Becoming Whole

This is what it is like to relinquish a child and then one day find them again and realize you are coming full circle and putting your pieces back together to become whole again. One birth mother’s story for today.

Summer 2018:

While working with my husband (repo agent) doing research on debtors, I stumble across a Facebook profile pic that makes my heart stop. After years of searching with very limited info, I finally saw a picture of the man my son grew to become. (He happened to be FB friends with a debtor we were looking for). My own eyes were staring back at me.

I chew nervously for days on what to do. Do I reach out? What if he doesn’t want to meet me? My heart is racing almost non-stop, and I’m functioning barely in a constant state of fight or flight.

I bite the bullet and send a message. Crickets for a few days, and then a very guarded/nervous response. I back off because I can’t even imagine what he’s thinking/feeling. And then, I receive a friend request.

I can see his life in posts, pics, and a piece of who he is. It’s such a gift…one I had long ago conceded I’d never receive. We tread carefully back and forth on social media for some time. I immediately put myself into intensive therapy to deal with the unresolved trauma and PTSD issues I had ignored forever. I search for and join multiple groups both for support and adoptee perspective. I, for the first time in my life, focus on self-improvement instead of self-destruction.

February 2019:

We meet face to face for the first time in a neutral location. He hugs me, and I’m shaking externally from all the emotions I’m feeling. I’m trying to absorb everything because I’m so scared this is going to be it. I have gifts for him in the car (a hand written letter, framed pic of me holding him as a newborn, and a watch engraved with

Always loved… Never forgotten…

I wait until our lunch is over and ask if he’d be ok with a couple of gifts. He readily accepts them, and we part ways. I’m terrified that I’ve done too much, but only 30 mins later I receive a message thanking me for everything. He goes on to say that the picture and letter would have been more than enough, but absolutely loves the watch.

Today:

I honestly could write a book on our journey so far. There are so many things that have occurred that aren’t included in this small recap – but I’ll save that for another day.

This is what I want to share –

Less than 2 years after reuniting, he joined us on our annual family vacation. He left his car at my house and endured a 10 hour drive with myself, hubby, his half brother and our dog.

He loves hiking and the outdoors!!! I’ve spent many family vacations dragging my husband and other 2 kiddos hiking only to hear complaints. This year, I had an Ally!!! I listened for hours to my husband and him talk cars, my youngest son and him talk video games, and my daughter and him talk science and politics.

I don’t ever want to forget these moments.

My son asked me during our first meeting…”Does your husband know about me?”… My response was “Of course! I told him about you only 2 weeks after meeting him. I hoped I would find you one day, and I could only be with someone who could accept and support that.”

My husband has done more than just support me….he’s accepted my son, included him and embraced him. I’m still a broken woman, but my pieces are coming together. And my family is finally whole.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

For several months now our entire country and most of the world has been living with toxic stress.  It’s the kind of stress that puts you on edge and keeps you there, day after day after day.  If you have felt stressed, imagine what it would be like to experience adversity and/or abuse — not having enough to eat or being exposed to violence – then think, what if the one experiencing this is still a child.

Factors such as divorce, domestic violence or having an incarcerated parent are called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Four or more ACEs can result in chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. In the long term, living with ACEs or other negative factors, such as poverty, can literally change your brain chemistry.

What does it look like for a young person to live with several ACEs and no supports ?  What does a foster parent experience when bringing a middle school or teenage foster youth into their home ?

It might be not being able to sleep without a light on. Or it could be eating even when one is full or not hungry. Some children become “runners” — they leave school whenever they become upset.

And the symptoms can become even worse.  The child may become a cutter; may be suicidal. Such children can have trouble forming appropriate friendships. Maybe they trash their room; in one fight-or-flight moment, climb out of their window and tumble to the ground. Even jump out of a moving car.

A foster parent could find themselves restraining the child physically by wrapping their arms around the child’s shoulders or waist, using all their strength to keep the child from leaving or hurting their self. Maybe you raised your hand only to motion toward something and the child flinched or even ducked.

And your heart breaks for this young person.  You had hoped they knew you would never hit them.  You are a foster parent.  You signed up for this because you thought you had something to give — time and care and love — to kids who desperately need that.

You might become the person the county calls when a child is removed from a home and has nowhere else to go, or when a foster family needs a break. This is known as emergency respite.

Most foster kids want to be happy.  After a lifetime of abuse and neglect, they may not know how.  A foster parent is also there to be a support for reunification with the biological family.

The best foster parents build a fortress of protective factors around their foster children. Protective factors are those things that most of us take for granted — a friend to call when we need advice; someone to help whenever we aren’t enough on our own.

Some of us are born privileged to have built-in protective factors (a supportive family, enough money).  Most foster kids will need to collect them from somewhere else (perhaps a chosen family made up of friends). At school, they require trauma-informed teachers and staff who understand how ACEs can be reflected in behavior.

National data shows that more than 20 percent of children up to age 17 have experienced two or more ACEs.  Beyond abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) and general neglect these include the loss of a parent to death, divorce and abandonment.  A family member addicted to drugs or alcohol.  A family member that is incarcerated. Being exposed to domestic violence and mental health issues among the family’s members.

Brain toxicity exists. A child can have post-traumatic stress disorder. ACEs are not limited to low-income neighborhoods, domestic violence and substance abuse take place in higher income homes and are every bit as toxic. Learn to look at all people through a trauma-informed lens. Ask, if you suspect this, “What happened to you?” and then listen without adding your own opinions.

Every domestic-violence shelter worker or child-care provider, anyone who works for child-protective services, anyone associated with family court, law enforcement personnel and physicians – ALL need to be trained appropriately to deal with trauma related behavior

Trauma is not the fault of any child.  Understanding ACE impacts allows adults to see the reason behind the behaviors.  Baby steps in a positive direction are progress.