Sunday, April 25, 2010

I have an opinion

I thought that title would amuse those of you who know me. I'll give you a moment to pick yourselves up off the floor. All better? Good.

I've been thinking a lot about the woman, Torry Hansen, who sent the little boy Artyem Saviliev, back to Russia with, basically, a note pinned to his coat.

The first thing I thought when I read this was, "Did she think she had adopted Paddington Bear?" You know, the story of the stuffed bear who is found at Victoria Station with a note pinned to him asking someone to look after him. He had come from "darkest Peru."

Here's the thing, I have absolutely no doubt that this child was hard, maybe even impossible for her to parent. I am sure there were rages and tantrums and violence and tears the likes of which she had never conceived of. I have heard stories of parents waking up in the night, their child standing in their bedroom door staring at them with pure hatred on his face. I have heard of manipulations, lies told to social workers to get parents in trouble, threats to burn down houses with younger siblings inside. This stuff is real. Maybe it happened to her, I don't know. I still think she is an ass.

Here's another thing: I have no doubt that the orphanage misled her about his mental state and the health. When I read that part of her letter I thought, "Well, DUH!" Of course they lied. They have a lot of reasons to cover that stuff up but also, they probably didn't know the kid that well. That is one of the major issues with orphanages. There are too many kids, not enough caretakers and the ones who are there are exhausted, jaded and often, frankly, over it. How would they know what this kid is really like? They have 20 others to take care of. That doesn't exactly leave a lot of time to get into a meaningful relationship with a child. They probably lied to her and simply didn't know what else to tell her about him. Get him out, one fewer kid to take care of, hopefully he has a wonderful life and gets everything he ever dreamed of. Dasvidanya. Because I do believe they genuinely WANT these kids to go to good homes, they just can't provide one themselves. (Spare me the e-mails about how they are doing the best they can with what they have. Maybe they are and maybe they are not. I know of quite a few baby-house directors on the take. The point is, even the best orphanage is not a home, they cannot provide what a home can provide.)

Hansen's adoption agency WACAP, who, for the record, have an excellent reputation, said they followed up with her shortly after she returned home and she was so thrilled with Artyem she wanted to start the process immediately for number 2. Ah, the honeymoon phase. This can last anywhere from 1 week to several months or longer. It's fabulous, usually followed up by Post Adoption Depression on the parents' part, (an actual diagnosis, just ask Melissa Faye Greene, or my shrink,) and rage, depression or a lovely combo of the two on the child's part. Even my kids exhibited this to some degree and they had fairly seamless transitions. With babies and toddlers this rage and grief will manifest itself as tantrums that are often mislabeled "teething" or "colic" or "terrible two's." Try "I-don't know who the hell you people are and my whole life was changed without my consent and your food is weird and you smell bad!" For older kids, the reactions can be, obviously, more intense.

Anyway, when supermom #99 there asked for another child, WACAP, wisely, told her that she should just focus on the child she has for now. She had only just got home. Jesus lady, chill! (OK I'm editorializing, but they did tell her to wait.) She turned to another agency and is currently in process for the Republic of Georgia, although one fervently hopes her agency has since cut her loose. Like I said, she was in the honeymoon phase. Think about how you behave when you are first in a romantic relationship. You are on your best behavior. You chew with your mouth closed, you don't fart in front of your potential love, you always let them have the last piece of cake. And these are people you just want to sleep with, not spend a lifetime with, first wiping their butts and then paying for their every whim from piano lessons to circus camp. When my father was splitting from one of his long series of partners he told my sister that she had changed. "She used to make the bed, for crying out loud." To which my sister rolled her eyes and said "Daaaad! Everybody makes the bed in the beginning." Translate that behavior to a kid who has never been in a relationship of any kind, and duh, there are going to be issues, possibly big ones. I'll bet the mom was on her best behavior too. You know, being super mom, trying to be the kind of mom walking around in soft, rosy light the likes of which one sees on a Lifetime movie about adoption. The kind of light they always give Annette Benning in romantic comedies. Happy Ending light. Which brings me to who I blame for all of this.

I blame all of us. Every single one of us who has said, or even thought, this romantic crap about "love being enough." It's not. It simply is not enough. Not when you are talking about children who have lived through God knows what horrors. Not when there may have been alcohol abuse starting in-utero, neglect from birth and not enough food at every point from the child's first breath. It drives me CRAZY when people talk about "love at first sight." I am so sick of TV movies and for that fact even movies like the Blindside that depict what are for the majority of the world, unrealistic adoption scenarios. The Blindside was a real story, yes, but those stories are the exception, not the rule, and while they are absolutely to be celebrated, Americans have a way of going "awwwwwww" and reaching for the phone to call their local adoption agency, armed with no more information than, "I want to rescue someone too!"

Listen, I thought I felt love when I first saw Kai's picture on my e-mail, but if I'm honest, really honest, it was hormones mixed with impatience to be a mom, topped off with a healthy dose of greed. I wanted THAT baby. I couldn't believe someone would give me such a beautiful child, and let's face it, babies are easy to feel gaga about. They have to be, they are so much work that some days it is their cuteness alone that keeps them from going in the stockpot. The love came later. It helped that I was wildly attracted to this child, that he had a sunny, sweet and open nature, all of which sped the process along. But I believe love comes from sharing experiences. Feeling protective and wanting to care for someone is not the same thing as loving them. I was more honest with the next two kids. I saw Grace and thought "Cute, looks healthy enough and I know that my capacity to love includes people I have never met with snot running out of their noses. I WILL fall in love with this person if we have enough time together. Sign me up." Zach, who loved Kai very quickly, was like "Sure, whatever, it's a baby, let's go." BUT, it took him a long time to feel it with Grace. We had quite a lot of talks about it, and one of the things I love about him is that he was honest and open and admitted he didn't love her yet, even months after we came home. She, frankly, didn't think that highly of him either, which could explain it. It's hard to love someone who doesn't love you back, unless you are a masochist. So I suggested he "act as if" he were in love with her the way he was with Kai, and I swear to God, she started opening up to him within days. That was it, they were off to the races and now she is a total, and I mean TOTAL daddy's girl. God help me. When Noah's picture popped up, Zach said, without skipping a beat "There he is!" I kept looking at the picture thinking "there WHO is?" He looked like an undercooked worm with white drool coming out of his mouth. He was about 3.5lbs in the picture (he was 6 weeks premature) and 2 weeks old. But we had both learned that you don't have to feel anything looking at a picture. We just needed to arm ourselves with resources, information, and go over and meet the child.

I find it hard to believe that tTorry and Artyem ever had the chance to fall in love. When would that have happened? She didn't even give it 6 months, and the trouble clearly started before that milestone. Why, oh WHY didn't she ask for help? Did she think she had failed because she didn't love this kid? Because she probably downright hated him at times? Did she think she was a horrible person because she couldn't be the balm to his wounds? Wounds that may have been so deep they make the Mariana Trench look like a pothole?Was she horrified to find herself afraid of a 7 year old? She's not alone in feeling like that about a kid. Other parents have been there.

I have a sort relative (she's married to my mom's partner's know what? My family tree is a whole other post.) Anyway, these are the nicest people you could EVER meet (and this story is a mild one of bonding issues, not Reactive Attachment Disorder, but still interesting.) They had a son, had trouble getting pregnant, decided to adopt and on the way to Russia, she found out she was pregnant. Her husband went to pick up the little girl and she attached herself to him first. In fact, mother and daughter were SO not getting along that mother asked father if they could return the girl. To which father gently said, "Dear, we are not returning our daughter, just like we are not returning our sons." And mother went to cry in the corner. My cousin (I'm calling her that, it's easier) is so funny and open and honest about this and when she gets to the part of when she knew that the girl was hers, there is not a dry eye anywhere. How the girl had hurt herself and they were in the ER and she heard the girl down the hall crying for mama and how she sprinted down the hall to kill whoever was causing her daughter pain. It was her "aha" moment. They have an incredibly close and open relationship. The girl is amazing, the parents are awesome, if my kids turn out half as nice as theirs (they have 3 boys in addition to the girl), I will consider myself a success as a parent.

My point is, these are the kinds of people who would have been delighted to talk to a parent who was suffering from a lack of bond with a child, who would have encouraged her to seek help for his Reactive Attachment Disorder (if that's what he had), who would have been a kind, listening presence. But she turned to no one, except her mother, the one who actually put the child on the plane.

It just KILLS me because Hansen lives a few hours from one of the best Pediatric Adoption clinics in the country. WACAP could have helped her find all the counselling available in Tennessee. She could have been put in touch with countless other families who have shared her pain, are still living with it, or are through to the other side. And if it still didn't work out, they could have helped her find the boy another family. Because adoption disruption is a part of life. One that NOBODY wants to talk about because the rest of us are all too busy screaming "LOVE CONQUERS ALL!" from the mountain tops, meanwhile totally ignoring people, both child and adult, who are truly suffering because they have learned the hard way that sometimes it simply does not.

So, basically, I do not blame this woman for not being able to do it. I know too many really good people who can not parent certain children. What I blame her for is abandoning the child in a seriously heartless way, without having tried ANYTHING else first. And I blame her for not arming herself with information before she went into the adoption. For not having resources lined up to help the child. For going into this without being AT ALL prepared. And lastly, I blame the media and all of us for promoting the myth of love fixing everything. It works well on the silver screen, but they have an editing room, they get to edit out the pain. The rest of us, not so much.


Anonymous said...

Oh APRIL!!! You so hit the nail on the head. We are so afraid to tell the truth because we are afraid of what people will think, and we can't admit to ourselves that we are so horrible that we don't love and adore these kids like we "think" we're supposed to. I wrote an entire book about adopting Lisa, complete with the horrible feelings I had towards her and "what have we done to our family" etc. etc. I never did anything with it, because I was too embarrassed that I had these feelings. But now I see that we possibly have done a disservice. By not speaking out, we have perpetuated the myth, and allowed other people to go on to adopt with unrealistic expectations. I think we have a responsibility to tell people about these feelings! I have been in grad school for the past three years, but I think the very next thing I need to do is get that book done and published. The other aspect is that I have sat on it because of how it would affect Lisa to read about the feelings I had. But she's 12 now and very mature for her age, and I know if I have an open discussion with her, she will understand and possibly gain more insight about her own adoption. Thank you so much ... we have so much eye opening to do! Liz Branch

Alecia said...

Your post is absolutely and completely truthful. I have been stewing on this topic for weeks and haven't been able to verbalize my thoughts. Thank you for doing that part for me!

Alecia..adoptive mom

Catharine said...

I love your post about this...I agree left and right, back and forth. You have to open your heart to love, to be together, and if you are lucky, you let it in.

Maria said...

Amen! Perfectly stated and I wish I had written it!! :-)

April Taylor said...

Liz, you should totally go ahead and publish that book. Not only would it be cathartic for you, but it might help countless other parents who feel lost and alone. I wold also love to hear Lisa's side of the bonding experience. If she ever wants to write down what she remembers, I would love to read it. You two are a great example of a pair of people who had to walk through the pain before you could come out on the other side.
Everybody else, thanks for your comments. It's always nice to know people are reading. Sometimes it feels like I am taking to myself, which I do, a lot, but talking to somebody else always feel better. And less crazy;)

melanie said...

I agree with everything you said. Now post some cute oics wouldja? :)

melanie said...

ok, I meant PICS! Pictures! Need more caffeine!

Anonymous said...

Soooooo well said. This should be required reading for anyone contemplating adoption.

Lou Ann said...

I just stumbled onto your blog and wholeheartedly agree with your post. As a single adoptive mom myself I've been through the doubts and concerns too. I have been blessed with an easy going, kind spirited daughter and am considering adopting a second. When I heard about this woman I thought "how could she have handled this so heartlessly." Not how could it happen? How could she not love this child no matter what? Which seems to be most non-adoptive parents response. Like you I'm realistic enough to know that some of these children are so damaged by the lives they've been forced to lead that they need more help than some parents can offer. But the parent doesn't have to and shouldn't be doing it on their own and that was her fault. Like you said, she didn't do her research and she didn't give either one of them a chance by not getting the help that is so readily available. And thinking you can return a child like you can an unwanted gift to WalMart is shameful of her. I still think she was mostly to blame but the way the world romanticise adoption certainly didn't help.

Thanks for so articulately expressing what most adoptive parents understand to be the truth.

I look forward to learning more about your family through your blog.

Blessings to you and yours,
Lou Ann & Lexie from Kaz too

D and A said...

Where have you been? I love your comments, and your description of yourself. (I too am a screaming liberal.) Stay on the Kaz page so we can all catch up with you.

~Issy said...

Exellent post...i live in Nashville and you're correct about the amazing Vanderbilt International Adoption Clinic. They are simply, well, amazing.

Love, just as you said, is some times, just not enough.