Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Harm of Labeling Adopted Children

Candigirl 63 writes on forums:

i know this sounds awful but i feel like giving up. i am disabled and adopted a baby girl 11 years ago. the adoption people told me her mom was a little slow. met the mom and indeed a little slow. i trusted the adoption people and adopted the little girl. as time went on she screamed and cried all the time. arching her back like she was possessed. i dug into her past and medical records and found mom was an alcoholic. looked up alcohol effect on babies. found fetal alcohol syndrome and saw facial pics. she had all the facial deformities as well as scrambled toes. i got her into counseling starting at 3 years old. although she was slow to learn, the worst was the horrible violent tantrums over little things. time goes on and her tantrums are still 3-4 times a week. she still arches her back violently and throws her head back and forth screaming high pitch screams. banging her small body into doors and walls. still. she goes to counseling as well as i do too. i learn as much as i can. by the time she is 11 i am the professional on fas and have to talk to the counselers about fas. but i am 50 and her violence is too much now. she rages at least once a week. she has taken a knife and threatened to kill me and herself. she destroys things and still throws the same violent tantrums like a rag dolls possesed. here it is now she is turning 13 . is now stronger than me and i am fearful. when she is not raging she is a wonderful loving and helpful daughter. but if i catch her stealing or lying and try to punish her its all over. even at school (special ed) she is throwing these rages for getting in trouble for minor things that most people wouldnt even give a second thought too. i dont know what to do. social services only offers the counseling. there is no respite. i live in calif. i am desperate. i forgot to add she was diagnosed fas at 3 by a geneticist. and i have had in home services twice.
In this case, the alphabet soup de jur is FAS. Oftentimes it is one of a litany of common victim-blaming labels placed on adopted children, such as ADHD and RAD, as if inability to bond after years of depravation in an orphanage, never being touched or held is not a 'normal' reaction to the circumstances; as if inability to trust after multiple abandonments isn't a 'normal' reaction to what life has presented.

As if the "cure" for children who cannot "bond" as a result of repeated abandonments is to abandon them yet again!

As if a label gives the adopter an EXCUSE TO BAIL!  After all, they were not properly INFORMED! It wasn't what they "signed up for" - as if those who raise children we birthed always get a child with a guarantee.

The labels serve to shift the focus to a "syndrome" that requires special treatment. In this case it shifts the focus of the mother to become an expert of FAS. Labels shift the focus away from adoption loss as the root of the issue, because after all adoption is what "saved" the child. Adoption is GOOD, not the problem!  Couldn't possibly be!  But what is at the root of every adoption is LOSS and separation.

So what about becoming and expert on adoption LOSS and GRIEF? What about considering the POSSIBILITY that not all of this child's problems are attributable to pre-natal alcoholism or "bad blood" but that perhaps her rage and tantrums are a result of early TRAUMA caused by SEPARATION and loss?  Her inability to express her grief and her need to be given "permission" to grieve.

I suggest this mother, CandiGirl, and other adopters dealing with challenging children read Primal Wound as well as books by adult adoptees like Jane Jeong Trenka to understand what it is like to be separated and live without knowing who you look like, and WHY you were given away.

This is a teen in agony and pain.  This is a teen who is at high risk for substance abuse and self harm including suicide. And the causes are not all organic or hereditary. Adoption loss is a social issue - a psychological issue - that faces ALL who are adopted no matter how healthy their parents were.

Recognize the loss and get her help to deal with THAT.

Mom says she met her daughter's first mother. Does she ever talk to her daughter about her? Does she ask her if she wants to meet her mom and ask her why she wasn't able to keep her? Or does she assume, like far too many adoptive parents that her child does not care because she doesn't outright asks? Children are very sensitive to unspoken cues and can sense if the subject is difficult for their adoptive parent(s), especially if it brings tears to their eyes, or they quickly change the subject or just avoid it to begin with. Silence equates to shame. Adopted children easily interpret that the subject of adoption is TABOO, thus it means there is something BAD about it and something bad about ME. Their fear of being rejected - yet again - keeps them bound to the secret tone set by their adoptive parent(s).

One clever adoptive mother found a simple way to let her teenaged son know the door was OPEN for those discussions by doing little things like when seeing him looking in the mirror saying: "I bet you wonder who you look like. I do."  These little gestures let a child know it is NOT a forbidden subject and that it won't ruin his or her relationship with you to talk about "it" or ask questions, expressive of NORMAL, health curiosity. Another approach might be at or following a family event such as a wedding, or when looking at a photo album, to say: "Gosh, all these people are my blood-related kin, I bet you must wonder about yours!"  Or, perhaps at your son's piano recital or your daughter's soccer game to ask if he or she is curious where he or she got that special talent!

Curiosity is normal! Where did I get my nose, eyes, hair or strong math sills?  Why do I hate the sports or political views or food my adoptive family all love?  Recognize it! Don't let it become an elephant you and your child trip over to avoid talking about.

Open the door for them. Let them know it's a safe topic of discussion just as you might do to help start a conversation of sex education or drugs in school, or safety on the Internet and 'strangers'.  All of these are tough but necessary conversations for parents to have. Adoptive parents have two added one: adoption and birth families.

If it feels too hard to have this conversation, start with therapy to deal with your fears.  Perhaps you have unresolved issues over your infertility; the loss of the child of your "own" you couldn't have. Perhaps you harbor fear that blood is thicker than water and you will loose your child to their "real" parents and become a mere long-term babysitter. While unrealistic, these fears are not at all uncommon and need to be dealt with in order to help your child deal with THEIR fear of rejection and abandonment....which are palpable when you are in fact at the point of considering the option of bailing on them!  When you are thinking and talking about not being able to "take it" anymore.  The more you think that way, the more your child will push and test to see if you will in fact abandon them yet again. Start with some therapy for mom and some reading and educating about adoption loss issues, and then apply some compassion and help for your child to deal with their very issues of loss and rejection and abandonment.

Instead of seeing your child as label, as a "patient" with a "disease" or "syndrome" that needs to be treated, think of them as a scared, lost child in pain who needs understanding and acceptance.


Anonymous said...

As an AP, it really bothers me that APs jump to labels so quick. There was a thread just today about a cocaine exposed baby who is only 6 weeks old. It's way to early to label that child. It just pissed me off actually, because the symptoms she described were so NORMAL for a baby that age. I've read many of your posts, and I don't usually comment, but I needed to vent too and I hoped this would be a good place to share this vent. You're right on in your post. I look at my daughter and everything that's right with her came from her birthparents.

Mirah Riben said...

Thank you. Your comments are always here and i try to keep this a very SAFE place for ALL. I myself do not generalize any group and recognize that there are good and bad among us all, inlcuding adoptive and original mothers.

Click the link on top entitled "Family Preservation HEROES"... i think ALL are aps!

Anonymous said...

You have obviously never raised a child afflicted with FAS. They are very different from normal children because their neurological systems have been unalterably damaged before birth. Their brains do not process learning in a normal way. As they go through puberty they often become unmanageable at home.

You have not helped this mother by blaming her for not being able to cope with her daughter. No one should judge someone who has adopted a damaged child and sees every day as a new crisis.

Mirah Riben said...

With all due respect,you obviously have some reading comprehension difficulties.

The TITLE of the post is: "The Harm of Labeling Adopted Children" and it ends with: "Instead of seeing your child as label, as a 'patient' with a 'disease' or 'syndrome' that needs to be treated, think of them as a scared, lost child in pain who needs understanding and acceptance."

YET, despite that, you come here and call a child with FAS not "normal"!!

Help this mother? It is these children that need help!

This single woman of nearly 50 took on then responsibility of raising a child. She did not have this child by accident. She made the choice and the COMMITMENT. Adoption is a forever commitment - for better or worse.

RussiaToday Apr 29, 2010 on Russian Adoption Freeze

Russi Today: America television Interview 4/16/10 Regarding the Return of Artyem, 7, to Russia alone

RT: Russia-America TV Interview 3/10

Korean Birthmothers Protest to End Adoption

Motherhood, Adoption, Surrender, & Loss

Who Am I?

Bitter Winds

Adoption and Truth Video

Adoption Truth

Birthparents Never Forget