A few years ago I met Adelia through a Facebook support group for parents of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The circumstances surrounding our daughters’ adoptions, both pre and post adoption, are very similar.
I am honored to feature a guest post from Adelia today:
Several years ago my pastor did a series on “womb experience” and how the things occurring in the environment of the pregnant mother can have a lasting impact on the child, even if they don’t have a conscious memory of it. An example that was given was that of a mother who was in an abusive relationship which got more abusive once she found out she was expecting. She may have struggled with some resentment for her situation. The child, years later in therapy uncovers that they have deep seeded fears of rejection, but they have no memory of anything that could have caused them, until they learn of the circumstances surrounding their time in utero. I was really captivated both then and now about this thing known as womb experience. Though, now it is not in an attempt to uncover unknown origins of my internal struggles, it is instead in an attempt to understand my daughter who is adopted from foster care.
Like many foster children, my daughter has multiple diagnoses that stem from her traumatic past. When she moved in with us at only 2.5 years old we were told almost immediately upon seeking therapy for her that she had an attachment disorder known as RAD. I have no doubt that the environment her mother was in during pregnancy has played a role in my daughter’s emotional state. Unfortunately, I have also heard many accounts of events in her first 2.5 years that would make a grown man weep in disbelief. So, it’s not at all surprising that although she is very resilient she is not unscathed by her past. All things considered, she’s quite amazing to be able to plaster a smile on and face everyday life which is riddled with terror for her. Or perhaps that is really tragic. Perspective. The RAD diagnosis explained a lot of her behaviors, but not all of them. There was something more going on…
We were aware of her mother’s drug use as that is the primary reason she was in protective custody, but they told us to wait until we had achieved stability for an extended period of time to allow for adjustment and attachment. We endured a 16 month reunification period, 9 of which included exposing her to her mother in a supervised setting 2 days a week. Then following termination of parental rights and the adoption, we got some solid “stability” time and there were marked improvements, which really served as a highlighter on the things that weren’t changing. She was still needing to be told to wipe, flush, and wash. Sometimes one step at a time, while toileting. We got a referral at her 4 year check for the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) evaluation clinic. We were put on the wait list and cautioned that it was 2 years out. 2 years!!! Let that sink in…Finally last fall we were able to complete the evaluation and confirm that she has brain damage caused by her mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy.
I wish I could tell you that life got easier with this information, in ways I suppose it did. I have learned to approach things differently. When she tells me that she “accidently” hit her brother when she was mad, she is being sincere. She sees it as an accident because she didn’t make a conscious choice to hit him. As we explain to her, her body sometimes does things without asking her brain if it should. Years ago I would have considered this a copout parenting strategy. Does she get scolded or reprimanded? Of course, because someday, hopefully soon, it will stay put. Am I giving her an excuse? Maybe. I am not at peace with it at all, but I’m trying to learn from others who have been here and from what they tell me, I am not creating an excuse, I am creating self-awareness that will one day result in self-regulation skills. I often wonder if when I do discipline her, I am doing it solely because I need to feel like I’m not being a push over. Nothing sticks with her (except every annoying line from “Home”) and her self-regulation skills are more consistent with a toddler than the 7 year old body she inhabits. She can tell me the rules as she simultaneously breaks the very one she’s reciting, and be completely oblivious to it. It’s like her brain and body are giving each other the silent treatment at times. There seems to be no communication between the two.
With the RAD diagnosis it was a challenge for me to change so much of what I thought I knew already being a mother of 4, prior to adopting. I struggled with the recommendations that to me felt like unnecessary coddling/babying of a preschool age child. Though emotionally, I believe she was more similar to a newborn at placement so in hindsight I wish I would have done more coddling and cuddling. We’ve seen signs of attachment developing, but I wouldn’t call it anywhere near secure at this point. We’re headed in the right direction. With the FASD diagnosis, I am struggling to find a way to help her to the bar; without lowering it. You don’t lower the whole house to allow for wheelchair access if the need arises. No, you build a ramp to aid in getting her to the existing height of the house. With FASD being a nearly invisible handicap, it is my job as her mother/advocate to spot the places that need a ramp and see that it gets built and used. Having a support system is extremely important in these high-stress situations.
Adelia has generously offered her email address to anyone who needs support: firstname.lastname@example.org.