (if the therapists and psychologists believe it’s necessary in the child’s case), you’re simply not likely to be successful. In some extreme cases, residential treatment is necessary and that’s something we’ve previously considered as well.

The major problem is that adoptive parents typically are not given a whole lot of information on these kids as far as their medical issues but especially their psychological issues. It’s certainly not an exact science, though, and many of these kids may not exhibit any of these emotional problems until they are in a safe environment. One of the things we’ve learned through this whole process is that a lot of the problems come when our daughter feels the safest. That sounds like a paradox but think about that. These children are not used to feeling safe and secure. They are strong to have survived the immense hurt they’ve endured but when confronted with safety and security, they often don’t know how to react. Some react by withdrawing, seeming cold and distant. Others like this little boy and our daughter, strike out in defiance and anger, often hurting those who care for them. Don’t get me wrong. Even though they may hurt the ones they love, their intention is not to hurt them. They may feel strong remorse despite the strong feelings and the difficulty they have controlling them. In the cases where FAS/FAE come into play, those children often, because of brain damage, have difficulty transitioning from their emotional state to a more rational state. I’ve heard it called “sticky brain syndrome”. When they get this way, they lash out in an attempt to cause their loved ones to experience the same rage and out-of-control emotions that they do. This is the way they gain some semblance of control in their tattered and torn-up world.

All that is to say that sometimes the orphanages these kids come from don’t know the full extent of the problems they have or will have. That being said, it too often happens that they don’t fully reveal all the issues that they do know about. For instance, some of the paperwork we received about our daughter said that she “didn’t like it” when she was told she couldn’t do something. We were told, as punishment, that she was made to do dishes or something to that effect. We weren’t told that she would fly into a rage and destroy things. Though I’m sure, as I explained above, that we experience that on a more regular basis than the workers at the orphanage did, I’m sure it had to have happened enough there that they were aware of how out of control she could get.

Many of these children also have RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Even without problems like FAS, they often  have severe psychological problems. Parents often aren’t prepared to handle these issues, which can be things like setting fires, harming pets, self-mutilation, and a whole host of other difficult behaviors.

What this boils down to is that we need to be aware that, when we see parents of adopted children struggling with their kids’ behaviors, it isn’t necessarily something the parents are doing or not doing correctly. Parenting hurt children is completely different than parenting a normal child. What works with most children often won’t work at all with a hurt child and many times will have the exact opposite effect. I know many of us often think when we see parents with unruly children out in public something to the effect of “Those kids just need a good spanking”. I used to think that way. Now I usually think twice before I get an attitude like that because I know I’ve been exactly where they are.

Again, what this lady did with her child was wrong. That little boy is going to be even more emotionally damaged from what he’s gone through. But also be aware of the personal hell that this lady was going through dealing with all the issues that little boy probably had. I can sympathize with where she was and what was going on in her head. I can’t imagine following through with her actions but I am certainly sympathetic.

I hope despite this long-winded post that I was able to help some of you understand at least a little of what parents in disrupted adoptions or those going through some severe problems are experiencing.

Now I’ve got more important things to do…Like watching a completely annoying movie like “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” while my daughter sits next to me, giggles uncontrollably, and eats her popcorn. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


5 Responses

  1. Dave,

    I salute you and your wife for you determination. If we had more people like you in this world , we’d have less to worry about .
    You both give “never give up” it’s true meaning.
    God bless you and your family.


  2. We defintely do need more people like you in the world.Your daughter and you have a whole life and future ahead of you.My wife and i had a daughter born in November ’04 we think might have some defects due to a medication the doctor had her on while pregnant.She has these tantrums or rages plus trouble concentrating and we’ve taken her to doctors who say it might be linked to that.Anyway they want to put her on ritalin or adderrall but i refuse to put my child on that stuff.We’ve seen the commercials on television about suing these doctor who had their patients on antidepressants while pregnant.

  3. Meant to add i was curious if medication did help in your experience because we’ve been trying to decide if we went to go that route.Was the meds short or long term? I’m definitely willing to look into it,God bless…..

    • Mike,

      Yes, we have our daughter on some medication and it’s helped tremendously. Unfortunately, the type we have her on now is not for long-term use, so she will have to go off it before long or there is a risk for damage to internal organs. We are weaning her off that little by little. Hopefully we’ve made enough progress that she no longer needs it but we will see.

      At one point, we decided to take her off the medication and the results at that time were pretty disastrous. Her behavior got much worse pretty much immediately and her behavior improved drastically once she went back on them.

      Like you, I don’t like the idea of her being medicated but, at this point, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to knowing that she’ll always be on something. It at least gives her the added ability to concentrate and gives us a far better chance at sanity.

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