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