what I want you to know: adopting a child is the hardest thing I’ve ever done

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. (If you are new to this blog, regularly schedule programming will resume after the holidays, but you can check out the “Best Of” section in the meantime). If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This guest post is by an anonymous reader.

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Adoption isn't always easy.  It is actually the hardest thing I have ever done.

I have a child with special needs.  Most people do not know she has special needs. But, she does.  To any outsider who does not live in our home she looks like a normal, well adjusted, four year old little girl. If that same outsider came into our home and spent a week watching and observing they would see that there are some big challenges to overcome for our daughter and our family.

Our daughter J was adopted two years ago.  It was one of the happiest times in our lives.  It is hard to put into words the excitement and anticipation one feels when they are about to meet their daughter who is two years old and who you have only seen a picture of.  We knew that her first two years were hard ones.  Neglect and abuse should never be a part of a child's story. Unfortunately, they were part of hers.  The day I met her is still one of the happiest days of my life and one I will never forget.  We made some special memories that first week during our transition to bring her home.  There were also a few times during that first week that I cried myself to sleep because I was catching glimpses of just how hard of a road we had ahead of us.  Our first night alone in the hotel with J was spent holding her as she cried, wailed, sobbed, for hours.  I held her and prayed over her. I sang to her. I told her I loved her.  She cried herself to sleep after a long night of sadness, fear, and anger. She was grieving. 

Children that are adopted all have one thing in common. They grieve what they have lost.  And they have lost so much.  Because we adopted our sons as babies we may not see that grief come to the surface until they are older and have a better idea of their story.  We are not naive to the fact that day may come.  For J however, she was old enough to know what was happening.  Old enough to know that her life was changing. Everything she knew was being taken from her and she was leaving that life behind, headed toward her new life, in a car full of strangers.

The last two years have been a struggle to say the least.  Our first week home, I cried every day.  Everything was a battle and a fight. J would take food from the pantry and hide it under her bed. (this is a common behavior for kids who know what it means to be hungry, to starve), J asked me for food all day and her hunger was never satisfied.  She begged from strangers in the store for food and told them she was hungry, she hugged and kissed strangers anywhere we went and told them she loved them, she wouldn't let me put her in a car seat without screaming because she was so afraid of the car, (the car ride from her foster mom's house was traumatic for her. she didn't want to get in a car again), She didn't want hugs or kisses from us but would give them if she wanted food. We discovered quickly that J knew how to use affection to get what she wanted. As soon as she had what she wanted she shut off emotionally. Most days she had a blank look in her eyes. I can't tell you how hard it is to see a child, your child, in so much pain and not know how to help them.

The funny thing about adoption..especially when you adopt an older child/toddler is that not many people are all that anxious to give you support during the transition.  I have watched many times over the years as friends gave birth and the flood of people that surrounded these moms with home cooked meals, home visits, offers to watch the baby so the new mom could get some sleep.  We were offered no help. No support in those first few months.  I know I am loved and supported but I don't think anyone really understood the magnitude of what was going on in our home. I'm not saying this so that someone will pity me or to make anyone feel guilty..I tell you this to help you understand how emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained I was. I felt isolated. I felt alone. I knew J was grieving and she needed time to settle into her new family but I also knew I didn't feel equipped to give this child what she needed. Especially with the demands of two more small children who were completely dependent on me.  My cries for help were met with statements like, "Oh she will come around", "Oh she is just stubborn", "Oh you are just tired from a long week away and all these new changes."  I was literally drowning and I didn't know how to communicate what I needed. It was more than just sleep, and help changing a diaper or cooking a meal. I needed God to intervene. I needed God to show me what to do.  I needed God to heal my little girls broken heart. I needed God more than I have ever needed him in my life.

Despite feeling very overwhelmed and depressed, we found our groove as a family after a few very hard months.  We had many good days.  We had many bad days, too.  J had so many behaviors that were challenging. Too many to go into here. Some that are to personal to ever put on a blog or even speak out loud. She had to be watched every minute of every day for her own protection and for the protection of my other kids.  I was having a hard time attaching to my daughter because there were so many behaviors we were dealing with, I couldn't get to the heart of who she was. I had no love tank to pull from . . . we had no foundation of those sweet moments you share with a baby while you rock them and feed them.  The moments that fill your love tank.  We went straight into some very challenging and scary behaviors all while trying to bond to our little girl.  And, she wasn't bonding or attaching to us, either.

It took us about a year to discover that most of these behaviors had a name. Reactive Attachment Disorder. 

"Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): An inability to form normal relationships with others, especially the child's caretaker. RAD begins before age 5 and requires marked pathogenic neglect in the first three years of life. Children with RAD exhibit three specific problem areas: 1) They are unable to form attachments; they form relationships only on the basis of need with little or no regard for one caregiver over another. 2) They exhibit developmental retardation in that they have difficulty with conceptual thinking (lack of cause-and-effect thinking). 3) They show poor impulse control and are especially aggressive. The most disturbing feature is their total lack of remorse. These children do not allow themselves to be parented; they need to be in control."

J is on the lower end of the spectrum of RAD. I am thankful for that. But it has been hard and it still is hard.  We have made some great strides in the last two years. Some of the scarier behaviors are now non existent.  The attachment and bonding is still a process for me and J. We are bonded and we love each other but it's still a "two steps forward, two steps back" process.

Believe me, I am no saint.  I am still learning.  RAD has taught me many things about myself and has brought to the surface the ugliest parts of my character.  God is still working in me. God is still working in J.  I love her and I believe that God has amazing things in store for her life.  We still have a long road ahead of us as we work through the neglect and abuse baggage that causes J to act out, to protect herself, to push away.  The one thing I know is that J is a fighter and she is a survivor.  That girl has some serious survival skills.  Sad, yes.  But God is going to use that fighter in her to do mighty things.  We are trying to show her that she is worthy of love, that she doesn't have to be in control to feel safe, that she will never be hungry again, and that we will not hurt her the way others have.  My darkest days do not compare to hers...but it has been a hard journey, nonetheless.   So thankful that God's strength is made perfect in my weakness. I have had many weak moments as I learn how to help J heal...but God is faithful to his promises..and I know that He will finish the work He has begun..In both of us.

If you are an adoptive parent struggling with how to love and attach to your child, don't lose hope and know that you are not alone. If you are considering adoption, please know that your journey to bring a child into your family may require some hard work and may stretch you beyond what you think you can bear, but the miracle of seeing a child heal and become whole (regardless of how long it takes), will bring you more joy than you ever thought possible.




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