Many of my kids are adopted. They came to us at various ages from 2-8. They did not come without issues. They did not come without pasts. They did not come to us as a clean slate, a tabula rasa. Occasionally in the news there is a story about a child whose issues were too great for his adoptive family and they are forced to walk away, for their safety or that of the child. Consider the differences in the scenarios below.
Before birth we do whatever we can to protect our child's health. We stop drinking and smoking in pregnancy. We dream of the child to be, we make plans for them, we bond with them, we LOVE them. We visit the doctor regularly to be sure our pregnancy goes off without a hitch. When you give birth to the child you intend to raise, you love that child and give them the best of everything you are able. You know their every experience. You know their genetics and the likelihood of the personality being compatible with yours. You take them for well child checks and jump on it if they have delays. They will get help meeting milestones so they can meet them as soon as possible. Your child knows your voice and your smell. They suckle at your breast, you nurture them, and love them. You care for their every need. Its exhausting, but everyone knows its what is best for baby. you raise them in love and anticipate their every mood.
Now imagine a scenario where a pregnant woman is fighting many demons in her life. She struggles to maintain a job, drinks alcohol and /or does drugs. She doesn't take care of herself, often forgetting to eat. She finds out she is pregnant and knows she can not raise a child, she can barely take care of herself. She smokes while she ponders what to do. She never bonds with this child within her. She doesn't tell anyone she's pregnant. She tries to figure out what to do. She drinks heavily to forget. Maybe she WILL forget. but the fetus keeps growing. Soon her clothes don't fit properly. She is reminded again that there is something, someone growing inside of her. She drinks more to quell her fears, to calm her mind, to forget. She smokes because it calms her nerves and she is very nervous wondering what in the world she will do with a baby. lather rinse repeat.
Eventually the child is born. He may or may not be born substance addicted. He may appear perfectly healthy at first glance. But brain damage can't be seen with the naked eye. The life giver walks away from this small person, knowing she can never make a life for him, and places him for adoption. A family adopts the child not knowing what his future will be. not knowing if he will be a rocket scientist or struggle to pass science class. They commit in a way the life giver could not. They are in it for the long haul. Come what may, they say, he is ours. we will love him, they say, no matter what the future holds.
The child now has been abandoned by the woman who gave him life. The person caring for him doesn't smell like the woman who carried him 9 months. The voice is not the same. There was no special bonding before birth. If a fetus can feel pain, a fetus can absolutely feel love, or lack thereof. The child grows and begins acting out at an early age. His abandonment is not something he can name but it affects him deeply. His adoptive parents continue to love and guide him, they seek help for him. They talk to doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists. They throw around words like autism, primal wounds, reactive attachment disorder, explosive disorder, adhd, fetal alcohol syndrome. In short: this child is damaged. The life that could have been at conception is no longer an option. The adoptive parents try many different things to get help for the child. He continues to defy them and all medical interventions. He is not attached to them. He doesn't care for them. They are just one more person who will walk away from him. If he never lets them close he wont feel the loss when they quit on him.
His behaviors escalate as he grows. He becomes violent. He attempts suicide. Still the parents try everything they can think of; they see every doctor or specialist who will listen. They beg for help for their child. While he is not attached to them, THEY are attached to him. They love him. They long for a life of peace. They consult the agency who placed the child with them. Little can be done. They talk with social workers, and medical people. They send him to residential treatment centers, at great cost, emotionally and financially. When the child is released he burns down the house, the same house they mortgaged to get him help. They miss so many days of work their jobs are in jeopardy. They are spent. there is nothing left. They have no money. Their lives are in danger. The child they loved and longed for will never be normal. They are at the end of their rope. This child will never care for them. That much is clear.
They consult with social services to place him in foster care. They are denied. Or they are told they will be required to pay child support to the social services center, and continue to pay for his medical needs. How can they pay that when they are destitute from trying to care for this child already? This child who appeared so perfect at birth. This child whom they love more than anything, but clearly can not help. What do they do now? They can't keep him, he will kill them. They can't release him to foster care, they cant afford it. They run away in the night. They abandon the already once abandoned child. They leave everything behind. It's the only way. They can see no other way out of this mess.
After all of this, the people of this great nation say "how can you just walk away?" "how can you give up on a child?" "They are awful people to leave this child in need, after they promised to care for him no matter what." In truth they have done all they could do, they asked for help again and again, it was denied, or didn't help. They tried to leave the child in the care of safety but were denied that as well. They did not readopt him to another family, not wanting to put someone else in danger. They walked away. They left him an orphan, to be a ward of the state, in hopes that he would finally be seen as he is and get the help he so needs. Walking away was a final desperate attempt to help this child that they loved. They did it out of love. Not spite or malice, not even after everything the child has put them through. They did it out of love for this child.
We like to think that our society is so advanced; we have come so far from the days of our grandparents. Help is at our fingertips. We need only ask. No one need suffer anything anymore. Help is readily available for all things. My grandmother had to give up her son to the state, make him a ward of the court, in order to help him with his mental illness. Today many families are forced to do the same, by walking away as in the story above or relinquishing custody to the state. Sometimes the decision comes down to time. Is there time for court hearings and lawyers and debate? or does this kid need help ASAP? Many times parents are so defeated and their children so disturbed that by the time they are looking at custody hearings they can wait no longer. They walk away. Its the only option. They leave the child they love BECAUSE he is the child they love. The system is flawed. Parents are the last people to be believed when a child presents with mental illness. The parents must be the problem. They need more parenting techniques. It can't be that the child is damaged. Until the system changes, there will continue to be parents who are forced to leave their kids behind. Unless you have lived in their shoes, try not to judge their actions. You have no idea what they have been through. You have no idea the strength it takes to make the ultimate act of love and walk away.