Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Damage Done

Ruth will be 8 in December. Last month marked her 6th year with us and she is starting to make progress. She was born to a 13 year old mother who had been raped at the age of 12 and was sent to live in a foster home. That baby tried to mother her baby for a full year before Ruth was taken from her and placed with our adoption agency for another 6 months before coming to us. I recently unearthed her placement pictures. She was crying and stiff. She was the most unhappy child I ever met. She cried almost constantly for months and then gradually it was less and less each day. Then she turned off completely for years - just drifted away within herself. I felt I would drown if I looked too deeply into her eyes, her nothingness was unbearable.

Slowly, gradually, she is climbing out of her interior chaos. Last month we met with our counselor (thank God for this man!) and we were discussing some really odd behaviors we'd been observing in her. He took notes as we talked and then he sat and looked over his notes and thought and said, "This is a very chaotic person. But at least she is expressing her chaos. What we are seeing is expressive chaos." He made up that term on the spot and he was pleased with the progress. He was pleased that the chaos within her was finally finding expression outside of her. Therapists are odd folk but I allow myself to be carried into his enthusiasm lest I lose heart completely.

Today as we met with our counselor again we talked about how to go about the business of enjoying Ruth's company. Yes, this is an intentional task that requires strategy and planning. We are often asked about our adopted children "Can you love them the same?" And the answer for us with a couple of our children is "No." The bond to our homemade children is instantaneous. It begins at the first inkling of life which is usually indicated by a faint pink line. We then have the next 9 months to fall quickly, madly in love with the life within. Then for me the experience of labor and delivery solidifies that love relationship. I see my labors as a joint effort between me, God and my baby - the culmination of a long, natural process in which love is born. Then we have the re-discovery with each one of all the things a newborn can do and that love relationship becomes rock solid.

Ruth didn't have the benefit of any of this. She was carried in a traumatized womb nestled in a traumatized girl with a traumatized mind and soul. She was parented by a child who probably continued to act out her own sexual confusion on her baby. As her first days, weeks, months went by and her brain began to form and develop connections from one complicated part to another it was short-circuited by sometimes non-existent and at other times foreign and inappropriate stimuli. Her physical development became distorted (she still walks with a slight limp even though there is nothing physically wrong with her). Her ideas of love, safety, joy, nurturing grew up in a manure bed of distortions and her sense of self was cut off from her, hidden in a place deep within her.

She is not able yet to function as a "normal" part of our family. She cannot form meaningful friendships and she may never be able to navigate the difficult maze called marriage. Simple tasks are often impossible for her, my counselor insists that at this point I am her executive functioning. The past six years have been a constant effort to teach her to play, to hug appropriately, to chat, to remember to chew... Much damage has been done to this little one.

I am always amazed at the amount of damage that can be done to a child even while still in the womb. If a mother remains detached and disaffected during pregnancy, chances are even a child placed immediately within a loving, nurturing, stimulating home will have difficulty with bonding and attachment (such is the case with another of our children). If that same child is allowed to develop in those early weeks and months of infancy with the same detached or traumatized mother then the damage deepens. I know children whose lives may be irredeemable barring some miracle of God (further explanation of this topic may be further fodder for another post - I can hear the objections as I type...). They will grow up and become dangerous to society, even though they are now in loving and nurturing homes where all the best of resources (physical and spiritual) are being applied to their care. And all of them were placed in loving families within months of birth. The damage was done.

We are no longer the starry-eyed optimists we once were and when we see those young couples who enter into adoption thinking that their love will be enough we inwardly cringe and outwardly try to offer softened warnings about the turn their lives are about to take. I will never stop believing that God can and may heal Ruth and our other children completely but I also know that we need to realistically assess where we are now. The truth is, God is choosing to heal gradually - moment by agonizing moment. There may be a day on this earth, in this life, when he scoops up Ruth in His hands and blows the dust from her soul and she will emerge whole -- or that day may never come this side of Heaven. Until then I will remain convicted of my task to walk alongside her, guide her, love her and introduce her to the Great Physician, even as I shake my head and marvel at the Damage Done. For as great as the damage is, how much greater will redemption be.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Praise God for your faith and your love, for your perseverance, and for the great gift He has given your children in having parents like you. Praise God for giving us people with your vocation!

I'm in awe.

DebD said...

That was beautiful and made me cry. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Patti S. (from FG board) said...

Wow - what wisdom. Ruth is in the best place she can be. Ditto to Anastasia's post. Thanks to you and your family for being God's love personified for Ruth and all of your other children.

Don said...

This was a beautiful post, and I was so right there with you through every word.

As your previous post reveals, I do feel your pain. It's agonizing sometimes while we wait for the light to come on, isn't it?

I probably don't need to tell you that you are doing all the right things. Keep the faith, and never give up. We're the little engines that could. The hills are just really steep with children like ours.

Celebrate every teeny tiny victory, and may God continue to bless you and your family.

Mairs said...

Thanks Don. Your encouragement means a lot to me. So many people just don't "get it" when they meet Ruth. She is capable of being quite cute and personable at times...but those people don't live with they don't understand our parenting of her. We are blessed to have many friends, though, who do "get it" to balance out the rest.

Most of the time I feel like an inadequate ogre even as I know that I am singularly equipped and specifically ordained by God to be her mother. Hedging in the boundaries is hard work.

Don said...

The people who have witnessed my life with my son for the years that we've been a family are now seeing the side of him that had, it appears, been reserved only for me.

Now they understand why, at times, it appears that I'm going to extremes. As a social worker instructed us during foster parent training, "standard behaviors require standard discipline... but these are children who are capable of extreme behaviors, and we must respond accordingly."

According to his psychiatrist, this may actually be a good thing, as he's growing comfortable enough in this new world of his to really let this stuff out.

Unfortunately, the consequences for his behaviors, in this world, are usually not what he had hoped they would be. But that's how we learn, if we choose to accept the lessons.

As his therapist instructed me, "keep doing what you're doing." It isn't easy, but as you so eloquently stated, you were "specifically ordained" to be her mother. As parents, we are to provide what they need, whether it's a hug, or a correction.

That's our job.

stlouismb said...

I'll type more when I quit crying. You two and Don are amazing--even heroic!


Gina said...

Like others I am so blessed and amazed by your family's stories that I hardly know how to comment.

In future posts, please write about how those of us who might encounter children and parents like yours at church, in stores, etc., can understand what we see.

Mairs said...

Sigh...perhaps I should confess, lest you all think me a saint in haste, that today I can understand why some animals eat their young. I am frustrated out of my mind with my dear Ruth today and I've given her nothing but grief all day...(and still, I would pick her up and brush her off before I allowed her to be harmed by anyone...)