An Open Letter to our daughter’s Birthmother

An Open Letter Anna’s birthmother,

Dear N,

First, thank you for our oldest daughter. Thank you for carrying her and giving birth to her. We’ve been her parents and loved her for over 9 years now. It’s hard to believe she’s already 11.

I think about you a lot. Obviously I know more than I can mention here (we hired a private investigator to get the info for Anna in case she wants it someday). I feel sadness for you. I wonder what life must have been like for you. Maybe your parents were abusive or neglectful. Maybe they weren’t around. Maybe you weren’t cared for as a child and didn’t have the confidence to be a Mother. I wonder and worry about you in winter when it’s below freezing there in Siberia. Do you have electricity? Do you have running water now? Do you have food to eat?

On the hardest days, I’m angry with you. Why did you drink and smoke while pregnant? Why? Why did you terminate your rights and take Anna to an orphanage where she was abused and neglected? Maybe you don’t know about the abuse and neglect but according to my Russian friends- everyone there knows.

I wonder if you wonder about us. We haven’t told you about Anna’s challenges because of your choices. We haven’t told you what she’s dealt with and as a result, her aggression and how many have been affected by it. Do you know what it’s like to fight every single day for services for your child? Do you know what it’s like to be asked questions about her future that you can’t answer? Do you know how much we love her and that we will do anything for her, no matter how hard it might be? Do you know what it’s like to put your own feelings aside to do whatever is best for your child- even if that means she goes to school over 2,000 miles away? Do you know what it’s like for your own family and friends to judge you and have nothing to do with you anymore because they can’t comprehend any of this? We feel the same towards Anna as we do our biological children. If they needed help, we’d help them too- no matter what. Do you know what it’s like to have gone through so much that it makes you extremely hyper-vigilant in every aspect of life? I worry about things I’d never heard of before adopting Anna. Do you know how Anna’s life impacts the lives of her siblings? Her therapist? Her teacher? Her classmates?  

I’ve felt every emotion imaginable towards you but as much as I can, I forgive you. I wish you could see how hard Anna tries on some days. I also wish you could see her when she’s not trying. I wish you could listen in on phone and skype calls, be CC’d on emails, and see her face-to-face too. I wish you could silently watch her go through her day and see how some of your choices while pregnant will affect her daily for the rest of her life.

I wish you could see her art work. Did you know she loves to draw horses and dragons? Did you know she’s so athletic and can play any sport?  Do you know she has a beautiful singing voice?  Did you know she loves spaghetti? Did you know she loves pickles?  Did you know she wants to be the first female football player for the best NCAA football team? Did you know she’s learning how to be a friend? Did you know she’s trying to learn empathy? Did you know she’s on a special diet? Did you know that some days she wants to get better and some days she doesn’t want to try?  

Despite everything, no matter how hard it is some days- I’m the one who is so very blessed. She calls me Mommy, she knows I’m the one person in the world who will never give up on her. Sometimes she tells me she loves me. Sometimes I get a glimpse of what the “real Anna” might be someday if she’s able to heal from her traumatic beginnings.

I’m still praying for you- and myself too. 

Anna’s Mommy

Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)
https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=95340641
https://www.facebook.com/AdoptiveParentsPersevering

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To See or Not to See

I often get asked what it’s like to have a child diagnosed with both FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and severe RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder).  Besides eating nonedible items, raging for hours, destroying property, and aggression towards others, there are other things I could share.  

When we brought her home from Russia, we took her to a Pediatric Ophthalmologist.  We were told she had a hyperoptic astigmatism and strabismus (that she controlled).  We continued to see the specialist for several years. 

A few years ago, I went to her school for an IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting to discuss her behaviors.  I came prepared with research, a DVD and new ideas to try.  We started the meeting and her teacher said, “we think she needs to see an Optometrist.”   Surprised, I asked, “what?” The teacher said, “an optometrist is an eye doctor.”  I said, “I know what an Optometrist is.  She’s been seeing a Pediatric Ophthalmologist.  What’s wrong?”  The teacher said, “we think she’s blind in her left eye.”  Shocked, I told them she’s not blind in either eye.  I couldn’t convince them so I had them bring her to the room so I could prove she wasn’t blind in either eye by having her read with both eyes individually.  Yes, our daughter had successfully convinced them she was blind in one eye!!

Fast forward to 2015.  She had decided she liked the look of eyeglasses and wanted some so she faked her eye exam while in residential treatment.  I bought her some cute frames she loved with her prescription lenses.  She loved them until she put them on.  Guess what?  She couldn’t see with them because she didn’t need prescription glasses!  She got angry because she couldn’t see so she stomped on them until she broke them.  She also broke glasses of other kids but that would be a whole new blog post.

Fast forward to August 2016.  She had beeen at Jasper Mountain school for a few weeks and admitted to me she faked the exam before and just wants glasses because they’re cool!  I explained that some stores have vanity glasses without a prescription.  It was a very big deal that she acknowledged what she did the year before and was able to express her feelings of wanting something and feelings of anger when she put the glasses on but couldn’t see.  She even realizes that her actions (fakingvthe eye exam) lead to her having glasses she couldn’t see out of- and her anger lead to her stomping on them and breaking them.  I waited a few months after this admission and then mailed her some non-prescription “vanity glasses.”  She looks adorable in them and can see when she wears them.

This is just one small way of explaining what this life is like.
Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=95340641

https://www.facebook.com/AdoptiveParentsPersevering

Emergency Situations

I’ve talked to several Adoptive families who are really “in the trenches” lately. I’m going to be blunt because it’s necessary. This applies to all families, not just Adoptive families. Your top priority is your child(ren). Not your parents, in-laws, siblings, cousins, or friends. What they think does not matter. Your child(ren) must be your top priority. Period. Some of you are dealing with one of your children abusing another child at home. That is NOT normal and NOT ok!! I’ve been asked, “but what do I do?” Here’s what you do-
1) physical safety- if you have a child hurting (abusing) another child, the child doing the abusing needs to stop and get help immediately. Have someone you trust watch your other children. Take the abusive child to a psych hospital ASAP. From there you can determine next options for that child whether it be medication, residential treatment, etc.  If you are not strong enough or the abusive child will not cooperate call the police. Keep yourself and your other children safe until police arrive. Explain to police what is happening and that you need help for your child.
If the abusive child has hurt another child get help for that child immediately. If it’s physical or sexual, take the hurt child to the ER. If it’s verbal/ emotional, find a therapist immediately and request an emergency appointment. Continue to keep the child in therapy and listen to and do what the therapist says. This takes time.

2) Report everything to DFCS/ DHS/ your state equivalent. This is the LAW and has to be reported. They’ll ask what happened and what you’re doing to keep everyone safe. Tell them everything.
3) Get help for yourself and spouse. See a counselor or therapist.
Remember, taking a child with mental illness to get help does NOT mean you’re choosing one child over the other. It means you’re doing what is best for everyone to keep everyone safe.
I repeat- do NOT worry about what extended family and friends think. They do not live this life and cannot comprehend it.
Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=95340641

https://www.facebook.com/AdoptiveParentsPersevering/

Surviving Birthdays & Mother’s Days as an Adoptive Child and as an Mom

Legacy of an Adopted Child (unknown author)
Once there were two women,

Who never knew each other.

One you do not remember,

The other you call Mother.

Two different lives,

Shaped to make you one.

One became your guiding star,

The other became your sun.

The first one gave you life,

And the second taught you to live it.

The first gave you a need for love,

The second was there to give it.

One gave you a nationality,

The other gave you a name.

One gave you a talent,

The other gave you aim.

One gave you emotions,

The other calmed your fears.

One saw your first sweet smile,

The other dried your tears.

One sought for you a home that she could not provide,

The other prayed for a child and her hope was not denied.

And now you ask me through your tears,

The age old question, unanswered through the years.

Heredity or environment,

Which are you a product of?

Neither my darling, Neither;

Just two different kinds of love.
Can you imagine the confusion a child who was adopted must feel?  Especially my oldest child.  She remembers the orphanage (and its workers who abused and neglected her) and us coming to adopt her.  She doesn’t remember her birthmother.

I can’t reveal much (but she can when she’s older if she chooses to).  We hired a private investigator to learn all we could about our oldest daughter’s birth family.  We wanted her to have this.  It’s part of who she is and we want her to be proud of the person she is.  She should never feel ashamed or less than because of her beginnings.  None of this was her fault.

She knows we are thankful for her birthmother because without her, we wouldn’t have our daughter.  She knows her birthmother didn’t always make great decisions.  She wishes she could have been in MY belly because she saw me take care of our two biological daughters and wishes she’d had great prenatal care.  On top of all of this she struggles with both FAS and RAD.  Like most children with RAD, she tries to sabotage my birthday and Mother’s Day.  Why?  It’s how she copes and the one way (she thinks) she can have control.  This is how the mind works of a child whose needs were not met in formative years.

So, my new plan is to, with the help of her therapist, celebrate her birthmother’s birthday and celebrate her birthmother on Mother’s Day.  We’ve talked to our daughter about this and she really likes this idea.  We’ll see how it goes.

How do you celebrate your child’s birth family?

Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=95340641

https://www.facebook.com/AdoptiveParentsPersevering/

 

 

Life for a Child in Residential Treatment Center

Our oldest daughter is in her 3rd residential treatment center.  The first two could not help her.  She’s finally making progress at the one she’s in now.  Unfortunately it’s on the other side of the country but her needs must come first.  She must be in residential treatment because she is not safe to herself or others (those close to us know details and how this is the only option but I won’t go into details here).  So many people have asked us about this.  The most common question is, “does she miss you?” The answer is yes and no.  She misses us but she is NOT attached to us.  She has Reactive Attachment Disorder- so severe because she developed NO attachments in her first two years of life in the orphanage.  

What is life like in an RTC?

They are all different as there are many and they treat different populations and disabilities.  The one our oldest daughter is in is more like a very nice boarding school.  They specialize in treating children with traumatic backgrounds (like an orphanage).  For those of you who are local, think private schools like Baylor or McCallie.  Except much more expensive.  There are about 20 residents.  The building they live in is a castle.  She has a roommate and they have bunk beds.  The walls in her room are painted pink and she has a toy chest.  She has photos of her family on the wall.  Downstairs they have a family style dining table where they have “family style” meals.  They have a fireplace and all of the children have photos on the mantle.  They have a swimming pool, basketball goal, soccer field, a yurt, bikes, skates, playgrounds, sleds, outdoor covered gym, six horses with an indoor riding arena, two llamas, etc.  It’s in a beautiful place on a mountain and across the street from a river.  There are some very cool covered bridges nearby.  It’s in the country where they have fresh air and plenty of space to play.  They have a separate school building and she has a teacher with the educational and specialized training she needs to help children from traumatic backgrounds.  The student teacher ratio is very low.  She’s made more academic progress this year than all other years combined.  She has a psychiatrist in addition to her neuropsychologist (on our side of the country).  There are multiple therapists as well.  We really like her therapist (an alumna of Cornell and Northwestern), who sees her almost daily but one-on-one weekly or as needed.  Her therapist is with her when we Skype.  This RTC is nothing like the other two she was in.  She has a one-on-one staff member who takes her into the community for lunch and other activities.  They go on field trips based on how they are doing.  She loved the camping trip!

As I said, she’s on the other side of the country.  We visit quarterly and stay on campus while we’re there.  We Skype weekly.  We have scheduled phone calls three times each week but we can call anytime.  We email letters and photos.  We mail her packages.  We are also in constant communication with her therapist by phone, email, skype, and text.  We have a full team meeting monthly to discuss her progress and needs.  This is also unlike the previous RTCs.  

We miss her more than anyone can imagine.  There are multiple photos of her in almost every room in our home.  As parents, we know she’s in the best place but we also worry.  We wish we could meet her needs in our home but every facility so far (except this one) has said she’s currently too acute for their facility- obviously going home and into the community is not an option right now.

A distant relative asked if we’d had her declared incompetent.  She’s a 10 year old child- not an adult.  We’re seeking help for her just as any parent seeks help for their child whether they have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, diabetes, or even cancer.  There’s just more stigma attached to mental health.  There shouldn’t be!  The same relative said we’ve put her in an “institution.”  An “institution” is a noun with two definitions:

  1. a society or organization founded for a religious, educational, social, or similar purpose. “a certificate from a professional institution” synonyms: establishment, organization, institute, foundation, center
  2. an established law, practice, or custom. “the institution of marriage”synonyms: practice, custom, convention, tradition, habit; phenomenon, fact; system, policy; idea, notion, concept, principle “institution of marriage”

So yes, it is an institution but there’s to be no negative connotation associated with it.  I hold degrees from both the University of Alabama and Freed-Hardeman University.  They are also types of institutions.  This particular relative may be thinking of an asylum from another time period?  Maybe?  Obviously, our daughter is not in a insane asylum.

Our daughter loves horses, playing basketball (or any sport), singing (she has a beautiful voice), drawing, learning, being outside, and playing.  Her favorite colors (right now) are black, green, and yellow.  She loves to eat pickles.  She’s a fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oregon Ducks.  She loves to go to water parks.  She likes camping.  She loves for me to curl her hair, paint her nails, and put makeup on her (just a little blush and lipgloss).  Our daughter is a person.  She’s special, she’s sweet, and she’s deserving of the very best.

We’re a family.  We’re a Mom (37) and a Dad (41) to three beautiful girls (10, 5 and 1), each special and unique.  I’m the stepmom to twin boys (17).  My husband works full time as an Engineer and I retired early from my career at TVA as a Project Manager to advocate for our oldest daughter full time and care for our youngest daughters.  We’re Christians.  We love to do activities with our children.  We enjoy reading and traveling.  We like snuggling on the couch watching 7th Heaven together as a family (when our youngest let’s us take a break from Sesame Street!).  We celebrated our 10th anniversary a couple of months ago.  We’re just a family learning as we go, trying to do what is best for our children, and sometimes taking it a day at a time.  We aren’t that different from you.  We simply have a child needing specialized treatment right now.

Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.

Founder and Special Needs Advocate

Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=95340641

https://www.facebook.com/AdoptiveParentsPersevering/

Our Answer Has Always Been “Yes” 

3/5/08- we received the referral for oldest daughter with very minimal information and 2 photos and after sharing with UAB IAC (so we’d have an idea of what to expect), we said “yes”

4/22/08- it was our court date in Krasnoyarsk, Russia and we were told we’d been given all of her medical records.  Then we were asked about our plans for her “prolapsed tricuspid valve with regurgitation.”  What?  We didn’t know about this.  “Yes, we want her.  We’ll take her to a Pediatric Cardiologist.”

In Moscow after her physical to get her visa to come to the USA, the doctor says, “Spastic Tetraparesis.”  What is that?  “Yes, we still want her!”

It’s been test after test, behavior after behavior, decision after decision, diagnosis after diagnosis, 10+ educational placements, 2 moves, 11 psychiatric hospitalizations, therapeutic respite,  3 residential treatment centers- always with what’s best for her in mind.

Question.  If (Heaven Forbid!!) your child was diagnosed with diabetes, cancer, heart disease- you’d say yes to getting help, right?  I hope so!!  This is no different.  She needs help.  We’re her parents.  It’s part of what we do as parents.  Get the best help we can for our child.

I was recently asked if she’s still our daughter?  What?!?! Of course she is!

A relative recently said, “its hard for me.”  I know!  It’s hard for us!!  Bryan and I agreed on what we would and would not share publicly.  After seriously hurting another child (yes, they were being supervised) almost two years ago, we had no choice but to do something to keep everyone safe.  We could 1) take her to the hospital or 2) dissolve her adoption.  Staying home when she wasn’t safe to herself or anyone else was not an option at all.  We chose to try hospitalization again.  And again.  And again.  There was a clear consensus that she needed long term residential treatment specializing in children who have suffered early trauma and have FAS and RAD.  Our private insurance company knew my voice.  They called all over the country.  She was considered too acute for all programs in network except one RTC in SC who was willing to try.  It was a 12 round trip drive but we said “yes” again.

Fortunately I was nominated and then selected as a constituent of GA Senator Perdue as one of CCAI’s Angels in Adoption in 2015 because of my creation of and volunteer work with Adoptive Parents Persevering.  We traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with Senators and Representatives about our daughter (and on behalf of other Adoptive parents facing similar situations).  After talking to many local offices and none being able to help, we reached out to Senator Perdue and Governor Deal.

By July 2016, Anna was still in SC and not making progress.  Her behaviors were becoming more serious and dangerous.  After 3 years I still had not been able to find a place that could really help her.  I fell to my knees in despair and prayed for God to please, please help us help our daughter.  I prayed like I’d never prayed before.  With Him, she was accepted and had an admission date to Jasper Mountain within two weeks of my prayer!  This time we said “Yes” and God said, “yes.”  I don’t know what the future holds but I know that He has a plan for her and us.  She’s been at JM since August, we talk to and skype with her several times each week, and we visit quarterly.  For safety reasons, she and her sisters haven’t seen each other in a year and a half.  They’re going with us for our next visit, though.

We’re thankful that God continues to allow us to say “yes!”

Amanda Alexander, M.B.A.
Founder and Special Needs Advocate
Adoptive Parents Persevering (APPS)
https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=95340641
https://www.facebook.com/AdoptiveParentsPersevering/

 

Reactive Attachment Category 3- No Attachment

There are three categories of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Our oldest daughter falls into category 3- No Attachment. You can read more on page 24 of this article by clicking on the link below. If you’re not already aware of this, we adopted our oldest daughter from an orphanage in Russia and brought her home at age 23 months. She was prenatally exposed to alcohol and shows all signs of neglect and abuse from life in an orphanage.  She’s 10 now and attends the Jasper Mountain School.  

http://www.jaspermountain.org/understanding_treating_attachment_problem.pdf