I think one of the most painful experiences for me – and if I might momentarily speak on behalf of the very diverse community of parents who are doing everything we can to raise our deeply wounded children – has been when fellow adoptive parents jump to conclusions about who I am as a mother and why my child is the way she is.
It is bad enough to be blamed and pathologized by non-adoptive parents, pediatricians, therapists, specialists of all sorts, and educators who do not understand attachment and trauma disorders, but when fellow adoptive parents – mothers in particular – join in with this kind of condemning, stigmatizing, and scapegoating, the pain is really excruciating.
I have spent my whole working life (40 years) in the field of violence prevention. Prior to adopting my child after she had suffered through and barely survived a truly hellish first year of life pre-adoptively, I never could understand on a gut level how a parent could abuse a child. (I understood theoretically from my work, but not in a deeper way.)
While I never have and never would abuse my child, just my first year of parenting pushed me into tragically understanding how this can happen on a gut, visceral level.
This understanding came, in part, from the nonstop stress of having to respond 24/7 to her complex, extreme special needs and violent, disturbing behaviors. However, what was worse – so very much worse – was the isolation. Friends, family, and entire networks of people disappeared from my life. And with a severely traumatized child whose attachment and develop- mental trauma disorders resulted in very observable disturbances, there was no alternative community to replace my lost world. The lack of understanding and resulting condemnation from fellow adoptive mothers, families, and organizations felt like the ultimate act of exclusion, imprisoning me and my child within an isolation cell from which there was no exit and no way to connect with another human being.
Even providers and educators – after first blaming me as an incompetent mother because they didn't understand what they were seeing in my child – would eventually begin to realize that they were clueless about how to help her. Their feelings of incompetence and own vicarious trauma would intensify the blame directed at me, and almost always resulted in situations of de facto patient abandonment. Some providers even went so far as threatening to report us to Child Protective Services when their recommended interventions did not result in positive outcomes. In spite of all the documented medical evidence of my child’s preadoptive abuse and neglect, the assumption was almost always made that I was causing her problems and doing additional harm. The inability of professionals to tolerate their own lack of understanding and skill in treating severe attachment and developmental trauma disorders further intensified our isolation.
Quite frankly, if I had not found the attach-china/international listserv and the incredible community of supportive, informed moms there, I dread to think what would have happened to me and my family. That listserv literally saved our lives, helped me to learn how to parent my daughter, and taught me how to start sorting through the provider community to find the few competent specialists who could help us.
So for any parents out there who are so certain that there is no such thing as RAD or who participate in demonizing the adoptive mom who sent her child back to Russia (while I don't condone her action, I do understand her desperation), I would really encourage you to start investing either your finances or volunteer time into supporting and assisting your fellow adoptive families who are raising children with these issues.
Some possible ways for you to become an ally include the following ideas:
• Don't jump to conclusions about other children, parents, and families.
• Get trained to be a respite provider, and give us a chance to get some sleep or do some self care.