Living with Attachment Disorder, Part 1

HazelI called my first adopted daughter my “lifesaver.” She came to me at a time in my life when I was desperately alone and sad. In the aftermath of losing my only birth child, I needed to be needed and to be part of something larger than myself. Hazel and I created a family of two, and I survived.

Now it is my turn to try to save her life. I fear, however, that I will have little lasting effect.

Hazel came to me just before her 9th birthday. She was diagnosed with many issues that are typical of children coming out of foster care: ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, attachment disorder, etc. As a new foster/adopt parent, I had been introduced to these issues, but I was ill-prepared to deal with them. The last six years have given me an amazing education: therapeutic parenting, counseling, various applied therapies, love, patience, frustration, and heartbreak.  I have learned many things. Hazel’s first years were hell, and she absorbed those lessons perfectly. “Unlearning” early programming is nearly impossible. Attachment disorder is a frightening thing, filling our prisons and homeless shelters everywhere. And now I am trying to learn how to live with a child who doesn’t know how to love or be loved.

Foster children usually display many difficult behaviors. Many of these can be “cured” by love, patience, discipline, and therapy; however, some cannot. Depending on the severity, attachment disorder can be a virtually “untouchable” issue that a family can only hope to survive.

Approaching her 15th birthday, Hazel is now past the “phases” of misbehavior that most parents see – a lying phase, a stealing phase, perhaps a destructive phase. Hazel literally does not know how to be honest. She lies pathologically, she destroys other’s property with no remorse, and she deliberately hurts the feelings of the people who care for her.  She has no real interests or friends. She has no ambitions or goals. She spends time planning how to make others miserable but never how to make others smile. We no longer live under the illusion that she will “grow out of” these things. Her therapists and teachers agree: we have a case of full-blown reactive attachment disorder, and all the therapy in the world may not have any affect.

The key word there is “may.” There is always a ray of possibility to which I cling, but the likelihood of transitioning her into a productive adult citizen is becoming less every day.

She flunked out of the excellent charter school that she attended for the last three years, so we have enrolled her in a school specifically designed for teenagers at risk. She has alienated her last remaining “friend” and now has none. She has been caught sending inappropriate texts to boys. She is a truant and a runaway waiting to happen. We are extremely apprehensive of what the coming school year will bring.

So what do we do with this child? I take adoption seriously; she is as much my daughter as if I birthed her. I am committed to her wellbeing, while being equally committed to the wellbeing of the rest of my family. And so we go on trying. More therapy, more behavior modification attempts, more locks on valuables, more family stress.

There is no answer offered here. There is little real hope for Hazel. She will either find her way, or she will be lost – in spite of everything we have done. I am not generally a praying type, but I do send them up regularly for this troubled young girl. Please join me… Perhaps together, we can save her life.

 

Birthday, deathday, there are no coincidences

Image3Time passes, and life moves inexorably forward. Seven years come and go. I had turned 50 in January, spent a week skiing with my brother and his family in February, traveled to Portland to spend March Spring Break with my sophomore at Reed College, and then in May, I welcomed her home for the summer. Three days later, a car crash, and she died on May 22.

Seven years ago.

Much has changed in those seven years. I added one, then two more children to my family. I left the nurturing community I had lived in for 12 years and returned to my beloved Tucson. There, I found, fell in love, and married a wonderful, supportive man. And now, I am adding yet another child to my family.

I don’t believe in coincidence – I never have. Things happen for reasons. Often they are reasons we cannot fathom. Sometimes time reveals the mystery, sometimes it does not, but there is pattern and reason behind everything. We simply need enough perspective to see it. In that vein, let me describe two intriguing “coincidences.”

Abby was born September 4, 1989. It was a bright fall morning as we drove to the hospital for the planned Cesarean. I was sad and tired, having been through induced labor for three days to no avail. Not wanting a C-section, I felt defeated and frustrated, and my husband at the time was no help whatsoever. Then, as we drove and I watched the beautiful sunrise, I realized the method of her arrival mattered little. I would hold her in my arms in just a few hours’ time! The day took on a completely magical aspect, and I rejoiced.

September 4 was a highly celebrated day for 18 years. The parties – from the obligatory cake all over the face on the first birthday, to a lovingly and painstakingly hand-made “Lamb Chop” cake at age 4, to the second grade bash complete with magician and clown, to the lobster dinner at age 16 – the day was magical. When I lost my beloved child, that special day changed color altogether. September 4, 2008, was a horrible black place in the intense, impenetrable fog of grief that began in May. Her birthday was simply another turning of the knife.

Time passed, and my pursuit of adopting a child progressed. Eventually, I was licensed to foster and certified to adopt. And then began the long wait for a child. One would think, because there are so many children (tens of thousands) needing homes in this country, that there would be no wait at all; that as soon as a parent was found worthy, there would be a variety of children available from which to choose. Not so. The so-called “system” is an oxymoron. There is no system. The method by which homeless children are matched with adoptive parents is slow, dysfunctional, and often completely corrupt.  And so, I waited. Late in August of 2009, I got a call. They had found a child that matched my profile. They described her briefly and asked if I was interested.

The year and a half that had passed since my Abby died had been perhaps the hardest one of my life. I had lost both parents in the handful of years prior to her death. I had also lost my husband – a deep, passionate love – to drugs during that time. Except for my wonderful brother (who was 1000 miles away), I was totally alone. The desire and need to bring a child into my home was intrinsically tied to my very survival. The more time passed with no one, the less I had to hang on to, the closer to the edge I felt myself slipping… Was I interested? Absolutely!

So the day was set for the meeting wherein I would learn about my “next” daughter and decide if I wanted to make the commitment to adopt her. And what day do you suppose they chose?

September 4 – that magical day.

(My next two daughters were given to me by circumstance alone – I wasn’t then seeking to add to my family, but their mother and I had made a pact. If something happened to either of us, we’d take the other’s children.  And so, when she died, I gained my lovely Crawford girls and praised their mother’s insight. They are now both successful college students who continue to brighten my life.)

And so we fast-forward seven years. My husband and I decided to add to our family and committed ourselves to the adoption of abused children in Arizona. We began the licensing and certifying process nearly two years ago, thinking it would go quickly since I had been through it all before.  No so. The re-certification took us more than a year. So, in September 2014 (another September!), we were pronounced “ready.”

And the wait began again.

We got close a few times, but something always came up. The judge decided to give the parent(s) one more chance; the child decided he/she didn’t want to be adopted; the foster parents decided to “keep” the kids; the bureaucracy was so slow that another adoptive parent was chosen before us; etc. And so we waited. Then, in April, a 12-year-old girl was identified as needing a home “as soon as possible.” We jumped right in.

After spending some time with her, we knew she was “our kid.” She seemed to know it too, and immediately a bond began to grow. We couldn’t wait to bring her into our home. Can we do it now, we asked? The reply from the state was no. Then they gave us a date when she could move in:

May 22.

Of the 365 days a year, one child becomes family on Abby’s birth day, the other on Abby’s death day.

This is no coincidence. This is Abby’s spirit ensuring that the two days of the year that have been the most painful for me have now become a reason to celebrate.  She said repeatedly that she “just wanted me to be happy.” Clearly, she is doing what she can to make sure that I am.

We celebrate the addition of Hannah Reeves to our household this week. And yes, I am indeed happy.

Changing focus

adoption

Until now, this blog has been primarily about grief, specifically about the grief a parent feels when he or she loses a child. This is a very unique kind of grief and deserves a great deal of discussion, both public and private. I have spent the last seven years exploring my personal experiences and sharing these explorations with readers. My posts have progressively gotten less frequent as I processed and learned to live with the constant ache of loss.

Now, I feel, it is time to change focus.

More accurately, it is time to change emphasis.

I began this blog for many reasons – to reach out to others experiencing the same loss, to provide a place where conversation could take place, to explore and validate my own feelings, to educate the fortunate who have no idea what losing a child is like, and as a very important form of personal therapy. I feel that it has been a success on all fronts, and for that I am pleased and grateful.

The therapeutic aspect of writing about my grief is no longer needed – at least not with the frequency it was. I can tell my fellow “club” members that if you work at it and try very hard, you can achieve a place of peace with your loss. Does the pain go away? No, never. However, you do find a way to live with it, even live in spite of it; yes, even thrive.

So, while I will continue to write about the long, long road through the ever-changing grief landscape, there are now other, more pressing issues in my life. There are other things I want to explore.

And isn’t that wonderful?

So, where are we going now? Throughout these seven years of blogging, I have also discussed my experiences with adoption. My adoption journey began out of the enormous gulf left behind when I lost my only child. There is no replacing a dead child, of course, but one can begin to fill the massive void that death created. I now have three beautiful, living daughters and am working diligently on a fourth. The emphasis going forward, therefore, will be adoption – mine, yours, thoughts, ideas, arguments, and struggles.

Rather than death and loss, now I am focusing on life – and the hope therein, just like the title says.

I invite open discussion, guest blogs, the venting of frustration, and any other related comments you feel like sharing, and I thank you for being interested enough to ready my posts!

 

This is how a heart breaks

The beating of a heart

I sit next to the man in whose chest my daughter’s heart beats

What is a heart?

Is it a symbol of love, the place where our deepest feelings lay, the source of our humanity? And what makes a heart break?

The heart is a muscle pulsing with life. It is, along with the brain, an important part of what makes us intrinsically human. In the hospital, it is the state of the heart and the brain that determines if we are considered truly alive … or not.

Ava’s heart… The heart of my dearest darling daughter continued to beat after – long after – her brain had shut down. Her beautiful, strong, and loving heart beat continuously and determinedly, and was placed in the chest of a sweet man whose own heart had failed him: Jerry Finzer.

Ava’s heart… Ava’s youthful, strong heart allowed this fine man to see the country with his loving wife Laurie. It allowed him to enjoy years of love, laughter, travel, and companionship. And Jerry, in turn, loved his heart. He loved the young lady he had never met, yet who had so generously given of herself. He carried her picture with him everywhere he went and shared her story with everyone he met. He literally took Ava’s heart to places she’d never been. And she gave him days, months, and years he would not otherwise have had.

I lay my ear against Jerry’s chest and heard the strong, steady beat of my Ava’s heart. We laughed, and we cried together – Jerry, Laurie, and I. And Ava too… she was with us, declaring life and love with every beat.

Ava’s heart… Her heart never faltered. But Jerry’s body had other struggles. He fought them valiantly, determined to live and love on – for his beloved Laurie, and for Ava, whom he knew was fighting for his life with every beat of “their” heart.

Ava’s heart was a lion’s heart: powerful, willing, strong, and full of love. Ava’s heart, and Jerry’s life, came to an end recently. That loving beat is no more… and that loving man has joined her spirit in the wider universe.

And now, my heart breaks… yet again.

Manifesto

PabloI have, to this point, had a very full life.

I have enjoyed wonderful high points, and have suffered irreparable losses.

I’ve been blessed to have a loving family, incredible parents who became my best friends, a terrific brother, a beautiful and brilliant daughter who was the shining star of my adulthood, and people around me who love me deeply.

I have reinvented myself many times. I have been a waitress and a restaurant manager, sold and serviced microelectronics, and managed test vehicles for a major manufacturer. I have been a homemaker, bookkeeper, newspaper editor, and now I am a technical writer. I have never made a lot of money, but over the years I’ve managed to carve out a comfortable life.

I have been dropped – or have leapt – from some incredible heights. Yet somehow, I’ve always managed to land, albeit bruised and shaken, on my feet.

I was wounded by the loss of both of my parents, and then my beautiful daughter. I lost a husband to drugs. I lost many others to life’s uncertainties.

Since I was a young girl, all I really wanted was a loving husband and family. Though I strove, I was not able to achieve these things as a younger woman. Heartbreak after heartbreak, the final blow was the death of my daughter. I thought I was through.

But I am not through.

I have managed, through both determination and fortune, to patch together a new family. I now have three wonderful daughters and another one coming soon, through the blessing that is adoption. I have finally found – actually, he found me – the love of my life. He is my best friend and partner, and joining with me to knit this family tighter. Sometimes the patchwork quilt is stronger than the original cloth….

Some have said I like chaos. They couldn’t be more wrong. I enjoy an orderly life and require a tidy home. While it is true that occasionally I bite off more than is comfortable to chew, I always manage to get it down.

Life is short. I knew this at 18 when I said that I intended to pack my brief 80 or so years (if I’m lucky enough to live that long) as full as possible. And I do. I pack each day as full as I can. Perhaps that is what some people mistake as a love of chaos. No, my friends, it is merely a love of life – there’s just too much out there I want to do, and not enough time in my short years on this planet to get it all done. Busy, yes. Chaos, absolutely not.

From this full, tumultuous life, I have grown exponentially. I am deeply grateful for my family and friends; those people who have continued to believe in me and remain my friends throughout my evolutions.

And the journey continues….