Trauma and Behavioral Responses

Psychophysiological reactions to traumatic stress have been known to occur since ancient times. Traumatized people may 1) re-experience the event through obsessive recollections, flashbacks, or nightmares; 2) exhibit avoidant reactions; and/or 3) be easily hyper-aroused and vigilant.

Children whose families and homes do not provide consistent safety, comfort, and protection may develop ways of coping that allow them to survive and function day to day. For instance, they may be overly sensitive to the moods of others, always watching to figure out what the adults around them are feeling and how they will behave. They may withhold their own emotions from others, never letting them see when they are afraid, sad, or angry. These kinds of learned adaptations make sense when physical and/or emotional threats are ever-present. As a child grows up and encounters situations and relationships that are safe, these adaptations are no longer helpful, and may in fact be counterproductive and interfere with the capacity to live, love, and be loved.

The importance of a child’s close relationship with a caregiver cannot be overestimated. Through relationships with important attachment figures, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world; they develop a sense of the world as safe or unsafe, and come to understand their own value as individuals. When those relationships are unstable or unpredictable, children learn that they cannot rely on others to help them. Children who do not have healthy attachments may have trouble controlling and expressing emotions, and may react violently or inappropriately to situations.

Children who have experienced complex trauma often internalize and/or externalize stress reactions. Their emotional responses may be unpredictable or explosive and they may react to a reminder of a traumatic event with anger. This person may have difficulty calming down when upset. Since the traumas are often of an interpersonal nature, even mildly stressful interactions with others may serve as trauma reminders and trigger intense emotional reactions. Defensive postures are protective when an individual is under attack but become problematic in situations that do not warrant such intense reactions. Adaptive responses exhibited when faced with a perceived threat may be out of proportion compared to most people’s reaction to a normal stress. These reactions are often perceived by others as overreacting or as unresponsive or detached. Often both kinds of responses can be seen in an individual who has been traumatized as a child.

After becoming highly involved in adoption communities, I have learned a lot more about the effects of adoption trauma that both of my parents may have experienced. Trauma is a constant theme in adoption related communities. The first trauma is separation from the mother who’s womb the baby grew in. When an infant is still preverbal, the body remembers what the brain did not have language to interpret. For adoptees placed with abusive adoptive parents the trauma multiplies. This happens more often than most people might believe, due to the parents’ own unresolved feelings related to infertility and their knowledge that this child is not the one who would have been in their life with their own genetics – but for.

Within the community, it is frequently suggested how necessary it is to find a trauma-informed therapist because a therapist without this specialized perspective could do more harm than good.

Many people continue to reflect on the slap known around the world. Having an understanding of the behavioral effects of trauma, really put “the slap known around the world” event into perspective for me.

In his autobiographical book, “Will,” Smith recounts that as a child he witnessed domestic violence in his home. “When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am.”

“Within everything that I have done since then — the awards and accolades, the spotlights and attention, the characters and the laughs — there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day. For failing her in the moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward.”

Seeing the look on his wife Jada’s face, after she was targeted for having a shaved head due to suffering the disease of Alopecia by the comedian Chris Rock, it is quite likely Smith re-experienced that memory in the context of current events. In effect, however wrong, he could make up for his childhood inability to protect the woman he loved. His reaction that night had more to do with that 9 year old traumatized little boy, than the man he had become since then. That man unfortunately is now subject to public reinterpretation. I admit to being a fan of Will Smith movies in general and have loved his easy going personality in most of these.

All this to highlight the extreme importance of understanding the impact of an experienced trauma and the need to seek help in the form of trauma-informed therapy. Domestic violence is a devastating problem that affects individuals all over the world. I recently saw a video of Smith listening to his wife honestly describe her extra-marital affairs. His ability to listen and to take that knowledge in impassively, may have also been a trauma induced behavior from his childhood. The fear of losing the love of a manipulative person and at the same time needing the love of that person perhaps triggered the response the world witnessed.

An Adoptee’s First Biological Child

I have read about this from the point of view of several different adoptees in the past. I have wondered what my own adoptee mom (or even my adoptee dad) felt as they created a biological, genetically related family of their own. They are both deceased, so I can no longer ask questions like that of them.

Today, I read – I’m curious about adoptees first experience being pregnant. Thought I was infertile all these years and I’m finally pregnant. I thought I would be flooded with more happy emotions. I often feel paralyzed and scared shitless. I’ve done the leg work to not put my trauma on a child, plenty of therapy when I was younger and actively trying to start a family. Not using a child to fill my holes as my adoptive mother did. Now I just feel disgusted and worried sometimes, feels somehow adoption related. My first parents non stop on my mind lately too. Any first child experiences good or bad would be very helpful! Thank you! She later added – I am very worried about not looking at my first mom the same. We aren’t the closest but our relationship is what I need it to be, I’m nervous I’m going to resent her after going through this; even though I know she didn’t want me. It’s almost like I’ve been in this weird limbo of not fitting in to either family and the thought of starting my own makes me want to run for the hills.

I am in reunion and have a good relationship with my First Mom but never cared much about my biological dad’s side, until I was pregnant and really until I had my son. It does make me sad that my son won’t know his aunts and cousins on that side but I haven’t had the bandwidth to try to make contact yet. Dealing with my maternal side has been enough drama and stress for one lifetime.

These feelings are totally normal, even for those without trauma. There are layers for many who feel this way, but even those I know who had ‘normal’ childhoods often feel this way too. You’ll also feel like failure frequently, out of your depths, like a bad mom, etc. those are all normal too. I have layers to mine due to trauma, so as time and healing have allowed, I have worked though different layers as they’ve come up (and up again and again). It was VERY important to me to avoid adding birth trauma, so I found a midwife and worked hard at allowing the natural biology and oxytocin stuff, breast fed etc. those all help with attachment and bonding (which I still greatly struggled with due to a severe attachment trauma).

I have 4 currently, and recently had a still birth, so I am now dealing with new levels of trauma added to those previous layers. Dealing with secondary infertility and a loss after 4 healthy pregnancies really rocked my internal dialogue (since fear of losing them through accidents/etc, just general anxiety like falling down stairs while pregnant (which I didn’t) etc). My mom hit a brick house (blogger’s note – I do not know if this is literal or figurative) while pregnant with me, so I’m sure there’s a layer there too.

I don’t know if my trauma has made it better or worse to be honest…the death of my son broke cracks into the structure that trauma built to protect myself from bonding and attachment. Though feeling (some) grief, I’m having glimmers of hope and joy, which is really mind fu**** me to be honest but I’m trying to roll with it. I deal with it small bits, here and there, denial in a box is its default space but when it does come out, I try not to stuff it automatically back in there. I try to give it space and observe it and know it won’t kill me, even if it feels like it will or should or could…sorry if I’m not making sense.

Give yourself space to feel the things you do and do not judge yourself harshly. Know you are not alone, the feelings WILL pass (even if it takes time, for me – it has been on and off for almost a decade) and no one is a better mom to your baby than YOU.

I experienced something similar with my pregnancies. I think fear is very common in any pregnancy, everything’s so new and life-changing. I think it’s an especially complex time for adoptees and a resurgence of feelings is common. Talking about how I felt helped me. I hope you know we’re with you and cheering you on.

I was fine while pregnant and when giving birth but got horrific PPD/PPA (Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety) despite being surrounded by love and support. I think giving birth brought up a lot of unresolved feelings and trauma and contributed to my PPD. I got through it with therapy and medication. It didn’t last forever thankfully and I had a lot of support.

I experienced PPD and difficulty bonding with 2 of my 6 babies. With the other 4, I felt that immediate attachment when I saw them. It took a few months with those 2, for me to feel like they were truly mine and that I was a good enough mother for them. In the long run, there has been no difference in the level of attachment or love I feel for them. (I’ve been parenting for 17 years.) Becoming pregnant with my firstborn was what awakened me from the “I should just be grateful” fog. I honestly believed I had no trauma from being separated from my mother, up until then. When I became flooded with instinctual feelings for my baby, I wondered if my original mother ever felt those things for me.

Not every mother gets that first glimpse of their child and immediately feels attached and wildly in love. It’s *not at all* uncommon for it to take time to build that attachment and have trouble bonding with your child at first. Then of course there are things like PPD and PPA that make bonding harder. But none of these things make a person a bad mother. Often people with a history of trauma – *especially* if that trauma has to do with abandonment or attachment issues – will have trouble bonding with their child. And it’s completely normal.

I wonder about this with my own mom, some of the things I have learned recently related to her second (actually third, because she had a miscarriage first) pregnancy as well as how I describe my own parents as being weirdly detached. Good parents but that cut thread of connection to their original families, I believe, had an impact on their perspectives related to parenting. They were good parents, not at all abusive, but quick to want us to be independent of them.

Another adoptee writes – I felt awful, disgusted, fearful when I was pregnant. I was terrified I would project what happened with my birth and adopted parents on my little girl. She’s 8 now and I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. I make mistakes with her but I am quick to apologize and let her know when I am wrong. I explain that I shouldn’t have projected my negative emotions on her. I also let her know it’s okay to not be okay. I had severe PPD and for a couple days when she was a couple weeks old when I wanted nothing to do with her. I told my ex husband mom that I needed her to take her for a day or so because i didn’t know what to do. Luckily that passed very quickly. I love my daughter more than anything in this world and would give my last breath to her. Also if you do have awful feelings, talk to your doctor. Medication did wonders for me with my depression. It honestly helped so much.

There’s a couple layers going on. I also got pregnant after miscarriage and sort of infertility. I don’t think I really processed or felt safe in my first successful pregnancy until after 30+ weeks. When I held my son, it was really the first time I saw and loved someone I was biologically related to. It was powerful, odd, terrifying. So many different emotions. I didn’t think as much about my first mother’s pregnancy with me. But we were in reunion and in a tough place then, so it was complicated. Give yourself time, space, gentleness. Pregnancy is a wild hormonal ride, even without added layers to it. And those added layers aren’t easy. 

And then there was this very different but honest perspective – I considered adoption, but I was stealthed/forced and thus very scared to have a baby so young even while married. I remember ridding that idea before the half mark because I felt him kick. And then at birth my very first thought looking at him was I could never give him up. Even totally unprepared I couldn’t have done it. I was actually really ashamed of that and told no one how I thinking or feeling, because I had solely considered my bio strong for doing so (drug addiction) and here I was poor and sick and barely legal to drink while a college student in a shit marriage… and I could Not fathom even leaving his side. I love him but sometimes I still don’t know if that was correct because he’s suffered a lot… my son was deeply abused by my now ex-husband and I have a lot of trauma from it I’m still working through… my own biological parent, I don’t think could have given me half the life I got from adoption, and even though my adoptive parents were super abusive. There’s so many mixed feelings and traumatic thoughts and memories that get brought up when an adoptee is pregnant. I hope you at least know all of your feelings and fears and joys are all valid all at once.

This perspective from another adoptee was interesting to read because I do know my mom saw a psychiatrist at one time but I don’t know her reasons for it – “It’s hard, I feel like I focused too much on doing the ‘right things’ and not traumatizing my kids, which often made me a hands off parent. I had to get my butt in therapy and put in the work to be a better me. Now I’m not a hands off parent and learned boundary setting with my kids.” I do know that I was surprised at the degree that my two sisters were dependent on our parents at the time of their deaths at 78 and 80. Maybe my mom overcame some of what I experienced in the decades before that.

Definitely worried I was going to fuck my kid up like I was fucked up. To the point of almost terminating. My second pregnancy was a lot smoother but I still experienced horrendous PPA with both. I had happy moments and sad moments in pregnancy. Despite my PPA though, I was lucky enough to avoid PPD and feel a determination I have never felt before in life when they placed my son on my chest. I looked at him every damn day and promised I would give him a better life. My husband and I weren’t in the best position at all. In poverty, high crime area, barely surviving. But I promised my kiddo I would get him out of there every single day. My husband is aged out former foster care youth, so he was just as determined as well. 3.5 years and another (planned this time) pregnancy and we made it. Our kids will never have to experience a life even close to what we lived. Having kids made me afraid and feel powerless and worry I was gonna be a horrible mom, but more than anything it made me, and my husband, WAY better people and helped us get out of the cycles so that we were not perpetuating them.

Pregnancy and childbirth weren’t really issues for me. My biggest issue is just feeling completely clueless and like I’m doing everything wrong. I was raised by my adoptive dad from age 8 onward, and don’t really remember much from being younger, so I feel like I have no experiences good or bad to reference. Like the concept of a mother is totally foreign to me, so I’m flying blind and making it up as I go.

What helped me the first time around was preparing to be surprised. Knowing that this baby, although my flesh and blood, would be their own little person. Their own soul. I was there to love and nurture whoever they were. And I really was continuously surprised, usually in a pleasant way. I never went for schedules and “Child must be doing X by a certain age” BS. Instead my kids developed as naturally as possible. All of this was in defiance of my “normal” adopted upbringing. What was crazy was that my eldest looked nothing like me or my husband. Thank God I had already reunited with my birth mom, so I could show people that’s who my daughter looked like, because otherwise it would have been hard to explain.

I had bad Postpartum anxiety. To be fair my Mother in law did NOT help. I was afraid someone would steal my babies and I wouldn’t get them back. She would literally snatch them and walk away so we ended up having a long break from her and eventually things worked out once she calmed down enough to understand me and that my husband wasn’t going to side with her. But with all my babies I couldn’t be away from them. I had hard time taking showers and no one could hold them expect for my husband if I didn’t have eyes on them. If I had them with me, I was fine. It was bad with #1, better with #2, #3 was a whole other mine field because that one was a girl. I kept fearing I’d wake up and want to walk away. My husband was a major support. Only my 5th wasn’t as bad, but my husband had paternity leave and was home with me the first 4 weeks. I know it wasn’t rational. But I’d have panic attacks that they were gone. I do not have an anxiety or panic disorder. I’m usually extremely even keel. It caught me majorly off guard. Parenting wasn’t and isn’t an issue though. Gentle and communitive parenting came very naturally to me.

I had good support and my first pregnancy was wanted and planned. I do know that once my baby was born, I saw my biological mom and adoptive mother through a different lens. I did start feeling really sad about my adoption for the first time. I started think how I didn’t bond with my adoptive mother until I was after a year old. How that is not normal. I made me feel a new kind of pain. Sometimes this sounds silly but I feel like I love my kids more than non-adoptees because of my experience. I felt like I didn’t really understand my biological mother at all, even though she was very young mother. I started to excuse her uncomfortable behavior because I don’t feel like anyone is ok after something so traumatic. I didn’t feel resentful, just sadness. Pain. Loss. I don’t understand how some people don’t want their babies but it’s not always for me to understand that either. When she says “I love you” it makes me uncomfortable because I feel like “how?”. Lots of feelings.

Disturbing

Isabella Kalua

What causes such a sweet face to create such a pained looking smile ? It is Isabella’s smile in the most recent pictures that disturbs me on some psychic level. The adoptive parents (Lehua or Isaac Kalua) are now strongly suspected of having murdered the 6 year old a full month before they reported her missing in Hawaii. They have now been arrested and are awaiting a hearing to provide them with legal counsel. There is an article about the current state of the case at this link from Maui.

I found a dissertation by Katherine E Sunder titled Mothers Who Kill Children They Have Adopted. Her dissertation topic is described this way – A mother killing her child is a disturbing and puzzling crime. A review of the cases in the United States from 1993 through 2013 that involved mothers who killed children they had adopted was conducted. The similarities and differences between mothers who kill their adopted children and mothers who kill their biological children are described. The common factors and general patterns that exist among these mothers are examined to propose a theory for why a mother decides to kill her adopted child.

While an average of four children die every day from child abuse and neglect in the United States, adoption is often put forth as a way to try and prevent such tragedies from occurring. Generally, parents who adopt domestically and also internationally are described as extremely devoted and committed to family. They are described as people who will literally “lay everything on the line” to parent a child. Considering the rigorous and demanding process these parents go through in order to adopt a child, it raises the question of why would a mother kill the child or children she adopted ?

However, the killing of a child is not an arbitrary or unpredictable crime. Instead, it can be viewed and experienced as imbedded in and a reflection of the societies in which it occurs. Abuse by adoptive parents is often mentioned by adoptees in privacy constrained groups. In an abuse-related killing of a child, the mother has intentionally committed a purposeful physical assault that unintentionally led to the child’s death. The purpose was not to kill the child but to provide harsh discipline. 80% of these cases involve the child welfare services in their background. Some cases involve the mother’s attempt to stop the child from crying. Some cases involve an abusive relationship with a violent male partner.

Isabella’s body has not yet been found and it is not known what may have caused her death. Homicide investigators say, “What was initially reported was that she had left her home in the middle of the night, and when they [her adoptive parents] woke up they didn’t see her.” Police say support from the city deputy prosecuting attorneys and individuals from the domestic violence division was critical getting police where they are today in their now eight-week investigation. Also the FBI is credited with offering evidentiary analysis that was extremely valuable including behavioral analysis unit into the mindset of the suspects in this case.

Parentification

This was a new term for me and came out of one of the stories I read recently conveyed by a foster parent. Here’s the story –

I am currently fostering a 14 year old. They were removed because of trauma from a family member who is not their mom but who still lives with their mom. Mom refuses to ask this person to leave or to move into a different apartment, but is otherwise doing what is asked of her to work towards reunification. Today this kid told me they really want to be reunified, which makes perfect sense. I’m worried because this seems unlikely unless mom starts believing them and takes steps to cut their perpetrator out of her life. How do I support them? If you were in their shoes, what would you want from a foster caregiver? I’m also worried because many of the reasons this kid states for wanting to reunify are to care for their mom. It’s not my place to make the judgment calls, but it seems from the outside like a case of parentification. Add to this that I’ve heard this child talk about how much they wish they had been given the opportunity that their peers had to “just be a kid”.

So what is parentification ? Parentification is when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, a toxic family dynamic that is rarely talked about and is even accepted as the norm in some cultures. However, research has found that it can have far-reaching negative psychological impacts. It is a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.

One response was this from experience – my parents put me in foster care briefly when I was suicidal from the pressure of being a “good kid” and experiencing their abuse. I wanted to go back to them to protect my brother. I feel for the teen. I would have this child in therapy now to begin processing those emotions of responsibility. I’m 24 and still struggle with guilt that my brother may have suffered when I was gone or what would have happened if I’d stayed gone. My mom would’ve likely lost her mind. She did – when I went to college. My best advice is therapy for the child while in your care, and perhaps talk to a therapist about how you could best talk to their mom about her removing that person in the home. My mom chose my dad over me often, so I feel for the teen.

Another one shared – Unfortunately this might be something that never fully goes away. I was like this, the eldest child who took care of the family from a very young age and getting rid of that guilt and the “needing to take care of them feeling” has been very very resistant to therapy. I think the best you can do is just try to be empathetic, don’t make them feel like they’re acting too old or whatever (mine did that and it really fucked with my head) just be kind and remind them they can relax and do things for themselves, even if they don’t listen.

This one touched my heart, because I am the oldest as well. I was not in an awful situation but I have always felt a sense of responsibility for my two sisters. Our parents died only 4 months apart (high school sweethearts married for over 50 years). From the first day I returned to my family after my mom died first, I found myself having to take over financial responsibility for my sisters that my mom had been financially providing, making me in effect “the mom”. Then, after our dad died too, I had to ask the court to appoint someone to assist my youngest sister with her finances. She is likely a paranoid schizophrenic with very weird ideas about the way money functions. The court agreed to appoint a conservator. My sister and I have struggled. What had been a really good relationship before was destroyed when our mom died. Our mom had a poor relationship with my sister for over a decade and my sister’s feelings about that transferred to me when my mom died and I had to take over the family finances.

Also this interesting perspective – I cared for a teen relative of mine last year similar situation. As soon as she could legally, she returned to mom and the abuser to care for her siblings again and her mom. This is what she had been taught was the only way to get attention, love etc from mom. The best way we found to help her was to enroll her in a group for teens about healthy relationships at our local Domestic Violence shelter. She also did therapy with someone she selected and equine psychotherapy which helped her with attachment a lot. While she was here, we focused on just reminding her of our unconditional love and building trust in our relationship. Even though she went back, it didn’t take long for all of that to help her see how to set boundaries with mom, identify unsafe situations with abuser and start to come out of some of the fog. It’s still complicated but she isn’t engrained and I see her setting more healthy boundaries. We (and her dad) are still safe people she can come too and does. It took about 6 months of us just watching from a distance and being supportive regardless. In your situation, maybe focus on staying neutral and asking for a CASA or Guardian ad Litem to help with the other side of the coin. Having a mentor also really helped my relative. It was someone closer to her age that she could confide in and she is still actively talking to that person now. Maybe your foster youth could use a mentor because they aren’t a therapist but can be a sounding board. Also a lifeline if the youth returns and ‘adults’ get cut off from that person. (I say adults because the mentors we have had are usually 25 or younger and parents don’t see them like they do a 40 year old caseworker).

What’s Best ?

Lily’s Slimy Struggle by Hefess on DeviantArt

Today’s Sticky Situation – I have a friend who approached me asking if we could adopt her child she is currently pregnant with. She has frankly just an absolutely awful situation. Her baby’s father is getting out of prison soon after baby’s birth. (Within a month or so of birth) He does not know she is pregnant. I know him. We all grew up together. He’s awful. Abusive in every sense of the word. Drug addict. Been know to be inappropriate with children. Scary guy honestly. She has tried to leave him in the past and he’s always found her. She has no money. No savings. No family. We have exhausted looking into women’s shelters in our area and none are accepting people right now. She is insistent that she wants me and my spouse to raise her child and while we could very easily welcome a child into our home, that’s really not the point. She refuses to stay with me in fear of brining danger to my family and kids once her ex is out of prison. She’s saying she understands if I don’t want to take her baby but that if I won’t she is going to put baby up for adoption, terminating all parental rights, the whole thing. I really feel like she is going to regret this. I’ve offered some of the resources I’ve seen mentioned in here with really no changes in her decision. What would you do in this situation? My wife is of the mind that we should agree with the idea that baby won’t be going to strangers and if she changes her mind she won’t be in a situation where her baby is just gone to a new family she doesn’t know and will have no recourse to her baby back. With us this can all be undone if she wants that at any point. I don’t disagree with that but it still just feels so wrong. Is this the right choice? What else can we do to help her? I’m just so lost on how to proceed. I know deep down she does not want to give up her baby. She feels like she’s doing it for their safety and I understand that reasoning. Thoughts? I would appreciate so much any advice. Thanks!

Initial response – Can you look into women’s shelters in other counties or states? Either way it seems like getting far away from the abusive father would be beneficial for her and baby. I know many people recommend guardianship in lieu of adoption. I don’t know the specifics of how that works but maybe that could be an interim option.

The original commenter’s response – We have looked out of area and there seems to be some options for housing but she has a decent job here. She makes just enough to support herself. She’s not sure how to move out of area with a newborn, no savings and no job lined up. I’m not sure how that works either. I completely agree leaving the area would be best.

This response seems practical – Talk to a lawyer (or pay for her to do so). One experienced in domestic violence and child custody would be best. Dad will be able to claim parental rights no matter how bad he is, so she’ll need legal advice about how to keep him away from the baby no matter what option she chooses. Then you could talk to the lawyer about a guardianship arrangement, if she needs someone (you) to care for baby, and it will be much easier to get baby back when things are more stable.

The original commenter’s response was – I’ve mentioned this to her. I’ll keep working on her because I agree I think this a good idea. Her plan was to adopt baby out and claim she doesn’t know who the father is.

To which the answering response was – that may work, but if he finds out about it, he could contest the adoption and even potentially get full custody if she’s surrendered her own rights.

And the original commenter’s response was – I’ve mentioned that to her. She’s just so scared I think she isn’t fully hearing half of what I’m saying. I don’t see any scenario he could ever get custody though. He’s a registered child sex offender along with drug charges, gang ties. Things like that.

There is some question about whether she is married to this man or not – if he is her husband, he’d automatically be put on the birth certificate. If he’s not, she’d have to name him to get his name on the birth certificate, but if he finds out (from a mutual friend, etc), he could assert rights and demand a DNA test to prove paternity. Hopefully he has no interest in that, but abusers often do stuff like that just to pull their ex back in, even if they have no interest in parenting. All it takes is for a mutual acquaintance to see her pregnant belly at the grocery store and pass the word.

Finally this advice, a plan that can be put into action – For now, set up a temporary guardianship for when the baby is born. That way, you can take care of baby’s medical needs and everyone involved can be as safe as possible, but she still has her parental rights. Tell her not to sign the father’s name on the birth certificate when the baby is born. This means no child support, but also no abusive man can come take the baby unless he demands a paternity test. Have her keep her SS, ID, and Birth Certificates in a very easy to grab place that’s not suspicious. This could be with her or you, just somewhere safe. This is so any split second notice she can take it and leave without it being noticeable. Start saving up for a deposit that can get her and baby into a new, unknown place with a cushion too so she has time to get job or income assistance. Keep an eye around town for the shelters opening up. Its not illegal to be homeless with a newborn for this exact reason. Do the same with food drives. Maybe start hording separate gobags with diapers and formula as well. Get a burner phone. Depending on how tech savy he is, one without a GPS. He will probably be calling her off the hook and/or looking for her once he gets out. Finally, and this is worst case scenario and I hate to bring it up, she needs to put it in a legal contract who this baby is going to if she dies. This will also ideally be in the go bag. I can’t help on the adoption end of your question, but I’ve been through the leaving part. It’s going to be scary, and its gonna f**king suck. I’ve had to do this before, minus a child.

Bottom Line – It Is About The Child

Foster care and adoption is not about YOU as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s about the child, always was, always will be. That said, defining “wellbeing” gets very tricky.

“Neglect” is the official reason given when children are removed from their parents. Defining that turns out to be biased and difficult. First the question, then some of the answers.

1) What type of neglect gets children removed from parents?

Cleanliness, Lack of Nourishment, Irresponsibility

Depression, Addiction, Domestic Violence, Illness, Lack of Basic Child Care

Perceived neglect, whether the behavior is truly neglectful or appearances just don’t meet the ‘standard’.

Concerns regarding a parent’s mental health.

2) Why do you think that neglect occurs?

Poverty

Lack of resources, predominantly. Occasionally, lack of concern, and sometimes, inability (due to substance abuse, mental health, mental capacity- all tied into lack of resources).

Poor mental health may contribute to poor housekeeping. One woman admitted reaching a point where she questioned – “why am I keeping my house as neat as a pin, always on top of the kids, stressing them out to be clean, when the only people in the house are us?”

3) Is there anything that could help avoid neglect happening?

Financial Resource Support, Increasing the Parental Skill Set

Young women with kids need options for jobs that are compatible with being parents.

Family needs to go back to being family, actually bothering and being there for each other. If you have friends with kids, visit them and offer to help them out, if they are struggling – you can either help tidy or you could play with their children, so that they are occupied allowing the parent time to clean.

When poverty is not the source of neglect, children are rarely taken out of the home. One woman shared – my parents were negligent hoarders who didn’t meet a lot of my fundamental needs. But they had good jobs and to be honest, I turned out fine. I would NOT have fared better by being taken away from them. That is true for most kids who are placed in foster care.

Every so often you hear of cases where a small child was left home alone, or wandered off while a parent was sleeping. I think sometimes these instances of neglect happen in desperation for parents who have no options for childcare or can’t afford it. I remember a case of a toddler who was missing 3 days. He decided to try to go through the forest to his grandma’s house. He had been playing outside and his mother had fallen asleep. They did NOT take that child away from his parents.

It’s A Woman’s Prerogative

So the question is asked –

Should a woman that has planned on giving her baby up for adoption, with a family for the baby chosen, details worked out, etc, be able to change her mind after the baby is born ?

This started as a situation where the hopeful adoptive couple helped the expectant mother get back into school and away from an abusive ex. The couple got to hold and name the baby but then she took it away from them. She said they had helped her reach a point of stability, where she no longer needed to put her baby up for adoption.

The kicker is that this was a fictional TV drama but it upset hopeful prospective parents in a support group that this could actually happen in real life.

One comment in that group was – “make a decision, no take backs.”

To which members of my adoption group said –  “no take backs.” We are not seven years old trading Pokemon cards on the playground, lady. Good grief.

Another said – This isn’t trading Twinkies at the lunch table.

More realistically though, This is a HUGE decision. 100% she should have however long she needs to decide. There is no reason to rush into a permanent decision, when the problem that is motivating that may prove temporary. Many a birth mom has realized this too late and carried a lifelong sorrow because she acted too hastily.

The hopeful adoptive parent perspective is generally along these lines – She’s selfless and brave to give up her baby but deciding to parent makes her cruel and a mooch.

Another honest perspective is this – If its a mothers choice to go the adoption route, then she should have the right to change her mind and she deserves enough time for her hormones to regulate, before any choice is made permanent.

As to reforms – Moms should have at least the first 4-6 weeks with the child. This allows them to judge how they truly feel. There are so many feelings plus hormones while pregnant and immediately after giving birth. These can cloud a woman’s decision making. Let new moms have the chance to experience motherhood first. Then, if after a settling period, a mom is still feeling it’s too much for her to handle, at least she’s had some actual experience with her baby. A bonus is that the baby is able to spend time with the mom the infant grew within.

One mom who surrendered her baby notes – Pre birth matching is mentally manipulative and really I think its abusive. In hindsight, she says, this situation encouraged me to “follow through” on giving my baby up. I now believe that if they had not been allowed in at the hospital, I wouldn’t have signed the papers. If I had been able to take my baby home, she would be here with me today.

And I do agree with this perspective – Yes, they should be able to change their mind and shouldn’t be forced to pay or give back anything that the potential adopters paid out!

Many mothers don’t comprehend how strongly they will love for their newborn child, until the minute the baby is laid in their arms. Honestly, only then, can a mother even begin to make a sound decision regarding what she wants for her child.

Every expectant mom should be offered unbiased therapy to assist her in making the choice that’s right for her, not anyone else’s decision on her behalf. She doesn’t owe anyone her baby.

And from an adoptee’s perspective – Since adoption is supposed to be about the child, ALL newborns would respond YES (let my mom change her mind !!). Adoption isn’t the first choice of most adoptive parents and is certainly would never be a newborn’s choice. All newborn’s (including those adopted) are predisposed as humans and by nature to crave their own mother’s voice, smell, breast and heartbeat – not a stranger’s.

As adoptees we had no choice but to learn to live without our true mother, and learn and be conditioned to call another woman “mother”, but at birth SHE (the mother we grew within) is our universe. A woman choosing to parent her own child isn’t a failed adoption but a failed assumption on the adoptive parents part. It is a chance adoptive parents take, when they try to groom a (likely desperate) expectant mother with the intention of procuring her newborn for themselves.

If Others Are Uncomfortable

It seems to depend upon what your life experience has given your perspective. An adoptive parent writes – My 6 year old’s story is a rough one for both she and her mommy. We have shared her story with her with the help of a therapist because we want her to feel empowered and never feel like she has to hold any kind of shame. As she is getting older, she has begun to just kind of drop her story to friends of hers and their parents and I can often tell that people are caught off guard and at times seem uncomfortable. Is it better for us to let her share as she feels comfortable or, should we teach her to guard her truth?

From adoptees come these responses –

Never make her guard her truth, always let her define her story.

and

I kind of don’t care if others are uncomfortable. That’s their problem. Feeling like we have to hide to make others comfortable creates shame in my opinion.

Then, from a professional –

I  work in the field of mental health/sex offenders/criminal justice/substance abuse. I think an age appropriate discussion about disclosing appropriately, and over sharing to people she doesn’t really know, is definitely warranted. While it’s her story, her ideas of boundaries are just being formed at 6, and people who endure trauma can often overshare as a coping mechanism, something that she may battle throughout the rest of her life. She should start practicing healthy boundaries now. I personally struggle with this, and often have to remind myself that every conversation I have with others isn’t a therapy session. I’d definitely bring this up with her therapist to help her work on boundaries; if she doesn’t have one, you might consider getting one to help her navigate her past trauma in healthy ways.

In response, another woman asks – what consequences are you worried about as she shares her story as she feels comfortable ? I’m asking about consequences to her, not related to people around her being uncomfortable.

To which the professional responds – what someone wants to share at 6, isn’t necessarily what someone wants to share at 16, or 36, etc. I’m not saying that because it’s shameful, because it’s not, but it can be harder to gauge at that age who is safe to disclose private information to.

I work with sex offenders, so I’m paranoid. Let’s say the child mentions to an adult in their life (who happens to be an undiscovered sexual predator) that they’ve previously been victimized, sexually. Sex Offenders are opportunistic, and may see the child as a viable option for future abuse. This isn’t something that’s rare. Survivors are often revictimized. The original comment didn’t say this was the specific scenario, I’m just pointing out why it may be a concern.

Another woman affirms this perspective by sharing – My therapist told me about over sharing my child abuse and my past domestic violent relationship and how it can definitely make you a target for people that look for vulnerable people. They’ll take your trauma and use it against you when the time is right. My Domestic Violence Survivors class also told me this. I was over sharing at 21 as a way to cope, to see if people were like me or had sympathy.

And yet another – Yeah as a survivor of serious childhood abuse and former over sharer, learning that I could choose what to share and who with was a big piece of recovery. And some people can have some really fucked up and dehumanizing reactions to hearing someone else’s pain, reactions I wouldn’t wish on a little kid. They sucked enough as an adolescent and young adult.

These situations are not rare, here’s another – Oversharing can go from awkward at best to seriously dangerous really fast and in ways that can’t be taken back. Oversharing has showed up in my life as a fawning trauma response. I didn’t learn how to think critically about what kinds of things I was actually disclosing to people until I was in my 20s and I feel like thinking about it in age appropriate ways at age 6 could have been a huge advantage in life.

And one more example –  A young woman I know really well shared her abuse story with potential boyfriends because it was important for her to be accepted and she attracted some pretty yucky pedophiles who got off on just hearing her story.

And to balance things out, here is another adoptive parent’s perspective –

Our daughter likes to share her story on her terms as she chooses. Sometimes she shares a lot, sometimes only pieces (like “I have two moms and two dads” and nothing else). I always tell her it’s her story, and she can share what she chooses. If people don’t understand and ask questions, she can answer or say “I don’t care to share that part.”

None of us owe other people parts of ourselves. We gift to others the chance to know parts of us, and those gifts, depending on how they are received, may or may not lead to more sharing. Our daughter is carrying a heavy load and will have to navigate a challenging life as a result of her adoption. I decided (based on hearing so much from adoptees) to learn how to make her feel empowered by owning her story since so much has been taken from her. This sharing can at least belong to her and be on her terms.

PS. If she shares in a school environment, like an “About Me” project, I inform the teacher ahead of time that I will be attending class to help support her if there are difficult questions. Nothing has ever come up, but our daughter has appreciated me having her back.

If You Can’t Do This, Why Can You Do This ?

It is well known that simply being adopted is a risk for mental illness impacts like depression, anxiety and suicide. What is less often discussed is whether or not people with a history of mental illness should adopt. Adoptees deserve the best possible care and that means anyone who has had a history of mental health illnesses shouldn’t be adopting. You can’t own a gun, if you suffer from mental health illnesses. You can’t work certain jobs. Your restricted from other things. So WHY should you be allowed to raise someone else’s children ?

Understandably, many adults with a history of psychiatric illness prefer to adopt rather than have biological children. They may have concerns about psychiatric destabilization during pregnancy or that they may pass some genetic factor onto their unborn child. Certainly, if they are currently under medication, there is a concern about the impact of that pharmaceutical on the unborn child.

Child adoption laws vary from state to state. Although some licensed adoption agencies sympathize with potential adoptive parents with a history of mental illness, the law usually considers the following factors:
• the potential adopter’s emotional ties to the child
• their parenting skills
• emotional needs of the child
• the potential adopter’s desire to maintain continuity of the child’s care
• permanence of the family unit of the proposed home
• the physical, moral, and mental fitness of the potential parent.

Interestingly, an adoptee put forth this perspective – my adopted mother has always been open about her struggles with mental health (and the therapy and meds she uses to manage them) which in turn made *me* feel safe in coming to her with my struggles and she supported me as I sought therapy and medication as well. Mental illness isn’t some character flaw, it’s no one’s fault, and it shouldn’t be an excluding factor in and of itself. Plenty of biological parents have these issues as well. As long as a person is taking care of their mental health, whether it’s therapy or medications, and isn’t dangerous to themselves or others, it’s no one’s business and it isn’t relevant.

And this one offers an even broader perspective –  I’m an adoptee, and an adoptive parent. I’m also a therapist. I also have a managed anxiety disorder. I think asking people to have their mental illness well managed is one thing — and requiring psychiatric approval (from their therapist or whomever is overseeing their care), and there’s certainly diagnosis’ that should be precluded (likely anything progressive or personality wise). But most people could fit in to a mental health diagnosis at one point or another in their life. How people manage that mental illness and cope with it is the bigger picture.

One woman wrote – I do not think mental health illness = abuse but I do think abuse= mental health illness. I think you must be mentally ill, if you are abusing children.

One woman admitted –  I had no idea how my depression would be exacerbated by raising a family — and a adoptive one at that. Rather than restrictions, I think that there should be a medical screening process to ensure health (was this part of it? I don’t recall). Let a doctor decide limitations if need be. And I believe that there should be a foster parent mental health class that really discusses what it takes, the triggers, pitfalls etc. My own mental health was the thing I was the least prepared for. That said, I am receiving LOTS of support as are my children. We are ok and sometimes thriving, despite world events. But it took a while for us to get here. And I’m divorcing as part of this, because my soon to be-ex wasn’t mentally healthy enough to do this. It’s a lot.

And there was this from personal experience – My adoptive mom had a medicine cabinet full for all her needs. Depression, anxiety, sleep, ADHD, a few for physical like thyroid and I’m not sure what else but know it was about a dozen pills a day. My adoptive mom should’ve never been allowed to adopt me. She’s a batshit crazy narcissist. She needed all of us kids to have meds too – so I was flying high being treated for ADHD despite not needing it. She was a nurse who worked for our family doctor, so getting us diagnosed with anything was quite simple. To clarify I don’t think her being a shit parent was due to her possibly having depression or anxiety, honestly I’m not sure she even had those types of issues but she had something that made her think she needed meds for everything and that we did too. She should’ve never been able to adopt me.

In disputing that abusing is a sign of mental illness, one commenter add this – Nancy Erickson, an attorney and consultant on domestic violence legal issues, researched this very topic some years ago. “I found that about half of abusers appeared to have no mental disorders. The other half had various mental disorders, including but not limited to psychopathy, narcissism, PTSD, depression and bipolar disorder.” However, she adds, “Domestic abuse is a behavior, not a symptom of a mental illness.” While there is certainly an overlap, it is not always a guarantee, and it’s dangerous to make that assumption.

Another one pointed out – not all mental health diagnosis’ are created equal and many are managed well with medications. Also many people have mental illness and have not been diagnosed. Would people be forced to get a psychological evaluation ? And often among couples one partner has no diagnosis’ and so, a child can still be parented well.

One adoptive parent wrote – I absolutely agree with the idea that hopeful adoptive parents should be held to higher standards. I’m not sure how that would play out with mental illness but I do think hopeful adoptive parents with mental illness should have clear treatment plans and a consistent history of following through with their treatment plans. They should also be able to demonstrate the length of time they have been in stable mental health.

So You Want To Help A Child ?

Many people go into foster care with good intentions. They really want to help a child who might need it. Here are some words from a woman who did that.

So, having been a foster parent, I want to just get out there to those considering it to say – don’t. Child protection is a corrupt vehicle of systemic abuse. The system abuses children, and as cogs in that machine, you are participating. If you ‘have a heart’ for children or ‘feel called’ or whatever it is, let me suggest you can do any of the following:

1. Volunteer as a CASA. These advocates listen to kids and represent their position in court. No one listens to foster kids, and this is a genuine chance.

2. Volunteer at a local women’s shelter, as a domestic violence or sexual assault advocate, or within the shelter childcare system.

3. Support wellness courts, programs that serve addicts, and programs in your community aimed at helping with food security or relieving poverty. Most children are removed because their parents are struggling with addiction.

4. If you truly want to be a foster parent, license for transitional care or teens, and don’t waiver.

5. Donate your kids clothes and baby items.

What else can you think of that might help?

My family has long taken our obsolete toys to our regional women and children’s shelter for those fleeing domestic violence (children do grow up and we bought more things at Christmas – trying it make it magical like we experienced as children ourselves – than we should have and while it was a lot of fun to open all those presents on Christmas morning, many – sad to say – remained on shelves and were never looked at again. Happy they get a second chance). We have also taken the children’s outgrown clothes and the women’s clothes no longer need by me to the same place.

It is a small thing. Nothing to win awards for but it is some thing. Do what you can. It matters.