An Adoption Postcard From My Side of the Edge

An Adoption Postcard From My Side of the Edge

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

An Adoption Postcard From My Side of the Edge

By Kim Strickland

Back when I first heard about the Tennessee mom who put her seven year-old adopted son on a plane back to Russia all by himself, my first thought was, I didn’t know that was a possibility.

Okay, okay.  Of course, you must know, I’m joking.  What that woman and the boy’s grandmother did to that child is unthinkable.  I am not defending it in any way.  However, what I do take issue with are all the people who were so eager to jump all over this family in judgment of them.

In news story after news story and blog after blog, I watched parents (and probably some non-parents, too) practically getting-off on their vitriolic condemnation of Torry Hansen and her mother, Nancy.

So, I ask them: Did it make you feel better?  Did it?  Are you currently swaggering around, a cross between Mother Teresa, Erma Bombeck and Carol Brady, feeling oh so much more like perfect parents because you didn’t ship your kid off to Russia?

Well, if I may stay up on my high horse here, I refused to spew such vitriol.  Most of these people chiming-in hadn’t adopted an older child, and while I haven’t walked in the Hansen family’s shoes, I’ve walked in a pair similar to theirs.  My daughter arrived from Russia just over two-and-a-half-years ago.

No one in their right mind sets out to adopt a ten-year old girl (which, actually, may go a long way toward explaining my identity as A City Mom).  Our daughter was part of the Bridge of Hope’s adoption program   (They’re looking for families for this winter RIGHT NOW!) to get older kids from Russia into homes quickly.

We started the process in February of 2007 and Tatyana came to stay with us that summer.  She was eight.  With the BOH program, historically, the kids would be home with you around the holidays that same year, give or take a month or two.

But, as is historical with the Strickland family, when we got on board, so did Murphy, and everything that could delay our eight-year-old daughter’s permanent arrival, did.  Three trips to Russia and countless frustrations later, Tatyana was finally home.

Adopting a ten year-old girl was by far the single-most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.  And I’ve done some pretty difficult things.  It was also the single-most terrifying thing I have ever done, because when you go in, you know, there is no going back.

Fortunately, my sweet daughter does not have severe psychological problems and she has not tried to set her bedroom on fire, yet, and we were warned this was a possibility, (And I don't think the incident with the pillow and the nite-light should count) but there were days -- many days -- when I woke up convinced I’d ruined my life.

This, however, is not an uncommon reaction to adoption.  We sought family counseling to help with our transition into a family of five and our therapist told me that everyone she’s ever counseled after an adoption, to a person, has said to her the phrase, “I feel like I’ve ruined my life.” It didn’t matter if they had adopted a newborn baby, a seven year-old, internationally or domestically. Everyone had this feeling. To a person.

Yeah. It’s that hard.

And my daughter is a good girl!  She brushes her teeth when I tell her to.  She goes to bed when I tell her to.  She does her homework and cleans her room and has a ton of friends and is getting good grades at school.  The ultimate adoption success story.

But lest you get all teary-eyed thinking how wonderful it all is, let me tell you about the days when it wasn’t so perfect.  About the days she told me how much she hates me and wants to go back to Russia.  About the time she spewed a string a Russian expletives at me that would make a sailor of any nationality blush.

The time she bit my son.  The time she—well, you get the idea.  And these are the times that can put you close to the edge.  I’m guessing they were what put Torry Hansen over it.

Fortunately for our family, the good days, slowly, began to outnumber the bad days. And now, coming up on three years later, we have mostly all good days.  There’s a point in the integrating and bonding process when an adopted child will rebel with gusto, testing you; You say you love me, but do you really? And then they will behave terribly (see above), to test the limits of that love.

My guess is this is where the Hansen family was at the point when they snapped.  For me, those were days when I didn’t particularly want to get out of bed in the morning.  It’s also when we started the adoption counseling.

I have to believe that if the Hansens knew they had other options, they would have tried them.  I don’t know what the laws are in Tennessee, but in Illinois, we had to take a certain number of hours of adoption courses.  We were urged to join support groups and knew we had a wealth of resources available to us should we need them.

It’s obvious Torry Hansen failed at parenting her adopted child, but who were the people, the authorities that failed her, and ultimately, her seven year-old son?  And why was the boy in the grandmother’s care?  Had she received any adoptive parent training?  She was apparently the person who orchestrated his return to Russia and I think there may be a whole lot more to this story than we will probably ever know.

In the meantime, everyone continued to flap around and squawk about how awful it was, and it was awful, and they can point fingers at the mother and judge her harshly—whatever it takes to make them feel superior.  As for me, I’m just grateful I’ve been able to hold it together, to get through the really hard days without mailing all of my children off to a foreign country with a post-it note stuck to their foreheads.

But in my house, I have a wonderful and supportive husband and two wonderful and supportive sons, and extended family (Well, most of the extended family has been wonderful. There were some, you know who you are, who tried to stop the process before it ever began. But that’s a subject for another blog, perhaps), who have all been a huge part of making my daughter’s transition here the success it has been.

We had excellent adoption training courses and terrific counselors that got us through the really hard times.  And of course, there’s my daughter herself. A sweet and loving girl, the bravest little kid I’ve ever met, who made the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, the happiest most rewarding thing I’ve ever done as well.

We’ve been lucky. And if you must, feel free to judge me on that.

By Kim Strickland

A City Mom

http://www.chicagonow.com/a-city-mom/

Comments

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  • Thank you, Kim, for highlighting the struggles when integrating an adopted child into the family. When I look back on the early days when our adopted son first came home, I remember many times when I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I wanted this.” One thing I did learn is that it is important to look inward at your own behavior and how that might be impacting the situation. For example, in my case, my mind was still too wrapped up in thoughts of the sweet little girl whom we had raised as a daughter for over a year before we had to say good bye – so much so that I failed to appreciate the loving heart and intelligent mind of the rambunctious, willful, more difficult(!) little boy standing right there in the flesh before me, my son.

    Lastly, regardless of how a child comes to be in your life, there is no doubt that it takes a village to raise that child – and you are right about the importance of a supportive network of extended family and child professionals, particularly for an adoptive child.

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    While I totally agree with everything you've written here, I gotta say that the testing boundaries and wanting to ship one's child off to Timbuctoo from time to time is not limited to adopted children only.
    Now for those of us who have not adopted older children, I am imagining that the "terrible twos" of testing boundaries and needing reassurance are a LOT more stressful when dealing with the needs of a person who has been hurt more and also has more reasoning skills.

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    I LOVE that you told this story. I think it's critically important to let adoptive families know just how hard it is; in fact, if more people spoke up about their struggles, perhaps Torry Hansen WOULD have been aware of the resources available to her. The preadoption process is, quite understandably, focused primarily on achieving a successful transition for the child; I never heard one person describe a difficult transition for the parents. Imagine our surprise when we found ourselves in a terrible depression soon after we brought our son home. I had heard of PAD, but of course i never thought it would happen to me. Thankfully, we, like you, had a terrific support system, and we are incredibly lucky to be blessed with the easiest kiddo in the universe.

    Again, a HUGE thank you for telling this story. I know you've just opened the eyes of SO many people.

  • I'm so glad your family and your adoptive daughter were able to work through the difficulties :) I do think it is a way of testing just how unconditional our love is for them.

    My aunt and her family tried adopting a girl who was born in Russia once. Her initial placement failed, and she went into foster care until my aunt adopted her. She was wonderful and nice when I met her, and she also looked a lot like me when I was little. So I liked her a lot.

    Due to estrangement in the family, I lost track of her. When my aunt sent me their annual Christmas letter the next year, they went on and on about their two pre-existing kids, and didn't mention my adoptive cousin. I presume that it didn't work out. I feel so bad for her to have lived through two failed adoptions :(

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    This is a beautiful story Kim and what made it so beautiful is that it is refreshingly HONEST. You bared your soul to tell this story and that is what makes it so beautiful ! I have not adopted, but this really opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of adopting and because of this I am a little more prepared to be there for someone if ever needed, Thank You so much for that !!

  • Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments. And especially thanks to Carrie for this great forum for our adoption "village!"

  • I love your honesty. And I love the fact that you did everything in your power to make it work.

  • This is a great article. Once you get to Russia, there is no turning back and many of us want to run to America as fast as we can. My son was younger, but had all the behaviors and then some. I realize now that he was scared to death. This is what I always wanted...not.
    After,time and as many therapies as he needed he is doing well. If I was not well educated and knew how to get help, the thought of returning him and or myself would have crossed my mind and did. It is not easy. We are not saving anyone. We are trying to be a family and sometimes it is not easy.

  • In reply to BirohasSeoul:

    Dear BirohasSeoul,
    Oh, I've never like the phrase "saving them." Always made me uncomfortable. It's NOT what it's about. It's about wanting to grow your family. I'd love to sit down over a vodka sometime and tell our Russia stories!
    I wish you only the very best! Thank you for your comment!
    Kim

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    Thank you for having the cojones to tell this part of the story of motherhood. So often we're guilt-tripped if we complain, or feel like something is wrong or awful. It's part of life. I can't imagine how much more difficult a 10 year old is when they've just arrived in the nest. My own 10 year old has been here his whole life, and yet, some days I cannot recognize him. Kudos to you for being able to see the need for support and help, and for taking on a challenge most people would not. As you've said, the rewards are worth it, of course. But some days..... ;)

  • Thanks for telling it like it is. I got my daughter from foster care when she was seven, and while she's doing well now, there are still issues. When I look back over the past almost four years that she's been here... Oh, we've had some days. She's dismantled all the bathroom fixtures (because she's alone in the bathroom, where I can't see what she's doing). She's poked holes in the shower curtain. She's cut her clothes with scissors. There was the time she pried the black keys off the piano. Her second-grade teacher called one day to report that my daughter was doing cartwheels in the classroom instead of taking a math test. Shall I go on?

    Despite the problems we've been through, my daughter is highly intelligent, gets straight A's in school, excels at karate, and plays the piano beautifully. People look at her and don't see her problems. They don't see why I'm so frustrated and exhausted. They don't know that I have a video baby monitor in her room so that I know what she's doing, so that I know when she's gotten out of bed and is destroying something. Destroying and dismantling things are compulsive behaviors to her. But the rest of the world doesn't see that part of our lives.

    If my daughter bore more obvious, visible scars from the abuse and neglect, maybe the rest of the world would be more understanding of what I deal with. If she had scars, burns, a badly healed broken arm, something they could see... But she doesn't, and so nobody understands the damage she's suffered, because they don't see the evidence of it. Ultimately, I think they don't want to believe that she was damaged at all, because it's easier and more pleasant to think of her as this little angel who came through hell unscathed. Well, she's not unscathed. She's hurt. She's scarred. She's got problems that she will probably struggle with for her entire life. I bear the brunt of that every day, because I'm the one who's there for her and picking up the pieces.

    I chose this path, of course. I didn't have to adopt a child. Nobody made me. But I chose to, and therefore I chose to take on whatever problems she has. I didn't ever think it would be easy. But I also didn't know that so many days would be the equivalent of setting fire to my hair and stamping the flames out with a brick. And yet, we go on, and these days we're mostly okay. I still feel scarred from the early days, though. I lost something then. It depleted something in me, took something out of me. She needed SO MUCH, and I gave SO MUCH, that I don't know if I can be recharged again. In the meantime, I still have an 11-year-old to raise, and I'm doing the best I can with that.

  • In reply to abengel:

    Alice, you move me no end.

  • In reply to abengel:

    Dear abengel,
    I think you touch on something here in telling your story that I've thought about often. One "chooses" to adopt; one "gets" pregnant. Like having a child biologically is something that just happens to you, as though it really does involve a stork. I think this line of thinking, right or wrong, adds to the challenge of parenting these special needs kids, and EVERY child adopted after infancy is usually considered to have special needs.
    Your story moved me, too. Thank you for telling it. (And as a writer I'm totally jealous of your putting the flaming hair out with a brick line!)
    Sometimes, when I found myself feeling negative and focusing on how far we had to go with our daughter, it helped to stop that line of thinking and start to focus on how far we've come. And it's been far. And I'm sure you've come far in the four years you've had your daughter. You're only one person with only four years in her young life, so go easy on yourself. I hope you find a way, somehow, to recharge. IMHO, it's important for both of you.
    I wish you nothing but the very best. Thank you again for sharing your story!
    Blessings,
    Kim

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    Kim,
    Just want to clarify something. The statements regarding "you know who you are" are extremely misleading. The "guilty" party did NOT object to adoption per se. The party did object to the adoption agency's demand for detailed, intrusive judgements about the party's children, and detailed, intrusive directions as to how the party's children should live their lives. "T" has turned out to be an extremely bright & engaging young woman whom we enjoy tremendously.
    Ann

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