Hope Meadows

Of the roughly 40 houses currently rented in Hope Meadows in Rantou IL – 10 are occupied by families who’ve adopted children from foster care. The rest are occupied by older adults who volunteer to help them.

I stumbled upon mention of this reading something else. It was just a little “also” paragraph at the end but I was intrigued and had to go looking into it.

On a quiet street in Rantoul sits a small neighborhood of 15 nondescript duplex houses, part of a larger subdivision built decades ago to house the families of pilots and workers at the now-closed Chanute Air Force Base. Although it’s impossible to tell just by looking, something remarkable is happening here: adopted kids from troubled backgrounds are finding acceptance and support in the arms of neighbors old enough to be their grandparents. That’s by design at Hope Meadows, a community bringing together several generations of people from all walks of life for one purpose: building a safe and stable environment for adopted children.

Started in 1994 by Brenda Eheart, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hope Meadows is a neighborhood of adopted children, their families and senior citizen volunteers, all working together to form a community of support and interdependence. What was started as a permanent destination for adopted children has also become a place where adoptive parents find support as they deal with often troubled kids, and where seniors can find continued purpose as they age. Hope is the first iteration of a social services model known as ICI – intergenerational community as intervention – and it is on the verge of spreading nationwide.

Families seeking to adopt move to Hope Meadows and are paired with children in need of a permanent home. Each family lives for free in one of the 15 six-bedroom homes converted from pairs of duplex apartments, and one parent is employed by Hope Meadows as a “family manager,” earning a stipend and health insurance coverage for the family. Meanwhile, senior residents at Hope volunteer for six hours each week and receive reduced rent on an apartment in the neighborhood. There is on-site counseling available for adopted children, and the whole neighborhood regularly participates in group activities that build intergenerational relationships. The secret of the program’s success is that the relationships are allowed to form naturally, which helps provide meaningful interaction and a sort of informal therapy for all involved.

The children adopted at Hope often come from situations of sexual abuse, neglect or overwhelmed parents, Calhoun says, and they often have issues with trust and abandonment. At Hope, those children find a permanent place to unpack their bags, literally and figuratively. With the seniors and staff involved, the families have constant support. The seniors have raised their own kids and can give hindsight about what might work in whatever situation. The support makes a lot of difference in the closeness at Hope Meadows because everyone is looking at what’s good for the children.

Hope used to accept foster kids but now the program focuses solely on adoption. Hope Meadows found that the bonds that were broken when those foster children eventually left were too hard on everyone involved. It was like they were losing not only the attachment to the foster parents, but an attachment to the entire community. Childhood is all about forming attachments. That’s how we evolve, and if that’s disrupted when you’re young, it makes it harder to do it again and again. It’s harder to trust and believe that this is really going to be your new family, your new home.

The community’s senior volunteers benefit from the program as well, and not just in the form of reduced rent. Seniors at Hope generally feel a sense of continued purpose because of the impact they can have on young lives, and the relationships they build provide meaningful interaction. As seniors grow older, they can rely on community members to look after them. Seniors are an integral part of Hope’s success because they provide wisdom and support for other community members.

The program is intergenerational, interracial, inter-whatever. Many of the adopted children are African-American and most other residents are white. Everybody gets to know everybody else as an individual, and when you know someone as an individual, it’s harder to put them into a category. This is it’s intentional.  The majority of children in foster care are African American.

The Executive Director at Hope Meadows is Elaine Gehrmann. She is a former Unitarian minister and public defense attorney. Gehrmann says she wanted to be a part of Hope because it “deals with the whole person and their whole situation. Being a lawyer, clearly I helped some people, but I could only help them with their legal problems,” Gehrmann says. “A legal problem may be the least of your problems, and may be a manifestation of a larger problem. This place provides a lot of the things that communities used to provide that they don’t anymore.”

This blog was excerpted from a longer article. You can read the complete Illinois Times story here – This Is The Village It Takes.

Are Mothers Ever Strangers ?

How is it a woman whom grows HER baby in HER body for 40 weeks, shares DNA, blood supply, HER body nourishes and GROWS HER baby, she then births HER baby, breastfeeds HER baby the first 4 days of life and hands HER baby off to strangers and a year later she is a supposed STRANGER TO HER BABY??? Are mothers ever really strangers?????

There was a story where a woman had a baby. Like 6 months later she passed away. But she was an organ donor. She donated her heart. They put the baby on the recipient’s chest and the baby remembered her heart beat. I think a face may be strange but baby’s do remember their mom’s heart beat

My biological mom is a complete stranger to me – even after meeting her and seeing her a handful of times over the years. It’s also extremely weird and uncomfortable seeing her and her family in public.

I was raised by my biological mother. We have no bond or attachment, I wish her health and happiness but really just like I do for everybody else.

I did not breastfeed (though I wanted to), but my first visit with my son was two weeks after I left the hospital without him. He was always better with me…didn’t cry, or fuss, etc. When he was six months old, the adoptive parent got angry with me (it was actually the adoptive mother) and withheld visits for three months. Birth father got involved and they agreed to stop withholding visits (though they did this repeatedly throughout my child’s life), and I went to see him with the birth father. He didn’t want anything to do with me. I knew in my heart that there was something else going on, so I asked birth father to wait in the living room and I took him to his bedroom, where he came alive and couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. It was the presence of birth father he objected to. Me, he remembered. Still, each time they withheld visits, or moved to a different state, I had to re-establish my relationship with him. He never forgot who I was, though. And I always sent him cards and gifts on our special holidays, no matter where they lived. They did, at least, give those to him, as far as I know. I haven’t seen him since his high school graduation in 2016, but I just finished putting together his Easter box (formerly known as a basket)…later than usual because my mother in law passed away, but full of t-shirts and childhood favorites like action figures. They didn’t have Baby Yoda when he was little.

My biological mom is definitely a stranger, she doesn’t know me, she’s not part of my life or my children’s lives. I don’t have a mom.

My biological mother is and will always be a stranger, she never had any intention of knowing me despite having the chance to rectify that during reunion. Not every “mother” wants to be a mother to all of their children. I really hate the idea that all biological parents are supposedly wonderful caring human beings, some of them are simply trash.

In my experience, no. My mom was never a stranger. I felt recognition to the depth of my being when we met face to face. I am literally made of her.

My biological mother feels like a stranger to me. She does not feel that I am a stranger to her. It’s a very uncomfortable dynamic.

The above received this reply – I expect that is what my son is probably going through now. Does it make you uncomfortable when she sends you cards, gifts or money? I have not stopped this with my son, and maybe he is too kind to tell me to stop.

Which received this clarification – I may not be the best person to ask. Everything my birth mother does makes me uncomfortable but that has more to do with the way she has behaved during my adult life than anything. She sent me 30 roses on my 30th birthday and I literally felt nauseated. It didn’t have to be that way though. I did not feel that way when we first met. I think my advice would be to make sure that you’re dealing with your own trauma and not putting it on your son. My birth mothers emotional needs from our relationship were so great that there was no room for me to have any needs or boundaries. Her need for me to heal her felt smothering. I couldn’t do that for her and it wasn’t my responsibility to try. Otherwise, I think it probably would have been nice to get cards and gifts. My birth father has been respectful of boundaries from the start and genuinely cared about my well-being and I love getting gifts from him. I think the fact that you’re even asking the question is a sign that you’re looking out for his needs and being respectful! I don’t mean to minimize the trauma or suggest that you should just be able to get over it in any way. Just that it’s worth working thru with a therapist on your own so that your relationship with your son isn’t the only place you’re looking for healing.

I think there’s definitely something to the idea that some birth mothers may feel more connected to the adoptee than vice versa. When we met I had spent most of my 22 years not really thinking about her, while she had thought of me every day, carried me for 9 months, gone thru labor, etc. From the start, it felt like there was just so much more emotion on her side than mine. I was mildly curious about my DNA but happy with my life. She felt her life was ruined and needed me to fill this huge hole in her heart. It’s a challenging dynamic.

I just want my surrendered son to be…well. We were very close until he got to be around sixteen. I have been thinking of him every minute of every day for all of his life, and I know it cannot be the same for him, so I have been doing my best with guesswork about boundaries. I suppose it is good for him that he lives so far away from me.

Not a stranger but an associate really. I’m made of her but we don’t have that bond since we were separated a week after I was born. We’ve been in reunion for 10 years but I don’t feel like I know her. Still a mystery.

My husband was abandoned by his mom at a young age and she is definitely a stranger to him. He saw her a few times growing up. He also had a very unsuccessful reunion.

Meeting my biological mom was actually what ripped me out of the adoptee fog. I was expecting to have this “knowing” of her. I wasn’t prepared for how much of a stranger she felt like. I didn’t recognize myself in her at all. It shut me down in our reunion for several years, while I went through deep identity work and trauma healing. The second meeting we had was two years ago when I flew to her and was able to meet my extended family. I started to recognize myself in them. Then we were leaving the family farm, when I noticed our shadows side by side as we walked. We have an identical walk. It finally clicked in and my body and spirit remembered her .I really feel that I had to bury my unconscious memories of her in order to survive as a child. I had to give into the fantasy that is adoption. It was so buried inside of me, but it was there waiting for me to do the healing work needed to remember.

Stranger and “legal stranger” are much different…or should be.

My birth mother is definitely a stranger, and probably will stay that way cause she doesn’t really seem interested in building a relationship. I’m just a dirty little secret from her past that she hoped to leave in the past.

I am no longer a secret! Biological half-siblings and I are connected via Ancestry and my biological mother knows it. And still she refuses a relationship. To which another adoptee noted – Mine doesn’t want my half-sisters to know about me, yet but I’m hoping if I keep in touch, she’ll change her mind. I really want a relationship with them at least.

It is definitely a paradox – Our original mothers will always be our first profound human connection. Very familiar, yet as an adoptee she is a stranger. It’s hard to explain to someone not touched by adoption.

Foster Care Reality Check

Sadly, that Rose Garden we were NOT promised at birth is a nightmare for some children and their families. Today, in my all things adoption group that includes foster care former youth and related issues – this question was asked.

Foster Parents: What do you provide that biological families don’t? No specifics!

This was a balanced and complete perspective, I believe –

If the biological parents didn’t have to worry about finances, they would have been able to provide stable housing and access to food, which they were not able to provide. However beyond those two things, there is a lot the biological parents would not have been able to provide, even if given access to a stipend – emotional safety from emotional abuse – safety from physical and sexual abuse – access to mental health care, due to understanding and education, not due to lack of medical insurance or transportation – medical care for the same reason as above – appropriate attention to emotional needs, affection and secure attachment – a model for healthy adult behaviors (as in, an adult who does not actively impose sex onto children) – acceptance of LGBT status – home environment that caters to their emotional and mental health needs – access to extracurriculars that promote mental and physical health such as sports – space to develop individuality without fear of rejection. There are also things the biological parents can provide that a foster parent will never be able to provide: a genetic mirror – the comfort of being in a “normal” family – never having to explain one’s adoption status / history, awkward conversations one can be forced into – insecurities a foster child or adoptee may feel if the parent has or conceives biological kids at some later date – not feeling like one is a charity case or having to feel like they are required to be insanely grateful all the time – missing their biological parents is a really big issue, regardless of any history they caused the removal from those parents – grieving a loss that the foster parent will never be able to fill for that child.

And there was push-back on this and other similar responses – “I can tell you all are foster parents…so many child protective services buzz words…security, safety, stability etc…I know the original poster asked for no specifics ,so you don’t have to tell me, but you all should be questioning whether you provide anything actually concrete or are you blowing sunshine up the behind by inflating what you offer ?”

Foster care is troublesome as is the reason it exists. This is enough from me today.

It’s Simply NOT the Same

The same question has come up again that reminds me that each adoptee experiences adoption in their unique personal way. A woman writes –

Can a mother and child have the same kind of bond if the baby is adopted versus biological? I am an adoptee and adoptive parent. My daughter was a foster preemie. I brought her home at 3 pounds 14 ounces. Her mom abandoned her and the family already had 5 older siblings. I feel so bonded to both my adoptive mom and child but I don’t have the experience of bonding to a bio mom or child. My adoption was far from perfect but I do know my parents and grandparents loved me.

A response –

I’m an adoptive mother and I have a biological daughter. My adopted daughters were older when I adopted them, so I don’t have the foster infant side of that. But I can say that I believe biology matters. My bond with my biological daughter runs deep, it’s insane how close we are. Loving her, hugging her, holding her, it’s all natural. I made her, I bonded with her before she was even born. I love my adopted daughters so much. But it’s not natural. I don’t feel it’s as easy to be affectionate because the truth is that they aren’t “my” kids, even though the law says otherwise. They will also never have the same bond with me that they have with their mother. They bonded with her before they were born, her love for them was natural, and came easy. I bet she never hesitated to hug them, or kiss them. I think expecting or thinking the bond will be the same sets everyone up for disappointment. My love for my adopted daughters is fierce, and I would do anything for them, but it’s not natural.

There can be a security issue – As an adoptee in an open adoption I can say I personally am bonded to both Moms but I have a more secure attachment to my adoptive mom. My first mom still has a lot of trauma and can be a fair-weather mom, which is totally understandable but doesn’t make me feel secure – whereas I know without a doubt my adoptive mom will always be there for me, unconditionally. But I know that is not necessarily typical of adoptee experience. It is just my personal story. With my son, both grandma’s love him equally and between my two moms and my mother in law there is NO difference – they are all bonded to him. I think this is because my first mom is able to release her trauma with him in a way she can’t do with me. 

And step vs biological differences –

I honestly have a hard time believing a mother (or father) can have the same kind of bond. My husband and I have had this conversation many times – he is the step father to my 4 oldest kids, 100% their father in every way and he loves them like his own – their bio dad isn’t involved in their lives. Then we had a baby together. He is an amazing father to all 5 of our kids. But he finally admitted (after she was a year old) that there is just something different about how he feels with her vs my other 4 kids. I even told him he would feel that way and he brushed me off, because he truly loves my kids – but it’s different. There is an undeniable biological bond that you just cannot ignore.

One adoptee writes and shares a link – Understanding what I understand now I have a hard time calling anything an adoptive parent does love. And truth is any “bonding” that does happen with an adoptee is probably, for them, more akin to Stockholm syndrome. Here’s that link – A “successful adoption” begins with a traumatic bonding.

A comment at that link above fits today’s topic –

I am an American and a domestic adoptee. I never could love my adoptive parents. I was told that I was adopted before i could speak. My adoptive mother would repeat “you are adopted” and, “I am your mother” over and over to me as she changed my diapers.

She says I stared at her and made her uncomfortable. I was placed with them at 1 month old.

I could never love someone who thought it was right for me to be separated from my mother. I could not love someone who thought it was right to bring up child who was never allowed to know who she was. I didn’t think she was a good, honest person because she allowed these things to happen to me.

I could not believe that she loved me either. You can’t really love someone, and be so blind to their pain.

And especially, when an adoptee becomes the genetic, biological parent of a child – they understand. One writes –  My adoptive mom loved me immensely, but I never really bonded to her. I came to them at 9 weeks old. Once I had my own biological kids, I realized what a true parent/child bond was. I believe biology plays a huge role.

Different situations bring with them different experiences for people who all vary immensely. There is no one size fits all.

Just Babysitting ?

An adoptee wrote – for Christmas, I would just love for an adoptive parent to honestly say that they just feel like they are babysitting someone else’s child. I feel like that’s how I would feel if I were an adoptive parent and I wonder if they really think they are that child’s parents…

I thought this was a rather novel perspective and will share with you a few responses to this.

From an adoptive parent –

 I did feel that way and my husband did too. It took time for us to become a family. We became a family when our daughter was just shy of 5. It took time, attachment takes time. Earning trust takes time. My daughter has expressed she was scared when she met us. TOTALLY FAIR! I would have been worried if she wasn’t to be honest.

Adoption is so awful, and so hard, and I more than anything wish that her birth parents were known and could be involved. Heck! Would have been great for our daughter to be known and loved and cherished by her birth family. We don’t know why she needed adoption in her life. Likely poverty.

And it’s so so sad and disheartening to know that was likely their reality. One day hopefully sooner rather than later (with the help of a lot of technology) we will find them and she can know what it is like to have those relationships and call them “home” too.

Another adoptive parent said – while I love my adopted daughters, I know that I’m just caring for them, and loving them until they are able to leave and search out the rest of their birth family. I try to connect with various members of their birth families but no one responds to my efforts. I’ve told them that they may respond to them when they are adults and ask about them and if that’s something they want to pursue in years to come I will support them. They are still quite young to have that responsibility, but when they are ready, I’ll be there to help.

I believe they love me, and they are happy with me. But I know it’s not their first or even second choice. It was just the only one. I’m preparing myself already for all the many scenarios that may play out in the coming years. I am not and will never be their mother. They have a mother, and she’s passed all too recently. I am a motherly figure in their lives but I will never be their mom, and I will never try to take her place.

Yet another adoptive parent writes – Adoption was simply a last resort for these kids to give them some stability in life. It was not something that was planned, or desired on my part. These girls along with my biological daughter are my whole entire world. I live and breathe for them. I am a better person because of them. But I know they aren’t mine. They will forever and always be my girls, they will forever and always be our family. No matter what happens, my door will always be open for them. They can always come back.

I know my place in their lives. I know that while they were happy to be adopted to have a home they don’t have to leave, it’s not what they wanted. I know that they want their family, whatever family they can find. And I know that there’s a huge possibility that as soon as they turn 18 they will leave and search out their family. And I’m okay with that. I’m here to support them. I will drive them, pack their things, whatever they need. That’s my job. Loving them unconditionally means supporting them, even when it destroys me.

And now for balance perhaps, an adoptee’s voice –

My adoptive parents were my parents. They loved my brother and I. They worked hard for us, provided for us, loved us, taught us, nurtured us, instilled goodness in us and sacrificed for us.

They were not mere babysitters to us.

They were parents and family to us and responsible for us.

My birth mother has been a curse for me, a rotten haggard hypocrite to me, a liar and manipulator to me, a shameful and shamefilled harbinger of sorrow for me and I wouldn’t let her babysit my soiled laundry for me. I’m not in the fog. I’m not blinded by the adoption narrative. I’m not naive, grateful or meek. I hate the adoption system. I hate that my rights are superseded and ignored and that my personal information, identity and birth certificate are denied to me. I hate what adoption does and that the general belief is that it is inherently and unquestionably good, despite the evidence of Adoptees lived experiences, but I won’t allow the other extreme you put forward be my truth.

I’ve had enough people…stranger’s opinions be expressed on my behalf, silencing me and my truth, to let this post go unchallenged. Adoption has too many faults and many adopters have too many faults for anybody’s liking. Standards, policies and procedures are severely lacking. The system is not fit for purpose. No arguments here. But it is unfortunately, necessary in some cases.

My birth mother was 30 years old when she had me…her second mistake…that we know of. I hate her AND I hate the adoption system. Full blown despise them. My adoptive parents were not perfect, I don’t think they ever claimed to be, nor are biological parents. I’m a biological parent, I’m in no way perfect.

To which this blog author can honestly say – me too, sister.

Wanting to Connect, Fearing Connection

There is a Chinese proverb that states that the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its proper name. The term ”adoption” does not do this but rather disguises a series of complex, developmental traumas that begin with relinquishment and continues on, sometimes through challenging episodes of care, to the adaptions necessary to attach to the adoptive family. The legacy of this trauma for the relinquished child is a conflict between wanting to connect and fearing connection. This is often experienced as a hyper vigilance that has an enormous impact on relationships and functioning which can disrupt the ability to be present, with feelings that one is both “too much” and “not enough”.

It is hard to imagine a more devastating wound than a child being separated from its mother at the beginning of life. Trauma is an event that overwhelms ordinary human responses to life and as early separation is a relational trauma it manifests later in life as problems in significant relationships and, more often than not, in attempts at self-regulation through chemical and process addictions.

The impact of trauma on functioning is both physical and psychological: heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline raise anxiety levels leading to difficulties with concentration, while lower levels of serotonin lead to depression, making feelings of shame harder to manage. The trauma victim becomes reactive rather than reflective and experiences disabling feelings around issues of belonging and abandonment. A hunger for attachment means that the capacity for intimacy is compromised by intense and contradictory feelings of need and fear. In relationships there is a belief that they cannot be accepted for who they are and the sufferer is left literally in two minds; at best indecisive and at worst questioning their sanity.

Unlike the computer, the human brain starts working before building is finished. There are 100 billion neurons at birth waiting to make connections based on instructions from life experience. In the first years of life explicit memory systems have yet to be established and the adoption wound is stored, like other early attachment wounds, in implicit memory systems. The unconscious remembers the relinquishment as devastating and makes a mental note to avoid any similar experience at all costs. The conscious mind cannot recall the experience and so has no defense against the old lie that what cannot be recalled cannot have impact. Furthermore, because adoptees have no pre-trauma personality that they can refer to, they develop a false, core belief that their post-traumatic coping behavior, along with the associated shame and anxiety, is in fact their personality.

It is important to understand too that politics and the establishment play, and have played, an enormous part in the psychological wounds of relinquishment and adoption. Traditionally the world of adoption has referred to “the adoption triad” comprising the adopted child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents. However, this term is also misleading and disguises the fourth party in the adoption quartet: The establishment and the adoption business.

The establishment has legislated the assigning of a new identity and the erasing of the birth identity so that it is often not legally recognized. It is as if the adoptive family owns the adopted child. This is a particular issue for trans racial adoptees many of whom, as well as experiencing disconnect between racial self-identification and the racialization of the receiving country, would struggle to obtain a passport from their, or their birth parents, country of birth. Needless to say this has associations with the historic relationships between colonizer and the colonized.

The business of adoption and the industry that facilitates relinquishment and placement comprises state organizations and religious organizations as well as “kidnappers” and “baby finders”. The impact of some of these practices is being revealed.

It is clear that many adoptees have been struggling with a sophisticated, developmental trauma that has been hidden from them and those around them. In many cases it involves a series of traumatic experiences involving attachment changes that are experienced as life threatening. This trauma is hidden from consciousness both by the brain that remembers but cannot recall the events, but also by society that views adoptees as “chosen” and “fortunate”. If mental health is dependent on a commitment to reality, then it is vital that we call these traumas by their proper name. Furthermore, clinical experience shows us that change and recovery begin with acknowledgement and continue with the taking of personal responsibility for solutions. Victims don’t recover but those who dare to take uncomfortable, therapeutic actions certainly can.

Inspired by a blog written by Paul Sunderland titled “Relinquishment and Adoption: Understanding the Impact of an Early Psychological Wound”.

Healing Trauma

I’ve only just learned about this book and have not read it but didn’t want to wait for whenever, if ever, that might happen to pass it on to readers here.

Many adoptees and foster children have some degree of trauma. It is said that this is one of the best-known books about trauma, and in particular early life trauma (which especially applies to the topics I cover in this blog). 

It is not light weight reading, has almost 500 pages that includes a significant reference section. Someone who did read this (link at bottom of this essay) says – “It’s very in-depth, giving plenty of detail, but it’s not unnecessarily complicated. There’s some technical terminology used, particularly with respect to the functioning of the brain, but I thought this was explained well.”

Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who initially began working with trauma while treating war veterans. There was a lot that wasn’t known about trauma then. He’s been an active researcher throughout his career and often considered at the forefront of new trauma-related knowledge.

In this book, he repeatedly stresses the importance of recognizing the changes that occur in the brains and nervous systems of people who’ve been through trauma, and targeting treatment accordingly with the goal of getting back the functioning they have lost. He is quoted as saying, “Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Imaging studies have produced some new understandings about flashbacks. There’s activation of the right brain along with a drop in activity in the brain structure called the thalamus, which prevents the events from being remembered as a coherent narrative, as would be the case with other kinds of memories.

Brain scans have also shown an impaired self-awareness. Van der Kolk explains that this is why it’s important to work on breathing, mindfulness, and recognizing the link between physical sensations and emotions. He writes further: “The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.”

The book pays a lot of attention to early life trauma, including issues like attachment and attunement. The author explains that trauma increases the need for attachment, even when the only attachment figure available to the child is the abuser.

Van der Kolk championed adding complex PTSD as a separate diagnosis from PTSD. He was part of the working group that proposed C-PTSD for inclusion in the DSM-IV, and the group that proposed developmental trauma disorder for inclusion in the DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association did not approve any of these suggestions as new diagnoses.

I am indebted to Ashley of The Mental Health @ Home blog for her review which is the basis of my own blog today. You can read more about this book in her article.

Moving Around

I didn’t grow up in a military family but I went to school right next to Ft Bliss in El Paso TX and so throughout my public school years, there were military families in the mix. Sometimes, I’d become very close friends with someone, only to have them leave as their family was moved to another location. So, there was a sense of loss in that.

Today’s question was whether an active military upbringing is in the best interest of an adopted child given adoptee abandonment issues and a military move every 4 years or a parent deploying here and there.

One adoptee shared this surprising but understandable answer – The moving every three years was hard, but I also felt like I had the opportunity to reinvent my entire identity every time I went to a new school. I think the instability felt comfortable and normal to me. As an adult I can see how messed up that is, but as a kid it just felt like what life is. Don’t get deeply attached to anything or anyplace because it’s never permanent.

With racial issued focused for many people this year, I found this sharing interesting –

She is an adoptive parent who has moved location 3 times and moved house 5 times in three years (only the first move was intentional… I found a way to move us to the Caribbean – a decision driven by what we thought would be best for the kids for issues related to race – and it was awesome until the dual hurricanes Irma and Maria decided we should be in Miami instead and then Covid brought us full circle back to where we started in Virginia) – I can attest to the reality that the strain of frequent moving is an additional burden on an Adoptee’s trauma load that can be quite difficult. However, it’s also true that structure, and knowing what to expect, can be very supportive of kids who have trauma histories, and the expectation of knowing the moves come every 3 years and that the moves are part of a shared culture could have an ameliorative affect or at least teach tools for processing and managing trauma. I will say that the tools our kids have learned over the last 3 years with all the moves have been good “practice” for delving deeper into the more primal, bigger “T” trauma of adoption. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the moves are a “safer” kind of training wheel for handling and processing trauma – and then those tools can then be turned on to the bigger traumas that all adoptees are trying to manage. However, it’s risky to add to that trauma load with frequent moves if the adoptive parents are in denial about or ignorant of (or worse) the toxicity of adoption itself.

And there is also this perspective –

I am an adoptive parent and a military spouse. I just wanted to mention that the military has provided phenomenal therapies and medical care. Our now 7 year old was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy at 15 months and the military medical system was willing to send her anywhere she needed to go to get her to the correct specialists. They were willing to relocate my husband to another base, if needed to get her the medical care she required. Most employers would not. Now, it’s set up that he can’t be stationed anywhere that doesn’t have a medical team to meet her needs. She also has access to a neuropsychologist who minored in adoption and separation trauma.

The military started putting a lot of emphasis on children’s behavioral health back in the 90s with Operation Desert Shield/Storm and have done an amazing job of “normalizing” behavioral health for children and adolescents. Today, almost every school district around a military base has a Military Family Life Counselor on staff. I’m not saying this makes military life “ok”. I’m just putting an aspect of resources available out there that aren’t currently being considered in this thread.

Romanian Orphanages

An estimated 100,000 Romanian children were in orphanages at the end of 1989, when communism ended. The high number is linked to the pro-family policies pursued by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In 1966, the regime banned abortions and contraceptives to keep the population from shrinking after World War II.

I remember hearing about these children long ago. Today, I was reminded of them by a link to an article in The Atlantic. Maybe what I heard about was the public execution by firing squad of Romania’s last Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who’d ruled for 24 years. This past Christmas day was the 30th anniversary of that execution and the discovery of his network of “child gulags,” in which an estimated 170,000 abandoned infants, children, and teens were being raised. Believing that a larger population would beef up Romania’s economy, Ceaușescu had curtailed contraception and abortion, imposed tax penalties on people who were childless, and celebrated as “heroine mothers” women who gave birth to 10 or more. Parents who couldn’t possibly handle another baby might call their new arrival “Ceauşescu’s child,” as in “Let him raise it.”

To house a generation of unwanted or unaffordable children, Ceauşescu ordered the construction or conversion of hundreds of structures around the country. Signs displayed the slogan: the state can take better care of your child than you can.

At age 3, abandoned children were sorted. Future workers would get clothes, shoes, food, and some schooling in Case de copii—“children’s homes”—while “deficient” children wouldn’t get much of anything in their Cămin Spital Pentru Copii Deficienţi, a Home Hospital for Irrecoverable Children. The Soviet “science of defectology” viewed disabilities in infants as intrinsic and uncurable. Even children with treatable issues—perhaps they were cross-eyed or anemic, or had a cleft lip—were classified as “unsalvageable.”

In an era devoted to fighting malnutrition, injury, and infection, the idea that adequately fed and medically stable children could waste away because they missed their parents was hard to believe. Their research led to the then-bold notion, advanced especially by John Bowlby, that simply lacking an “attachment figure,” a parent or caregiver, could wreak a lifetime of havoc on mental and physical health.

In the decade after the fall of Ceaușescu, the new Romanian government welcomed Western child-development experts to simultaneously help and study the tens of thousands of children still warehoused in state care. Researchers hoped to answer some long-standing questions: Are there sensitive periods in neural development, after which the brain of a deprived child cannot make full use of the mental, emotional, and physical stimulation later offered? Can the effects of “maternal deprivation” or “caregiver absence” be documented with modern neuroimaging techniques? Finally, if an institutionalized child is transferred into a family setting, can he or she recoup undeveloped capacities? Implicitly, poignantly: Can a person unloved in childhood learn to love?

In the fall of 2000, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project was launched. The BEIP study would become the first-ever randomized controlled trial to measure the impact of early institutionalization on brain and behavioral development and to examine high-quality foster care as an alternative.

The researchers employed Mary Ainsworth’s classic “strange situation” procedure to assess the quality of the attachment relationships between the children and their caregivers or parents. In a typical setup, a baby between nine and 18 months old enters an unfamiliar playroom with her “attachment figure” and experiences some increasingly unsettling events, including the arrival of a stranger and the departure of her grown-up, as researchers code the baby’s behavior from behind a one-way mirror.

100 percent of the local community kids living with their parents were found to have fully developed attachment relationships with their mothers. That was true of only 3 percent of the institutionalized kids. Nearly two-thirds displayed contradictory, jerky behaviors, perhaps freezing in place or suddenly reversing direction after starting to approach the adult. 13 percent were deemed “unclassified,” meaning they displayed no attachment behaviors at all.

As early as 2003, it was evident to the BEIP scientists and their Romanian research partners that the foster-care children were making progress. Children taken out of orphanages before their second birthday were benefiting from being with families far more than those who stayed longer. The next year, the Romanian government banned the institutionalization of children under the age of 2. Since then, it has raised the minimum age to 7, and government-sponsored foster care has expanded dramatically.

Meanwhile, the study continued. When the children were reassessed in a “strange situation” playroom at age 3.5, the portion who displayed secure attachments climbed from the baseline of 3 percent to nearly 50 percent among the foster-care kids, but to only 18 percent among those who remained institutionalized—and, again, the children moved before their second birthday did best. The benefits for children who’d achieved secure attachments accrued as time went on. At age 4.5, they had significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety and fewer “callous unemotional traits” (limited empathy, lack of guilt, shallow affect) than their peers still in institutions.

Sadly, about 40 percent of teenagers in the study who’d ever been in orphanages, in fact, were eventually diagnosed with a major psychiatric condition. Their growth was stunted, and their motor skills and language development stalled.

My source for today’s blog has much more content. Can an Unloved Child Learn to Love ? by Melissa Fay Greene in The Atlantic.

Erasing History

I think if my mom was here, she’d say much the same.  When I found a cousin on my paternal grandmother’s side, she immediately noticed something that had escaped my attention – my grandmother’s name was not on his adoption papers – the Salvation Army owned him.  This is the enduring legacy of adoption and I am simply VERY fortunate I was able to track down who ALL 4 of my original grandparents were – not for lack of the powers that be trying to obscure it.

Today’s adoption story (is not my own but I can relate) –

“This is a strange life. Looking back over it now I feel that I was propelled into constructing a life that has been totally separated from who I am. This was deliberately done by the State and its agents once they had got their hands on me and my brother. They stole me from my mother’s arms and then proceeded to lie about who I was, about where I had come from about my ancestry. They deliberately falsified fundamental documents about my identity. The moment that I was born I was unborn. They removed my mother’s name and the name that she had given me from history and acted as if they had never existed when they did exist. They did so on the basis that this history was inconsequential and as such could be wiped like one wipes a blackboard clean.”

“I have had no choice but to struggle with the circumstances of my birth from the very beginning. I was thrust into a battle between life and death, truth and lies, reality and State manufactured fiction. I was born a pawn on the chessboard of the States so called battle for public morality. I was the symbol of the transgression, of the fact that sex outside marriage existed. But no one talks about this fact, no they still see adoption as that of being rescued from a mother and a family that chose not to care for you. It was no such thing. The State set in motion the theory of Closed Adoption through its adoption practices and through the whip of economic compulsion tens of thousands of mothers gave up their babies. There was no money to keep them and no public support or support from their families. All they received was righteous moralistic outrage as their pregnant daughters were sent away.”

I say I can relate because –

My paternal grandmother was unmarried and had an affair with a married man.  I would suspect she didn’t know he was married when she first started seeing him in the mid-1930s but I think she probably did know by the time she knew she was pregnant.  Self-sufficient woman that she was, I don’t think she ever told him that she was expecting his child.  None of his family knew he had any offspring until I turned up.  DNA proved to them I was actually related.  My grandmother did know who the father was.  She gave my dad his name as a middle name and put his photo next to one of her holding my dad at the Salvation Army home for women and children in El Paso Texas that employed her after she gave birth at one of their homes in San Diego California.  She applied for employment and they transferred her to El Paso Texas with my dad in tow and that is where he was adopted.

Continuing with this man’s emotional story –

“I feel tired today. I feel tired full stop. For my entire life I have been struggling to deal with the circumstances of my birth. From the very beginning my heart was wounded. When you are given away, rejected, abandoned, it is personal. It hurts. When you are forced to live in a society that acts as if the wound does not hurt, it is suicidal because there is no outlet for the pain. No acknowledgment, no sorrow, nothing but silence. Your life is built on this silence. Holding in the hurt, trying to act as if you belong when you have been permanently displaced, always blaming yourself for how you feel because the whole system has set you up for self-blame. From the very beginning no one listened to your cries for your mother. From the very beginning you were met with silence. From the very beginning your most vital needs were ignored and your heart was hurt. You were separated from your emotional needs and your heart was born under an avalanche.”

“From the very beginning it all felt like it was your fault, that you had done something wrong, as if you had had brought this situation upon yourself simply through existing. From your first breath you were struggling for your life without love. There was no beauty in your birth, instead they had turned your life into a fight for survival and no one took any responsibility. They just left you to it. And that set the pattern of your life, of the life that they had created for you, you were abandoned, rejected and left to it. No one checked on how you felt. No one asked if you were struggling. They just left you on this hard road all on your own having to work out how to survive on your own. A road populated with strangers. And you lonely and you knew what the world could do.”

“Even though nobody said anything your birth set the path that you would follow as you tried your best to come to terms with it by outrunning your hurt heart. You felt that, in the silence, that this pain, this sadness that you felt in the world always must have been a sign that something was wrong with you. And there was, but no one would tell you what it was. And so in the absence of an explanation you labelled this hurt, this feeling as meaning that there was something wrong with you and so you locked up your heart and who you were. It was clear that you had to become someone else, you had to not be the person that you had been born to be. And you were right. They did not want the person that you were born to be. They did not want your ancestry, your mother, your personality and who you were deep inside. No, they just wanted a blank slate, a void, a nothing who would be exactly what your adopted parents wanted you to be. They called this attachment. You attached by disassociating from yourself, from your thoughts, your feelings and your emotions. You were to become “as if born to” these adopted parents and their names would be writ large on your birth certificate.”

There is more, much much more.  I won’t go on but adoption hurts.  Loss of identity hurts.  No family history hurts.  It even hurts children like me who’s two parents were both adoptees.