Hoop Jumping: Endurance and pitfalls

Things have been intense here, hence silence… but it’s because of an appointment that was sprung on us. One we have been waiting for, but was arranged quite last minute.

 

So we left our house at 7:30 in the morning to go to a private clinic (90 minutes away from our house) for a Theraplay based assessment as a family. The week that led up to the appointment I had to fill out 19 documents to print and fill in, in order to attend the appointment. The appointment I have been thoroughly fighting for, for over a year. But, actually, I’ve been saying was needed for the best part of 18-24 months. It was intensive and lasted for over 5 hours.
The therapists witnessed stuff I have been screaming for two years. Although, we haven’t had an in-depth feedback because, as I have been saying, BOTH CHILDREN have extensive and complex issues. And, it would be too exhausting for us (as parents) to go through it on top of the day’s assessments (which are inherently designed to create stress for both child and parent, to be able to try and get to the most natural stress response from you and child). Plus, there are added sensory issues which need to be screened for and discussed before the feedback can fully take place. And the children were already far too stressed out, tired and about to break (visibly) to stay longer than absolutely essential.

 

They saw that the issues for Caitlin are based in fear and she’s coming out of “withdraw” stage (not to be confused with withdrawal) so she’s learning to go into fight mode rather than freezing and shutting down. She’s not the happy child everyone sees. She’s inherently sad and needs so much attention, support, guidance and love.
Logan – complex, and as close a quote as I can muster “the outward boy people see, the responses and reactions he gives are not reflective to how he feels”. Yes, that means, that when I have said that the compliance, polite manner, hugs, kisses, compliments, agreement/requests to take part in activity, etc. are fake and I was right. And each time people have fed into this and complimented him for it, or talked me down in front of him for it they have fed him the idea that this is somewhat fine to do. It’s fine to be fake and comply even when you don’t want to. Even when you are denying your true self. Even when you are making yourself feel insecure. Because it pacifies other people’s needs. And when you make them happy, they are less likely to hurt you. To shout at you. To intimidate you.

 

Although I don’t have full feedback, I have professionals who have said the major points to me

  • That they both have complex needs
  • That for Logan, this is having a negative impact on the way our relationship is building (which is why I started screaming for the help in the first place, I could see where it was headed)
  • That Logan’s emotions are fake, and almost all of his given actions and reactions are fake too
  • That Caitlin is just as emotionally worn down as he is, and it is just displayed in a different way
  • That both have sensory issues

So just to make it clear, everyone who shut me down and said “it’s normal kid stuff”, “all kids are like this”, “nope, this is how all mum’s feel”… they don’t – this again was talked about briefly today. Most mums aren’t battling sleeping, eating, toiletting, learning, anxiety, attachment, separation and self harming issues, teenage-level-identity-crisis (in children under 8 years old), adult issues (in child friendly format). And to top it all off, having to co sleep, without actually getting sleep, having to home educate as the school system is ill-equipped to deal with the issues, and getting very little respite.
Our life is hard. Our support is very thin on the ground. And yes I am angry. I am angry I had to fight so hard. I am angry that they’ve had to stay “in trauma mode” for longer than necessary. I am angry that I have been put down by so many people that are supposed to be there for us. I am angry that we have reached this point. Angry that I have been made to feel lonely. But most importantly, that we aren’t the only family that are in this situation. I know of at least 3 others primary caregivers (of adopted children) who in a similar emotional state to me. And that’s without prying too hard. And if you don’t believe what I am saying about it being akin to a crisis (and not normality) a national adoption organisation (Adoption UK) are saying the same… see here, over a quarter of adoptive families are in severe difficulty, or bordering on disruption (basically, placement breakdown).

 

That’s not to say we don’t love our children. Hell, if we didn’t I think we’d have chucked in the towel as soon as we got them. Adoption is hard from day 1. It doesn’t need to stay hard with the right support. But with everyone shirking responsibility and chucking you from department to department “nope this child is adopted, placing authority have to pay for this intervention”, “nope, it’s not covered by the adoption support plan AND it’s not something the adoption support fund will pay out for, try your GP”, “Nope, only the community Pediatrician can approve that”, “Nope, Pediatrics can not authorise such things, only CAMHS can do that”, “Nope CAMHS wouldn’t take on this case, it’s for Pediatrics to look at and decide what to do”, “Nope, Pediatrics definitely cannot even talk to you about this, talk to your placing adoption authority, it’s their responsibility”. And so around it goes.

 

People moaning (and saying) that children who aren’t adopted are in the same situation aren’t understanding that an adopted child is in trauma mode – until such time as they are being supported in all essential areas. Until their parents have sufficient respite to keep themselves functioning at a level where they can effectively deliver therapeutic parenting techniques. Until they are in a position where their identity is not just tolerated, but embraced and an open topic. This means that it’s not just an issue of “not getting the appointment” it’s an issue of keeping a child in a prolonged state of vulnerability, prolonging the emotional state and reaffirming their already strong brain patterns of distrust of adults, low self-worth and their inability to belong and be loved.

 

This appointment has brought about positive results. But I am angry. And I am sad. Why should they have waited until now? Why should we, as adoptive parents, have to watch them suffer for so long? Why should we have to fight so hard to get the help? This appointment doesn’t even mean we WILL get help, it just means we’ve jumped through yet another hoop on the way to getting there.

 

Exhausted. Angry. Tired. Lonely.

Settling Developments part 2

Continuation of part 1

For Logan, things have been slightly more complicated, he was 6 by the time he came to live with us. By this time, he had been through so much with birth family, foster family, school and various professionals that he had learned that adults aren’t trustworthy. That’s how his brain has developed, these patterns are ingrained, it’s all he’s ever known and it’s all he knows to keep him safe.

For the longest time, there has been this rejection, flat out hatred at times, towards me. For Bruce, things have been slightly easier; Logan has an underlying need to please men and get a positive response from them. So, at the beginning of being placed with us, he targeted Bruce and got the reactions he needed meaning their relationship has been fairly positive. But because Bruce works midweek and was only, really, around at bed times then, it hasn’t formed into a proper secure attachment, so that can’t be transferred. And It means that Bruce hasn’t been there for the “no” conversations.

I think I have been the first woman to ever offer constant, and consistent, firm but fair boundaries. This has been a hard pill where someone is used to manipulating every situation (to his desire) is concerned. It’s like untangling a matted ball of twine where you accidentally end up with a big loop that in its own turn gets tangled as you are untangling the rest; you need the twine whole, you can’t just cut the knots out, you must unravel each one and tease it to the place it should lay. But, he is the one that needs to untangle it, and he needs to trust the guidance of adults to take him to this place of vulnerability – which is such a catch 22.

School made everything worse, things were far too complicated. His history with schooling (and him learning that school is a place where he can literally do what the hell he wants) added to the things quite major he was processing & the lack of sleep meant that the complications of separation, mixed with his confused rejection of us as parents and the pressures of the classroom was all too much to cope with. There was violence at home, trying to run away from school, meltdowns the works.

The move to home education helped, because I was in control of most of the variables he encountered. But really until we moved out of the stagnant dead water our old house had become, we couldn’t move forward. Moving into our new house, things started changing quickly. First it was just saying about how this felt like “our” home, and that in our old house Logan didn’t feel that it was his and Caitlin’s, like it was mine and Bruce’s and they just lived there.

But 8 weeks after having moved, and we’re having conversations about how he loves living in this family. How he feels like we aren’t the bad guys anymore, how in his head he can see that this is where he belongs, that he’s loved here and he’s safe. Which is amazing, I can’t even begin to say how big this is. His letting the barriers slip, the walls are crumbling, We have moments where we can actually see his vulnerability, albeit brief and fleeting. But they are there. They were not before.

Sometimes in life you must take risks. Even if the choice you make doesn’t work out for the best you have to try; if you are stuck in a rutt that isn’t improving, and there’s a risk you can take that could improve things, it’s better to try and fail, than to just stay stuck, treading water and not moving forward. For us, this time, it has paid off. It won’t always. But today, I am just thankful.

Settling developments part 1

Since being back from Santorini, my near breakdown experience of physically and mentally exhausting myself to get this new house in order has paid off greatly.
I know my children very well, and though they love going on holiday, they always know it is temporary and by the end are longing for their home comforts; knowing what that “home” looks like in a complete picture and not a broken, cluttered and incomplete image was essential to them being able to have that focus. In the end, it made our transition to home life much easier. Santorini was our cut off, everything up until then was chaos (including our travel there and back), but then in getting home, to a nicely cleaned and unpacked, well ordered place created calmness and tranquillity.

And that was essential for them to feel upon our return being able to tune straight in to restored calmness upon a return home from a stressful journey says everything our children need to know about being part of a family, having a stable home and feeling safe. Messages that are so hard to instil upon children who have suffered such things as early childhood trauma, being pushed through a foster system, losing family members, not knowing a permanently stable and safe & loving environment. Yes, even when you are several years into an adoptive placement, it is hard for the children to accept that you will be there forever. So now, several weeks after being home from Santorini, let me share with you on why I feel so much joy.

As Caitlin’s developments are both the thing that happened soonest, and the least complex, I shall share her story first.

For both children, night time has always been a period where anxiety is high; due to their past experiences, it is hard for both children to seek help, support or comfort during the night. The prospect of seeking that help is far too scary for them to imagine. Remember back when you were young and had had a nightmare, and you were too scared to do anything but lie under your blanket and hide and ignore reality, we’ve all been there at some point I’m sure (hell, I know adults who still get like this at times). For these two this is amplified by negative experiences at night time. So even just needing the toilet, or being thirsty, you know… our most simple basic needs… yep even these are equal to that nightmare that triggers your primal fight or flight response.

Unfortunately, a consequence of this is that, for those who have not been taught sufficient healthy ways to deal with emotions and how to regulate emotion, it is very hard to do something healthy as a response. For Caitlin, this meant she would completely withdraw, and start self harming. I don’t mean like headbutting something – although this has been known in lesser anxious situations, I mean literally clawing at her legs, drawing blood, and yet still continuing to do so. Until the point of us coming in to check on her and finding her in this situation, or even worse her waiting until morning to show her she’s covered in blood. On the odd occasion she’d get so desperate for the toilet, that the fear of her wetting herself overpowered her fear of calling us/getting our attention that she would cry and have a panic attack.

Then with the increase of anxiety about school, about home life, she was unable to separate from me, particularly at night time, were she would literally have to be touching me in order to get any kind of rest at all. And now, she is happy to go to bed ahead of me. Sometimes in her own room, sometimes on a metal framed camp bed next to me in my room, sometimes waiting in my place for me. But she also gets out of bed anywhere up to 10 times a night to seek comfort, go to the toilet or check that we still exist. I hear parents of birth children who’ve led sheltered lives across the globes say “wowee, it’s annoying as hell isn’t it?”… yeah it could be, I can see that. But each time I can’t help but get overwhelmed by how much of an amazing development this is. I can’t help but smile and embrace it. How can you not be happy about your child feeling safe and happy enough to be an annoying pain in the toosh?

To move? To stay put?

Adoption: To move, or to stay put?
There’s always a dilemma created by any decision that will involve big changes for children who’ve been adopted. And for that reason, for months I had the professionals (who only had a small window into our life) saying that they thought the only way to achieve stability for our children was to stay put. Slowly, but surely, events and behaviours transpired to the point that one professional quite literally said “you need to get the hell out of there and fast”.

You see, a tension had built up where we were living. A tension made up of the fact that our neighbours were being intimidating to the children. A tension created by our son because it was “Mumma’s and Daddy’s house, Logan and Caitlin are just living there”. A tension from all the social workers, other key workers, therapists and miscellaneous professionals involved in their early placement making the children feel that this was a temporary situation.

The tension had grown so big it was impossible to banish. And it fed into the children’s inability to relax and settle, increased their anxieties to the point that, even when “fully relaxed” at home, they were still hypervigilant. So big that, at no point in the day could there not be full “eyes on” supervision. Even if I needed the toilet, the door had to be open, and the children in sight unless someone was there to keep a watchful eye on them.

For us, it was beyond the point of choice, it was an inevitable “only option”. The choice was less about “if/when?” and more about “where?” Bruce was working about 45 minutes away from where we lived, and was in the opposite direction to the largest part of our support network. Then saying that, the support our network could offer us at the time was either virtual, involved me taking a long journey or was support that (at the time) would not have been helpful (it would have been different if they weren’t children who’d experienced early childhood trauma, but as it stands, they had so certain things people offer to do, whilst appreciated, can’t be accepted as the consequences would by far outweigh any potential face value benefits).

Naturally, it was decided; moving closer to Bruce’s job would mean more availability of him being home; more support to me, more presence with the children, later starts to the day, more family time. But it would also create an opportunity to teach the children that change can be a positive thing, how to healthily get closure on a closing opportunity and receive the new opportunities they then face with gladness and positivity (and not tinged or tainted by the sadness of the reason for change). It would create the opportunity to expand our capabilities in a home education light – we could now ensure we had sufficient outdoor space, better access to educational activities, outings and networks. And ample space within our home to dedicate one area to the storage of anything related to their education.

So how did it pan out?

Well, moving to a new house was very stressful, due to the home education thing meaning the kids were always around, and their anxieties meaning they needed to see me the whole time. But, they were involved in viewings, packing, decluttering, moving boxes, unpacking, rehoming and all the other things you do as you move. This meant they had a long drawn out “goodbye” to the old house and a slow phased “hello” to the new house. Seeing it transform from a home to a shell and then from a shell to a home. Though very wired through this transition, it was obvious to anyone who knows both of our children well, it was very healing for them.

And now, as a result, both children are much more content. They miss our old house, but only really a few of the conveniences it offered (being so close to my little brother being the main one).

So I say, when you are faced with this dilemma (or something similar). Only you, living through it, can feel what it’s like to experience it. Only you know how your children are doing. A primary caregiver’s gut knows (by this I mean the parent/carer who’s there the most) the truth, and if that truth goes against professional opinion, fight the opinion – you have the true knowledge, an opinion is significantly inferior to that. It may need to be approached with caution, and it’s natural to second guess yourself, it may need to be planned to the nth degree. But that won’t make it wrong, that will just make it more work.

Trust yourself.