On a good day, parenting will test the integrity of your character. On a bad day, parenting will test your will to live. Parenting children with trauma histories will cause you to test the integrity of everything and everyone you thought you knew, for the rest of your life.
~J. Skrobisz

Friday, March 11, 2011

Layers of Loss

"layers of loss" said the wife of the rockstar. So many layers of loss.

Talking about Orlando in this venue feels a bit like blabbing about sex at the water cooler the next morning. We shared so many intimate moments, tears, hugs, laughter, understanding nods, that it seems wrong to write it all down. Until blogging, I had nothing, no one save but one IRL friend. Isolation doesn't begin to explain how hard it is to parent a child that refuses to be parented.

I didn't cry much, just a few weepy moments usually followed by laughter. I thought I'd be a bawling basket case. I kept looking for that one profound moment that would rock my world and instead found that it was just a steady stream of acceptance, unconditional love and understanding. I even enjoyed a few moments of rockstar bliss myself; blown away by other women's exclamations of joy at finally getting to meet me and how much reading my blog has helped them. Really? I asked myself. I never thought of myself as a blogger with a purpose to help others heal. I've always just been no guts/no glory about my blog: lay it all out for the world to read and know because it has to be known.

Adopting trauma will bring layers of loss.

It wasn't until Sunday night, late and after some side-splitting hilarity, when a few women straggled into our villa, (gals I had yet to meet because there were so many it was hard to hug them all) that I began to see the layers peeling back, the depth of pain we endure; the vastness of what we have surrendered to the cause of raising children that already have history. And that's when rockstar's wife said it, the profoundness that has stuck with me and resonanted like a tuning fork, humming a perfect C frequency impossibly long.

Layers of loss.

For many adoptive moms, the first loss comes from infertility. Then you pick yourself up and resolve to parent anyway. You adopt.

Layer two: the process of adoption is tough. There are no secrets you can hide, it is like being interrogated by the CIA. For international adoptions, the wait is impossibly long with ever-changing bureaucratic red tape to wrestle with. In foster adoptions parents are rarely given an accurate social history, sometimes intentionally so a particularly troubled child can be pawned off on unsuspecting souls.

Layer three: dying to yourself, the pollyanna part of you that believed, even remotely, that adoption was everything lifetime movies say it is. Dying to your naivety. Dying to your pretty home and your pretty life. Dying to being soft-hearted on the outside. dying to the truth that to survive, you have to wear an ugly, scaly alligator skin every day.

Layer four: the loss of the love from your child. This one has been particularly hard for me. verbally I can say without emotion that Sissy will likely never attach but it is damning and compounding when other moms tell me how their children are attaching. I am glad for them but on the inside I want to scream. I'm doing everything they are doing and still, Sissy figuratively flips me the finger (give it time. I'll eventually get the actual gesticulation.)

Layer five: the loss of the roll you intended to play as a mother. Therapeutic parenting is a horse of a very different color. In no way does it resemble the mother figure you imagined yourself to be. It requires skill, preplanning, chess strategies, dying to self, stuffing personal emotion for the best interest of the child. It looks very strange to the public world and in a nutshell can be summed up as "caregiving" as opposed to "mothering".

Layer six: the loss of friendships because they don't understand therapeutic parenting. and for some, the loss of family relationships for the same reason.

Layer seven: for some, the loss of a marital relationship because daily trauma stresses the entire family unit, often irrevocably.

Layer eight: loss of self. Another one that is fiendishly evil in my personal life. It is a struggle to remember who I am, and who I am allowed to be regardless of what is going on in Sissy's world.

Layer nine: loss of dreams. I'd love to adopt again. With Sissy like she is, we'd never pass a home study. I'm also terrified that another child will come with equally damning history.

Layer ten: loss of the right to blame. what good would it do me or my daughter if I take out my anger and grief on her because EVERYTHING, every loss so far, is because of her issues? Similarly, what good does it do me to blame the first parents? no one wins when you blame. It feels good to raise a fist and holler expletives but only for the twenty seconds of time it takes to do that.

Layer eleven: the loss of financial stability. I can't imagine working while parenting medically disabled children. I have no savings, no retirement, i live in a tiny home that is as old as I am and is falling apart. The Dad drives a truck without AC and our summers are ungodly hot. It scares me that we have no financial cushion. Some people start out their adoption circumstances financially stable but it's a double entendre: if you are wealthy enough to support your family, you are wealthy enough to pay out of pocket for the hours and hours of therapy your child needs (and in some cases, residential treatment or foster placements). At some point, your ill child will bleed you dry financially.

Layer twelve: loss of community. I've been blasted by my community several times because I like to have a voice and advocate for impaired children. It's not fun to be called 'that mom of the retard kid" on syndicated radio. It's even less fun when the editorial columnist that blasted you in the paper on wednesday is sitting two rows ahead of you in church on Sunday.

Layer thirteen: loss of religion. This one still hurts too bad to talk about. I got into adoption because I thought it was what God wanted. I've got nothing but spit in my mouth to say about that now.

Layer fourteen: loss of hope. for some moms, their children just have to be removed by whatever capacity available. and when those children actually do well in their new environments, it jabs again because the question lingers what didn't I do right? What could I have done differently? and for the moms that hang on despite train wreck after train wreck the hopelessness crumbles into I'm doing everything everyone else has done and more. why isn't it working? why is it unendingly hard?

Layer fifteen: loss of photos.  I've talked to a few other women that have the same photoless years as I do.  I think it's a common phenomenon for cancer patients too.  The last thing I want to do is memorialize this time in our family's life in a photo.  So I don't take many.  And we certainly haven't done a family photo in years - we won't even discuss the trauma of trying to get Sissy to cooperate.  I also don't look through old photos.  I don't want to remember.  All of the pictures of Sissy bring back memories of that moment in which she was making it miserable.  Instead of it just being a picture, it's a historical document of rage, pain, anger, anguish, grief, despair, sorrow, loss.  I didn't even take pictures in Orlando.  Too hard.  It's just too hard.

Layer sixteen: loss of connection. There is a psychological ideation in alcoholics anonymous called terminal uniqueness. Newbies to a meeting often leave believing that they are nothing like the other alcoholics, that there is nothing the group can do for them because they are "different" than everyone else. This ideation can translate to other addictions and life traumas. 68 women gathered to hug, laugh, love, learn, cry, live, breathe and connect. I'll wager that 68 women went home by themselves and still had a part of them feeling alone. We were given rocks engraved with "you are not alone" and we're not. But none of our stories were exactly like the others. None of our therapy plans will exactly work for the others like it has for us. The danger of terminal uniqueness is that it is terminal. We must force ourselves to stay connected or we will wither and die and that means, we must accept that we are all in different places and in the same place simultaneously.

Adoption of traumatized children is isolating and debilitating, it requires that we grieve much and in little bits every day, it steals thousands more than it gives, it alters our perception of humanity, it forces us to think outside of the box and then accept that outside of the box is the safer place to dwell, it demands that we surrender self-will for the greater good, it expects perfection every day, it strangles, chokes, punches, bites, kicks, hits and screams:

it is layer upon unrelenting layer of loss.


Barb G said...

(((((hugs))))) I wish I could hug you in person. I wish I could give you hope. I am thankful you found compassion, understanding and acceptance in Orlando.

The Other Mother said...

Wow! So eloquent, so heartfelt, so painful, so true, so sad. Mamma and I are here for you--you are not alone.

The Waggoners said...

Wow indeed! Beautifully written. At times I felt like you were writing my thoughts and then a layer or two was a bit of an 'aha' moment, I had realized I too felt/dealt with it. I am beyond blessed that you were my 'house mom' and I am one of those who was excited to meet the rockstar of this blog. I admire your honesty, your willingness to put it out there for others to read and because you have been willing to be so open and honest you are saving lives of many other mommas-THANK YOU!!!!
Super excited to call you, Rockstar Mom, friend :-)

The Lundys said...

So many layers...

the cavclan said...

Thank you thank you thank you!! you worded this perfectly. its exactly my experience. I am so blessed to have met you last weekend! thank you for taking the courage to put this out there. praying for you! :)

Kelley said...

You say such heart wrenching things so beautifully. I love you. You are such a blessing to so many!

Mama Drama Times Two said...

So beautifully said by a beautiful mom. I so wish I could show you in photos what my eyes saw of you in Orlando: you - wide eyed, joyful, hugging, loving on all of us and being loved right back...your energy, hugs and bright smile are fond memories of my time in Orlando. You are NOT alone.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this post. Can I use for a guest post? Of course you would get credit and linked back here. So profound and EXACTLY what I meant. I have to say that since we did not get to hang out, I am very anxious to meet up soon as I felt such an immediate heart connection to you that evening. Thank you for treating me so tenderly. You meant so much to me!!!

And this statement made me weep:
Layer thirteen: loss of religion. This one still hurts too bad to talk about. I got into adoption because I thought it was what God wanted. I've got nothing but spit in my mouth to say about that now

I get it.

Love you -

kisekileia said...

I still have PTSD from a time when I did something I thought God wanted and it blew up in my face. So I get #13 a little bit.

Chantelle said...

Powerful and piercing. I linked to this post from my blog. Bless you for sharing your heart.

Recovering Noah said...

Girl, it's like you reached into my soul and pulled out every single emotion I've ever thought or felt. I can relate to every.single.thing on your list. Sometimes it's about RAD. Sometimes it's about Autism. Sometimes it's about the hidden needs of my middle child. But it's all about loss. I know it was a hard post to write, but thank you for writing it.

Love you!


Dana said...

I found this post & your blog through Storing Up Treasures.

This is a touching post. I'm not an adoptive parent but there are still truths to what you wrote that I took to heart in my life as a parent to a child with a genetic disorder.

Thank you.

Kristine said...

Wow! So well put and so true! I would like to link to this on my blog and on Facebook. I need my family to read this. I need them to hear from someone else how deeply this changes who we were.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Thank you for this.

Story of our Life said...

Need to bring myself down off the ledge of bawl-baby-land. Girlfriend you rock!! Thanks for being you!!

Looking for your email addy now....

Lisa said...

Yep, me too. (((HUGS)))

marythemom said...

Thank you for putting this so eloquently. Wish I could have met you in Florida. You are not alone. If you ever come to TX you have a hug waiting for you.

Mary in TX

Sunday Koffron Please Stand Up said...

“Adopting trauma will bring layers of loss.” You did not adopt ‘trauma’ you adopted a child… a human child, imperfect and without any guarantees. While I do try to listen to empathize with and respect those of you who have CHOSEN to foster and or adopt children who have been traumatized, I can’t help but (as a former foster child) empathize with the child. Once again a burden, once again a disappointment, once again weighed, measured and found lacking. While motherhood may truly be disappointing you, your children have had NO CHOICE in any of it.

Integrity Singer said...

@ sunday - you are right also. However, in OUR family story, we had NO idea just how much the entire family unit would suffer and endure, at the behest of my oldest child's early abuse, mental health issues and her staunch refusal to participate in her therapy. yes, in my opinion, we adopted trauma. my child is so consumed by it that she does not act human. i stand on what I've said.

Sunday Koffron Please Stand Up said...

I am not in any way questioning what you said or your absolute right to feel the way you feel. Save one thing...whether she acts it or not your child IS human. What I am saying is that parenthood comes with inherent risks, and parenthood through adoption comes with even more. I am sorry that more adoptive parents are not aware of the risks, or better prepared to deal with them. The same however can be said for many natural parents as well. I myself have a (bio)child who suffered neurological damage at birth/from a seizure . That wasn’t what I expected either. Many parents have children who complicate their lives unexpectedly. You have every right to grieve.

Where I get concerned is what I hear from some adoptive parents is an underlying resentment, and that makes me a little nervous about how much of that the child picks up on. I personally tend to avoid and defend and protect myself from people who resent me and think I ruined their lives…but maybe that is just me.

Integrity Singer said...

@ sunday - ah, i understand you better, thank you. The only resentment I allow myself to hang onto is that the system failed both my children's mother and my daughter. The only other resentment I allow to keep in my back pocket is that the adoption professionals never alerted us to the extent of what our family would endure. My daughter ... she is SO very ill. so, so very very ill. She has openly admitted that she has no intention of changing how she behaves with her family. She is so far off 'norm" that we now consider only assisted living or group home for her adulthood. And if that's what she needs, fine. i'm not resentful about that eventual outcome for her. i just can't continue with her rages - quite literally, it is destroying an entire household of people. She is not interested in healing. Without our continued intervention on her behalf, her mind will continue to unravel and she will be an ever greater threat to herself and to others. Today, in this moment, at her current state of defiance, rage and mental illness and her unwillingness to yield, she does not pursue any human ideal. she COULD if she chose to. and I WILL treat her well, regardless. I think then, I also resent what the abuse and mental illness has stolen from her.