Thursday, September 13, 2012

Invisible Disability, Trauma, Attachment, and My Pride

It's not PC to say adoption changes things. Nor is it PC to say adoption is always predicated by brokeness. It's nicer to talk about "forever families" and "solving the orphan crisis one child at a time." But that, my friends, is spin. It tells one side of a story that is far more complex and messy. Adoption is never ideal. Never. It is only necessary when something goes wrong. Trauma, disability, attachment challenges are the reality in many adoption stories.

The people writing copy for adoption agency brochures weren't at preschool yesterday when I came to pick up my five and a half year old. Because the *#it that went down just then would not have made the cut for footage in agency promotional material.

The daughter of my heart did not want to come home with me. Even a little bit.

So, I pulled out my best Karyn Purvis therapeutic parenting tactics.

-I stayed light and playful.

-I gave time for transition.

I provided a transitional object and sensory input.

I tried distraction

then, I gave 2 choices given at eye level in a low calm voice.

fail, fail, epic fail, fail, fail.

So, as the awkward tension built in the room, and while on looking parents tried politely to avert eye-contact, I was left with one less than fabulous choice.

I hauled that kid up, gave her a giant bear hug, and made a bee line for the car to the soundtrack of: " I don't want to be with you, I love Miss Jenn (who she's known for a week). I want to stay at school forever."

And 30 minutes later she stopped. My eardrums are in recovery.

My older children have developed coping mechanisms for these type of public displays. They are far from uncommon, and my trauma savvy bio crew can spot the signs of a meltdown a mile away. They ask for the keys to the car and wait there until I can come to them. (Yes, CPS, I send my bio kids to sit and wait for me in the car. Yes, I know it is illegal. Yes, I believe it is the best, and safest option for them in these moments. So, rookie social workers, you can tell me how to raise my kids when you've broken a sweat restraining my out of control child, and lived to tell about it. Then, you may have an opinion.)


Sometimes I can figure the triggers to such melt-downs. Sometimes, I simply cannot. The preschool pick-up debacle was predicated by a tough transition morning, and an unexpectedly absent lead teacher, plus some weak cause and effect reasoning. My daughter felt that if she left, her lead teacher (whom she adores) might not come back to school. And she was a helpless, hysterical puddle. For me. She was delightful all during preschool, which is how it works, my friends. Mamas take the brunt of it.

Healing comes at a price, and sometimes healing doesn't come at all. Birthparents pay. Adoptive families pay. Adoptee's pay. Entire cultures pay. And the cost of early trauma is monumental.

So I pulled out a my figurative checkbook, and wrote a check to my daughter. The cost? My pride. Because, um, we got some looks, as she pummeled me and screamed on the way to the car. But what the preschool parent crowd didn't see was the 20 minutes we sat snuggled up in our favorite chair with sup-ups, warm milk, songs and soggy kisses. She is a precious treasure. I love her with my whole heart - so much it aches.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement he hid it again, sold everything he had to get enough money to buy the field.



Brianna Heldt said...

This is incredibly beautiful and wise, because it is true. So, so true.

And I loved your shout-out to CPS social workers--I wanted to cheer! :)

Karon and John said...

Thank you for writing. This has been my hell for the last four weeks since my boys started K5. Because it has triggered so much trama for them, tomorrow will be there last day. We feel we need to home school for a while because our kids have already had enough institutionalization in their short time on this world. After I had to litteraly wrestly 2 50 lb. 5 year olds to my car yesterday, I knew a change had to happen. Hang in there. You are not alone and feel free to cry out and reach out to the others going through this as you need it.

Pete Juvinall said...

You are so not alone. We had to sit with our hysterical 4 year old for a while after AWANA on Wednesday night because we were at the back of the line for pickup rather than closer to the front.

For what it's worth you and all the mommies reading this still have my undying respect. Thanks for holding it down for your kids!

Andrea Kidd said...

Your post is so awesome and so perfect! I CAN RELATE, I am another of those mothers.....I know you know you are not alone, but I just want to say it again, you are not alone! I was at back-to-school night lat night. Left the pre-K room in a fog as I was told by my daughter's teacher (with other parents waiting nearby to talk with her) that my daughter (who is the most precious, huge hearted love.....and can THROW IT DOWN like the best of trauma kids) is "emotionally disturbed and must be bi-polar or something" y-e-a-h......thanks for that. She is emotionally unstable at times, as she doesn't have the tools to handle many school situations, and there are hurts within her that go so deep and so far. Her disability as you say is invisible to most, yet she is our treasure and she deserves to be treated as such. Attach whatever label you want, judge however you want, but she is our gift, and please teacher, don't make it harder. Reading posts like this make me feel so much better knowing I am not alone in this fight for our children and their invisible ouchies. And yes, I have many times wondered if CPS would come looking for me, due to the screams that eminate from our house during rages, or the kids being left in the car. Thanks for your honesty and this ministered to me today.

Rob and Candy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob and Candy said...

oh the hard days of adoption, I know them well. Your child is indeed a treasure and so are you because you have chosen to minister to her in a profound way.

One Crazy Mom said...

Hi. I just found your blog via a FB post by Jody Landers. I think we live near each other here in CA. And have a lot in common.
you should email me :)
amy (dot) taylor2 (at) comcast (not) net

tjp said...

I just found your blog via Jody, as well. Thank you for this. I completely relate. I wasn't prepared for the grieving & loss aspect of adoption. It is causing me to grow and pray in ways I've never had to before. These precious treasures...what a journey. Thanks for being real.

Holly Stone said...

I too, have many times thanked God that we live on 4 acres in the middle of nowhere, so that no one calls CPS! Always good to hear that others struggle. Getting a hurt, lonely, angry, scared 10 year old boy is beyond hard, but beyond rewarding as well. There are days my heart aches for him and days it aches for me. Adoption is definitely not easy!

Amy said...

Thank you for honest words ... so needed.

Michele said...

I'm so jealous as I watch other parents arrived at day care and their child greets them happily and off they go. I get resistance, running away and final a temper tantrum daily. I have to have a 'treat' (juice and fruit or cookie) in the car to calm him down. And there are days when I get the juice bottle thrown at my head as I drive the 3 blocks home because of some unknown issue. It is nice to know that I'm not the only ones having this fun.

curlyjo said...

Thank you ladies for your comments. Sometimes I feel we are the only ones living this craziness. It's good to know there are others on the journey.

Aimee said...

Your post brought back memories of extracting my recently arrived three-year-old from the public library, to royal screams, because he wanted to stay at the window of the upstairs children's library and watch cars in the parking lot. I had to leave him in the car with another child so I could go back into the library and extract the other two - and check out the books. During which a patron came to the desk to report unattended children in a car (one screaming). Sigh. It does get better!

Vertical Mom said...

My CPS veteran cousin would say, "Good for you! Do what you need to do to keep everyone safe." Sounds like, even with a pride debit, you had a therapeutic win. Keep helping her heal!

Debi said...

Oh wow.....can I relate!!!! Thank you all for sharing. Somehow it mames me feel not quite as alone with our 6yr old!

Anonymous said...

Hi Curly Jo -- saw this post via a link on one of my friend's FB walls. Felt compelled to write. While I'm not an adoptive parent, I am well acquainted with adoption as I myself was adopted as an infant (over 30 years ago). I have to say that it sounds like you (and the many adoptive parents who have commented on this post) have had a much different experience than my family did. My sister (who is also adopted) and I did not feel 'traumatized,' and we did not have 'attachment issues' or emotional outbursts as a result of being adopted. I'm sorry you've had trying experiences w/ your little one, but I have to disagree with your generalizations about adoptees and your blanket statement that "adoption is never ideal." For my sister and I, it most certainly was ideal. I believe God sovereignly placed us into each others' lives and into our adoptive parents' lives, and that He intended for them to be our parents from the get go. To say that all adoptions are the result of brokenness is so hurtful, and quite frankly, untrue. There are so many reasons for giving one's child up for adoption. It's never an easy or painful decision for a parent. It is often the most selfless and beautiful choice that he/she will ever make. To call that brokenness is short-sighted. I think God will call it whole-hearted love. I thank God He allowed my bio mother to love me enough to give me away. It was the greatest gift she could have ever given me.

I took offense to your comment "my trauma savvy bio crew..." placing your bio children in some other category than your 'emotionally damaged adopted child.' Shame on you. All children -- adopted or not -- have emotional meltdowns. I'm sure your other kids have had them, maybe for other reasons, but if they haven't had them yet, they're bound to have them sooner or later. Wait 'til they get to junior high.

Overall, the sense that I walk away from reading this post is that while you do love your adopted daughter, you see yourself as a 'hero' for saving her & helping her cope with all of her emotional damage. Don't get me wrong -- I think it's great that you adopted her, that you care about her struggles, and that you're loving her through them. But I think you should realize that deep down you should have more humility, and realize that you, your husband, or your other children are no different than her. She was just given a tougher start to life than all of you were. And please, don't use your daughter's experience to make sweeping generalizations about adoptees. Fortunately, we didn't all have to go through the tough circumstances she did. I hope God will work through you and your families' love for her to show her all she is meant to be -- the unique, beautiful soul He's created her to be.

Anonymous said...

Oops -- correction to a sentence near the end of paragraph one. I meant to say, " It's never an easy or painless decision for a parent."

curlyjo said...

I'm not sure you'll ever read this...but here goes:
Adoption is redemptive. Adoption is good. Adoption has been a priceless gift for us. And in many situations adoption is the very best possible choice for a child.

And I maintain: Adoption isn't ideal. Ideally, 2 people committed to each other (in marriage) have a baby together in circumstances that allow them to parent forever. Ideally, this is how it works.

Anytime a baby/child is removed from his or her birthmom there is trauma; no one in the field of adoption or neuroscience, or chid development disputes this. And rarely (especially in today's adoption) is that the only trauma a child faces. Some kids are really resilient, and sometimes the trauma is minimal and in those cases families may see little fall out. That's great, and I would say it is also increasingly rare.

Also,I cannot conceive of a birthmom out there who wouldn't call the termination of her parental rights traumatic. It is a deeply sad thing to not be able to parent your child. The very thought of it is like a punch in the gut. Sad, can give birth to beauty. But sad is alway the seed of adoption. It is.

I think I'm a "Hero", you say? Yeah, well maybe, once, I was enamoured with the romantic notion of "saving an orphan." But that was before she was placed in my arms and I was so humbled by the precious gift and daunting responsibility. I'm sure you understand. It sounds like you are a parent too.

She is my daughter, you see. She isn't an orphan. She's mine. I help her dress, and brush her teeth. I read her stories and apply band-aids when necessary. I get annoyed when I tell her for the zillionth time she needs to put on her shoes and she's still futzing with a coloring book. There is nothing heroic in the day to day. I am a mom; not a hero.

And let me assure you, my bio kids do not see their little sister as the "emotionally damaged adopted child". That's just totally offensive. They bicker with her, and love on her, and put up with her antics just like they do with each other. They are sibs - all four of them. The end.

But how many 10 year olds do you know that can spot the signs of disregulation and know immediately that "heavy work" will give the sensory input necessary to calm a situation? How many kids do you know that end up with sleep issues themselves because their sibling cannot regualte sleep cycles. The "bigs" (as we call them) have absorbed the impact of trauma. It was one of the great miscalculations of our journey to assume that my husband and I would be most deeply impacted by the choice to add to our family. It's not a "them" vs. "her" thing. It just is the reality of living with a child with a disability. And her disabilty is not adoption - that isn't a disability per se. But my daughter's story, and the lifelong challenges she will face, cannot be seperated from the circumstances that led her to us. And her "melt-downss" are not of the typical variety. They stem from brain differences. But as you are an anonymous commenter, you would have no way of knowing this.

Incidently, my bio son also has some acronyms. And, incidently, those impact our family too.

And, um, I may not yet be a vetran, but I'm no rookie, either. So, yeah, I've had a kid or two lose it before. Heck, I've thrown a juvenile hissy fit a time or two.

This is not the same. At all.

Get to know a child with FASD. Talk to a momma raising a child who has come from very hard places. Be slow to judge, because you know not of what you speak.

The mamma's who commented before you have walked a very hard road. Until you have walked it too, I would be slow to judge.


Anonymous said...


I whole-heartedly agree with you that adoption is a good thing. I thought I communicated that pretty clearly in my last post.

I recognize that your daughter has experienced trauma at a young age - probably more than most of us will ever experience in our lifetimes. I also recognize that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a very tragic thing. My heart goes out to her. I'm sure both this condition and the early trauma she experienced in life have presented huge challenges to her emotionally and developmentally. I realize that she needs extra care, and I do not in any way deny that what she and your family have experienced and are experiencing is very difficult.

I don't believe it's wise, however, to leave your other kids in a parked car while cajoling your daughter out of a classroom. That's not only dangerous for your other children, it's sending her the message that it's ok for her to act out and inconvenience other people (i.e., her sibs and you.) You say that your older children have developed coping mechanisms for these type of public displays. But it sounds to me like you've tolerated these public emotional outbursts to the point that your daughter knows she can get away with them at least to a certain degree. I have never been in your shoes, so I'm not trying to judge. But if my sister or I ever refused to go with one of our parents when they came to pick us up, you better believe they would have have given us 'the look of death,' & if that didn't work, they would have promptly picked us up and hauled us out, which is what you ultimately did. (And in our case, there would also have been a spanking for sure when we got home.)

What I was trying to say in my last post is that it's short-sighted to call all adoptees 'invisibly disabled.' That label was hugely offensive to me as an adopted individual. Your daughter's experience and your family's experience is not the universal experience of all adoptees and adoptive families. And it's wrong to project that this is the norm of adoption. It's fine to share your experience for what it is -- your experience. But please don't make generalizations about adoption based on your experience. There are millions of people in this world who've been adopted, including some of the most influential people of our time (Nelson Mandela and Steve Jobs to name a few.) To imply that the majority of adoptees have had traumatic starts to life, attachment issues, and 'invisible disability' is simply not true. At least it wasn't for me, my sister, and a whole host of my friends who were also adopted.

You say that adoption is never ideal, that it always involves trauma, and that 'sad is alway the seed of adoption.' Perhaps some of this is true. Yes - God did create children to be born ideally to a mother and a father who are married and are ready to provide a loving home. Fair enough. And it's true that adoption does always involve some trauma and sadness, at least for the mother and/or father who gives the child away, but this is not always the case for the child, especially for those of us who were adopted as infants and can't even remember life before our adoptive families.

All I'm saying is before making sweeping generalizations about adoption, adoptees, and adoptive experiences, realize there are many other people in this world who've had a vastly different experiences w/ adoption.

Kelly said...
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Anonymous said...

(Continuation of last post)

I'm not a parent, nor am I married. I'm just a thirtysomething year old woman who has had a lot of personal life experience with adoption and wanted to offer some additional perspective on the subject. I hope that the positive experience I've had w/ adoption provides some hope to you and broadens your perspective. I commend you and all the other adoptive parents out there. I encourage you to keep loving all of your kids as you are, to make no distinctions between them, to seek the support of other adoptive parents, and to talk to more adult adoptees. We have lived adoption firsthand and our perspective can be a huge resource to all adoptive parents out there.

I wish you and your family much strength, hope, and love.

curlyjo said...

For the record, the invisible disability I was referring was not adoption. Adoption is not a disability.

Fetal Alchohol Spectrum Disorders are invisible. Sensory processing disorders are invisible. Receptive expressive Language disorders are invisible. Though over represented in adoptees, these disabilities are challenge for many outside this population.

And your comments regarding the older kids being in the car and the discipline strategies that might have been effective just show you have very little background in such legitimate disabilities, and how far reaching they can be. I get that my parenting strategies look weird to people who don't recognize what is going on, and that is precisely what is humbling. People (I.e. yourself) assume I am being a permissive parent, or sometimes too stringent. They don't know the hours of therapy, the countless books, the constant battles that have gone into shaping our tactics. We have literally reframed our whole paradigm...

Billy said...

I'd like to share this post in our newsletter. Can you contact me ( to let me know if it's ok to link to it? My website is

Michelle said...

I found your blog off a link off facebook. I was there a year ago with a 4 year old little girl. It was hard. VERY HARD. I never knew how to mix the two worlds of foster children and bio children. After 6 months of INTENSE struggle and MUCH prayer we found a home for her that had no children. It was the best decision for us and my foster child. She is now getting one on one attention and really developing much better. Your blog really made me feel better about my journey last year. If you ever need to vent or need advice you can e-mail me.