I am not unlike you. I love my kids more than anything on the planet. They are my heart. They are my life. They are my first glorious sight in the morning. (One of them bursts into my room every day at crack of dawn, but that’s another story) and one of the last things I see at night. There is nothing that can bring out the mama bear in me like someone wronging my child. My family is not perfect, but it is mine. Everything I do is to build a future for them. Most of you know by now that we are an adoptive family. I write about special needs adoption often. I share our struggles and our challenges. I share our triumphs too. It’s all part of the journey. But there are some things I never say. I wanted to share those with you today because it’s National Adoption Awareness Month.
My kids are all kinds of amazing and brilliant and beautiful. But they are also incredibly challenging financially and emotionally. They are hard. The hardest thing I have ever done. You can say: “Oh but Paula parenting is hard.” And yes it is. But adoptive parenting is harder. Parenting special needs kids by adoption is excruciatingly hard (and sometimes rewarding). I don’t care if you believe me. It is simply harder. Our kids come carrying baggage that is heavier than they are often. They are more susceptible to mental illness and they are often prenatally exposed to substances. My youngest daughter has FASD ( fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) That is essentially a brain injury sustained while in utero because birth mother drank and did various other substances that hurt my daughter’s growing body. Did she do that on purpose? Hell no. At least, I don’t think so. Most of the time, my grownup 40-year-old Mom brain, understands that she had a very different life than me. I believe nobody sets out to hurt their baby. And yet, both of my daughters struggle. At school. At home. In life. Often. How does that feel to us, in my home daily managing the behaviours that stem from this horrible brain injury? My oldest daughter has anxiety that is at times almost paralyzing. The host of needs and appointments for the two of my girls is staggering and unmanageable often.
These are five things I have never told you about special needs adoption.
1. Sometimes it sucks so much I want to punch someone in the face.
There are so many times that I talk here about honouring birth parents as the ones who gave my kids life. And I will one day meet the birth parents who helped to make us parents and I will say thank you. I hope. But today here is what I am feeling during National Adoption Awareness Month. Please understand, you can be angry with me for telling the truth. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is my truth, my reality. This is special needs adoption on a particularly shitty month. At a time when most social workers advised things would get better. I was told at one point: “around 8 something will click and she will sort of settle down.” Well here’s the thing: she’s ten now and sure there are some days when she is the most incredibly charming beautiful kid on the planet, but there are others when she is not that. I still love her. She is my daughter and today I am telling the truth. And my older daughter struggles with this chronic worry about everything. I spent the afternoon on the weekend trying to get into her head to learn what was so worrisome for her when we visited the Kitchener auditorium the other day for We Day. She rattled off at least 10 big worries she had experienced that entire day which was intended to be enjoyable. It started with the stadium could collapse while we are in it and ended with someone could jump out and take me and I’d never see you again. I have no idea how any child copes with that amount of worry. It makes me want to cry. I rarely see glimpses of carefree children here.
2. I want to hold someone accountable for the hard shit in their life.
Because they are kids and kids should be coasting through life without nine thousand doctors and therapist’s appointments, I want to hold someone accountable. A child’s biggest concern should be making Christmas lists and playing outside and wondering what they will be when they grow up. Mostly it is birth mom I get angry with. Sometimes it is very honestly systems that fail. Because systems will fail your adoptive child. Often.
3. It sucks. It sucks that one rages at dinner and has done so spinning out of control every single night for the past two months. FASD sucks so much I wish at times that I could meet her birth mom and punch her in the face. That is my truth. It is not pretty. I don’t care if you like it. I am saying it. Sometimes I want to punch a social worker in the face for suggesting that LOVE would be enough to cure adoption, or to cure special needs. IT isn’t enough. If you know me at all you know I would never act in a violent manner. But I feel it. It is my truth and today I am saying it.
4. I hate being an advocate 24/7. I just wanted to be a Mom.
It sucks when another teacher fails to get her and advises me that they are pretty certain she is playing them. She can do the work on Monday and then she can’t do it Friday, her teacher says. YUP. That is FASD. I remember watching my daughter learn her numbers. She printed them each and practiced over and over. She would do the number 5 with precision on Tuesday and then, on a plane on the way home from a family vacation she would have the greatest meltdown she had endured that year because the 5 was gone. The ability to remember it had vanished and she was mad and holy hell so was I. I still am mad 5 years later after that magnificent meltdown because kids shouldn’t have that much difficulty writing numbers or learning. AND I shouldn’t have to reteach her teachers this weekly. But, But, But she knew it yesterday. Yes she did. Today she doesn’t. That is life. And nobody should have to remortgage a home to afford the assessments that are required for special needs children. And nobody should lose weeks of work a year because someone sent her home unable to cope with her needs at school. And nobody tells you that because of one child’s special needs the other child’s special needs will escalate. Anxiety doesn’t do well with the chronic outbursts from your sibling. And you will grow to hate all of the school meetings where sometimes people agree to do things that never get done. You will get great at advocating for your child because there is no other choice. But part of you will also hate it.
5. A piece of me dies every time I read one of those articles about some adoptive family sending a child back to Russia, or rehoming a child in the US.
You know those adoption disruption stories in the news? The ones you read about people rehoming children Or sending them back to Russia or something horrible that makes you, my friend with the neuro-typical kids, go “HOW Awful? They are not puppy dogs. They are children.”
A piece of me dies every time I read one of those stories, because they are my friends. I might not know them personally but I strongly suspect I KNOW them in a sense that we all, as special needs adoptive parents, are them. Maybe not all of us, but many of us are them. I nod my head every time I read one of those stories and even as my heart is breaking I understand. I know how this happens. I see how this happens. So what’s the difference? WE put one foot in front of the other. We cry. We scream. We holler and vent and write and sometimes we find a friend in another special needs adoptive parent who messages us at 5 p.m. on an August afternoon to say what nobody else will: today I told my husband I am leaving. I have had it. I am not doing this anymore. We tell each other we know. We text, DM, and private message each other to say. Don’t do it. We commiserate about the number of times the youngest one hit us that day. We holler that the latest assessment cost $3,000 of grocery money. We tell each other this week sucked. We say the words we need to say privately and then we stay. We stay.