Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Open Note to Absent First Mothers

Despite the impression the media likes to give, it's not always the adoptive parents who break off the relationship.

Sometimes we do everything we can to stay connected, and after 2, 3, several years it's the first mother who drops off the radar; doesn't return calls; ignores emails; stops sending pictures and letters; no-shows our get-togethers. Takes herself out of the child's life.

I "get" (as well as I can) a first mother's need to do that. But it's upsetting for the child. As abandonment issues go, it's pretty high on the pain scale.

I'm not asking anyone to justify their feelings or actions.

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Casey's Story

When John Brooks first emailed me I didn't respond. I read his request to share his family's story here, and for a while, I just did nothing. It's summer vacation, and my kids and I are living the life with trail hikes and fresh berries, fireflies and flying kites, we're painting rocks and rocking out in our wading pool air band, and it's nothing about adoption or adoptive parenting or having been adopted, and then here's this stranger... this, this father... and I know he's trying to help other people heal, but his experience as an adoptive parent was (thankfully) very different from my own. It's awfully sad, and I think about how each time I slip down the slope it takes more out of me, and I'm afraid one of these times I won't be able to climb back up, so I don't write back. 

But his story tugs like a plaintive child. And I think of Myst and Von and Christina and Amanda and Linda Lou Who and Ariel and Jeni and other people who reveal adoption's disturbing underbelly... and the children I know who were adopted from orphanages. And Casey. So here it is: Casey's Story by guest blogger John Brooks, with gratitude to him for reaching out and telling it.  

Casey's Story

Ours was a familiar story. My wife, Erika, and I turned to adoption in 1991. We thought surely there were millions of babies out there in need of two loving people desperate to be parents. Then we learned about the realities of adoption. A foreign adoption seemed our best bet, but options were limited then. To improve our chances, we’d need to be open to an “older” or “special needs” child. This was not how we envisioned starting a family, but we wanted to be parents.

A chance encounter with another adoptive family steered us to an adoption attorney in Warsaw, Poland. Erika was of Polish descent and spoke the language. Maybe this was our chance. In a late night phone call to Warsaw from our home in Connecticut, the attorney was sympathetic but discouraging. She had a long backlog of clients and available children were scarce. What about an “older” or “special needs” child, Erika asked. It was then that we first heard about a fourteen-month-old girl in a rural orphanage. In a matter of five short months, we’d rushed through home studies and background checks before boarding a LOT flight to Poland to receive our daughter, who we’d named Casey. It was nothing less than a miracle.

Casey was an unwanted pregnancy, a three-pound preemie whose twin sister had been stillborn. She went straight from the delivery room to an incubator to an orphanage in MrÄ…gowo in Poland’s northern lake district. At fourteen months, she was withdrawn, listless, unable to sit, crawl or feed herself. Medical records were scant. But to us she was perfect; nothing that two able bodied Americans couldn’t fix with love.

Indeed in the years that followed, it seemed that a loving home was all Casey needed. We moved from Connecticut to the San Francisco Bay Area where she transformed into a bright, spirited, charming little girl. 

 But in the privacy of our home, things were often different - violent tantrums, crying jags, defiance. We looked for answers from friends, pediatricians, therapists, counselors and pastors, but were assured repeatedly that Casey was just high-strung; she’d grow out of it. In the meantime, we had to be tough with her. Though fully aware of her abandonment and adoption, the professionals never explored the matter.

At seventeen, Casey gained early admission to Bennington College in Vermont with a bright future ahead. She wanted to make a difference in the world.

But she never made it.

Just five months shy of her high school graduation, she took the keys to our car, drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped.

Drowning in grief, I looked for answers. How could this have happened? What did everyone miss? What could we have done differently? I went to the library and scoured the Internet for everything I could find on adoption, something I’d never thought to do before. I learned about attachment disorders that can have a devastating effect on orphaned children. It explained everything – the angel at school and the tyrant at home, the tantrums, crying jags, low self-esteem and defiance, things that she kept carefully hidden behind a suit of armor from parents, therapists and friends. 

 How could everyone have been so blind?

I connected with other parents of children adopted from foreign orphanages and heard similar stories. Some stumbled onto appropriate treatments whereas others, like us, were left in the dark. Adoption and attachment experts shared with me the therapies and parenting techniques that have proven effective in dealing with the unique emotional needs of orphaned children. This information was in the public domain, yet everyone involved in Casey’s short life missed it.

I can’t have another Casey, a do-over. She was one of a kind. But regardless of the tragic outcome, I’ll always consider myself the luckiest guy in the world to have been her dad for sixteen of her seventeen years. 


From her death we learned that adoptees can be exposed to disorders that are still misunderstood by many professionals. Not every adoptee has attachment issues, but for those who do, treatment can be illusive.

Other adoptive parents who may struggle with what we did can use our story as a learning experience. Acknowledge your child’s loss, parent her in a way that may not be intuitive to you, get her the right kind of help. Just “loving her enough” may not be enough.

Hopefully, that will save a precious life.

About the Author
John Brooks is a former senior media financial executive who has turned to writing, suicide and adoption advocacy since Casey’s death in 2008. He recently completed a memoir about his experience as an adoptive father and his journey to understand his daughter’s suicide, titled The Girl Behind The Door: My Journey Into The Mysteries Of Attachment. He also writes a blog, Parenting and Attachment

Friday, April 26, 2013

Please Read Ariel's Blog

If you haven't found Ariel's blog yet, please go there today. Her voice is essential to the adoption conversation.

She writes: Even all these months later, it doesn’t take a lot for grief to overpower me. I don’t know how to think about him, this little person that I can’t bring myself to address anymore, and not have it ruin my day. I’m starting to think that a blog is not enough as an outlet. I hoped it could be enough, but it has also enabled me in ignoring my feelings and never talking about him in real life, which doesn’t lend well to my sanity. But I can’t do anything else, not when everyone else is completely fine with the omissions, and I am literally the only one who notices a big hole everywhere.

Adoptive parents, we need to listen... 

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
My Google Profile+

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Open & Closed

The following is a revised version of something I posted three years ago. My understanding of and perspective on adoption continues to evolve. I hope it always will.

To spend any time in the adoption cyber-community is to be convinced that first parents (almost) always want more openness than adoptive parents. The majority of blogging first mothers and fathers are eager, sometimes desperate, for more contact, and they’re simply waiting, impatiently waiting, painfully waiting for inclusion by the adoptive parents.

Many of the most vocal adoptees are either craving a deeper connection with their first families or mourning the realization that such a connection is erratic, inconsistent, unexpectedly toxic, ultimately unfulfilling, or will never be at all.

I can relate. Boy, can I relate. Most days I want more from my children’s first families. Most days I starve for information, details, history, stories, updates, and contact. I want responses to my emails. I want emails that aren't just responses to mine. I want pictures of you as a baby, as a child, of you pregnant, of you holding your baby, and as you are now. I want continuity that I don't have, that my kids don't have, that only you can provide.

And yet, I hesitate. I don't ask for what I want. I keep hoping you will read my mind and feel the same and know how to do this relationship better than I do. 

Most days I'm uncertain. Have I asked for too much? Have I asked too soon? Have I gone too far, crossed a line, rattled a cage, cut a tightrope, popped a bubble? Did I step on a crack?

What happens next? And when is next? Is it now? Why isn't it now?

Is this it? Is this all there will be? Is this enough for you? How will I know?

I'm afraid to ask for more because I'm afraid you'll say no, afraid you'll walk away, afraid of what I'll find. I'm afraid that after everything you've given, you'll give even more. For her. At your own expense. Because you don't want to say no. Because you don't want to be "that way." Because you love her.

Was it something I said?

Are you coming back?

Click here to purchase Sally's , What I Want My Adopted Child to Know: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
My Google Profile+

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Scary" Adoption Blogger #2

One of my 2013 resolutions is to highlight 13 people whose Truth challenges me, unsettles me, and yes, sometimes scares me. Their Truths confront my misconceptions, and I am better for it. 

"Scary" Adoption Blogger #2 is Ariel and her blog i miss you. Ariel writes with a beautiful voice. She is raw, clear, and authentic.

Each time I visit her blog I hope her son grows to know her. She's quite something.

Sally Bacchetta
The Adoptive Parent
My Google Profile+