It as always been my goal to be authentic with this blog. My goal has been to share the reality of our journey: both the blessings and the bumps. In sharing the blessings my hope is to point the focus on the Giver of our blessings, not to say, “Look at us.” To God all the glory!
And in sharing the bumps we encounter along the way my goal is not to invoke pity, or plant feelings of discouragement to those considering this path, but to offer hope and a feeling of camaraderie to those walking a similar path and to say, “Yes, it IS worth it.”
I don’t share to complain or demean, but rather share with hopes that some nugget of wisdom might touch the heart of a friend who needs it. Before I type a blog I always pray that my words might not be self-seeking, but rather God-seeking. I don’t share anything about my children without praying if and how I should share it first.
So often people have one of two very distorted views of what adoption looks like.
There is the Hallmark movie view of adoption that shows a family warmly open their home to an orphan. The family gathers with open arms and a orphan runs into their waiting arms, grateful for a loving home and they all live happily ever after. It is this view of adoption that leads people to falsely believe those that choose adoption are a family of saints.
Then there is the Inside Edition view of adoption that shows the worse case scenario of Reactive Attachment Disorder playing out in an unprepared adoptive home. This one plays out as a scary horror story involving fire starting, stealing, and life threatening aggression. Most who buy into this view of adoption believe those who adopt are just crazy “kid collectors” and gluttons for punishment.
So, are we the saints or are we the crazies?!?
The reality can be found somewhere between these two distorted views of adoption. We are simply a family called to grow in an unorthodox way as we stumble along this journey toward the family God has planned for us.
There are Hallmark moments and Inside Edition days. There are breakthrough blessing moments and heartbreaking burdens. It is a two step forward, one step backward dance of endurance, as we commit day after day to never give up on our adoption treasures and to love them through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And there can be a lot of “ugly”…
Nasty scars and messy emotions tied to experiences they had no control over and no say in. It is an interesting journey of discovery as you learn to parent a child who has experienced more trauma in their first few years of life than you have in your entire life.
It is accepting that there is a part of their life that you will never be part of, even though in your heart they feel as though they have always been your child.
It is trying to navigate out-of-control emotions, behaviors, and trauma memories that you are not even privy to, and having to play detective as you try to read between the lines of your child’s behavior without the help of a translator.
It is accepting that your child experienced horrible things, and as a result changed from who they might have been, because of experiences you could not protect them from.
Is loving them though the hard stuff and being humbled as you realize you can’t fix it…sometimes all you can do is sit beside them as they remember it.
There is not a hurt in the world that compares to the hurt of a mom watching their child suffer. I don’t know when my heart has ached as deeply as it has this last week as I have watched Tyler suffer through the hurt of remembering.
The walls have fallen.
For the last three years Tyler has safely hidden away the memories from his past from us, behind a wall of protection. It was a wall that he built for survival…for self-preservation, because the memories of his early years of abuse and neglect were simply too overwhelming for his little mind to handle. Now with the help of the right medications and a superb and patient therapist, the wall is crumbling…and the memories are pouring out…
and my pour little boy is trying to stay above the waves.
Memories from his early years are coming to the surface and with those memories he is transported back to the thoughts, feelings, fears, and survival behaviors he was dependent on at the time.
Among the behaviors we are seeing are:
1. Hiding: His early years were spent locked in a closet with his biological siblings. This has led to a fear of the dark and closed rooms. He no longer can sleep in his room alone at night because of the vivid nightmares he is now having as memories come forth, but during the day it is a different story. I keep finding him hiding in small spaces, crying. I will hear his muffled cries and find him in the backs of closets, in boxes, under a turned over laundry basket, with his hands pressed to his eyes. “I can’t make the pictures go away,” he cries.
Two weeks ago at co-op he hid under a classroom table when it was time to leave. He refused to come out. So I sat on the floor next to him as he raged. “You aren’t my real mom!” he cried. “I’m never going home with you again.” It took 2 1/2 hours before he would get into the van
2. He has begun hiding and hoarding food. Tina, our therapist, suspects this is due to memories of being hungry as a toddler that he had suppressed. In reading his file we knew that he and his siblings suffered great neglect as children. Food was scarce and often they would be locked in a closet with just a box of cereal to share. I have never shared this information with him but he has recently begun asking questions about it. We he found him multiple nights, hiding in the pantry, stuffing his face frantically. With the memories of early childhood comes a great fear that he will be hungry again, even though he has not done without for the three years he has lived with us.
Understanding the affect of trauma can be mind-blowing. Despite all signs pointing to the fact we will never let him be hungry again, there is an innate fear that he can never truly be sure another meal will come. So to help bring some security and ease a bit of that anxiety we created a food box during our daily therapy time. We marked it with his name and filled it with food that no one else can eat. It sits in the pantry with the promise that it will always have food in it. The rule is that he can eat anything from it, he just must ask permission first. He understands that no one else will eat that food.
It is amazing the affect this little exercise has had. We haven’t had anymore food hoarding or sneaking food. He doesn’t even really ask to eat the food in his box, he just checks on it every now and then to make sure it is still there and filled, and that is enough to bring some peace.
3. The big thing we are working on, however, is feeling and naming emotions. Memories and emotions are spewing forth at a rate that often leaves Tyler paralyzed. Rather that working on “managing” these emotions, like we have been doing with Ozzie in therapy, we are just helping Tyler “purge” his emotions. After year of them being trapped behind a wall Tina feels like Tyler just needs to release them. We have been doing this through coloring. It is amazing the relief he gets emotionally from coloring out his feelings. He has attached an emotion to each of his colored markers and colors the emotion he is feeling. He can work for hours on one memory he is processing.
He has moved from simply using colors to show emotions, to adding facial expressions and words. It seems to be the one thing that brings relief when he is drowning under the memories.
4. He has also begun to ask about his biological mother. He suddenly is having pieces of memories of her come forth and is struggling with the weight of remembrance. He suddenly is longing for her love and attention and is feeling the heartbreak of her absence. This work has been hard for me. I know it is essential. I know it is an important part of his identity and key to his future security but it is hard, and I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that.
But the blessing that has come from his seeking out knowledge of his biological mother is a closer connection to me. He has chosen me to be his travel companion down this hard road. It is no longer Toby he asks for at bedtime but Momma who he whispers his heart secrets to.
Our middle of the night chats go something like this:
“Why did my real mom get rid of me?”
“Was is because I was such a bad baby?”
“I wonder if my real mom took videos of me.”
“I miss my real mom.”
“I wish I could call my real mom.”
“I had lots of moms and they always gave me away because I’m such a bad boy .”
“All I want is a picture of her.”
And then he cries, and I hold him until he falls asleep.
After much prayer and discussion with Tina we decided that the next step in Tyler’s healing journey was to let him see a picture of his birth mom. I searched and was led to a picture of her online and put it in a frame for him. I gave him what his was asking for…a picture of his biological mother. The result has been a mixed bag of emotions and behaviors. He carries it around like a treasure and I find him studying her face, searching for clues to who she is, for familiarity, and for glimpses of himself in her features. He sets her picture in front of him as he colors his emotions. And we have started making a list of questions he may one day want to ask her.
It is hard stuff. I struggle with feelings of resentment and judgment toward the woman who hurt him so badly and yet who he loves with such devotion.(This is me sharing the real stuff.) I struggle with feelings that she doesn’t deserve his devotion or the title he has given her of his “real mom.”
But I know those are my issues to work through…my own insecurities, because the reality is:
She holds a place in his heart that will never be mine, just as I hold a place in his life that will never be hers.
He loved her first. Hers were the eyes he looked into first. Hers were the hands that held in his tiny hands. And if my heart is breaking, oh, how hers must break too as she lays awake at night thinking of the nameless, faceless, woman who is holding her son.
The reality is: Tyler isn’t hers, nor is he mine. He belongs to God. I just need to keep reminding myself of that truth as we work through the tough stuff.
Adoption is a beautiful thing.
It is a necessary thing.
It is a God ordained blessing…
But it is no Hallmark movie!
It is a messy, heartbreaking, beautiful, awe-inspiring, miraculous, faith driven, white-knuckle ride.