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Dad, Mom, and baby Meghan

Dad, Mom, and baby Meghan

Meghan through the years

Meghan's age

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Trisomy 21 trio of cuties

10 Things Every Child with Autism Wishes you knew

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happily ever after?

Another adopted child died this week, a child from Russia. Anyone following international adoption knows that Russia stopped allowing Americans to adopt a few weeks ago.

Because this very tragic death,  Russians are posting articles about murderous American families stealing their children and hurting them, killing them. I am so upset about this hypocrisy. Imagine, these wounded orphans come to families with RAD and FAS and other developmental and cognitive delays, they are wounded children. Severely neglected, never held or loved, only having their basic needs being met, enough to keep them alive, but not really living. So many orphans die monthly in Russian institutions.                                                                                                                                                    

I have so many friends who have adopted very hurt children, the self abuse these children visit upon themselves is severe and heartbreaking. Scratching  or biting their skin off, pulling their hair out, banging their heads against anything they can, punching themselves in the head or face. rocking, moaning, keening, grinding their teeth.  My two have been home for 5 years ( give or take a few months) and they both have maintained some institutional behaviors.

Kara rocks, she punches herself in the head, she slams her head into the chair if she dislikes what we are serving. She does this off on on all day long, thank goodness she punches herself less, but the bashing her head into things is worse. At night I can hear her bed springs as she rocks.  Kara was from a decent orphanage, they had good heating, OK food, but lazy caregivers who preferred TV viewing to caring for the children. She obviously spent much of her time alone, hence the behaviors she learned to self sooth, she is also non-verbal. I know some of her behaviors stem from being unable to communicate aside from basic signs (food, drink, mom, dad, thanks, please).

Despite that, Kara is a easygoing  little girl, she giggles freely and adores Meghan, those two are best buds and sisters. She happily watches Barney and Disney movies and dances and plays, makes huge messes when she dumps all the clothes out of drawers and out of closets, you know, a regular kid.

Scratches courtesy of Amanda

Amanda has autism  and Down syndrome. Her life is just harder, she struggles mightily to follow the rules we have here. We do not allow our children to hit each other. Amanda though, she loves to scratch. She usually goes after Kara and Mathias, but any person sitting in her vicinity can fall victim to her attention.

Amanda does not mean to hurt anyone, honestly, it seems obvious she is trying to play with them, she just has no idea how, she was never socialized as a baby and toddler, she was isolated and neglected. She is now much like a 15-18 month old in her emotional development, and as such, is acting much like a child that age. When we brought her home at age 3, she was diagnosed with severe delay and failure to thrive, her median development was 4 months.  She has come a long way. It is hard for people to understand that even though she will be 8, she is very behind in every way a child can be. However, she is trying, and she is learning, and we are proud of her efforts and  of her learning some self control.

The effect she has had on our family dynamic cannot be trivialized. My older children have not bonded well with her, they avoid interacting with her because they do not trust her to behave herself . All have had their hair pulled or have been scratched by her.  I know it sounds like that is not a big deal, but she draws blood. She and our youngest son have bonded, he has spent the most time with her.

The sad fact is, Amanda craves attention, loves to be hugged and loves to spend time with people. She is an adorable little monkey and can be the sweetest child.  Her impulsiveness gets her into a lot of trouble.  She is also very jealous of any attention her sisters get, or her nephews, she wants all the attention all the time.

As long as it is myself, my husband and the little girls here, life is pretty calm, but change that dynamic  by bringing in our grandson or other children, and Amanda goes off-kilter. Kara will also get very giddy and jump all over everyone. They love company,  but they get wild. This makes for a chaotic time and we find that our older kids cannot wait to leave here. They think we live with that chaos all the time, not knowing it is their presence that brings it on.  If they were here more, it would stop happening, but they work, they have their own families, and their own lives, so that is not possible.

Some days I cannot wait for the girls to go to bed, when there has been lots of head banging and scratching and crying I am just exhausted. I sit here and shed some tears myself.  Many friends and family just do not want to talk about this aspect of our lives. Old friends and extended family feel we asked for this; we had the audacity to adopt children, thinking we were such great parents we could take this on, so if we are that perfect, we can do it on our own.  A few have said this to our faces, others have said it to each other. Some say we are special or saintly for adopting.  We are simply extremely ordinary human beings who saw someone else in pain and wanted to help. We followed the law of the universe; to care for "the least of these". We are no different than any other parent, sometimes we have the answers, and sometimes we do not.  We did not cease to need support and love just because we added to our family via adoption, but that is exactly what happened.

Why share this? It is simple, I understand what can happen to a family when they adopt internationally, people admire you and are suspicious of you at the same time.  We learned our neighbor believed we only adopted to get tax payer money from the state. (In AZ international adoptions do not qualify for state subsidy ) Can you imagine a person adopting just for $$, I guess some people do, but we are not those people, we paid considerable sums to bring our girls home.  Others want that happily ever after where our love opens our child's heart and changes them into  loving, kind, caring and "normal" children (with Down syndrome). You have better not tell the truth about how hard it can be and you had better not admit you feel overwhelmed sometimes. You better never say; "Why did I do this?" because someone who is adopting might be scared and abandon their plans, and then how will all those people get paid all that money for that child's adoption?  I admit I hate how much money passes hands during adoption, it is indecent.

Even though  raising our daughters (all our kids really) can cause stress sometimes, they do not put us through what children with severe RAD put their parents through. I read that the Russian child (Max) was covered in bruises  and I read comments from people accusing  the parents of doing this to him, saying there is no way a child could do this themselves. Truly those people do not know what they are talking about. Self-abusive children can inflict tremendous damage to themselves.  I do not know if those parents hurt Max, his death is a terrible loss, a tragedy and I am saddened to hear about it. However I am angry that people refuse to educate themselves about internally adopted children.  No matter how many classes you take or books you read, nothing prepares you for parenting a hurt child. You learn as you go along  the best way to help them. Just as you learned when you brought that tiny baby home and had no idea how to parent them.

Sometimes parents get lost, and sometimes the unthinkable happens and children die; like the 20 Russian children lost due to accidents, neglect or outright abuse. There is no excuse for it, and no child deserved to die at the hands of the very people who swore to love and care for them, but who is making sure those parents have support? Who makes sure the children are safe in those homes?

Our social worker has never visited us since she completed our home study. We have no post placement requirements from either country. Kara has a report due to Ukraine this year, Amanda's country did not ask for any since the first 6 months she was home. Every person involved in the adoption of our beloved daughters has fallen away into the past. No one from either agency has asked how the girls are doing for over 3 years.  Think about that, not a word, no call, no email, nothing from Reece's Rainbow where we found Amanda either.  I do not think it is lack of care, I don't, we just fell out of touch. Sometimes it bothers me, I feel like there should be someone somewhere who cares about what happened to the girls, do they wonder how they are?  

If it were not for Facebook groups where I can talk with other parents about  our adopted children, I would feel pretty alone. I am grateful for the people who thought to form the groups, it does not replace loving family and friends who we can spend time with, no, but at least there are others who know what we are going through in our day to day lives.

All of us; hundreds of families,  love and care for our adopted children like they are born to us. We cry because our children are in pain, we pray for their relief from their inner turmoil,  they are  members of our family. I do not know what image those Russian citizens have in their minds about what happens to the children here, but the majority of the children adopted  by families I personally know are lovingly cared for.

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