' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Attachment disorder in adoption--and parents who don't recognize it

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Attachment disorder in adoption--and parents who don't recognize it

John Brooks has a message for those who have adopted or are thinking of adopting an older child or a child from another country. It is NOT like adopting a pet. A child--any child--but especially those who have been traumatized need love and acceptance, not harshness and punishment.

The Girl Behind the Door is John Brooks's memoir about the 18 month old girl he and his wife, Erika, adopted from a Polish orphanage in 1991, and who killed herself at age 17. Like many couples whose fertility treatments fail, the Brookses turned to adoption. They rejected domestic adoption because of the risk that the mother-to-be would change their mind. The foreign adoption scene looked bleak, long waits, countries closing their doors. Then they learned that a few children were available in Polish orphanages. Since Erika's parents had immigrated from Poland and she spoke Polish, it seemed a perfect fit.

After sending $15,000 to a lawyer in Poland, they were matched with a baby girl named Joanna. She had been born premature and had a twin sister who died at birth. After two months in a hospital, she was placed in the orphanage and given up for adoption. The couple had her checked out by a doctor and learned that while she was behind in development, she was otherwise healthy. Once out of the institution she would catch up.

They took the baby, whom they re-named Casey, from the orphanage, replaced her drab institutional clothing with a girlish pink outfit (she looked so cute!), and spent their first night with their new daughter in a Warsaw hotel. Things did not go well. She cried inconsolably. So they could get some rest, they placed her in a stroller in front of the television until she cried herself to sleep.

While Casey soon caught up in her development, things continued to go badly. She could be unbelievably charming at school and a terror at home. She was easily frustrated, threw fits when she didn't get her way, destroyed things, and argued incessantly. The couple responded as frustrated parents often do: "We were stuck in a never-ending cycle of time-outs, withheld privileges, abandoned reward programs, groundings and empty threats to spend her college fund on a year in purgatory. We resorted to spanking her, even threatening to hit her."

Casey often locked herself in her room. Her parents broke in, demanding she listen to them. When Casey was not home, Erika searched her room for drugs, alcohol, and other evidence of misdeeds. The parents tried to peek under the wrist bands Casey always wore for telltale signs of cutting. Erika listened outside her door for gagging, a sign of bulimia.

The Brookses sent Casey to therapists, none of whom suggested that Casey's behavior might be related to early abandonment, the orphanage, or her adoption. Instead, they attributed her behavior to being "strong-willed" or abusing drugs. The therapists never suggested that the couple change their responses to Casey's behavior. The years of counseling provided no benefit to Casey, or to the couple. They did not do their own research; it did not occur to them that living in an orphanage and being removed from everything familiar could have contributed to her behavior. And it did not occur to them--and apparently not to the therapists--that Erika and John's punitive responses only exacerbated the situation.

In the middle of her senior year of high school, at a time when Casey should have been happy--she had just been accepted into Bennington--she jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. After her death, John Brooks searched for clues, reading her diary, looking at her online postings, listening to phone messages, talking to her doctors. He learned how unhappy she had been but still did not connect her adoption with her death. He put his energies into lobbying for barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge, the place of many suicides.

Some years later, John Brooks saw a television program about the struggles of Romanian orphans, and that gave him the first clue about Casey's behavior. He searched the Internet for more information and finally came upon an article on attachment disorder which gave him the key to understanding Casey.
"The adopted child frequently has a low tolerance for frustration, ineffective coping skills and impulse-control and trouble self-soothing. She can be clingy, hyper-active, quick to anger or burst into tears over what others might consider insignificant or nonexistent slights....Abandoned in infancy, the adopted child has learned not to trust. Controlling her environment and distancing others around her--especially caregivers--becomes paramount as a way to protect herself from further abandonment....She can be manipulative--extremely charming, in fact, even indiscriminately affectionate, toward strangers--but cool and remote at home."
John Brooks now saw a very different person on the other side of that battered bedroom door. Not an angry, misbehaving teenager bent on tormenting her parents, but a child suffering unfathomable pain for whom comfort was out of reach. A girl who had lost her mother and her twin sister at birth, her home for two months at the hospital, and her home at the orphanage for over a year after that. She had no reason to trust anyone.
"Erika and I were blind from the outset....We treated Casey as if she were our new pet. Just feed her, burp her, change her diapers, bounce her around....The first night in the hotel room...when she was inconsolable...we just wanted her to quiet down so we could get some rest. Instead of parking her in front of a blaring TV--something she'd probably never seen before--we should have taken her into bed with us, helped her and soothed her. [Later] when she acted out inappropriately and threw temper tantrums, we scolded and punished her....We should have stayed with her, helped her calm down and self-soothe. She needed to know Mom and Dad would always be there for her unconditionally."
Now he realized that discarding her old clothes in favor of new stylish ones from America was a big mistake. While it made "Casey" more appealing to him, it separated her from the one familiar thing she had from the orphanage. Although he doesn't mention it, I found it troubling that they changed her name from Joanna to Casey, although they did give her Joanna as a middle name. Surely at 18 months, she recognized her name; forcing her to answer to a new name must have been distressing. Discarding her Polish name in favor of an Irish one to go with the Irish "Brooks" was another slight, disrespecting her Polish culture.

Another thing that troubles me is that apparently they did not try to locate the girl's first mother and tell her of her daughter's death. They had her name, and the name of her hometown, a small village. Erika spoke Polish so communication would not be a problem. According to John Brooks' blog, "Parenting and Attachment," Casey's first mother said she did not want contact with her daughter. This information came from the orphanage and may or may not have been true. Even if it is true, Casey's first mother may secretly hope to see her again. It would be a kindness to tell her of Casey's death. It's a rare first mother who forgets her lost child and does not grieve for her. Knowing what happened to her Joanna, although distressing would allow her to deal with reality rather than fantasy, and mourn for her in a different way. 

The book's subtitle, A Father's Journey Into The Mystery Of Attachmentexplains why John Brooks wrote and published the book. He is honest about their failings as parents, and while that is to be lauded, I am critical of both of them. They waited until after their daughter died to look at the initial abandonment in an orphanage, and the more than a year there, as the source of her attachment disorder and general unhappiness. The book is an excellent outline of what not to do, especially when adopting an older child from a different culture. So many who go overseas to adopt are unaware of the basic needs of the children they bring home. This would be a good book as a starting point.

Brooks quotes from the works of David Brozinsky, Nancy Verrier, Ray Kinney, and other adoption therapists, but writes in layman's terms anyone can understand. A list of books and articles and support organizations are included. We hope John Brooks takes his message to adoption practitioners, politicians, and the media. People considering intercountry adoption need to hear what he has to say.

While adoption practitioners are ubiquitous, and zealots like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana are pushing for more for intercountry adoptions, attachment disorders suffer from a lack of research and helpful data. Clueless people pay thousands of dollars for a child, unaware of what may await them. Some send the troubled children off to those harsh wilderness treatment programs. For many the awful answer is to grit their teeth until the child turns 18--and then can be cast out. In extreme cases, frazzled parents "re-home" the children, passing them off to anyone who will take them. Some, like the Brookses, try to get help. Those who persevere may even find competent help. While knowledgeable therapists can help families, the better answer is to help these children in their own countries.--jane 
Also from FMF
Utah agency places cast-off international adoptees
'Re-Homing': Dumping unwanted adopted kids
Grief and doubt after an international adoptee's death: Max Shatto in Texas
Good news: Intercountry adoption down again
Review: Indian-born writer reveals the dark side of international adoption
Joyce Maynard's adoption "disruption"
Mamalita: An adoption book I can't love, a story that isn't for everyone

The Girl Behind The Door: A Father's Journey Into The Mystery Of Attachment 

THANK YOU FOR ORDERING THROUGH FIRST MOTHER FORUM. Order by clicking on the link or the book jacket.


  1. I wouldn't call it "attachment disorder." I would call it "broken attachment." I think there is an important difference. It is not conducive to the survival of the human animal for a small child to emotionally attach to just any old adult who comes along. Stranger anxiety is normal. Preferring to be with mother is normal. These psychological states work together to hopefully keep the child safe.

    It's not the child who is disordered. It's the child's situation which is disordered.

  2. "The adopted child frequently has a low tolerance for frustration, ineffective coping skills and impulse-control and trouble self-soothing. She can be clingy, hyper-active, quick to anger or burst into tears over what others might consider insignificant or nonexistent slights....Abandoned in infancy, the adopted child has learned not to trust. Controlling her environment and distancing others around her--especially caregivers--becomes paramount as a way to protect herself from further abandonment....She can be manipulative--extremely charming, in fact, even indiscriminately affectionate, toward strangers--but cool and remote at home."

    OMG - this could describe my daughter even at age 35.

  3. I think its important to keep the time frame in context. In 1990 little was known about institutional affects on children adopted abroad. It was believed (hoped) that being placed at a young age would negate the damages of multiple breaks in attachment and less than adequate care. The children adopted from Romania were seen as an anomaly and was largely misunderstood.

    Adoptive families, perhaps much like the false bill of goods told to so many First Mothers, were instructed to assimilate the children into an American culture and parent them much like a child "born to" them. The implications of this were far reaching and it took many Adult Adoptees to speak out against this to effect change. Korean adoptees were especially vocal and important in affecting this changing mindset.

    So that may excuse a bit of this couple's initial response to their clearly hurting child and why therapists continued to misdiagnose her RAD. (Reactive Attachment Disorder)

    What it does not excuse is their "child/pet" mentality, though I have heard young couples of biological children also mention they first got a pet so they could "practice" for eventual children. A foolish mindset and generally one propagated by those who have never parented.

    Presently and for about the last 12 years or slightly more, there has been a greater push for awareness and understanding of RAD and Attachment in general, especially of the special needs for children adopted abroad from institutionalized settings. Today all children adopted from overseas should be considered "special needs", though most will eventually thrive and overcome the affects of early Orphanage care. It is those who do not, that deserve the greatest support and understanding.

    The loss of this child, this young woman, is tragic and could have possibly been prevented had the family found the right resources to help their daughter. A lack of knowledgeable doctors and therapists is a causal factor and adoptive parents need to be proactive seeking the right support for their children.

    Finally to Dana's point: sadly attachment disorders affect not just adopted children but all children across many spectrums. I know this because I treat these children/families in my practice. It appears to be on the rise across the boards and for a multitude of rationales, though no studies are currently exploring the source.

    I also wish to address the reason why this family may not have reached out to share the news of Joanna/Casey's death with her Polish Mother; it is quite possible that they tried and failed. Often times the information given by overseas mothers is false, as they seek to protect themselves from the societal shame still steeped in many foreign countries. As to the name change: again in 1990, this family was probably counseled to give this child a fresh start/fresh name; not an excuse, just background. Additionally, sometimes these names are issued to entire groups of infants from the same region entering the "system" at the same time. The name may not have been given by a family member or hold special meaning. In fact, quite often their names are not even used by Orphanage staff/caregivers as they prefer nicknames or more affectionate and personal monikers. Just offering an additional insight.


  4. Thank you for posting this.

    I think it's important to understand that the adoptive parents recollections are simply their experience of things and often they, like the Brooks, fail to understand the integral part they play in these issues. Often they are the very cause or at least the catalyst of them but instead lay 100% of the blame on the child. Labels like RAD make it all too easy to do that as well, and are becoming more and more popular as a catch-all term for any and every foster or adopted child who exhibits any sort of failure to bond, failure to respect or struggle in adapting to all the changes in their life.

    We rarely get to hear of the experiences as told by the adoptee, or their experiences are disregarded when they do try to speak up about their side. Adults empathize with other adults, not with children.

    I have a long list of children whose adoptive or foster parents insisted they had RAD and sought out multiple forms of treatment for many of them. The children acted out, some were violent, they wouldn't bond, the parents felt unappreciated and unloved. This. That. The other. Overlooked were the parents actions so many times. These poor children forced to eat their own vomit, feces and urine. Forced to live in cupboards. Only allowed to use the bathroom once a day. Denied all forms of education. Chained to their room. Sexually abused. Given quack therapy such as 'Holding Therapy' where children only 50 or 60 pounds have adults weighing as much as 250 pounds laying on them, sometimes for over 90 minutes at a time. Several have died from this. Such torture and abuse, is it really a surprise that children act out? Don't love the ones who are abusing them?

    While the Brooks' abuse might seem more mild compared to these it is STILL abuse and I don't give any free pass to "Oh they were just so exhausted and frustrated" ANY adult who threatens to hit a child is deranged and abusive. Tiredness is no excuse for violence, period. These people should never have been allowed to adopt, but they were, and their child acting out is a result of the fact that the child was being raised by deranged, abusive people who constantly abused or threatened to abuse her, denied her an iota of privacy, stalked her every move and then acted shocked and confused when she reacted negatively to that. How many adults react positively to stalking? Being searched by police for no reason? Being hit or threatened with physical violence? And we expect young children to react better and to be positive and loving about this all? And then label them as RADishes when they don't? Hmmm....

  5. Many times RAD is based on the child languishing in an orphanage or from being in an abusive home.

    You cannot fault Aparents who want to be parents and are willing to adopt a child that had been in an orphanage or foster care for several months or years. And many times theses child have been exposed to drugs and alcohol from when their mother's were carrying them, or even may have inherited mental illness from them too.

    In short, let's stop blaming people who just want to be parents
    (aparents) and point the finger where is really belonging towards to bparents who may or may not be responsible for the plight of their bchildren.

  6. This article infuriates and saddens me.

    They never connected her pain to her experiences as a baby and toddler? Oh really? And could the rest of us get away with that argument? I doubt it.

    Granted biological parents have far better command of a baby's initial environment but our children can become troubled too due to fate or the actions of others.

    So why is it adoptive parents often seem to get a pass in the public's eye on their struggles/failures at raising children? And why is it they use their status as reason for those same struggles/failures?

    "Well....we're adoptive parents. You have to give us more room."

    No we don't. You're either a parent or you're not. Just like us, you can't turn around later and say you didn't know any better. We don't get to do that. Neither should you. Not if you're asking us to see you as parents....period.

    Unless of course adoptive parents are saying their status means they're not capable of looking beyond themselves in order to raise a child.

    If that's the case then perhaps they shouldn't be parents at all because that's often their slant on first parents.... isn't it? That because we were young or inexperienced, we shouldn't have been allowed to keep and raise our child to begin with.....

    Anonymous in the North

  7. I find this so sad. It highlights the lack of education that did and still does exist in adopting older children today. I've heard many international PAPs state they were adopting internationally because the kids don't have the same issues that foster kids in America have. Bullshit. What they don't have truly is first families that might be able to stay involved.

    I'm also sick of APs automatically jumping to a RAD diagnosis as often they use it to excuse themselves and as a reason to fail. Yes, RAD exists. Yes there is trauma in adoption - sometimes though, it's a fear of abandonment that is the issue (caused by previous abandonment), sometimes there are other issues that can be dealt with too. But RAD is being used as an excuse to give up on children, to declare them beyond hope or repair. I recently saw an AP who adopted a child placed in her care at 4 days old and their sibling at about the same age, claiming that they both had RAD. Amazingly enough, she recognized this after giving birth to her biological children. She refused to accept that if they had that level of RAD, that her neglect had caused it. These weren't children who had been in an orphanage or institutional setting, they were in her home supposedly being loved from the first week of life. It was her treatment of them that was causing the issues. And many of her compliants sounded like normal kid things to me. It really pissed me off.

    I'm an AP. And that means that I have to be aware of the struggles my kids may have. I have no idea how much or little or at what age they will struggle. I think I have a greater responsibility to accept and validate whatever feelings they have, to support any contact they want with their first family and to go out of my way to make it easy for them to choose that. My son tested positive for cocaine at birth, we are still watching to see if he will have developmental delopmental delays - that's a 10 year watch by the way. For us, it means being aware that he might need assistance and being prepared to provide that assistance. It also means some delicate conversations later as we share his truth with him. He'll have to know about the drug exposure it affects his medical history, but I have to find a way to share it that doesn't make his first mom seem like a bad person. She made a wrong choice during a difficult time. I feel the responsibility to be caring in how we deal with that. And we've gone out of our way to keep contact in spite of that.

    I'm getting off topic here - but the point I was meaning to make, is that APs shouldn't get excuses or passes. We should be held to a higher standard as we are raising and hopefully loving someone else's child. We have a responsibility to not play ostrich and be aware of the effects of trauma and accept them especially when they are affecting "our" child.

  8. One of the anons (please PICK A NAME OF ANY KIND):"You cannot fault Aparents who want to be parents and are willing to adopt a child that had been in an orphanage or foster care for several months or years. And many times theses child have been exposed to drugs and alcohol from when their mother's were carrying them, or even may have inherited mental illness from them too.

    In short, let's stop blaming people who just want to be parents..."

    Just "wanting to be a parent" is not good enough. The Brookses had no idea what they were doing, it sounds like. Any one who plops a crying 18-month old child--suddenly taken from one environment to a strange one--in front of the TV and let her cry (probably scream) until she is exhausted and falls asleep should never have adopted. What were they thinking? That they had a quarrelsome "pet."

    No matter what went on in the orphanage, the couple did not have the necessary parenting instinct (or even baby-sitting instinct) to deal with this new strange foreign body suddenly called "Casey." It's not just Casey who didn't bond; Erika and John Brooks did not either.

    1. I agree with most of what you write -- and would note how well you write it -- and yet I can't help feeling that you can be a bit unmerciful at times. I think we can agree that if a child has been abandoned to an orphanage, almost anything is better than to remain there. The Brooks didn't take this child from the birthmother but from an orphanage where she was already living. I agree that they seem clueless about how to handle a traumatized child, but surely they did not want this outcome. Surely they show evidence of having tried to help her. And they definitely show the ability to reflect on their own deficiencies and inadequacies.

      Most parents -- of the more typical bio variety -- start out just "wanting to be a parent" and nothing more. Most parents have no idea what they are doing. Some parents don't have good instincts, even with their bio children. I don't think the Brookses need be singled out for special scorn.

      I think your efforts to point out what so few people are willing to see is HIGHLY COMMENDABLE. But sometimes I wonder if you might be undercutting yourself slightly by a sometimes-unsparing attitude towards people who, like yourself many decades ago, just didn't know better and are trying to own their mistakes today.


    2. Ella: Good point.

      I'd probably be different towards these people in real life. I didn't read the book, only Jane's review. I am tough. I could soften sometimes. Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Anon @ 6:01

    You state "You cannot fault Aparents who want to be parents and are willing to adopt a child that had been in an orphanage or foster care for several months or years."

    This is the exact kind of adoptive parents-can-do-no-wrong attitude that so many of us adoptees fight against.

    It's the exact same type of attitude that tells us to shut up and be grateful that we were "chosen" and "saved", even when we weren't and our adoptive families were as dysfunctional (or moreso) than our first families were.

    It's the same type of attitude that tells us to sit down and be quiet when we try to talk about abuse we suffered in our adoptive families because "you're the rare exception!" or "That doesn't happen much!" or the ever-popular refrain of "You'll scare away people from adopting!" like somehow it's our job to be poster children and potentially put other children into the same misery we faced.

    It reminds me of Lisa and Cleveland Cox, in Ohio, who adopted a baby within days of birth and raised him for 9 years and then abruptly left him at Social Services, not telling him he was being abandoned and instead telling him he was going to the hospital to be "fixed", then took the rest of their children on the run as fugitives. Everyone rushed to blame this poor 9 year old child and RAD and 'attachment issues' (codeword for RAD) was in every post as though it was his fault. To me, again, any adult capable of simply abandoning their child like that is loveless, cold, heartless and sadistic. Further think of the disruption to their other children, some of whom I believe were adopted as well. They must fear that they'll be abandoned if they do wrong now. I wonder if they miss their brother that they grew up with for almost a decade. I wonder if they missed their friends and school while their parents decided it fine to go on the run with them.

    But I guess since they took in this poor unwanted waif baby then none of that matters and they did no wrong and are wonderful saviors of this little boy and his siblings, right? And when this boy gets old enough to tell his side of things I'm sure you and people just like you will be there to tell him to sit down, shut up and be grateful for being adopted into a loving family.

  10. @ Anonymous in the North:

    I don't see Adoptive Parents as wanting or needing a free pass or looking for that 'get out of jail free' card and a diagnosis of RAD does not negate parental responsibility.....however...

    My point was and still is, that little was known about the far reaching affects of institutionalized care; it was believed that children would not carry the scars of their early trauma - clearly we all know better now.

    You seem to want us to presume that AP's carry a crystal ball and can see and know all. Why? Because they are adoptive parents? There is a learning curve for ALL PARENTS and society/scientists are CONSTANTLY shifting the norms of what is healthy and expected.

    Would you now blame and call parents unfit who had their children sleep in cribs painted with lead paint or Mother's who smoked or those of us who didn't wear seat belts in cars as kids....were those parents poorly equipped or bad parents too because they didn't know?

    As too connections? Holy cow...do you know how many parents don't "get" that their 'darling' is now hyper in school because they have playing on an IPAD since the age of 1? Or who don't draw the parallel that their child is naughty and can't accept authority in school because they(the parents) don't impose routine or restrictions at home? How many parents wonder when their child is overweight, is diagnosed with diabetes because they were fed junk at home with no limitations? People and parents are BLIND at times to their own actions and culpability: not just AP's.

    I took from the article that they sought quite a bit of help in therapists and doctors. Some of you suggest that they "stalked" their child by peeking at diaries or looking for drugs that DOCTORS told them to search for and suspect? Now to me, that would be poor parenting....looking the other way and doing nothing. They tried to be proactive; they tried to reach their child. They failed. It's a tragedy NOT abuse.

    Yes, their methods might not be our own but they were desperate and trying. It's something....

    Also to those who believe they are abusers for THREATENING to spank? Really? Do you know how many times I see parents swat a child in public for some minor transgression? (and that's in public...imagine what they do in private?) Is this now the litmus for healthy parenting? You spank or even consider spanking and you are unfit and a monster?

    Finally, some of you point to the parents putting the child in front of the TV that first night. Please remember that this family was cut off from any social or family supports, were clearly poorly prepared by their agency for what to expect, were most likely jet lagged (yeah it's real and it's a beast!) half way around the world and with a new child. There is a reason folks rally to (most) new Mothers offering meals, support, help, gifts; it's a BIG job and an important one. No passes for these folks: they messed that first night up. No question! They were ignorant of what to expect; they didn't do their homework!They were probably exhausted, short sighted and selfish. HOWEVER, one night does not make their entire parenting journey nor would it (alone) have led to the emotional issues for their daughter. NOT excuses for them - but damn people, have the rest of us never made a mistake while exhausted, scared, alone?? Think about that...... I am both a First Mother and Adoptive Mother. I DID make a terrible, life altering decision one night, alone, terrified and exhausted....I'm not perfect and am willing to cut others a little slack too where warranted.

    And let me ask you all this: Did you ever raise your voice in anger? Spank? Put your kid in front of the TV for a moment's peace? Nag your child and suspect you are not getting the entire truth? Trust a doctor or therapist that you had sought out for help? Wish for hindsight to go back and do better?

    Did you ever make a mistake?


    1. Anyone who can make so many excuses for physically abusing a child is probably an abuser. You have as many issues as they do obviously.

  11. They HIT her! They regularly threatened to hit her when they weren't hitting her. I don't care how sorry they say they are or how many damn books they write! They might as well have thrown her off the bridge themselves! They're monster and its times like this I hope there's a Hell so they can burn in it! I have no sympathy for these people! They should be in prison!

  12. Barb, I do blame the parents. In their place, I would blame myself fully and wholly. It seems that they themselves understand and admit much of what they did contributed to the problem. There is a saying among my mama friends, "When we know better, we do better."

    I do not see that the Brooks did the best they could with the knowledge they had at the time. It was beginning to be understood in the 90s that spanking was not an optimal method of discipline. Dr Sears wrote his first book on attachment parenting in 1993. When they went to therapists who told them there was no source of the troubles for their daughter, it was simply her nature, they should have kept looking.

    My oldest daughter (biological) was a "high needs baby" from the moment she was born. That first night, I had to hold her all night long- she cried if I put her down. This was after 14 hours of labor that had started at 2am. I was exhausted. Yet my baby needed me, so I put my exhaustion aside and held her. Not because I am some amazing person, but because she was a tiny baby, I was the adult, and I needed to be her mother in more than name. I appreciate the Brooks' honesty, but I am appalled they put their new baby in a stroller in front of the tv and just let her cry. I'll admit, I am biased here as the "Cry It Out" method used by some parents is really disturbing to me. But there were two of them why they didn't take turns holding her and alternate resting? That's pretty basic common sense parenting- this baby was taken away from all that had been familiar to her. From the very first, they put their adult needs before the needs of a baby. I wonder, given the outcome, if that dichotomy ever changed?

    When we brought my adopted daughter home, just like I had with my biological daughter, she slept next to me (she still does, actually), was held almost constantly, was comforted through her cries. I felt her mourning for the mother she expected, and I held her and comforted as best I could. Was I exhausted? Yup. What I read with the statement about putting their daughter in front of the tv is that they were not sympathetic to their child's needs and grief and confusion. I see that what began that night never ended- they never were able to see what their child really needed. They were never able to love her fully and sacrifice their needs to put her first.

    My older daughter clearly had a medical issue when she was a newborn. I took her to the pedi many times those first few weeks, insisting that something wasn't right with her. He poo-poo'd me, and told me to let her cry it out (which common sense told me was wrong and I didn't do). I trusted my gut- something was off. He was the professional, but I sought a second opinion. And a third. Finally, she was diagnosed with severe acid reflux and a dairy/soy allergy. Once she was on medication and I was off dairy/soy (breastfeeding), she was like a different baby. So, no, a parent should not blindly trust a professional, even three or four, when their gut tells them differently. No doctor will ever know a child better than the parents, and no doctor will care more (generally speaking) about a child than the parents. You better believe when my younger daughter started showing the same symptoms, I demanded the medication and told the doctor we wouldn't be messing around with waiting. She got better almost instantly, too. Interesting how professionals can be wrong, and it is a parent's responsibility to be their child's greatest and best advocate.

    No parent is perfect. I am far from being the perfect mama. FAR. Hindsight is always 20/20. I have made so many mistakes, but I learn, I apologize, and I do better, not continue on for years making the same mistakes over and over and over. How many red flags does a parent get a pass on before holding them accountable for their choices?

  13. I have written a bit about my daughter's struggles before on this blog. She was adopted from Russia as a toddler. She was relinquished at birth and spent her life before adoption in institutional care.

    When we brought her home she was relatively healthy but had giardia. She had almost constant diarrhea which had to have made her quite uncomfortable. Her bottom was raw and sore plus I'm sure she had cramps.

    She would pull her hair out, slam her head against the floor, slam her head against my chest, and pummel my face and neck with her fists. In short, I was at a loss as to how to bond with a child who would not let me hold her or comfort her.

    The last thing I wanted to do was leave her alone in her room but I also could not put her on the floor to slam her head. The doctor suggested putting her in a pack and play in the same room we were in. That way she could not hurt herself and she would be with us. Eventually the head banging, hair pulling, and hitting stopped.

    I wondered if she would be comforted by the Russian language. I found a Russian language news station on TV. The first time I put it on she fell asleep almost immediately in my arms. Her whole body relaxed. I then went to a Russian store and bought a children's CD in Russian to play in her room at night. She seemed to be quite comforted by it.

    She also had HUGE issues with food. Hoarding, gorging herself, stuffing her mouth to the point of choking. She clearly had not had solid food before. The doctor suggested teaching her to eat as you would an infant. We fed her baby food and quickly progressed. We then always had food available; usually fruit or Cheerios so she wouldn't feel the need to hoard or gorge.

    She is now 9. Although a year behind in school, she is doing remarkably well. My takeaway is that we were woefully unprepared and we got a lot of good advice from our pediatrician who also has a sub-specialty in post-institutionalized children.

    I think my daughter was grieving. I think there may have been a caregiver she was attached to. At the very least, she was taken from the only home she knew. I will never know for sure. We did not change her name. That was something else the doctor recommended and I'm so glad we didn't. We found her birth family and she has pictures and a video.

    She will almost certainly continue to struggle. I don't know what is to come. I think that most AP's of post-institutionalized children are really unprepared (including myself). We did the classes, etc and have bio children so we were not first-time parents. But I was still unprepared for the trauma my daughter went through and will likely continue to struggle with.

  14. Michelle: My god, I applaud you and your husband and all that you have done and how you handled what were very difficult issues. Getting the Russian tapes sounds like a great idea--something that sounded familiar.

    Maybe others will learn from you.

  15. I really believe it is a waste of time to blame anyone in these situations. No one knows all the details pre- adoption or post- adoption. In these cases where RAD may be present there may be many other factors at play at the same time. FASD ( Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) is often present at the same time and this is permanent brain damage which can be managed (with great difficulty) but never goes away. If anyone has ever lived with anyone who has an FASD, it something that can devastate a whole family. Everyone does the best they can to cope often with the help of professionals who know little about these conditions and understand even less. Often family and friends abandon the families as well since they have no understanding and often blame the parents as well.

  16. @ Michelle,

    My heart goes out to your family and it is gratifying to hear that your daughter is currently doing well. You clearly have been a wonderful support and advocate for her.

    To others: the story Michelle shared is not uncommon. Our child too suffered tremendously from affects of Institutionalized care. He would bite himself, sometimes drawing blood; he too banged his head if left alone - screamed uncontrollably for hours at a time, vomited all but the blandest of foods, pulled his own hair out and was violently ill (for unknown reasons) off and on for the first 2 years home. His entire first year home he would only sleep if I or my husband was holding him. He awoke in terror for months and bore suspicious scars when we picked him up in Russia.

    He came to us soaked in his own urine - so yes, we changed him out of the clothing he was "familiar" with and into fresh items: NOT because it was more appealing to us but because it was necessary, sanity and humane. They had no disposable diapers at his Orphanage and the babies routinely were left wet in their cribs. He had terrible rashes and had open wounds from scratching. The "outfit" he came to us in was threadbare and they had no coat to send him in despite frigid conditions. They simply lacked the resources to send these children off in finery or even the basic essentials.

    We too kept his name, having been advised to do so - he didn't recognize it and later we learned the care givers called him something else altogether. We had asked if he had a nickname but they were afraid to share that with us during our visits.

    We too used the T.V. that first night. In a hotel room, no heat or hot water, 34 degrees, freezing, paper thin walls....and the neighbors next to us threatening (in Russian) to contact the Russian Police if we didn't quiet the screaming baby. Our screaming baby......

    No previous parenting experience, classes or homework prepared us for that scare......

    We were terrified we might lose him. The TV worked. I feel shame saying I placed my child in front of a TV on our first night of critical bonding, but it kept us together and we got him home.

    Today he is thriving. We kept at it and will always have to keep at it. He is behind academically but has the kindest heart of any little boy I have ever met. He will always carry the trauma of his first year in an Orphanage in Russia and he is small for his age due to early malnutrition. He lost the hearing in one ear due to an untreated chronic ear infection while in Orphanage care. We are thankful we discovered the infection before he lost hearing in both ears.

    We have never spanked but let me just say that we are the minority of non-spankers in our middle class neighborhood. Just an observation.

    I want you all to know that some things goes deeper than can be expressed in a book. The Brook's story is not my own but I find myself thanking God that we benefited from current research and as tragic as Casey's death is, perhaps another child won't suffer because her parents spoke out. Yes AFTER the fact....but at least they spoke out.

    Mom to 2 homegrown and 1 Russian born miracles

  17. Thank you Barb for being a voice of clarity.

    I am a First Mom and I too do not judge this family. Heavens knows my own parenting was less than perfect and teenagers in particular are VERY emotional, hard to reach and even harder to understand. I think God we got through those tumultuous years with our sanity.

    Those of you calling them abusers for spanking have lost touch with realty. I have witnessed true abuse and you diminish those very real atrocities by calling spanking abuse.


    1. Liz, corporal punishment in the home is illegal in around 40 countries including Germany, Sweden and Spain! Abuse is abuse is abuse! Just a little abuse isn't any more okay than just a little bit of rape! True abuse comes in many forms and levels of atrocity, but it is all wrong and hopefully will be illegal the world over someday!

  18. A little Off topic for this post, but wanted to tell everyone about a really helpful thing my church is doing this month to honor mothers. They are holding a baby shower where everyone brings gifts and baby supplies for a mother and baby shelter where the emphasis is on Moms keeping and raising their babies, and help to do that. Just the kind of help most of us needed but never got. They help those in school stay in school, refer others to job training and other resources, and moms and babies can stay up to a year while they get their lives together. Family members are welcome to visit, not kept away, and the goal is reconciliation, not adoption.

    I had a great time buying cute baby outfits, and was truly shocked at the price of diapers now. I did buy some though. I look forward to the "shower" tomorrow. I wish there were more places like this.

  19. Julie thanks so much for your post which provides such an honest account and hopefully opened a few eyes.

    There is so much that I want to say on this thread but I'll keep it to a few
    1) in 1991 very little was known about parenting a child with serious attachment issues. The garden variety attachment parenting Tiffany cites is not at all what is called for in these cases of children suffering serious attachment issues. They could have read and memorized Dr. Spock and it would not have helped. It was probably at least 10 years later that it was becoming known and APs could even be informed. Even now finding a therapist who specializes in attachment can be very difficult. and there have been many different theories proposed and offered that have not helped. It is still an evolving field.
    2) Adopting a child internationally is so different than adopting a child domestically that comparing the first night as Tiffany did just does not make sense. Read the posts from the other IA APs here. The circumstances typically are so very different.
    3) I think spanking is wrong and I have never done but google how many American parents do it and sadly it is the majority. I think it is abuse to hit anyone but not in the histrionic tone of some of the posters. I wish no one spanked but many parent who are probably considered "good" parents do. I wish they did not. Makes me crazy but I don't think of them as abusive, just misguided and doing a dumb thing. Not the best parenting for sure. But common.
    4) I don't think most APs rush to call their children as suffering from RAD. Rather it is a diagnosis most dread and mourn for their children. I honestly think it might be a bigger problem that parents do not want to face it and may be in denial for a time, which hinders getting help as early as possible. But help is extremely difficult to get.
    5) I found it very ironic that Jane came up with this post, as she has reported with joy on the fact that IA is dropping. One big reason is because Putin closed it off. Not because the children languishing in the orphanages as described by Julie don't need help, medical care, and families and homes. Just for political reasons. So more children will end up with attachment disorders and the actual neurology of their brain is being impacted. That is not something I celebrate.

    The rule of thumb is that for every month a child is in an orphanage that equals a three-month developmental delay. Do the math and you'll see that these children are in dire and horrific conditions.

    This is such a sad, wrenching problem for the children who are living like this.

    1. "Misguided and doing a dumb thing." Why do you think it is misguided and dumb? Is it possibly because you hitting a child is abuse and damaging to the child's development? If so then how can you say you don't considered them abusive parents just dumb? If what they are doing to their children is an action you consider abusive than they must be abusers! There is no way around this truth! If an adult hit their partner repeatedly on different occasions but was otherwise a loving and "good" partner the rest of the time would you say you don't consider them abusive just misguided? I hope not!

  20. Lorraine@April 25, 2014 at 10:41 AM:

    In regards to my comment, "wanting to be parents" and aparents not knowing if their child was exposed to drugs or alcohol by their bmothers is not an excuse but reality. There are many children who were exposed to drugs/alcohol when their mothers were carrying them. In fact, some adoption agencies and foster care workers "play down" this fact when trying to match potential aparents with children. Moreover, many of these kids, if one looks deeper, may have inherited some form of mental illness from the bparents.

    You can't, I believe, hold aparents to a higher standard when the bparents may have lied about drug/alcohol use or mental illness, and leave the aparents in the dark about the child's needs.

  21. I read this book in one night and I found it heartbreaking but also enlightening. We're the Brookses good parents? Mostly not, at least not for Casey. I felt the author really threw his wife under the bus in his is depiction of her parenting. But if you stand back and look at it, they were both quite ineffectual and Casey learned very quickly how to triangulate. While the amother was aggressive verbally, the a father spent a lot of time trying to keep peace but when that failed, he resorted to physical aggression with Casey followed by lame apology notes the next day. I mean, the guy couldn't bring himself to verbally apologize to his daughter after he threatened her. Just a passive aggressive note the next day. Lots of "You know I love you." after violence does not teach a child to love. They did Casey a huge disservice in their "parenting". With that said, Casey was obviously not an easy child for these people to parent but she was still THE CHILD. And she was a hurt child trying her best to cope. Brooks learned after her death that Casey had been part of an online group for troubled teens for years before her death. Casey was trying so hard to help herself and it is so sad that she couldn't feel safe enough to rely on her parents to do right by her.
    The book does enlighten about many aspects of life in an orphanage. For example, I was not aware that Eastern European caregivers feel it is unprofessional to bond with an orphan, that they hold the children facing outwards and bathe them in an assembly line fashion. It looks like this may be changing but it explains some of the psychology of growing up in an institution during those formative first years.
    Brooks also provides a great deal of insight that he received from experts after Casey's suicide. I think this is helpful because adoptive parents usually don't want to listen when the info comes from anyone BUT an adoptive parent.
    I think his memoir could really help others going through troubled times. It is a what NOT to do in parenting an adopted child but an excellent cautionary book that in the end has great insight. Just too little, too late. It's just so sad that Casey is gone. A real tragedy.

  22. @Bee,

    Just a small factual correction regarding who adoptive parents will listen to; you state that generally they will only be responsive to other AP's and that simply is not accurate.

    Most AP's listen VERY carefully to the counsel of their adoptive team, including Agency, Social Workers ( who visit multiple times during both the pre and post adoptive process), International Adoptive Physicians, blogs, yes other AP's who have walked similar paths AND we listen VERY carefully to adoptees.

    Adoptees are our children and our focus. Most of us desperately wish for them to thrive and be healthy and whole. Are there tough things to hear? Sure...that's true for any parent/child relationship but we are listening.

    We listen and are responsive to Adult Adoptees collectively: case in point the Korean Adoptees are someone else referenced; they spoke out and shared that they didn't want assimilation as parents were counseled but did want access to their birth culture among a host of other important issues for them.

    THEY are the reason so much is known now about how Internationally Adopted children fair and they are shaping how new generations of AP's are parenting.

    Lastly and in support of what I have stated: studies have proven that Internationally Adopted children overall fair better than their domestically adopted counterparts in mental health and feelings of higher self worth. Is it because IA AP's are more likely to seek help or less likely to "hide" from obvious adoption issues, especially where obvious racial issues are present? Who knows.....but we are listening.

    I just wanted you to know.


  23. Two very good family friends have 3 children adopted who are Polish. Two of them were already in the US and had been abandoned by the families who had brought them to the US. A great therapy for children in these settings is Dialectal Behavioral Therapy. Another is to not expect these children to appreciate and love you. My friends therapeutically parent their children but don't expect a single thing in return. It's done wonders.

  24. Jade said that adopting internationally is different than adopting domestically when it comes to the first night, so my comparison makes no sense. Jade, can you please explain what you mean by this? I don't understand how they are so different that it makes it ok for internationally adopting parents to ignore their crying baby...? Is this not what you were implying?

    You also mention "garden variety attachment parenting." I never said RAD is simplistic. What I said is that attachment was starting to be understood in the 90s. I did a paper on RAD in 1998 for my college psych 101 class. It was not at all completely understood, as it isn't now, but it was known. I even wrote about holding therapy and the disadvantages associated with such extreme measures. When I mentioned attachment parenting, I was referring to how we know that babies are born with a biological connection to their mothers, and they are wired to know their mothers' voices, smells, touch. Many people were putting this together with the RAD issues and noting that when babies were not able to bond with a mother or at least a caregiver, there were issues related to this.

    Finally, I believe parents have a responsibility to our children. This is just my personal opinion, but I don't think parents are let off the hook by blaming "a bad seed." That philosophy is just difficult for me to grasp. Genetics and early experiences are out of control of the international adoptive parent (or foster parent or later adopted domestic parent). That does not automatically absolve them of the fall out that happens to their children. They are STILL responsible. Was Casey troubled? Most definitely. Were the Brooks facing an incredibly challenging situation with no support? They certainly were. It's sad and terrible tragedy all around. But, in my mind, that does not mean that the Brooks get a pass on their parenting methods or are not complicit in the suicide of their daughter. She was a child struggling, and adopted or biological, parents are indeed responsible for our children and are never totally free of the resultants of our parenting methods, whatever the outlying factors.

  25. Jane, the only one who would be in a position to say whether it's "a kindness" or not is the woman herself. To assume it would be best for her smacks of "for your own good" condescension.
    Grief and guilt apart, she could feel that telling her now - too late already - is taking away whatever little agency she might have had. Besides, we have no idea about her present circumstances or what kind of emotional support (essential to healthy mourning) she has, if any.
    I have heard that Poland is undergoing a kind a reverse sexual revolution and becoming increasingly censorious. Especially if that is true, what you suggest may not turn out to be nearly as kind as you think.

  26. Barb said.....

    "You seem to want us to presume that AP's carry a crystal ball ... Why? Because they are adoptive parents? There is a learning curve for ALL PARENTS ...... Would you now blame and call parents unfit who had their children sleep in cribs painted with lead paint or Mother's who smoked or those of us who didn't wear seat belts in cars as kids.....

    I did not say that AP's carry a crystal ball. I said that they are parents and therefore accountable......just like the rest of us. And we are accountable. There's no way around that no matter how much we'd like to tell ourselves otherwise.

    You state you're a first parent. Then you know that WE probably more than anyone understand that our actions as parents...even if we're only parents a very brief time...have lifelong consequences.

    I also said that many young women are told now and were told "then" that they shouldn't parent; that they should relinquish because they're too young to know what they're doing.

    Well, nobody can have it both ways. We can't defend ignorance on the one hand then use it to coerce on the other.

    Anonymous in the North

  27. There is no such thing as RAD. That is just an adoptive parents inferiority complex along with their bitterness and rage at not being able to conceive showing. Adoptees are always the scapegoats. Made to be by the adoption laws, the adoptive parents and sometimes even our own real parents.

    1. Reactive Attachment Disorder is actually a real diagnosis... not even created by adoptive parents. It came about in the 80's but was mainly focused on children who were institutionalized. As an adoptive mother, I know that I wasnt the one that came up with the diagnosis for my child. I am not someone with that authority. We saw counselors that put that into place. I agree with you 100% that there are so many AP's that place the blame on the child. I truly hope that I am not/have ever been that mother. My point in seeking out help with tough behaviors was because I knew that I was doing something wrong. I had to have been missing something. Does that make sense?!? I hope that I am not the exception. While my child carries that diagnosis (she actually doesnt anymore, we started seeing a new therapist that doesnt believe in it, and have found new answers), I carried that with me as something I needed to do diffferently. I hope I worded that right...

  28. I really think people should actually read the book before defending the Brooks' parenting.
    Spanking is only one aspect of their abusive relationship.
    Personally, I don't think it's ever ok for a parent to call an adolescent child a "little b*&%!" or tell her you are going to wring her neck which the author describes in detail throughout the book.
    You know , the Brooks's sent Casey to 4 different therapists, but they never thought to get help for themselves. That says something.
    They were appalled when Casey flat out refused to go to therapy because she knew the therapist couldn't help her.
    This was a kid who was so berated for her own existence if she put one foot out of line and so misunderstood that she jumped off a bridge! And by all accounts, she was even according to Brooks "a good kid 90% of the time".
    Like I said before, it's all too little too late but hopefully this book will help other adoptive parents understand where they are going wrong and that the child they adopt is a CHILD.
    And I'm sorry Anon 9:26 but my experience of adoptive parents, especially on the internet and in the media has not been the rosey picture you describe of adults doing what is best for their children and listening to the voices of others in the so-called triad. Quite the contrary. I also have very little respect for the IA parent community as a whole. Doing their best? With the rehoming, disrupting and murder of international adoptees we see in the media, I don't know how you can say the IA community cares more. We are obviously seeing this through very different perspectives. I'm glad to see that you have a caring heart but sadly, IMO you are the exception to the rule in your "community".

  29. @Bee,

    I can say that the IA kids are doing better long term but I can also say that has been found factually true in studies. Don't believe studies? Fine - see them quoted here often enough. Please remember IA is different. Different conditions for those kiddos - the separation from mother to child already severed; malnutrition, etc...

    I suspect most folks in IA community could care less if they have your approval or respect because they are focused on raising their children. Period. Weeding out the voices that actually lack IA experience and finding what works.

    Always the mention of re-homing, abuses, etc. Re-homing makes up less than 1% and let's remember that children are abused and murdered at the hands of their bio. families with alarming numbers. Turn your channel to MTV's Teen Mom and watch that horror unfold. Several in jail....charged with battery. Not a pretty picture. Is it the ENTIRE picture? Of course not....so please don't pretend the ugly, such as re-homing(which is horrendous) is the only complete picture of IA.

    I don't think I'm the exception but sadly I do think if you look hard enough you can always find the bad egg(s) and make a case to generalize and marginalize an entire group.

    @Rain Claire - sure cite your stats from OTHER Countries; look up the States right here in the U.S. for current legalities on spanking. Eye opening.
    "Spanking as rape?" hysterical much?

  30. "I suspect most folks in IA community could care less if they have your approval or respect because they are focused on raising their children. Period."
    And that was exactly my original point, anon, thank you for proving it.

  31. Best wishes toyou, John Brooks, for writing your experiences into a good book.

  32. Thank you Jane and all your posters for your honest feedback. I couldn't agree more. Of course I failed as a parent. Of course we missed everything, as did all the professionals. Of course this is about WHAT NOT TO DO. That's why I wrote it. Too often, people want "happy" and "successful" adoption stories. And there are many. But as I learned too late many many adopted people struggle their entire lives, something I only lean red after getting to know adopted people and birth parents. Every adoptive or prospective adoptive parent should do the same. But make no mistake. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey's dad.

    1. I truly appreciate your thoughts as a "what not to do". I have a child that struggles with attachment, and I view it 100% as something that I am not doing right. She is a child and she cant change/control her functioning... its up to me to find a solution or ways to better parent her the way she needs to be. What an eye opening story!

  33. As an adoptive mom, I wanted to share my experience with RAD. My daughter was placed with us at the age of 7 months. She was chunky and happy and perfect! We adopted her through foster care in our state and believe me, I read ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I could about adoption before venturing into this. I remember sitting across from a caseworker and her telling me not to worry about attachment issues because she was a baby and you never see those issues come up with infants. I now know differently, but I remember being so thrilled that a "professional" had just told me my life was going to be perfect! Well, my child was born with multiple drugs in her system. Heavy, heavy in-utero drug exposure. I was such a naive first time mom... especially to a kiddo with such heavy background in her little life. It was big at that time (I think it still is) to let babies "cry it out". I followed the parenting trend instead of trusting my gut. When she was 2, she was a tough little kid. I couldnt figure her out, and was sent to a childs psychologist who diagnosed her with RAD. When they quickly gave her the diagnosis, I was so disheartened because I felt like I had tried so hard to make that bond... but maybe had I not let "cry it out" that attachment would have been stronger. To me, that diagnosis was never about what was wrong with HER, it was about what I was doing wrong as a mom. 7 years later we now know that her diagnosis was not really the best fit for her, she struggles with a sensory integration disorder that was just recently correctly diagnosed. But because I "carried" that RAD diagnosis with ME, our connection improved greatly. I was determined to fix my parenting for what SHE needed, not what the trend was at the time. She needed a snuggly mom, not a cry it out mom.
    I ramble, but the point I wanted to make is that I dont love that RAD is handed out so easily to children of adoption... BUT for me, that misdiagnosis was perfect in helping me realize that my kid needed something more than I was giving. I know that not all AP's are interested in my perspective, but because I am an adoptive mom, I feel like I am that much more responsible to make sure that my child gets what they need. I didnt jump into the world of adoption blindly, but I feel like there is ALWAYS more that I could be learning/doing to better myself. I appreciate this book and the perspective it gives, because some parents are too late. I never want to have this happen to my child. There is already a hole in her heart where her birth mother belongs... I am not naive to that fact. I am not willing to make that hole any larger by being a parent that doesnt work to better my skills as her mom.

  34. Thanks, Jenn,

    Children need more adoptive moms like you.



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