I consistently read a blog called, One Thankful Mom. I appreciate her honesty in sharing about her struggles with her adopted kids and I also find a lot of practical ideas in dealing with similar issues.
Lisa, the writer of One Thankful Mom has a feature that she often runs on Tuesdays called Tuesday Topics and she has invited readers to email her with questions and she will post the question and let her readers comment. About a month and a half after we came home from India with Levi (April 2011) I emailed her a question. Here is that email:
“Have you ever dealt with an adopted child who hurts themselves? Our son has been home for about six weeks and I have been disturbed by some behavior. He hits himself in the face, he will pick something on his finger until it bleeds, he bangs his head against his forearm (it has left a bruise on his arm that has been there from the beginning), he put soap in his eye, he is completely reckless on a scooter, and the list goes on.
I am trying to balance the fact that he is a boy and I know they are more physical, but something about his behavior troubles me. He is six years old and has been in an orphanage his entire life. He had medical treatment (tests and surgery) around the age of two that could have been traumatic. I have no way of knowing all that he has dealt with in his first six years of life.”
Back when I wrote that question we were looking at some of Levi’s behavior and we weren’t sure what to make of it. We knew something wasn’t right, but we didn’t know what it meant.
Levi has been in our family now for a year and a half. Lisa had set my email aside and didn’t get to it and so when she emailed me this week to ask about using the question it took me back to those early days and how puzzled we were – just not knowing what was wrong. However, we aren’t in the dark anymore. We have some idea what is going on and we are working on it.
I commented on the post and since she moderates before comments are posted, she emailed and asked me if I would rather write a complete post and give an update on where we are with Levi. I appreciate her giving me that opportunity. Below is that post:
I have been thankful for Lisa’s blog and all that I learn here from her personal writing, the things she shares from other sources, and the ability she has given us as readers to ask a question and get feedback from lots of moms who are dealing with similar issues. What a blessing this little corner of the web has been!
I had emailed Lisa with a question quite some time ago which she recently posted as a Tuesday Topic. She feels horrible about how long ago it actually was, but nothing is ever a coincidence. I think the timing was perfect.
As stated in the question she posted, I had written her in April of 2011 – six weeks or so after our son came home with us from India. He was six and a half years old. To say that we were completely overwhelmed by the arrival of our son would be an understatement. It was apparent that he had issues that we had not dealt with in our adopted daughters who were ten and six years old in 2008 when we brought them home.
The experience was day and night in many ways. Our girls spoke almost no English. That was both hilarious and scary! My husband and I laugh about our unique attempts at communication. The girls went into a rebellious pushing back against us after a few weeks – exactly what you would expect. We moved through working on their behavior and attachment and things progressed in a positive way – of course with setbacks along the way. It was not easy by any means, but we always saw improvement and never had a reason to doubt they were attaching to us and we were moving in a positive direction. It went well enough that we decided to embark on another adoption.
Our son arrived three years later in March 2011. He had been learning English and was very accomplished using it. We thought this was wonderful because we were able to communicate right away. He cried the first night for the ladies at the orphanage which we thought was a great sign that he was grieving for them. After that, he really never seemed to look back. He was happy, outgoing, and inquisitive. We enjoyed our time with him in India. At home, the girls welcomed him with open arms and showered him with love and attention. Things at home seemed odd. There was very little conflict with us. We did see concerning behaviors like the self hurting, and complete lack of impulse control, but he really tried his best to “be good”. The warning bells should have been sounding.
They did begin to sound about six months after he came home. We weren’t really sure how to put our finger on what was bothering us. He was a busy guy and in some ways I think we focused on the wrong behaviors as signs of what was going on. We realized that he showed very little emotion and when he did, it was off the scales. By about eight months home we realized it was serious. My husband and I talked with each other and both expressed our feeling that our son treated us like we were orphanage workers. I wrote a pleading email to a therapist I had seen in the past. I knew she had professional experience with adopted kids, but she also grew up in a home with older internationally adopted siblings. I laid out all the issues that we were experiencing with our son and asked, “Do I need help, or does he need help?”
The list of behaviors that concerned us was pretty long. The therapist mentioned attachment issues and said we should have him evaluated and tested and gave me a recommendation of a psychiatrist to see. I ran and grabbed my copy of “Attaching in Adoption” by Deborah Gray and read Foster Cline, M.D.’s list on page 81, “Checklist for Symptoms of Attachment Disorder”. I could check almost every one of the items on that list. What was interesting to me is that we saw the behavior, but we did not see the root of the problem. We immediately took her advice and made the appointment.
There is a feeling of helplessness that comes over you when you realize that the issues your child is dealing with are so far beyond your experience and knowledge it isn’t even measurable. Why wouldn’t you go to a professional, who has been trained and has experience in dealing with issues that you cannot even label? We needed someone to tell us what was going on and how to deal with it. Our faith has always been an integral part of our decision process. God designed and created the brain in all its intricacies and beauty. Unfortunately, sin has polluted our world and things happen to change and distort the creation. How many times have you sat and pondered how the circumstances in your children’s lives have shaped them in negative ways? It is heart breaking.
God has also given people different talents and abilities. We don’t do surgery on ourselves when we have appendicitis. We learn to find the right help at the right time for each situation and, of course, we consider the advice, pray about it, seek second opinions and ultimately try to make the best decision we can for our children.
When my husband and I sat and listened to the diagnosis of our son, we were floored. Not because we heard something we had not already suspected. But, hearing it all laid out is so overwhelming. I am a person who likes to have a plan. I can tackle pretty much anything if I can research it, read about it, talk with people who have experience with it, and I have a list in front of me that tells me what to do. Sometimes life is just not that cut and dried. Bummer!
Having a diagnosis does not declare a sentence on your child. That doctor may have a lot of knowledge and experience, but they do not control the universe. We serve a Sovereign God Who does though. That is such a comfort. When you hear that diagnosis and the recommendations for treatment you take a deep breath and you talk with your spouse every second you can possibly spare and you pray like your life depends on it and then you put one foot in front of the other. You do your best to listen to what you are told and to filter that through what you know about your child – because let’s face it – no one knows your child better than you do. You take each step with help from the professionals, your own conscience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and you pray. Ultimately, healing for your child will come through God’s intervention.
I recall a conversation with one of my kids about obeying God. They said they had been praying that they would obey, but were still sinning. I reminded them that we pray for God’s help and strength to resist temptation and obey, but we still make a choice in how we live. God does the work in us through His grace with our cooperation. That is how I see us moving forward with our child’s care. The Lord is in complete control of the outcome and we see His hand guiding us as we make decisions and we do our best. This verse describes the tension in that statement perfectly: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13
We are working with a therapist and trying to address our son’s attachment and anxiety issues. At times the well that is his past life experiences which have contributed to who he is today seems very deep and dark. Trauma has changed his brain and we will do all we can to help bring healing to him and give him a future and hope.
We have seen some tiny glimmers of hope that things are changing with our son. I often tell families who are just embarking on their adoption journey that they need to think of their work with their child in terms of a marathon and not a sprint. You also have to prepare yourself that things may not turn out the way you had hoped they would. My husband and I remind ourselves all the time that we adopted our children for their sake and not for ours. We also remind ourselves that it is our job to obey what the Lord is leading us to do (in this case adopting a child) and remember that the outcome is not in our hands. We may plant, water, and nurture a seed, but we do not make it grow. I actually find that very comforting.
If you are interested in reading the comments in reply to my original question, you can find that here. If you want to see what her readers are saying in regards to the post of my update on where things are with Levi, you can find that here.