Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Saviour or Seeking to be Saved?

As adoptive families of internationally born children, we see our world through the eyes of our unique perspective. We often fail to realize that others may see us differently. Are we seen as noble families that have provided a home to a needy child, or are we seen as members of a group that is taking advantage of the financial inequalities around the world to feed our own interests in raising a child we often can't obtain otherwise. In other words, are we seen as a Savior, or as needing to be saved.

The following essay, written by an adoptive parent of a Chinese daughter, addresses this question by drawing on the extreme example of Vanessa Beecroft. Her insight helps explain the looks we all receive from those around us, and may explain some of the questions we all receive.


The lines to adopt a child from developing countries, especially China, have lengthened beyond what anyone could have predicted. People are spending a lot of time, energy and money to become parents to a child from another country. Many outside the adoption community ponder what this lure could be about. As an adoptive parent, I understand many of the intentions behind the decision to adopt internationally. I have heard many different motives on why people have chosen to adopt trans-racially: some seem quite valid, and some are incomprehensible.

The issue of white privilege is one that many in the adoption community repeatedly refuse to accept. We just can’t see it in ourselves. And what is white privilege anyway? Could it be that we have lived a life free from exploitation and oppression and we fail to understand why it is that others reject our acts of goodwill? But we should accept the possibility that by trying to help another person, we can actually create even more harm than good.

I do feel this is often the case. People want to feel better about their own identity. They want to open up their hearts and welcome more love into their life. People are overwhelmed by images of starving, homeless and orphaned children and an inner feeling emerges -- a feeling that seems so well intentioned yet can cause people to act in the most impulsive and irrational ways.

Our society teaches us that we need to help others. We are taught to care for all people on earth and it is our duty to take care of those who are without. I do feel that there are times when people are torn between wanting to share and help, and also wanting a payoff in the end. It isn’t enough to just give anonymously. Many crave that recognition and use it to fill the void that is within.

There is a line that is crossed when a simple act of good nature turns into exploitation for personal gain.

Vanessa Beecroft is one person who has chosen to exploit children from Sudan for her financial and personal gains. Overcome by engorged breasts and her swollen ego, she spilled her white privileged breast milk into the mouths of two innocent children. As if this was not bad enough, she then decides to strip them of their clothing and stages them for a picture that sells for $50,000 per print.

Overcome by the lovely feeling that giving offers, Vanessa allowed her white privilege to go a bit further and rather than just breastfeeding these orphaned children and going home empty handed, she decides she will “save” them and bring them home with her. She spends months pursuing an adoption of the Sudanese twins without her husband’s knowledge, assuming he will feel the same urge to save as she has.

Her husband, Greg Durkin, is a social anthropologist and was horrified when he heard of her actions. He states: “Is adopting these two children from this village helping them? Saving them? Is that the best we can do as a family? I don’t know. I think that’s kind of almost like a short-cut, it’s almost too selfish. I can fill my needs by bringing them into my world because it’s far easier for me to deal with things in my world.”

Vanessa explained her feelings: “I want them, but do I deserve them? I’m afraid of the judgement of the people. The Bishop, the Dinkas, the world. ‘Ah here she is’ - not that I’m important – ‘another white woman wanting something exotic.’”

Vanessa returns home to New York, still trying to convince her husband that they should adopt these children. Greg’s position is clear: “Just because they don’t know the certain things we call luxuries it doesn’t mean that we’re better than them. I don’t see that dimension at all.”

This story is actually not all that unusual. Many couples do not agree on the issue of adoption and especially the issue of transracial adoption. In a developed country, many feel compelled or perhaps drawn towards offering help to those who they deem as less fortunate. Yet one must wonder whether those who are hungry or orphaned need us or is it our need to feel validated that drives us to want to adopt? Are there not better ways we can help others without having to get such a huge payback in the end?

Vanessa’s story actually paints an amazing picture of what international adoption may look like on many levels to many people. Is she the “white Madonna Saviour” or the desperate and depressed wife with a void to fill? Which are we? Or are we neither? And why did we adopt? Can any of us be honest about our motives and can we admit it if they were less than admirable?

When I see this picture, I can only see exploitation. It is hard to look at, yet equally as hard to look away. Does that make me a voyeur? Intrusive? I am not sure. One thing I am sure about is that Vanessa shows the side of international adoption that reinforces a dangerous stereotype. She evokes a feeling within not only the adoptive parents but also those who were adopted internationally. She represents so much about what is wrong in this system and the many reasons why we all need to look internally on why it is we chose to adopt and the consequence it may cause on our children.

Will Vanessa or others in the adoption community ever recognize that all of their well-meaning behaviours were actually self-driven to some extent? Driven to fulfill a personal desire for more -- More love, more life, more of whatever it is people crave. Sometimes it seems that the void is endless and can never be filled.

Or as Greg puts it “Just because they don’t know the certain things we call luxuries doesn’t mean that we’re better than them.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"She is Very Shy"

"She is very shy"...... those are the only words that were translated for me by our guide, spoken by the woman I've come to call "the disappearing nanny" because she seemed an expert at bringing the babies to Nanchang and slipping out quietly and quickly before anyone noticed.

"She is very shy" is what she said when Cami, terrified of her new squeaky shoes, tried to crawl into her arms. It's the only thing she told me. I didn't know anything about how my new baby lived her days, what she ate, or when she slept. And I didn't notice the shyness right away. I decided it was a cultural misunderstanding, something lost in translation.

Now we have been home 8 months. Cami is confident and sure of herself in her new home. She is a sturdy child with a great appetite and quick laugh. But her view of the world is forever altered by the life she must have lived as a shy child in the dog eat dog world of the orphanage.

Cami has an interesting regard for children. She doesn't seem to like them very much. If we are in a crowd, she chooses the empty corner for play. If a child approaches her, Cami will veer out of the way. If there is a line, she will give up her space time and again and go to the end of the line so that no one is standing at her back.

Cami is coordinated, but careful. She moves methodically while other children romp. She is alert and can sense a movement in her direction and she adjusts her choreography. She does not engage......nor does she practice parallel play. She is the sentinel, the guardian. A change in the direction of the wind or an approaching truck still blocks away will cause her to change her status to "all systems alert". She is watchful. She is protecting herself from whatever she fears, out in the big open spaces, in the primitive ways she learned early in her life.

Today we took a picnic to our neighborhood park for lunch. Cami sat on the picnic bench, swinging her legs and eating her sandwich in the sunshine. But when two more little girls approached the park to play with their moms, she stiffened. She began to stuff the rest of our lunch back in the lunch box, to hide our food from the predators. She stashed her cookie under her little leg.

We watched the children play, but Cami only wanted to sit with me and watch. She melted into me and I was her shield. The little girls were friends and I tried to imagine Cami playing with friends. I know the funny little girl inside her who likes to tell secrets and to take turns because, for now, Cami and I are best friends. And while I cherish this time, I worry about how deeply buried Cami- the- friend might be from the world's view.

I don't know the social structure of her orphanage, but my sense of it is that it was a society where meanness went unpunished and being unseen was sometimes the best that could be hoped for. I can't bear to imagine Cami being the victim of anyone's cruelty. My mind refuses to go to that possible place. And if I even get a whiff of it, I"m reduced the simplest place of existence, where my only purpose in life is to stand in the way of harm coming to her again.

"She is very shy"........ What does that mean for her? What did it mean for her in China? And what level of courage did it take for her to allow herself to be carried off, dry eyed and unflinching, by a band of strangers. In a single breath she lost her home, her language, and every shred of security she had carved out in her short life.

Now I want to unbuild the walls that protect her heart. I want to return her innocence. And I will do whatever I can to heal the wounds and remodel her childhood.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Post-Adoption Depression

This morning is typical. I awake and feel resistant to my day of child care. And then I feel guilty for feeling negative towards my kids. When there was one child I still had some freedom, now my daughter is home from China, I just feel anxious all the time. I spend much of my time caring for her and thinking of ways to shake the sweet ankle biter off.

We have worked through sleep issues, with the odd hiccup she goes to bed easily in her own crib. After much research and mental wrestling, we did the cry it out method. Of course we didn’t do it right away, after we were more firmly established at home for about two months we did it. It was not the horror that I imagined, she cried twenty minutes the first night and gradually less and less subsequent nights. I am thankful we tried this – against the adoption research, it worked for us.

Yes I love her, but I am overwhelmed and this sometimes eclipses my feelings of love for her. In my deepest darkest moments I wonder why I brought this on myself. Our bonding is going well but I feel suffocated from her daily need.

I have done research and discovered that over 50% of adoptive mothers, and especially the ones that adopt from overseas will experience Post Adoption Depression. What am I doing about it besides writing this post? Well, I fake it as much as I can. I have also started getting her used to other people caring for her so I can get a break. I exercise as often as I can. I get as much sleep nightly as I can too. I also spend time praying about it and I am not a religious person. My husband is very supportive, but this doesn’t change the fact that he works fulltime leaving me to dread those long days when it is just her and I all day, my other child in preschool.

The research says it will probably pass in about a month or two, so I am holding the research to their word and keeping the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, everything with children is a stage right? Why not this too? Some days are better than others, today not so much.

My purpose in sharing my story is for other women like myself to know they are not alone. It is very hard to complain about a child when you have likely been infertile and dreamed about her for years. It is hard to complain about feeling overwhelmed when you have felt jealous of other women’s pregnancies and cursed the universe for making you unable to conceive. It is hard to complain about a child when you know the suffering she has gone through in her young life, what is it compared to yours now?

Ya, you aren’t alone.

I will get through this.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

3000 U.S. dollars- Crisp, Clean and Unmarked

“3000 U.S. dollars- Crisp, clean and unmarked.” This was the email we received from our agency. They stressed that the money would be scrutinized and so we needed to be very particular. We placed the request to our bank and after weeks of waiting, it was all there. We went in, opened a safety deposit box and placed the small envelop in it for safe keeping until our trip to China.

It all seemed so very ‘business’ like. I had visions of how much 3000 dollars would look like and when we were handed the small neatly stacked pile, I was surprised at its minimal appearance.

It sat in our safety deposit box until the day before our travels. It would often be brought up amongst those waiting. Some were stressed because their bills had marks from a money counter it had went through, some stressed over how it should be carried to China. My husband and I chose to keep it in a money pouch wrapped in hard cardboard and then the pouch was pinned to my husband’s jeans to avoid any unforeseen accidents or heaven forbid “the pick pockets”.

Although the money was referred to as a donation, we were all very aware that it was much more than that. It was mandatory and part of the program. It seemed quite minor when compared with the costs of the social workers and agency fee’s, yet when weighed against the entire fee’s we did pay, this money became the heaviest burden.

As soon as we got to China, our money was collected. Our in-China facilitator went over each bill and made sure it met standards. Some people failed to bring the specified condition and thus relied on others to exchange extra money.

Finally our whole group succeeded in handing over our “perfect money”.

I had moved beyond this fee and actually began justifying it to many who were often curious on how much China made from us. I explained how it was a mere 3000 dollars and it was simply paying for my child’s care while in the orphanage.
I made sure that I told others that it was a “donation” because the word sounded softer. Usually this would be enough for others to give us their approval and I felt more secure after these conversations because in a strange way, it also convinced me that China was not making money and this was not about business to them.

I am not sure when I began to understand how much 3000 U.S. dollars is for the people in China. It seemed like a large sum for us to physically hold, yet in reality, it was minor on what we earn each year and on how much we spend.

The time had come.
The children and staff were lined up in the civil affairs office and each name was called as we received our long awaited children. I was overjoyed to finally have come this far. She was so beautiful. She slept through the entire transfer from the staffs’ arms into mine. She briefly awoke, checked me out and then went back into her slumber. Neither the orphanage staff nor the kids shed any tears, only us parents who waited for so long for this moment to come!

My child had been ill, very ill, and yet no medication was provided. We began her on a simple antibiotic immediately and her condition improved within days. Many kids had both Scabies and Giardia from this orphanage as well.

She had never been introduced to solid food and was used to the gravity fed method that the orphanage used. She could now hold her bottle and would suck the mucky mixture down within a minute.

Our daughter received minimal care in her orphanage. She was kept alive and for that I am so thankful. She was fed quality formula that was fully supplied by Love Without Boundaries. She was kept warm in multiple layers of old clothing and she did have a crib and was blessed with the company of another little child as her crib-mate.

From all the pictures I received back from my digital camera, no toys were seen. I had read that there were toys donated and I know all the parents in our group mailed toys, however none were seen in any of the pictures. It appeared to be an orphanage with the bare minimum for our children.

I began to question just how much of our money went to the children. $3000 x 150 children per year (at the minimum) = $450,000 U.S.
In China, this would be so much money. Surely it would supply the nutritional needs, the heat and possibly even air conditioning, at the very minimum simple medications that would heal those who were so ill. One would assume that the children could have their basic needs met through the multiple donations that came into this orphanage. Each child meant $3000, many travel groups offered additional donations and large gift items such as air-conditioners, washing machines, cameras, clothing, diapers, bottles etc.

The list seemed endless and yet so did the needs.

The staff was minimal at this orphanage and at the very most only 10 caregivers were employed. So the big question is, where did the money go? Even if the CCAA had taken their cut and some money went to the few special needs children who resided there, still there was a huge gap between what was being given and what the children received.

I have since read that donations are on the increase. I would have once justified this raise in price. Long ago, I would have defended it with the mindset that all things go up in price. Now I know that the kids are not seeing the benefits of this money. I am not sure where it does go and I would hate to even venture a guess, I just know where it does not go. It does not go to quality care for our children. I am so grateful to Half The Sky, A Childs Right, Love Without Boundaries and all the other organizations that have recognized the needs of the children and overlook many issues just to deliver the lifesaving care that the kids need.

$5000 dollars can become dangerous to hand over without question. It is an enormous amount of money to be handed over without a breakdown of where it will go. When you consider the many children who will flow through the doors at $5000 a child and the notion that the kids must keep flowing for this amount of money to continue as well as all of the extra donations. It creates an even larger market and the nature of business will only escalate as the fee’s do.

I really do hope that people feel more enabled to question and speak out against this increase. I hope people force this issue of where the money needs to go and demand proof that it is being spent where it needs to be spent.

The children are what matter most. Not our desire to parent, not another’s possible motive for more wealth. It is about the kids. It began that way and should continue as such. Don’t let them be lost in this issue, let them be the focus of it.

They deserve so much more than any of us can ever offer them. At the very least, we should be making sure they get what is rightfully theirs.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Owning Our Own Infertility

First generation born in North America and I was living the dream my parents had for me. I had finished university, had started a very successful career and at the ripe old age of 29 found the man I hoped to spend the rest of my life with.

After just a few short years of marriage, we decided to try and conceive as we were not getting any younger. We wanted to have children to share our lives with. We had fun trying for about 2 years, but then we began to worry something was wrong because we had not conceived.

We visited doctor after doctor with no results. Of course they all quoted the figure that 20% of all couples that can not conceive are unexplained. Two different specialists asked if we knew how babies were made. I was shocked that they would ask such a stupid question. How could I NOT know? Give me a break…..I’ve had sex education for 8 years in elementary, junior high and then high school. Dogs, cats, and it seemed that every other high school teenager could conceive, but we couldn’t seem to accomplish something as natural as getting pregnant. What was wrong?

We decided to continue with fertility drug after fertility drug all with no positive results. We decided to try treatment after treatment again with no positive results. We decided to stop with all the drugs and treatments just prior to our first in vitro fertilization. Somehow society always made me feel that I was at fault. In my mind, the Doctors’ eyes month after month looked at me with pity. We decided that we wanted a family. It did not matter that any children that we would have would have our DNA.

After 7 years of attempting to conceive, the fun was gone. It was a job and we were doing a poor job. We investigated adoption: private, foster care, children’s aid, etc. In short, the cost was too high: approximately $40,000 for private adoption; with foster care, we’d have to give up children that we had grown to love; we may not be chosen by a birth mother for whatever reason; the wait was approximately 10 years for an infant, and that was too long at the age of 36.

We decided to investigate international adoption, but heard so many corruption stories that we were worried. On researching China adoptions, we believed that we had found the best system. The children were apparently healthy. The children were loved and appeared to be well cared for. Every indication was that there was little to no corruption. The cost did not seem too unreasonable meaning that it didn’t appear that we were “buying” a baby, but paying for services rendered.

For the very first time in our marriage when we talked about children or having a family, the answers or results were not negative. We had to jump through hoops. We had to answer very private questions from people who were not medical professionals. We had to have our lives inspected from the inside out with a microscope, BUT we did it with pleasure because each step successfully completed brought us closer to our goal of having our family. We were finally having positive results.

We contacted our Chinese adoption agency (facilitator) and got all the paperwork completed for China. Twelve months after our dossier was logged into the China Center of Adoption Affairs, we received the referral of our first daughter. She was everything we could have wished for and still is to this very day. She was ours! We had “earned” the right to finally parent this child. Nobody could take this miracle from us!

We were so happy with our first daughter and our experience as parents we decided to adopt again from China. This time the wait became much longer all of a sudden, and waiting adoptive parents were getting more and more frustrated and angry because there were no answers or explanations and the answers given did not seem to coincide with what we witnessed on our first trip to China. We were frustrated, but not like so many that would be first-time parents. I heard and read many angry words from these waiting parents.

One personal friend shared the following with me, "I was really wondering if we really needed to add to our family after our first adoption, because everything is so perfect now and I didn't know if a new child would ruin that. Now that I know there are more restrictions, that I wouldn't qualify any longer, and that the wait is artificially slowing down, I want my baby more than ever." I was shocked by the statement, by the attitude, and by the sense of entitlement.

One thing that I suddenly realized was that NO ONE owed us. We did not finally “earn” the right to be parents. It was no one’s responsibility to solve our infertility problems. We had taken the responsibility to take the fertility drugs and take the various treatments to solve our fertility issues. Our infertility was ours, and no one had to solve our infertility because we were the ones that owned it. We could take whatever other steps to solve our infertility, but we own every aspect of our infertility.

Wow! What a revelation to me! After so much disappointment in our attempts to have a family, I realized that I had no right to be mad, frustrated, angry, etc., because NO ONE owed us a child! We were blessed to share our lives with a child, if and when it happened.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Living with an Emotional Vampire

My husband and I are the parents of two children born in China. Our oldest daughter "Mandy" is now 7 years old. We adopted her in China when she was 12 months and one week old. Our younger daughter "Lilly" is now 5 years old and she came home from China when she was almost 14 months old. Both of our girls are from the same province, but their personalities and life experiences prior to coming to us are like night and day.

Mandy lived in very poor rural orphanage for her first year of life. We don’t know what her life was like, but from photos, things looked very stark and she came to us with the back of her head asymmetrically flattened. We assume she spent a lot of her time doing not very much in her crib, flat on her back. She was tiny and slightly developmentally delayed in her fine and gross motor skills. She was my first child and I didn’t realize she was delayed until much later. She was also serious, very verbal and cuddly. I was in love with her from the moment I held her in my arms.

Lilly was from a much larger orphanage where most of the children live with foster families. She lived with the same foster family for 13 months before coming to us. She was plump and healthy and advanced in her developmental skills. She even knew how to work a remote control. She was joyful, loved to laugh and eat. She is the poster child for the happily-ever-after China adoption. She is a joy to parent, easy to love and fun to be around.

I first began to feel like something was different about Mandy when she was about two and a half years old. She never slept very well and getting her to go to sleep had become a huge battle every night. My husband and I couldn’t agree and how to get her to sleep and where she should sleep. Getting her buckled into her car seat was a huge, physical battle every day. She needed to control everything she did and everything I did. My husband was working in a different town and gone 2-3 nights per week and didn’t see the difficulty that I was experiencing with Mandy. He didn’t see the morning that I missed an important meeting at work because I couldn’t get her buckled in her car seat for an hour because she physically fought me so strongly. He called it normal "terrible twos," but somehow I just knew that it was more. Only now I thought that something out of the normal was going on. No one else believed me. I began to doubt myself and my own judgment.

Soon we would be adding our second child from China to this crazy mix and I was worried and scared. I became depressed, but again, I didn’t realize that until much later.

Lilly came home when Mandy was 3 years old and things really began to get difficult then. Mandy hated her new sister and would hit her all the time. No amount of redirection and correction from me stopped this. She simply would not share me with Lilly and it was extremely stressful to me. Finally one morning I broke down and cried at breakfast and told my husband that I felt like I was parenting a vampire all alone and she was sucking the life out of me.

That began our journey to seek help for Mandy and our family. The first counselor we saw did not understand or believe that Mandy might have issues stemming from her early life. But she did understand that Mandy’s behavior was putting severe stress on our marriage. She helped us to get on the same page with our parenting choices and strategies. She also helped me to get on anti-depressants. I was no longer feeling that I was alone having the life sucked out of me. This was a critical step for our family – getting my husband and I working as a team again.

But Mandy’s behavior was escalating. By four years of age or so, she would hit her sister and attack me and my husband if she didn’t get her way about the simplest things. She would hit, kick and spit at us. She began to destroy things when she was angry at us. One day when I was taking a short break in my room and she wanted to be in there with me, she got a knife from the kitchen so she could cut her way through the bedroom door. She still needed to control everything and she was mean and rude to us. Everything things was a battle, getting dressed, taking baths, going to bed, eating, playing. She was a darling at daycare and at the grandparents’ house and they all thought she was the most charming, smart little girl on the planet. She would cry and tell us that she wanted to be with her mother in China and then rage and tell me that she hated me. Our relationship was very strained. I felt I had nothing left to give to this child.

We saw a child psychologist from our local FTC group who felt that Mandy had sensory integration issues. So we worked with an occupational therapist for 3 months. Many things got easier, but the rages and control issues continued to escalate.

We began to search for a therapist who had worked with adopted kids and finally found someone to work with. We saw him for about six months and his evaluation of our daughter was that she had anxiety and adoption issues, but not RAD. He did talk therapy with us and with her. We didn’t see much improvement and after six months, because of changes in his practice, he could no longer see us. He promised to help us transition to a new therapist. He sent us to a counselor was experienced with teens with oppositional behaviors, but not adopted children. She was totally charmed by Mandy and felt that the issues were mine. After a few sessions with her we stopped our treatment with her.

We could not find any other good therapists to work with in our town. Our daughter was now raging and talking about wanting to die and hating us and wanting to hurt us. I feared for our safety and the safety of our Lilly. I couldn’t imagine how she could be healthy growing up in such a terrible situation.

When I first began to realize that our daughter has some “issues”, but no one else believed me, I had read about a therapist who worked almost exclusively with children adopted from China with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). For a long time, I suspected this is what was really going on with Mandy, but no one seemed to agree with me. Our next step was to call this therapist who lived in a different state. He talked on the phone to us for an hour that day and for the first time, we felt we were talking to someone who understood what we were dealing with in our home. We decided to bring him to our home for an intensive weekend of therapy and parenting coaching. He worked with both of us and our 3 and 5 year old daughters. We learned that our daughter indeed has RAD and we learned out to parent her therapeutically. We began to see positive changes almost immediately.

For us, this type of parenting was not intuitive, we really had to work at it and we had to learn how to physically hold her to keep her and us safe during her rages. After parenting her this way for almost a year, we finally felt that we had made real progress with her. We had more good days than bad; she no longer had to attempt to control everything; I no longer felt scared of her and unable to handle her behavior; she acted lovingly towards us and would cuddle with us.

It is now 2 ½ years since we began therapeutic parenting for our RAD girl. Our children are 5 and 7 years old. Mandy is not completely healed, but she is making great progress and we have a happy family life. She is able to function normally and happily in our home. She and I have a good relationship at last. Just a few weeks ago, we went to Disneyland as a family and had a great time with no rages, not tantrums and no meltdowns. It felt magical.

I had read about RAD before we adopted for the first time, but I thought that it was uncommon in Chinese adoptees and if our child has issues, I felt that we were smart, capable parents and could love our way through it. I know now that love is not enough to heal these children and that not all adoptions are easy and blissful. I’m so glad that we finally found the help we needed to help our daughter heal. Very few people saw or understood what we went through to get to the point where we are today. How can we help future adoptive parents prepare to parent a RAD child when the existence of RAD in our children is rarely addressed honestly and openly in the adoptive community or by agencies? How to we get past blaming the adoptive parent? How can we help some families to know that they aren’t cut out for therapeutic parenting and perhaps shouldn’t even become parents by adoption because of that? These are questions I think about a great deal.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Notes for Those that Struggle

My name is Anne and my husband, son and I adopted Rose from a Chinese Social Welfare Institute in September 2007.

Rose was found the day she was born, no contact with family. She had an infection, was taken into hospital and then to the Institute.

From what I can gather, she had adequate care but nevertheless institutionalized and therefore multi-cared for.

My understanding of attachment was nil, not because people hadn’t tried to warn me, but because I simply didn’t have a clue about what anyone was talking about.

Rose was only 10 months old when she came home. Many adopters would believe that this is too young to develop attachment issues, but my belief is that increased cortisol levels in the brain can begin to overload almost immediately, so I suspect that she must have begun to shut down within weeks of being in the institute.

She was extremely docile, smiled at anyone and would be held by anyone except our male guide. She was serene, calm and ‘perfect’ in every way. I adored her, much more than I had adored my first birth child at that age. She was everything I had hoped for and more. She was beautiful. She was perfect.

Three weeks after our return to the UK, I was feeding her in my arms. She smiled, reached out her arm and pulled my nose as hard as was humanly possible for such a little thing. She really hurt me, it made me cry. She looked cruel and cold. That was the bit that hurt the most. She also began to bite me, to scratch and to arch her back when she was carried.

I felt devastated. Literally, my world and my beautiful relationship fell apart. I went numb and for a few days, lost the will to love her. I just cared for her in a cursory way and got on with it while I tried to process this information.

Having lost my mother 10 years ago, I was acquainted with grief, and I recognised that I needed to go through a grieving phase that she was not perfect and that she was not what I thought she was. I cried for a few days, wiped my eyes as it were and began to try to find out what was going on.

The first thing I did was to find out from fellow adopters where to go for help and that is where I found attach-china. I also found 4everfamilies and scoured both their sites to try and grasp what was happening to me.

The next thing I did was to order some books on the subject. I still have some reading to do but I started with the following:

1 Nancy Thomas – Taming The Tiger While It’s a Kitten – This is programme for young children to help with attachment.
2 Nancy Thomas – When Love is Not Enough – A great insight into dealing with older children, which actually helped me to see where I might end up and therefore flagged up problems for the future, which I could work on now.
3 Martha Welch – Holding Time – A guide to holding your child to enable attachment and well being in the child
4 Dan Hughes – Building the Bonds of Attachment – a very inspiring case study of an abused child, which again, gave me insight into the future and how I could avoid letting Rose get to that stage.
5 The Connected Child – As someone on Attach-China described, a bible, a day-to-day book, full of useful tips that can be read and re-read over again. Not crisis management like Nancy Thomas.

My diagnosis of Rose is that she wasn’t held enough, she wasn’t looked at enough and she wasn’t talked to enough. I felt I had to tackle all these issues in order to get through to her. Now I realized that all was not well, it became glaringly obvious that she didn’t look at us, she held us at arms length and her speech was underdeveloped. Of course, she came from China, so one would not expect speech, but she would not mimic us, but rather try and lead all the time. Her concentration was appalling. She would brush through a roomful of toys in a minute and then look at us as if to say, ‘what’s next’. I found myself organizing outings every day just to keep her occupied. She began to look at us coldly more and more, hurt me as much as she could, resisted cuddles. The other thing to mention is that I actually became frightened of her. She scared me. She was cold. She didn’t seem to care about us. I knew these were early days but nevertheless I was frightened. By now I had read enough to know that these behaviours might continue for years and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

My reading was beginning to help a little. I understand that in order for a little person to survive, several things happen to their brain. First, and most obvious, they need to take control. It is said that if they are not in control, they literally believe that they may die. So control becomes a matter of life and death. Second, I learned that they become addicted to the adrenalin that has washed over their brain in order to survive, so creating chaos is a ‘good’ state for them to be in for them. It actually makes them feel more comfortable. I also learned the natural levels of cortisol, the stress hormone in the body is increased enormously which has a very damaging effect upon linking up the electric circuits, leading to neurological damage and eventually to an autistic kind of state. I wonder how much of this I have to deal with in the future.

So I faced up to it, I had the facts, but how to deal with it.

The all-encompassing word for the method of dealing with children with attachment issues is called ‘therapeutic parenting’. It obviously has many sides to it but the basic premise is that we communicate to our child, ‘you are too sick/ill to take control of your life at the moment. I am going to take control for you until you are well, and then you can have the control back.’

So how does this manifest itself on a daily basis? Well, because Rose was so young, I chose to go on a programme put together by Nancy Thomas called ‘Taming the Tiger While it’s a Kitten’. Nancy sends you CDs to listen to, very welcome and a booklet and she has a yahoo group too which is helpful. The idea was that we would carry Rose for twelve weeks in a sling for six hours a day, beginning to drop it at the end down to less and less. I won’t lie to you. This is a huge commitment. Hubby took extra time off work and we worked at this day and night, we slept with her, we bathed with her, we stroked, touched, kissed, bottle fed and played until we dropped! And the truth is that we really didn’t know if it did the trick or not. We did it because we felt if we didn’t, we may turn round in two years time and say, ‘oh, if only we had done it when she was so small.’ We took all her toys away and sung to her, danced with her and talked to her the whole time. We canceled all but gentle outings with friends, stayed at home and got through it. No one else held her, family got disdainful and made us feel dreadful!

After a couple of weeks on this programme, something happened, I actually cannot describe what it was and nothing happened for the rest of the programme. She became more compliant. She stopped whining all the time and began to rest her head on our chests. Hoorah! Nothing much else really. Nothing dramatic, nothing else happened for the whole process. She just learned to lean on us a bit and that was it. She also became more wary of strangers and clung to me when newcomers came to the house. Good news for unattachers.

When we began to get Rose down from the sling, I felt that it would be unfair to do the suggested method that she stay close to me all the time since crawling and walking became her main occupation and I gather, develops the brain, linking up the damaged electric circuits. That was enough to persuade me not to do that. Instead, I followed the advice of a member of attach china, and I gated off a substantial part of the house. Hence Rose is able to ‘potter about’. I have removed anything that she is not allowed to touch, hence reducing the word ‘no’ to a minimum and only in crisis. We have spent the last two or three months like this as she has learned to crawl and now walk.

My day consists of being a stay at home mum; I will not be leaving her for a few years yet. I am in the process of interviewing a mandarin nanny who will come in for four hours a week but I will be at home too until I am entirely happy that she is OK. On a therapeutic note, I keep my voice very even towards her, not too many highs and lows; I sing every song that comes into my head. I think music has been a connection between us. I affirm a lot of her learning and exploratory actions to build up the ‘good girl’ bit of her rather than the ‘bad girl’. I intend to start on a behaviour ladder (on the files section) before too long. I think this is a wonderful tool. I walk with her in the buggy for one – two hours each day. I just go to the shops or out to a nice park. We look at ducks. Normal parenting stuff really. But it is very routine. I use key words to warn her of what will happen next. Bottle, nappy, night night etc. Actually I re-read this stuff and it’s just mostly normal parenting.

Our day now goes in cycles. She really only moves into chaos and aggression now when she is tired. I try to keep up regular naps, regular food and bottles fed wrapped up in her "blankie". We hold her to sleep for every nap and at bedtime, which means if she is chaotic, she can have a good scream and get it out of her system before sleep. I have kept her bottle teats slow flow so that she has had to use a lot of sucking to get her milk. I felt this could get out her frustration. I will be putting some more holes in her bottle as I feel she can take it.

Six months on, I feel that we are seeing a change. I am guessing that it will be a year before we are a team. I am guessing that issues will rise and fall in her life and I don’t know what techniques I will use in the future.

I am humbly aware that I have not gone through nearly as much as some people on attach china who struggle minute by minute with their children. However, this is my story and I think it might be more helpful to those of you with young babies and children. The great thing about everything I have learned is that if things begin to go wrong again, I will simply re-adjust my behaviour to take back control.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bethany’s Hope: A Journey in Helping Our Daughter Heal and Find Love Again

This blog story is just a snippet of our time and journey of healing. We continue to peel back the layers of our daughter's wounds in order to facilitate healing, but we are sure much farther along than when we first realized what was going on. We aren’t naïve anymore in believing that a few short years will undo all the neglect, loss and possible abuse she endured, but we do have faith that God will complete a good work in her.

When we realized what was going on with our precious girl we had to re-learn how to parent a wounded child. Much of it was not only different it was foreign to us. Remember we had already parented a birth daughter for seven years. We weren’t “green” in the parenting department, but Bethany’s issues quickly showed us that all traditional parenting was an absolute failure in helping her. Some quick examples are that we immediately quit all time-outs and did time-ins. For months she was literally linked to me by a jump rope so as to always be connected to me. We did bottle time daily for well over a year. We played baby with her and re-parented her through many of the moments she missed when living in the orphanage.

We played a game where she would climb under one of my husband’s big shirts, his silk pajamas from China to be exact, and I would pretend I was pregnant with her. I would pat her head and sing songs to her, as I did to my birth daughter, and when she was ready out she would pop through the shirt, and we would move to the rocker where I would rock her, sing to her and bottle feed her t. I know it sounds weird and believe me there were times I would think how bizarre this whole thing was, but she absolutely loved it and needed it. It was one of the big things that ended her severe jealousy toward her sister being born to us, and her not being my birth child.

Thinking back, there is so much that we did to nourish her healthy attachment to us that goes against traditional American beliefs of teaching early independence. One day she fell down and hurt herself. We made a big deal of scooping her up and kissing her “owies.” She would never come to us for comfort so we always had to go to her, but when going to her she would scream, “Don’t touch me. I don’t want your help!” One day she screamed this at me and started running away from me. I calmly looked at her and said, “You must be remembering a time back in the orphanage where you felt that no one cared about you. You might have fallen down and no one came to comfort you. You might have been sick and no one came to hold you and care for you, but you don’t live in an orphanage now. You live in a family where people care for each other and love on each other when they are hurt or sick. So what are you going to do?” She stopped midway up the stairs, thought a few seconds, and turned around and ran into my open arms. That was the beginning of her truly allowing us to comfort her, and now she comes to us if she hurt or sick.

We used jelly beans, Skittles and Starbursts to reward her when she willingly came to us. We practiced spilling water on many occasions everywhere we went because one of her trauma triggers was spilling. I am still not sure what might have happened to her, but each time she would spill she would scream in sheer terror. So, in order for her to learn that spilling was normal, we all practiced spilling (we made it seem like a true accident). We did “baby bird feeding,” which is feeding candies or sugary treats ONLY if she is making good eye contact. We would call her to us, look in her beautiful eyes and say some loving remark, and quickly pop a candy in. We kissed each and every sweet and sugary treat to show that mommies love had filled it before we offered it to her. We did not allow her to self-feed candy or any other sugary treat. It all came from mom or dad to begin with.

I send this information because I passionately believe in equipping adoptive parents, and supporting those who are struggling. During the last two years we have seen four disruptions of adopted children within the families we know. None of the disruptions are children adopted from China, but it breaks my heart just the same because when there is a disruption everyone loses. Honestly, I can’t judge or even criticize any of the families who chose to disrupt. It was a gut-wrenching and hideous decision to have to make and each family made it only after exhausting every avenue and every chance of helping their children heal. In the end, they simply had to re-home the child to give them all a chance to heal and progress. It has been so sad.

Anyway, I thank you for the blog and I hope many parents will find information, support and even a wake-up call if need be from the information found within. Thanks again!

Here is Neurogistics webpage: http://www.balanceyourchildsbrain.com/


When our daughter was handed to us on October 15, 2002, she was very sick. Unlike all the other children who were awake and looking around, our daughter was out cold. She hung limply off her nanny's shoulder.

When she was handed to me I realized how hot she was and I knew we were in big trouble. I was not a first-time mom so I knew fevers weren't necessarily anything to worry about, but my little one was really burning up.

When we got back to our hotel room and I took her temperature I finally tossed the thermometer aside when it got to 105. We had taken many medications with us so we started her on Advil and Tylenol piggybacks. We also had to strip her, something I had not wanted to do immediately, and put her in a tepid bath.

While she was in the bath tub, she gave me a small smile -- a smile which would hold us through the next few days of our nightmare into the world of third-world medical care.

To fast forward, we spent two days going back and forth between the Nanning hospital for IV fluids, and fighting to get us out of Nanning and into Guangzhou, which had the western SOS medical clinic. We had taken our older daughter to China with us, and we were deeply worried about our new daughter being sick with Rotovirus.

The second day our daughter Bethany was with us she started vomiting every bottle we tried to feed her, as well as having severe diarrhea.

She was so dehydrated from the vomiting and diarrhea that we simply could not keep up with getting enough fluids into her. The three bottles of IV fluids given at the hospital, and lots of prayer saved her life.

Our agency did get us out of Nanning early, but not until after they recommended we reconsider adopting our daughter. We thought about that recommendation for a split second and then emphatically said no. She was our girl, sick or not, and we were bringing her home with us. We arrived in Guangzhou just days after meeting our daughter. We spent the duration of our trip hunkering down with a sick child at the White Swan, and checking in with the SOS clinic daily.

By this time, our girl's diarrhea had become bloody with severe intestinal cramping. She had the worst diaper rash I have ever witnessed, which neither of the two different creams we took with us would alleviate. Thankfully, the SOS clinic gave us something that worked. She also had a double ear infection, throat infection, and fever blisters all over her little mouth. She was one sick little girl.

Although the SOS clinic was far better than the hospital in Nanning, we didn't find out what was creating her illness until we reached home.

After reaching our home city, we immediately drove our older daughter home to her waiting grandmother, and headed to our local hospital for testing, again not something I would have chosen to do so soon.

Within a day it was discovered that Bethany had Shigella (which is like E Coli).
It wasn't just normal Shigella or the broad spectrum antibiotic we took would have killed it, but it was Super Shigella. The only antibiotic that it was susceptible to was Cipro, which was not being used with children. Of course we didn't have any choice but to use it, so we did. She was well within a week's time, and we settled in to become a family of four. But, it was not to be so easy.

What I now know is that our girl was displaying many early RAD signs. She was clingy (who can blame her after what she had been through), demanding (again good survival skills in an orphanage), and generally moody and melancholy. I didn't expect her to immediately be a happy smiley baby. I knew enough about post institutionalization to know it would take time for her to trust us, but I didn't know enough about early signs of attachment and trauma to see that her behaviors were indicating a real serious problem that hugs, kisses and reassurance would not heal.

I had already started attachment parenting. We started the family bed, which was a miserable failure due to her inability to sleep. I carried her virtually everywhere, which she insisted upon through screaming if I put her down at all. She did not go into any other childcare situation. I bottle fed her with eye contact. I rocked her nightly to the same lullaby music she still listens to at night. I bathed with her. I rubbed the same lotion on her that I wore. She was with me virtually 24/7, but it wasn't enough. Looking back now we needed the help of professional intervention, and I needed a whole lot more support to keep doing this work, even when I didn't see results.

Fast forward three years. Right before her fourth birthday, Bethany turned and looked at her big sister, Kendall, and said: "I hate myself." All the years of struggling with her very controlling and fake people-pleasing behaviors came to mind and I knew that our daughter was not securely attached. It was my greatest fear and yet it was what the Lord had called into my life. I would be lying though if I didn't admit that I was terrified.

I had read about the Romanian orphans. I had watched the "Dateline" specials. Heck, my brother worked as a social worker in a residential care facility that was filled with Russian adoptees who had RAD. I wasn't uneducated in this area. The problem was that the symptom lists I had learned about were for older kids. Our daughter was only three, and she didn't display those symptoms. Yet.

I called my husband and told him that we needed to find help for our daughter. He agreed and we made an appointment to see an attachment therapist who was local. We saw him for six months and realized that we were not getting anywhere, except that he was making her PTSD worse due to her incredible fear of men. On the homefront we
were busy learning all we could about post-institutional issues to help our daughter heal.

It was also during this time we started an adoption ministry at our church. It was focused more on the "We're home, now what?" premise. We wanted to explore adoption parenting from a Biblical perspective. We had been through too much confusion and faulty parenting advice to not follow God's calling in starting this ministry. We saw too many parents bring home struggling children and try to apply traditional parenting practices, which were failing everyone involved. We wanted to seek wisdom, apply what the Lord taught us and grow in the area of Biblically parenting the adopted child.

While researching RAD for another parent I came across the web page "Attach-China". I read the parent testimonies and every single question I had ever had about anything our daughter was struggling with was answered. Our daughter's inability to sleep through the night and her ever-present night terrors were all classic signs of the PTSD she suffered from. Her controlling behaviors such as hoarding food in her mouth, needing to be in charge all the time, and her extreme jealousy of any of my time being directed off her, were all symptoms of her insecure attachment. There were other red flags, but it would take a long time to list them all right now, but each
one of those symptoms was listed within "Attach-China"'s webpage. I cried as I read these testimonies because on one level I was scared for our family and our girl, but on another level I knew I wasn't crazy. We weren't alone! There were other families and other Chinese girls with these same issues.

I started pouring through information about attachment and PTSD. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I started calling every place I knew to get the help we needed. We paid special attention to adoptive families who had traveled this path ahead of us, and we learned from their victories and mistakes.

We realized that our daughter would need interventions that were not typical. From other adoptive families we learned of a neurodevelopment program in Oregon that was treating adopted children with RAD, as well as other conditions. We made an appointment to fly over and have her evaluated. Even though she had shown no major developmental delays maybe we had missed something. We also learned of a Christian attachment/trauma therapist who worked in Portland, Oregon. I looked at my husband and said, "I don't know what the checkbook says you make the decision." He replied, "You're going." We made an appointment to see the therapist, Dr. Kali Miller.

Our daughter was diagnosed with moderate anxious attachment (insecure) and severe Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). She also has some sensory processing issues, which showed at her neurodevelopment evaluation.

We came home from Dr. Miller's office and started bottle feeding her again during a daily snuggle time. Instead of milk we gave cooled hot chocolate. We also started co-sleeping with her again, which we had tried when we first came home. We pulled back into our family and really limited our outings and our visitors. She just couldn't handle any extra stress in her life, and we needed to learn out how to therapeutically parent her. When we re-introduced the bottle, with eye contact, she would take a few swallows and erupt in rage. She had made great eye contact when
we first came home, but I remembered that it was mostly on her terms. Now, I was asking her to make eye contact on my terms and she didn't want that. I had to hold her while she kicked, screamed, spit and fought through the rage that she was feeling. The first few times it was well over an hour before she stopped raging and started crying. It was exhausting work, but each time she would cry she would say to
me: "Mommy why did she leave me? Mommy I must have cried too much." So many times I cried right along with her as she entered into the pain within her heart. I didn't want to see my daughter hurt like she did, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. The only thing I could do was show her that this time she would not be alone. I
would walk this path with her no matter what.

I was homeschooling my oldest daughter, Kendall, at the time, and one day I had a homeschool mom's Bible study meeting. Our discussion was about grace that night, and the leader asked if anyone had shown their child grace recently. I raised my hand to speak and calmly told my story. That same day during our daily snuggle/bottle time, while I had been telling my daughter how much I loved her, she had matter-of-factly looked up at me and said, "I don't love you. I hate you!" Her hatred was very real and very true, and it was expressed during a time of intimacy. Although I was taken aback I felt the Lord tell me, "It's okay, I've got her," and only through His strength I was able to look her in the eyes and say, with love and acceptance in my eyes, "That's okay sweetie, I have enough love for both of us." After I sent her out of my room I went into my closet and sobbed. It was the moment when the magnitude of what we were dealing with first hit me, and I felt my heart rip into pieces.

To facilitate bonding our daughter was kept very close to me. She slept with us on my side of the bed. For the first six weeks she fought to get away from me in her sleep. It was so strange to have a sleeping child kick and moan in her sleep, while trying to scoot as far away as she could get from me. I didn't get much sleep during those first six weeks, but after the initial difficulties she learned to snuggle in to me. In fact, she would sleep with one leg over me at all times, as if she was afraid I would get away otherwise. She slept like that for over a year. It was only this Christmas that we moved her to a mattress beside our bed, which is where she still sleeps today.

For approximately six months I heard my daughter scream over and over again that she hated me, and each time her outbursts ended with me holding her while she raged. Each episode ended with more of her pain coming to the surface. She cried, "I hate my birthmother, she hurt me and when I hurt I want to hurt other people." My heart ached for her, but each time my only job was to stay with her and allow the Lord's love to flow through me to her. It was hard work, and even though I knew I was never alone myself I felt so isolated and scared.

After about six months, instead of screaming she hated me she began screaming, "I don't want you to love me; love hurts." Again, these snuggle times ended in more rages and more holdings where the pain she was holding onto came flooding out. The holdings no longer lasted over an hour. They lasted around 30-40 minutes.

Outside of snuggle time she was starting to have some really good days. They weren't the good days of old where you never knew if she was being real or not, but these were genuine. We started to see real smiles and hear real laughter from her. They didn't come often, but they were wonderful to see just the same, and we cherished every one of them.

The whole time my daughter and I had been flying back and forth, every two weeks, between Idaho and Oregon to see our daughter’s attachment therapist. A year into this, Bethany started coming into snuggle time saying, "I want mommy's love." She was also making great eye contact, and she was draining her hot chocolate bottle. In fact, there were many times when I would look into her eyes and see the baby that I knew wanted nothing more than to be loved. Her eyes were soft and trusting like a small baby’s would be in a mother's arms. It was very different from the dark rage filled eyes I had seen looking up at me six months ago.

The journey through attachment has been long and hard. We have learned so much about how neglect affects children. Without having a sensory rich and nurturing environment while living at Pingnan, our daughter’s ability to process sensory stimuli has been compromised. Without had any one caregiver to bond with she has learned not to trust those around her, and with the introduction of the severe neglect she suffered her brain development has suffered. She reads everything as a potential threat and reacts accordingly.

These behaviors are not just a choice for her, and they aren’t just emotions she is feeling. They are hardwired into her brain and cells through pre-verbal cellular memories and neurological impairments stemming from the neglect so prevalent in so many orphanages worldwide.

Because of all the challenges she faces we intervened in ways which are not typical. She started a neurodevelopmental program two years ago. At her evaluation we discovered anomalies in her tummy crawling, her hands and knees creeping, and so many other developmental areas that we were never informed about. To this day she has creeped and crawled over 120 miles, and through what appears to be silly interventions of fetal patterns and other infant patterns, we have seen wonderful improvements. She no longer rejects the love I pour into her, but runs to me for comfort and hugs.

We also had her neurotransmitters tested last year via a urine test, and that her brain chemistry was way off. It was described to me that her brain chemistry showed as if she had consumed 40 cups of coffee with nothing to eat. In fact, the practitioner we work with said Bethany’s brain was never chemically ready to attach. It is no wonder she had explosions. We started her on targeted amino acid therapy and we saw immediate improvements.

The biggest area we saw her improve was in the area of sleep. She was so hypervigilant that she had not been able to sleep well since she had come home from China, which was over four and half years ago. During her third year she had so many night terrors I could count the number of times she didn’t wake screaming on one hand. Sadly, nobody knew how to help us because nobody knew what was going on. Once we started her on the supplements for the amino acid therapy she started going to sleep in five minutes, but what was even more encouraging was that she stayed asleep through the whole night.

We continue to peel back the layers of her wounds from her early beginnings. We continue to fly back and forth between Idaho and Oregon for bi-weekly therapy. We hope one day soon to be able to drop down to once a month. Bethany is almost finished with her neurodevelopment program, and she will be beginning neurofeedback to target the anxiety she still struggles with. We do therapeutic parenting in our home, and we try to educate as many people as will listen that parenting adopted children is very different than parenting birth children, whose beginnings don’t include trauma. We know because we have done both in parenting our girls. Bethany’s struggles stem from living in inadequate orphanage conditions, and those challenges take an entirely different approach.

Our daughter has made tremendous strides in healing. She no longer tells me she hates me. She will say, “I can’t push mommies love away,.” During nightly prayers she thanks God for sending her a mommy who will always love her. She is beginning to make connections with others in our family. She is not fully healed, but I have faith that He who began a good work in her will not finish it until it is completed. I am sure she will always have trauma as a part of her history and she will always have rejection and loss to work through. But, I see how far God has brought her through the interventions and the help of the powerful team of professionals He put together. I know He has a plan for her just as He had a plan for Helen Keller.

She was recently the “Star of the Week” in her kindergarten class, and for the question what do you want to be when you grow up, she put “I want to be a Dr. Kali and help children who hurt.” I couldn’t ask for anything more.

MeDenne Jones

For more information about attachment disorders or Post Trauma disorders in Chinese
children see attach-china or a4everfamily.org.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Special Needs by Surprise: Denying, Accepting and Owning

As I begin to write this, strong images sift through the memory. For some reason, the first one is of me sitting alone in the waiting room in September 2001, wondering and fearing the results of the diagnostic on my sweet but odd 6 year old from China. . At some level I knew the answer: at another I continued to want to be in denial. After 2 ½ hours, the specialist and assistant came in, cheerfully bearing clipboards, as though it was just another day of data crunching—one more client to go before the end of the day. “Well,” the head of agency began, briskly and efficiently.

It was clear that she was happy that no doubt had been removed. “We just weren’t sure whether to call it autism or asperger’s, because of the issue with whether or not she used her pointer finger to point out things to others. But based on how she interacted with kids in the special school—her lack of understanding of how different they were—we can clearly call it autism.” I must have stared at her, blankly. “High functioning autism,” she added. She may have said more—but the rest was mostly a blur. And the remainder of the day was spent with internal wheels spinning. Inside was a voice saying, “but they said…but they said….”

They had said. I had asked for a healthy child between 10 and 14 months. They got the age part right. They -- the CCAA officials -- had said she was healthy.

“He had said.” I had met the male, aloof orphanage director in Guilin just after my daughter was handed over, at 14 months and 13 pounds. Through a translator, I learned from him that “she probably stares at her fingers because when children scratch themselves too much it is our practice to bind their hands.” I had found this idea barbaric but felt she had plenty of time to recover from such treatment. But in fact, in the photo of my first embrace, I am looking at her face and she is far more interested in exploring the fabric of my blouse with her fingers. And in fact, textures—of carpets especially—were the most entrancing part of adoption for several months to come, as far as she was concerned.

“She had said.” The female director of my agency, who often took trips from my state to her native China to facilitate adoptions—using the opportunity to visit with her parents in the process—was blasé when I expressed my concerns about a baby who refused to give eye contact. “She’ll catch up in two months, three, max,” she said with absolute certainty. What did I know? I told myself. Her agency had already placed several hundred children from China successfully. I agonized over whether to accept the placement. Several factors affected my decision. I was exhausted and confused. The agency director was so certain. I was on my own. Finally, and perhaps most important of all—I knew I could not have lived with myself had I left a needy, half-starved child behind in China. I went ahead with my decision. Later that week, though, other parents looked at me uneasily. And as Josi attempted to crawl on a bed over towards another adoptive infant, the mother came over to snatch her child away. My heart sank, but without a specialist to confer with, I felt I had no choice but to carry on.

I went home to a baby shower, friends expressing congratulations cautiously as Josi chose to stare at the lights overhead. A few years passed. Josi received early intervention from the state. Specialists scratched their heads and cited institutionalization. I found a friend whose adoption had inspired mine. “How long did it take, would you say, before she attached?” Oh, about two days,” she responded. My journey towards that goal, meantime, stretched endlessly. I would hold her and her body remained limp, like a sack of potatoes. She was unresponsive to hugs and kisses. She couldn’t walk and had no language. Over and over, I heard the mantra, “give her time.” Alone in my apartment, I waited—played with her—saw slow results, or none. When I sang and held her, I began to get some eye contact and with bouncing, some laughter. For a long time, I will confess—I was concerned about me, and equally about myself. Why me? I wondered.

I wondered until the day I was invited to a Christmas party for the state early intervention agency and met family after family dealing with retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and permanent invalidism. My stubborn self-pity remained but began to shrink. These were biological children. The families hadn’t asked for these diagnoses but had to live with them.

When she was two, sick of people telling me she would learn to speak on her own and knowing it was untrue, I finally hit upon an idea. As she was crawling and babbling, I got down on the floor and began imitating her babbles. Slowly, surely, she began to realize that I making a connection. She began to repeat my imitations. There was no miracle of real word formation, but she was starting to get it. A few months after that, I withheld milk, making clear that she had to make a noise with her mouth in order to get it. After some crying, she produced a single syllable that I realized was an effort in the right direction. Within 4 days the syllable was recognizable as “nalk.” With speech therapy at 4 and 5, she began to sound like other kids.

It wasn’t until she entered summer camp, post kindergarten, that I encountered a special ed teacher who hinted at the source of the problems. That’s when I went to a local agency known for the diagnosis of autism and got my results. Josi’s school was surprised to get them and insisted on its own evaluation. The same findings were reported. But the services available were only related to speech and language. They had no social skills groups, and that was the need most apparent to me. Josi could cooperate with others and could learn at her grade level, but was unable to make friends. A diagnosis at 2 or 3 could have made a difference. But then, my child was supposed to be “healthy.”

The years have passed and my daughter is now 12. In many ways Josi has made huge strides. When I tell a few trusted individuals about the diagnosis, they express surprise—“I never would have thought that.” She is in a regular middle school classroom, excels in art, and participated in her school musical. She no longer qualifies for special services. But a boy recently expressed interest in her, while asking “why do you act so funny?” She responded with The Diagnosis—and the friendship faded. I suppose she will always be “seemingly normal”—until poor judgement skills and social awkwardness surface.

In the meantime my own perspective has evolved. . In the first years after diagnosis, my adoption agency would refer potential families to me and I would secretly delight in bashing their services to the hopeful adopters. At one point, I heard, they were sued by a group of families for lack of a formal orientation program dealing with the possibility of special needs in adopted children. The suit was reportedly successful. I belong to a yahoo group that rates agencies and see mine still criticized from time to time.

But the truth is that resentment and even revenge don’t change the fact that life must be lived on a daily basis. Josi’s affection for me, cooperation, and companionship are huge assets in my life I couldn’t do without. Would I wish for a different child? To me, that’s no longer a question to consider. The most important decision points in our life pass in a moment and cannot be reclaimed. We move on. We must decide to be happy by creating new expectations for ourselves when others have given us the wrong ones.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The American Kidnapper

Wednesday, August 22, 2007.I looked up from my stir-fry, American style, hoping the view in front of me had changed.

No dice. It was the usual back of Mei Mei’s head as she surveyed the restaurant dining area while refusing to look at me. She was hoping to find her two orphanage sisters who had been adopted at the same time and if they couldn’t be found, well, the wall was preferable to her new parent.. To the left was a happy group of five couples with the adorable babies they had waited more than two years to claim; to the right, local Chinese families glancing my way, doubtlessly wondering what torture I had inflicted on a cute, 7-year-old girl to cause such alienation. MeiMei’s plate stayed almost untouched as I continued the charade of pretending to eat, unconcerned, and she continued her contempt and rejection.

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. At the Civil Affairs Bureau ceremony the day before, every one of 12 families had seemed the happy family, the perfectly united adoptive family, except mine. Sobs started during the fingerprinting. Sobs continued during my oaths to take care of her. Tears flowed as the passport photos were completed, the eyes red-brimmed between the pigtails. In fact, MeiMei only stopped when the director of the orphanage appeared to soundly scold her: “you are the smiling girl—you are always so happy. You must not cry now and bring shame to us!” As a result, a girl who at least was prepared to show her true feelings to her new adoptive mom was transformed into a stoic semi-adult, refusing to speak to any and all.

Every night that week, my own self-talk would come back to haunt me as I would drift off to sleep. “She’s older: she’s seen so many get adopted; she’ll surely appreciate the fact that she was taken in before it was too late.” I had been naïve—worse than naïve—willfully ignorant. Of course she had attachments. Of course they mattered. And of course—no one had really thought to obtain her consent and understanding over the whole of idea of being adopted.

For the first time I saw adoption in a new light. For one person, it meant adding to a family to enrich it and hopefully give a child in need a better future. For the other person, evidently, it meant being kidnapped and taken away from all she had ever known—and worse, kidnapped with the consent of her “real family”—the orphanage director, the preschool teachers, the nannies she had known since one day of age. And the kidnappers were strangers, looked different from anyone she had every known, and spoke only the most primitive forms of Chinese. Why in the world would she have consented? This business of “America”—it can only be an abstraction when one is seven.

Thursday, the day for visiting the orphanage arrived—one I had promised and now suddenly wanted to take away. We wrapped presents for her friends and I had MeiMei label them. One, two, three presents—all for her favorite nanny. Suddenly I had unreasoning jealousy. She must be some nanny, I thought. After a 2 ½ hour drive we found ourselves at a large, well maintained orphanage building. All the rooms were larger than those in my little condo at home and seemingly cleaner as well. A flock of children came running to greet MeiMei as a minor celebrity. She handed out my candy and my gifts, all the while ignoring me. I was clearly secondary to the entire event of the Returning Orphanage Star. I capitulated and fell into the role of paparazzo, camera at the ready, although the hardest photo of all to take was MeiMei and the nanny together—one dissolving into tears, the other trying not to. The watching children stared at me and my older daughter. Clearly I was persona non grata, there to remove their favorite friend. With effort I managed to smile and ask a few perfunctory questions. Then I hightailed it out of there, eager to start our new life away from all that was holding MeiMei back.

The days remaining in China passed quickly, and I was only too glad. We went home and I tried to ease the way. We would find Chinese speakers in stores and restaurants; I got their numbers and would call them when MeiMei seemed down. I enrolled her in a school with several Chinese-speaking children. I had MeiMei send letters in Chinese to friends back at the orphanage and she did so—but the letters were always about school, as though her new family simply existed as the school transport system and nothing more. For months my daughter and I found ourselves entertaining a house guest—one stubbornly refusing to speak English, eat what we ate, play as we liked to play, bathe when we liked to bathe, and recognize the possibilities of family.

It is hard to pinpoint where real change began. It may have been the major birthday party we threw her in November, complete with magician. It may have been the day, late that same month, when in a Helen Keller-like moment for me, she tried her first word—“juice” and I rewarded her. It may have been due to the undeniable physical delight of having her first ski lesson over Christmas, or being encouraged to call other kids from the orphanage to keep the ties going. It may have been my refusal to react when MeiMei was cold and rejecting. It could have been emerging patience that I wasn’t aware that I had. And finally, it may have been the Mandarin-speaking therapist who gently, carefully managed to explain, “when we love people we must tell them that we love them, or they will not know.” I only know that in early March, as I went to turn out the light, saying “Good night; I love you,” that I heard the same words spoken in return—freely and happily for the first time by the little girl in pigtails.

Today, as we approach April, there is still work to do. But MeiMei is the one who comes running into my arms every morning for her hug when I say, “I’m missing something.” She is the one who buries her head in my neck and kisses it at bedtime, insisting that I not leave. She is the one confidently trying English right and left, and the one who at last is not afraid to call me Mom. MeiMei is still learning who is the Big Boss and who has to take a second or third seat in the family. But at least she is finally in the game.

And as for those other American families we met in China who felt sorry for us—and as for the orphanage staff—they are not here to see our small miracle of change, but it no longer matters. Each child’s heart has its own timetable and its own path to follow—one to be watched, understood and respected. As former “kidnapper,” I am coming to terms with MeiMei’s ways of coping and steps towards acceptance. Both kidnapper and kidnapped are co-discovering and co-inventing family, and that’s what matters most now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Emily's Story

Few stories garner the rage of the adoption community more than disrupting an adoption -- whether while still in China or after returning home. Many critics of such families are long on passion but short on experience. They lash out and attack families, proclaiming that "God meant this child to be with you," all the while failing to envision the pain and struggles the family is enduring in making their decision.

I hope that Emily's Story will help bring compassion and understanding to any future dialog regarding disruption, and that rather than being critical of others facing this terrible decision, we in the adoption community will be supportive, or at least silent.


After “Sarah” (all names are fictitious) (age 13) was born, we adopted Katie (age 5) at 10 months from China. “Bethany” (age 4) joined us 2 years later at 19 months of age, again from China. Another year later, and we adopted “Emily” (age 7), again from China. Emily spent several years in an orphanage (which by all accounts was a “good” one, if there is such a thing), and then two years in a foster home. She experienced all forms of abuse and neglect during her seven years in China, but we didn’t know this until long after she arrived home. Her referral gave only glowing behavioral reports.

Our first two adoptions, while characterized by typical adjustment and attachment issues, had immensely positive outcomes and the girls integrated well into our family. Over the long haul, the insecurities that were initially present with Katie and Bethany have diminished with time, patience and parenting that promotes attachment.

After Katie and Bethany’s adoptions, we continued to feel that we would like to parent one more child through adoption. When we became aware of Emily last year, she had been overlooked many times with several different agencies due to a medical condition. After researching older-child adoption, reading attachment books, speaking with families who had adopted older children, and taking online courses, we decided that we had love in our hearts and room in our home for another child and that we would bring Emily home. In fact, from the online Yahoo groups, very little was ever shared about the struggles, adjustments and challenges of adopting older children who have lived for a very long time without love and consistency; the overwhelmingly positive older child adoption stories gave us a false sense of security that all would be well, even though the books we read and professionals with whom we spoke said otherwise. We have since learned that many, many families have stories similar to ours, but few are willing to be open and honest, because of the extreme flaming, judgment and criticism on public forums.

At that time, our biggest concern was her medical needs. While we expected emotional and attachment issues, we never dreamed the impact this decision would have on our entire family, or just how paramount attachment issues can be in an older child, particularly as they affect younger children in the home. We assumed our parenting experience, love in our home, and knowledge of adoption and attachment issues would be enough – how wrong we were.

Emily arrived home and we had a two-month “honeymoon” period with near-perfect behavior – too perfect, in fact. I cringe, when looking back on journal entries from China, about how happy she was, or how she was bonding so well. You don’t attach in 2 weeks while in China, but her initial behavior made it seem as though she was no different from any other child her age. Again, we were so wrong.

Nearly three months after bringing her home, it was as if someone flipped a switch. The rages began…three and four-hour daily rages characterized by a primal, guttural screaming from the depths of her soul, and by aggression -- kicking, hitting, biting, spitting, throwing objects, attempts to punch windows, glass, you name it. This was the beginning of a downward spiral over the next few months. We sought help from our pediatrician, psychiatrists and attachment therapists. We felt hopeful that seeing the therapist would equip us to help Emily heal while keeping our entire family intact.

As therapy progressed, so did Emily’s behaviors. We would address one issue and peel that “layer of the onion” away, only to discover two or three new layers. Ten months of our family’s life was filled with aggression, hostility, defiance, attacks on our youngest two children, sexually inappropriate behavior, self-harm, lying, and the list continues. Emily was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. One characteristic of RAD is false, charming behavior in public. So at school or church, Emily seemed just lovely and delightful. A few friends couldn’t believe our stories, until they walked in on a rage and witnessed it firsthand, or observed video that we started taping to document the daily dramas. I vividly remember one Sunday when Emily had been kicking and spitting on her sisters in our van, all the way to church. She lunged at our son with a pair of scissors from a back pack, and yet, as soon as we pulled into the church parking lot, she smoothed her hair back, opened the van door and smiled pleasantly at the other families in the parking lot, greeting them as if she was so happy. We were stunned.

My husband and I have always felt strongly about commitment – commitment to a marriage, to our children. We have also been (and still are) passionate about adoption and helping children who have been wounded. But as our home life spiraled out of control, we started realizing there was something more at stake than just the life of one little girl: that the psychological and physical safety of our other children, namely the youngest two, was now in question. It was becoming increasingly evident that it would be close to impossible to provide Emily what she needed AND maintain a peaceful and safe home for everyone else.

Trying to manage the issues occurring in our home seemed, at times, hopeless. How do you hold a raging child for 3 or 4 hours while two preschoolers are running around, needing mommy, and sobbing in fear and lack of understanding over why their older sister is breaking things and trying to hurt mommy? How do you read stories, play with, and rock your preschoolers while a very ill 7-year-old roams the house, leaving a path of destruction, and hurting the other children repeatedly? How do you assure your children that home is a refuge, when life at home is filled with violent events that you would never allow your children to witness on television? How do you explain to a 4-year-old why big sister tried to choke her with a seat belt, pushed the 2-year-old down the stairs, or smeared urine and feces all over the bedroom? How do you explain to your other three children that our family is a safe place, when Mom and Dad are sporting bruises and scratches inflicted by the 7-year-old?

And so, as we sat in the therapist’s office, we asked her the question that I’m sure therapists and social workers hate to be asked. “If this were your family, what would you do?” After a pregnant pause that seemed to last an eternity, she responded by saying, “You are losing ground with the other three children faster than you are gaining it with Emily. I think you need to seriously consider all options and what is in the best interest of the entire family.”
We spent about a month on our knees before God, seeking direction, exploring the depths of our souls as parents, as Christians, as adoption advocates. We stripped away our selfish desires for a peaceful home and easier parenting roles, and we realized that while we were personally willing to sacrifice for Emily, our family dynamic did not lend itself to giving her what she needed to heal. We could not possibly give to her the amazing amount of time and attention that she requires and still give to the other three children what they need to feel safe and secure and to have a normal childhood. All medical professionals involved agreed that Emily needed to be in a home with no other young children, and that what she needed was parents who can devote to her 150% of their time, resources and attention to her. We could not do that, without sacrificing the well-being of the other three.

We were blessed to identify a family who was at a different stage in life, who has different home circumstances, and who can give Emily a shot at becoming a whole, healthy individual. We believe they can provide the most potential for her wounded heart to heal. After spending time in one another’s homes, Emily moved to their home a little over 9 months ago. While I wish I could say that she is doing significantly better, she is not, which confirms for me the decision we made. But I do know that if she has a shot at healing, it will be in her present circumstances. As for our other three children, they all have had to work through the trauma of Emily living here -- the youngest girls are still afraid, nearly a year later, of Emily coming back to “hurt them.”

For those who would crucify my husband and me for our decision, I wish they would take the time to envision a daily life filled with what I have described here, and then some. So much occurred in our home that wouldn’t be appropriate to even share on a public forum, since doing so would compromise the privacy of Emily and our other three kids. We have tried to be open with our story (not online, but in real life), so that we can hopefully provide support and encouragement to other families who struggle with severe post-adoption issues; they do exist, regardless of what the rosy reports on yahoo groups are!

And YES, we wholeheartedly believe in adoption, but realize more now than ever the need to get these babies out of orphanages and into homes long before they lose the capability to trust and love.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Empty Eyes

Her eyes were so vacant, void of emotion. I had no idea what that meant, no idea why she showed no reaction to her surroundings. Was it her way of shutting out the pain and loss she may have endured? Was it a reaction to the neglect and deprivation she had experienced? Was it the months of crying with no response or was it something much deeper that had caused her lack of reaction to life?

Each day she would suck her fingers, flick her other hand and just stare. She was only 9 months when we adopted her. We were told that we were lucky and that she would have no affect from her life in the orphanage. We expected crying, possible rejection, anxiety. We were not prepared for a daughter who had no response to us, no reaction to the many new experiences she would have and did not cry to let her needs be known.

She was in a world far from where we were and one, which we would later learn, would take an enormous effort to pull her from.

Once home, we brought her to the doctor. He had no experience with any children who were adopted internationally and had little concept of post-institutionalized issues. He suggested that we give her time and that she would be just like all the other kids adopted from China “beautiful and smart”.

Frustrated, we sought a second opinion. We were told she had no muscle tone and had developmental and gross-motor delays and would most likely have some lifelong issues, however, he too said there was not much more we could do.

Life went on as best as it could. We continued to seek therapy for her and did everything we could think of that would help. Slowly she opened up and began to show another side of herself. She began to cry for what she wanted and I would respond. She woke nightly screaming and making sure I was close by. Once she had me, she would not let me go. Each night for many hours, she would scream in terror. Screams that I was not familiar with and nor could I relate to. I would hold her, rock her and once asleep I would place her back in her crib. Instantly she would awake and scream and the cycle would repeat.

Finally we began to sleep with her. She would wake nightly, crying and searching for us. She would crawl up onto me and sleep to make sure I was still there. This made her feel safe and I allowed her to feel as much security as I could give her.

Each day she healed a little more. Transforming into a new little spirit! She began to sit up, then crawl, then walk. She began to sleep through the night with us, waking with only a few nightmares. She gave up her daytime bottles and found joy in trying new foods and best of all she began to trust and understand what it felt like to be loved.

Her eyes began to reflect this newfound trust. Deprivation had robbed her of all the basic rights children are born with, the right to feel safe, to be comforted and most importantly, her right to be loved and feel loved.

She is not fully healed after almost 2 years of being home and we are not sure if she ever will be. She has been forever changed from the many months of neglect and lack of stimulation. She does not feel sensations in the way that we feel them. Her brain has failed to internalize life as most children know it and therefore she still needs extra sensory input to feel and process sensations.

Through this experience, she has been our biggest source of learning. We have learned to listen and watch for what she needs. We have learned to let go of everything we thought we knew and open to all things we did not understand. We now appreciate just how crucial love and security is. We no longer take this all for granted. We know now what lasting impact our behaviors have on others.

Her eyes are now usually lit with curiosity and laughter and a cute little naughty smirk. However once in a while that familiar glaze reappears and she retreats back into her safe world within. A protection from whatever it is she feels may be her threat. It is in those moments that we remember just how long and hard this journey must have been for her and still how far we have to travel as a family.

She has lost so much in her little life - Her birth family, her culture, and her homeland. I was prepared for these losses to be a part of our daily lives. I never expected her to lose trust in people and lose her ability to process properly due to lack of sensory input and neglect. These losses are ones we struggle to understand and find impossible to justify.

Leaving a Child in China

My husband and I had to leave behind a disabled child in China. This is what it was like for me. It’s not an account of hope or courage, only a piece about the emotional fallout.

Everyone assumes that we’ll visit her when we go back to China. Why wouldn’t they? They watched us spend 18 months putting together the paperwork for an adoption. They listened as we gushed with excitement over her match photo when it arrived. They know that we were so devastated by what we found in China that we cut off all contact for several days while we grieved. And they know that we send money (a lot of it) to the orphanage every year to help pay for her care.

The truth is that I’m afraid to see her.

My best friend understands, but for the wrong reasons. She adopted on the same trip we did and saw everything that happened. She has her own tragedy, having adopted a child with an unrecognized genetic syndrome that will require lifetime care. “I understand why you don’t want to see her,” she told me. “It was awful, the whole thing, and it took you a long time to come to terms with it. Why would you want to put yourself through that again?”

But I’m not afraid of what I’ll feel. I’m afraid that my face and voice will terrify her by awakening dim memories of the week she was taken from her foster family and delivered into our hands. I fear that memories of fever, being drugged for medical tests, and adults sobbing will echo up from our shared past.

Infertility is a hard wall to come up against, but there are even harder walls. The child who had been chosen for us was an eighteen-month-old toddler with profound motor problems and the neurological development of a six-month-old infant. We only learned that after crossing a continent and an ocean, after being the last breathless couple in the travel group to be handed our baby, after caring for her and completing the Chinese portion of her adoption. We learned it only because our seasoned agency rep kept suggesting (quietly but insistently) that we consider taking advantage of any medical testing we could before moving on to Guangzhou and the trip home.

I was angry for a long time, in ways I didn’t even know I could be angry. I was resentful with people who had told us that all orphanage kids had delays and that they’d catch up in no time. I was furious that her pre-adoption health report contained outright lies, listing skills that she is just now learning at 4 years old. I was incensed when I found out that the orphanage only had the resources to check on foster children once a month. I was livid when, upon our return to the United States, the Provincial government in China refused to allow us to find her a consulting specialist because it would involve sending copies of her medical records outside China. I was disgusted when the orphanage continued to contradict it’s own information in the quarterly updates we received. I was frustrated with the members of the adoption profession and prospective parents who didn’t want to us to speak very honestly or often about the experience we had (or any other issue that might challenge the state of future adoptions.) I was profoundly unhappy every time I read about one more couple that had the courage, youth, energy, love and resources to bring home a disabled child…because I didn’t.

Worst of all, I battled my husband because he didn’t grieve the same way I did, and resented my new daughter for being perfectly healthy, achingly beautiful and the object of everyone’s adoring attention. Every time she unwrapped a gift I felt like I was watching her unwrap something with another child’s name on it. Like a phantom, my first match child was with me for months. But she was invisible to everyone else. Since you couldn’t see her in family photos, I didn’t take any. I couldn’t hold her so I tried to make my 17 month old walk everywhere instead of riding on my hip like she wanted to. In my mind the healthy child was a usurper, taking something away from a child who needed it more than she did and but who would always have far less.

It took four months for my phantom baby to re-cross the ocean and go back to her orphanage. I remember staring at my reflection in the glass top of an end table one day and realizing that the child in my home hadn’t committed a crime by being healthy and beautiful. She had suffered a loss, no less than the rest of us. She deserved better than she was getting; after that day I worked harder to give it to her.

Deep wounds leave a scar. Here is one my daughter and I share, unbeknownst to her: sometimes I look at her, my perfect girl who is so lovely that hearing comments about her beauty has come to seem an everyday thing, and I wonder if that beauty is a consolation prize. Did the adoption office in her city look for the most attractive child they had available in hopes that the substitution would better appease the sad, angry American couple who had spent that last three days weeping openly in taxis, hospital halls and a civic office? In a country known to take great care in matching children and parents, is she my child because the information contained in her file made us compatible or because the photo clipped to the front promised perfection?

If I were still engaged in the need to blame, it would be hard to find a rightful doorstep at which to lay it. Our home study agency was well versed in international adoption and warned us of potential health risks, as did our large and experienced adoption agency. People who’ve met the orphanage director under better circumstances have said time and again that he is devoted to the children in his care and does the best he can with limited resources. Even then, her foster mother worked hard (as she does now) to provide loving and conscientious care. The type of brain damage she sustained often occurs during birth but I can’t find it in my head to follow the path back that far. It’s one set of people too many on a road that winds between adoption professionals, orphanage staff, the adoption community, the Chinese and American governments and my own family. I just had to let it go, all of it, every shred of blame.

I don’t believe in the red thread. I believe in the money that flows between our household and her caretakers. That’s our destiny together. Someday my daughter will have to figure out for herself how deeply this girl she’s never seen is woven into her adoption story. For now, there’s a picture on the refrigerator, and a name, and a story that begins (ironically) “Mommy and Daddy couldn’t take care of this baby…”