This post has taken me a long time to write. I’ve chickened out on actually posting it for almost a month. I’ve rewritten and deleted these paragraphs endlessly. I’ve tried to explain or justify some of the things I wrote, to soften them, to give background, out of fear that someone reading who is unfamiliar with ‘attachment related behaviors’ will not understand and will label me cruel. Fear that someone will think I didn’t love enough, I was too strict, too soft, too whatever, they should have known what they were getting into, they should have (fill in the blank). I’ve heard it all. Maybe it doesn’t matter what you know about the subject, maybe I am strict, soft, naive, cold, take your pick. I am now ready, or ready as I can be, to handle the judgment and labels that will be given to us from people who will never know our true hearts and pain that was endured through all of this.
For the first week home, we lived our dream as a family of five. We played, laughed, and had all kinds of fun. Our honeymoon ended abruptly when the boys went back to school and it was time for us to start working with Eryna. During the day it wasn’t too bad. It was when the boys would come home and our attention would be divided that her terrible anger surfaced. She lashed out at me and Shawn mainly. Our parenting style provided a consequence for misbehavior. Simple moments of discipline caused screaming tantrums that lasted for hours – incoherent rages in which she clearly lost all ability to function. She felt a desperate need to be in control at all times in order to protect herself. Despite all of our preparation, despite everything we thought we knew, that need was painfully at odds with my picture of a parent-child relationship.
We read about older child adoption. We talked to our social worker. We thought we understood the challenges and pitfalls. We heard words like reactive attachment disorder and post traumatic stress disorder and post-institutionalized behaviors and we thought, naively, optimistically, tragically, that we could handle it. The deep truth, though, is that, like birth defects, like miscarriage, like fatal accidents, we never considered that these lurking horrors would apply to us. We had a dream and a plan for our family and nothing was going to get in the way of that.
We attempted to keep life as normal as possible for the boys. When there was a bad night, my parents would come get them to stay at their house. Shawn struggled first for many weeks and became depressed. It was all on my shoulders. After a couple months and going back to work, I lost my ability to deal with the issues and felt depressed. Thankfully, Shawn had recovered and took over everything. We would go back and forth like this for the remainder of the year. The summer was the worst for us because it wasn’t structured like she had been used to. I knew this was going to happen but I kept hearing from everyone to take the summer off and just have fun together so that’s what we tried to do. Well this is when things just got worse for us. Just when she most needed me to pull her closer, I would send her away from me, physically, because I needed the space to avoid yelling and screaming at her, but more damaging, emotionally, because I could not deal with my anger and fear. I failed her as a mother again and again. I needed silence, I needed a break. Everything was always “Mommy this and mommy that”. I could never get away.
Prior to attempting to parent her, I might have harshly judged someone who adopted a child and then ‘gave them up’ or maybe ‘gave up on them.’ Sitting at my computer, looking for an answer or help in any way, I read the word “disruption” That was it. That was us. We were disrupted. Our lives were disrupted. Our children were disrupted. We had already learned, through research and counseling, some hard facts about the difficulties of bonding with an attachment-disordered child. Children who lack the critical building blocks of trust needed to be regressed and treated as babies. They often struggled in families where they were not the youngest or only child.
She needed time and undivided attention. I was stretched to the limit. She needed to be babied. I already had babies. We adopted older because we were already blessed with two infants, toddlers, and now a child. We wanted an older child that not many others wanted. There is a reason that most adoption specialists recommend against adopting out of birth order. Children with attachment-related negative behaviors often thrive as the youngest or only child. Second placements succeed at a very high percentage rate because the second family is prepared for the behavioral challenges and the situation is tailored to the child’s needs.
Once reading all this, Shawn and I began to pray if we were the right parents for her. If God could change our hearts or to open the doors in other areas. We knew that if we made any decision, it would be for a couple with no kids or possibly older kids. Also, we would only do it if the family was local so that we could remain in contact and visit her throughout the year. We had some families through an organization contact us with interest in adopting her. Things fell through. Well as we have learned in the past, God always has His own plans and who was I to say what and how this should happen. After a friend shared our story to a friend who then shared the story to a different friend that she knew was praying for a little girl specifically from the Ukraine, we got a call from Eryna’s life-long mother. We prayed and talked to her for weeks before I flew with Eryna to meet her. Yes….I did just say flew. This was very hard for me because remember, my plans were only for a family in driving distance. To make a long story short, the first moment I met her, I just knew this was Eryna’s forever mother. She had already adopted a little girl from the Ukraine when her daughter was 2 years old. The daughter is now 8 years old and doing well. She has always prayed to go back and adopt a sister for her daughter but Ukraine changed their laws and would not allow a single parent to adopt anymore. She had felt that her desires of being a mom to two children were broken but always continued praying. She was even praying for a miracle to happen while we were miles away adopting Eryna never knowing that this was God’s plan from the start. After coming home, we received a message from her thanking us for bringing her daughter home. Her house was now at peace with knowing that her two daughters were finally together and home. Both girls are getting along great and sometimes fighting as typical sisters would as if they had been together from day one. We keep in close contact with her new family and plan to visit her once the family has had time to bond.
I still cry. There is so much guilt. I still lie awake at night and relive this past year. What could I have done differently? With more patience, could I have broken through and begun bonding? I still wish she was ours. Selfishly, but honestly, a lot of the pain involves my self image. I still wonder if I am a terrible mother. The answer hurts because it is not simple. The answer is no. And yes. I am a dedicated and determined, usually-patient, often-hurried, sometimes quick-tempered, incredibly loving mother to our two boys. I was just a terrible mother for her.
I hope in writing this that one day someone will come across my blog by accident and it will help them to not feel alone if they are going through the same thing we are. We have felt alone this whole time. For the first time in a year, I can honestly say that we have peace back in our home. People ask us how did we do it and get through all of this and I am thankful to say that it was not by our own strength but through Christ. I am sorry for all the unanswered calls and stories we have told in the past weeks when asked about Eryna. This was done till we were ready to share our story and to give the new family time to connect with each other. Plus, we took our time and sought out professional help with how to share the news with the boys. Please be patient with us if we are not able to answer more detailed questions. We are going through a healing time for our family and that is our main priority at this moment.