Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Post Adoption Depression (PADS)


Hang on a minute, you have this new family, the child you longed for, fought for, convinced social workers you were capable of looking after and then wham suddenly you feel as miserable as hell. Tired, fraught, stressed out, not sleeping, irritable, feeling worthless, guilty for not being on top of the world and like, well, a pretty crappy parent. First of all, don't worry you are not alone. According to the McCarthy survey Post Adoption Depression can affect more than 60% of all adoptions.
I am not writing as an expert on Post Adoption Depression, for that go and see your GP or other professional but I can tell you about my own experience.

For my first adoption I coped pretty well but since adopting Boy last year I have at times felt like I am going a little bit insane and apparently it's pretty normal. For us lots of things happened within the first six months of adopting Boy. Girl started school, Boy had an operation (4 days before Christmas), we all got ill, my colds and coughs lasted for 2-3 months as I was so run down, Girl's behaviour went through the roof and PAS were called in and confirmed our worst suspicions that yes Girl has Attachment Disorder. All this took it's toll on my mental health. 
As I see it we feel overwhelmed by the reality of bringing our little ones home, creating and nurturing bonds that do not yet exist, dealing with the grief of seperation that our little ones are feeling, coping with behaviours and difficulties that stem from adoption and learning how to parent in probably a totally different style to what we are used to from our own experiences and that of our friends.
It's not easy to totally relax and just go with the flow because our kids quite often cannot accept that sort of style of parenting, every day is 110% effort, every day can be mentally exhausting. For instance the sort of things that have been buzzing through my head are why is my son so happy and different today? is it because Girl has been out all day? have I not been giving him enough attention? how do I balance their needs so Boy can be this relaxed more of the time? because the thing with adoption is that our kids do feel more insecure than other kids and are definitely more needy (even though to our friends and family they seem like any other kids) and we constantly have to be thinking about approaches to help them feel secure. 
Talking to friends and family is hard. Dare you suggest you may be experiencing problems with your kids and you are treated as neurotic, over-zealous, after all kids are kids, kids are resilient, kids forget. My pet hate is someone saying 'oh but all kids do that...', now when people say it I just think to myself (tongue firmly in cheek) 'OK I know why my daughter has this incessant need to find a toilet every single place we go but why does your child do that?' I do agree that all kids can do some pretty odd things but my daughter does a lot of odd things most of the time not just one or two things every now and again. 
Sometimes I wish I weren't so clued up, maybe I would relax more but I stress and worry every single day and it is taking it's toll. I want both of my kids to be well adjusted, happy and most of all to feel secure and safe which according to my daughter's behaviour maybe they don't, yet (see, optimistic that's good right?).
So all of this worry and stress has resulted in me getting depressed, feeling like I couldn't cope with everyday stuff, constantly tired - even after just waking in the morning, crying at the drop of a hat, irritable, restless, anxious and panicky. The key thing was I recognised that I was frankly not myself, that what I was feeling was not right and went to see my GP. I was prescribed anti-depressants but decided that was not for me, I went to counselling and got an hhhmer (total waste of time somebody just saying hhmm to me, I want positive suggestions not silly noises!).
The best advice I can offer is do not be worried about admitting you need help to whoever will listen (OK not random people on buses or the checkout girl at Asda!). Once I had sought help from my GP and admitted to family and friends that I was not coping things got easier, more support was offered which was badly needed, even though I did get a lot of support anyway its harder to ask for help than to accept what is offered.
Talking to my PASW helps because she understands what I am talking about, she helps me differentiate what is normal behaviour and what is attachment disorder related. Writing this blog helps because it puts my thoughts in order. Talking to other adopters helps. Finding the humour in a situation helps (I can usually find a wee bit somewhere if I try hard enough but I really have to coax myself to do that).
I do feel there should be more help and recognition for PADS, maybe I am missing some vital help somewhere (or my GP is) but I am having to recognise why I feel so low and mostly work it out for myself. I have to tell myself I am not a crap mum if I don't get it right all the time and I am learning to relax. I have gone from seriously depressed all the time to mood swings which I guess is a little better.
Tonight I feel pretty good, earlier today I felt unfathomably low but I think that's probably part and parcel of my depression.

Monday, 9 April 2012

We Survived Easter Sunday!

At 7am I was rudely awaken by Girl nose to nose with me, big grin on her face "Mommy, mommy I have a surprise for you!" Boy was on the bed behind me playfully bashing the top of my head bellowing "mommeeeeee, mommeeeee, mommEEEEEEEEEEE". An Easter egg was rapidly pushed into my face before I slipped back into slumber "It's an Easter Egg Mummy" my girl helpfully tells me. I managed to thank the kids, eyes half closed before Boy suddenly realises I have chocolate. A meltdown quickly ensues and I slink off for a bath whilst hubster deals with it, I'm not ready for the world yet.
At 8.30am it is quickly decided that both Boy and Girl are bubbling over with excitement and a little stir-crazy after a day in and that if we stay in the house for another day we might not actually survive the day without turning to Gin so a heated debated ensues between the hubster and I on what we can actually do for the day. We eventually agree on a castle that has some sort of event on featuring Knights, right up girl's street.
So off we go, we get to close to the (small) castle and the traffic is immense, seems that the castle decided it would be a good idea to offer cut price tickets to their little event on Groupon. My stomach flips a little, crowds are Girl's worst enemy but we cannot turn round (even if we wanted to the street was one-way and everyone was going to the castle), Girl is excited about seeing Knights.
The hastily packed picnic includes Easter Eggs and previously I might have rationed the chocolate a little more but it feels so mean even though I do know that sugar and Girl are a potent mix. Very slowly Girl eats her sandwiches minus the crusts and asks for her chocolate egg. I pass it over with some trepidation and wait. Nothing.
On the way home the hubster pulls up at the reservoir for an impromptu ice-cream. I wait. Nothing.
We get home put the Wii on with a set time limit (to avoid the inevitable but-oh's), we ask her to turn the Wii off. I wait. Nothing. We have dinner, Girl finishes dinner and skips off to put her pajamas on with no prompting.
I have to say Girl never ceases to surprise me, this sort of day would normally be a struggle behaviour wise, too much excitement, sugar, crowds but she behaved pretty well throughout. The only clue we got that she might be a bit anxious was some strange noises and whispering to herself in the back of the car. A day to celebrate. Hoorah!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Get Support, Make Friends

I can't tell you enough how important it has been to us to make friends with and talk to other adopters. I know some adopters are of the view that they want their children's lives to be as normal as possible and not centred around the fact that they are adopted but personally for us having friends to turn to who know what we have been through and what we are going through right now is invaluable.

As well as being support for us Girl has a wide group of friends who are adopted and I personally think this normalises adoption for her, she is not the odd one out or different, she is one of many.

Forums
You can find support from many different places, computer geek that I am (I was a web programmer before I was a mommy) I personally made friends with a number of people I got chatting to on the Adoption UK forums way back when we were starting out on our adoption journey and a small group of us went through our adoptions at roughly the same time. Strangely (or not) the same small group of friends have since gone through a second adoption within a few months of each other. It gives us a very unique and special bond. Some of those friends live fairly close, certainly within driving distance so we meet up as often as we can with the kids in tow for a coffee, a natter and sometimes to stop a mental breakdown! We keep in touch via Facebook all the time.


Blogs
You can find other adopters on blogs, read what they are going through and subscribe to their posts, leave comments, you may find yourself leaving a few posts with one particular blogger.



Post Adoption Support
Your local authority/adoption agency probably offers meet-ups, toddler groups, seminars, a great opportunity to meet local adopters and of course if you are having difficulties you can request support from a Post Adoption Social Worker (PASW).



Ask Your Social Worker
My social worker has phoned up a few times to ask us to talk to and meet with both potential adopters and local adopters. You can ask your social worker if there are local adopters who would be willing to meet for coffee and a chat.



Prep Course
Potential adopters are invited onto a preparation group, swap e-mail addresses/phone numbers with the other adopters.


So what do I get from it? If I am having a meltdown (usually because Girl is having a meltdown) and feel I cannot cope I have a close group of friends I can text, phone or facebook for instant support and reassurance that I am not a terrible mother! The knowledge base, ideas and advice I get from my circle of friends is immense, far more information than I could get by reading books and trawling the Internet, most of all I get friendship, understanding, empathy and none of the stupid comments that non-adopters can be guilty of making!

Friday, 6 April 2012

I Guess I Know Where I Stand!

Our PASW has insisted that the hubster and I spend more quality time together, book a hotel go away for the night, get some sleep and a lie-in. Husband is not so keen, he seems to think that every minute of every weekend should be spent with the kids, well that's very nice but I am not for one minute asking him to abandon the kids all weekend, just have one much needed night off every now and again, say twice a year. 


PASW also reckons that to insist we spend all weekend with the kids is not fair on me because I am with them all day every day and I need some TLC of course I nodded furiously in agreement with this. I love my kids but I love TLC too!


I have to say at this point that we are feeling the pinch, along with the rest of the country and the hubster declared after the PASW had left that if he had spare money he would rather use it to treat the kids than spend a night away with me. Well that's me told I guess! (I am pretty certain he didn't mean any offence by that, he just needs to take off his size nine wellies they are not a good fit for his mouth!)

Second Child Syndrome? Nope, Just One Stressed Out Mummy!

It was my son's birthday this week. We did not plan a party as he is only two, he wouldn't remember it and we have had such a stressful time lately it seemed just too much to think about but we did book a restaurant table for close family and bought a birthday cake.

For each birthday of my daughter we have made a scrapbook page, lots of photos with the cake as the focus. We are sitting in the restaurant and I realise we have only gone and forgotten the blinking cake. Holy Moly, it felt as though the world stopped on it axis for a moment. We are so busy keeping Girl in order that we have forgotten why we are there. The first thing that went though my mind was no birthday scrapbook page! Fortunately we are out with friends next week for the day, all adopted children and we will be taking the cake with us and luckily it will still be in date - just! We can always pretend later on that it was planned all along and hope he never reads this!

I do feel sometimes that he does come second best, last night Girl stayed at her grandparents for a sleepover and Boy has been like a different child, the child I see every day when Girl is at school, relaxed, happy and no screaming ab-dabs (my mum's name for his tantrums). 

Much as I do love spending time with Girl I cannot wait for the Easter holidays to be over just so we can go back to our normal routine and boy can get some much needed individual attention again.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

If all else fails crack out the face paints!

For all her tomboyish behaviour my daughter loves nothing more than a bit of pampering and as a bonding session nothing beats it, from fun face painting to a pretty manicure the closeness of the activity, quality one-to-one time together, the sensory elements of skin to skin contact, massaging creams, sniffing and smelling and messing with the lotions and potions and well just the sheer fun of it is like the best therapy my daughter can get. 


Even at the tender age of five I have no objection to  sharing a bit of my make up when we go out, it's a shared activity, it makes my daughter genuinely happy and if a bit of very pale coloured eyeshadow and lip gloss can make my daughter smile then I am going to indulge to my hearts content!


I guess most girls like to choose bath bombs and soaps but for us it just means so much more and can make all the difference to a day, proper good therapy.

 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Heart-melting moments

It's not all bad, these are the moments that make everything worthwhile!

Micro-managing our kids

I was having a chuckle with my friend the other day about the fact her husband has this need to micro-manage every aspect of her son's life, instructing every little move, don't do that, do it like this, stop that now...

The conversation kind of hit home as actually I think that I could be guilty of exactly the same thing but in a very different way. Every single decision we make because of our daughter's difficulties have to have, it seems, a hundred different thought processes, even a decision like dinner can be complicated. Last night the kids were having dinner at their grandparents which should have been simple for us but the choice for us was do we quickly make something for ourselves now whilst they are out or eat after they have gone to bed. The preferred choice was after they had gone to bed as neither of us were particularly hungry at that moment but then we had to have the separate thought process of 'well if we wait till they have gone to bed what happens if Girl decides to have one of her meltdowns, it could be after 9pm until we eat...'  which was very possible after an afternoon at the grandparents and a pattern of meltdowns throughout the week. We decided to risk it and wait and prepared a dinner that could be cooked very quickly but this sort of micro-management is mentally exhausting, even trying to decide on a dinner we both fancied that could be coked quickly was a major conversation. As it happened Girl went to bed quietly so we enjoyed our dinner of steak and home-made chunky chips minus the anxiety.

Even the everyday language we use has to be carefully thought out which is very difficult,  the words said in the heat of the moment 'I'm not listening...' can tip Girl over the edge. My husband uttered those fateful words last week and the minute they left his mouth I cringed then quickly ran upstairs and found something to do, out of the way, if he's daft enough to say it, he can deal with it! He was actually just trying to point out that we are fed up of the whinging and whining but Girl can see those words as personal, that we don't want to hear her at all, that we don't love her. He knows we have to request that she try asking in a nice, appropriate way but well neither of us are perfect! I did go back down after five minutes to offer support but actually running away was the best thing at this time, it gave me chance to quickly and calmly think of a diversion or solution.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

In The News

Two very different stories took my attention yesterday. Firstly was the story published in the Daily Mail of a couple who had their baby taken by social services after they moved to France, this followed the removal of children from a previous relationship.

Daily Mail: British couple who moved to France to start new family have baby seized by social workers who tracked them from Norfolk

I couldn't possibly say whether social services were justified in any of their actions because not enough information is available to us as readers, we have to take what is told to us at face value, read between the lines that are carefully fed to us and form an opinion. Of course social services can't have a right to reply as they would be breaching confidentiality but here it is, another story of supposed baby-snatching by social services and an expectation of the general public to be up in arms over it. Well I am sorry, I think that more care should be taken before these stories are published. People have a very dim view of social services because every story published is a horror story, they sell papers, this to me sounds like one story too far, a desperate mother selling her story to win some hearts and a newspaper that loves sensationalist headlines. I'm not saying social services are always right but they certainly aren't always wrong.
The second story I read was by the BBC this touches me personally because of the delays we experienced with both of our adoptions but particularly our first adoption of Girl:

Ofsted: Adoption wait 'awfully long'

It doesn't really explain the implications of staying in foster care for longer than necessary but for us with Girl it had a massive impact, where she could have been moved on at about 13 months we had to wait almost a year until just before her second birthday, coming up to her terrible twos and with significant delays in speech was just to traumatic. I do however to a degree understand the need to check and re-check, taking on a child with special needs is not a decision to be taken lughtly, so many adoptions break down and that can have a much bigger impact on a child than having to stay in foster care for an extra few months.

I personally feel very strongly that more emphasis needs to be placed on post adoption support and family support. In turn if this was put in place the whole adoption process could justifiably be shortened a little.

As a new adopter you feel that it is a relief when social worker visits are over but actually in hindsight I wish we had been given more support, even when we felt we didn't need it.

Monday, 2 April 2012

When You Hit Rock Bottom The Only Way Is Up

It' that time when the dog is barking for a walk, the two year old needs his nappy changing, the tea is cooking, you realise you've left a vital ingredient from your shopping list, you're all tired from a weekend away, the phone is ringing and right at that crucial moment when you can't take any more stress your attachment disordered child decides it's the appropriate time to make her demands known and if they are not met or the desired level of attention achieved within her specific timescale (NOW MOMMY) the two year old on his ride-on gets forcefully slammed into a wall and then trampled on. Now tell me to keep my emotions in check and not to yell, I'm sorry, I hate myself for it but it isn't going to happen and here I am a few hours later beating myself up for not behaving like a robot.

I have discovered that the perfect adoptive parent does not exist, I talk to other parents and they tell me not to worry they have all slipped up at some point, all yelled and shouted, nobody is perfect, even our PASW tells us this. Yet I consistently worry about slipping up, for not being consistent, for showing my emotions at an inappropriate time, for shouting or yelling. The infuriating thing is, I would probably say that nine times out of ten nowadays we do get it right, we do effectively manage the behaviours and yet instead of celebrating that achievement I worry and stress about the one time I get it wrong.  

I know how crucial to an attachment disordered child consistency is, safety, security, boundaries but juggling such intense need and regimentation along with regular family life is stressful to say the least and the more stressful it becomes the more chaotic life becomes, even remembering to make sure you have your keys when you go out can become one thought too many. It seems every little detail of life has to be micro-managed and the regular everyday details can all become white noise.

So here I am today feeling like I have hit rock bottom, I have snapped at my child who in return decided to rip the beautiful mural from her wall. The mural I cannot afford to replace. My stress levels after a weekend away, followed by a meltdown, followed by a day out with friends, followed by another meltdown is at such a peak I can barely speak coherently, I get my words muddled up, I forget keys, forget to lock doors, lose my husbands debit card in the street, the list is endless of how ditsy I have become. 

However when you are at rock bottom there is no other place to go but up. With some support from good friends and a good strategy shared with the husband eventually Girl is in bed and all is at peace for another day so hooray to us.

If I could offer any advice to other adopters it would be this; get support and friendship.  Make friends with other adopters, attend post adoption support group's, toddler groups, trip's out and parties, however you do it doesn't matter, just know that there are other people.

Decide a strategy and stick to it, if you lose control, take a step back to breathe, if possible swap roles for a while.

Don't lose hope.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Signals

We have learnt to expect (and could probably guarantee if asked) that if we do anything too exciting with our daughter that the event will be sabotaged by very difficult behaviour either during or shortly after. By very difficult I do mean violent, uncontrollable aggressive behaviour. I am not talking about a little bit naughty because I am sure all kids can be a bit difficult when over-stimulated but Girl has no control or self-regulation, she has the emotional capacity of a two year old.

Girl enjoys but at the same time cannot cope with parties and theme parks. Her brain is wired to run on a high level of alert at all times and things such as large crowds, high noise levels, too much sugar can over-stimulate and send her into meltdown but like all kids she wants to do these things and who are we to deny her these childhood thrills? So we mentally prepare ourselves and run with it. Hot chocolates, ice-creams, sweets, a trip to the gift shop on the way home. Is she spoiled? I don't think so or I hope not, I like to think we are just normal parents, we fought hard for our girl and by golly (did I just say by-golly?) we dreamt of being able to do these things as a family and give our girl a happy fun-filled childhood and she truly does enjoy them.

This weekend we celebrated both my husband's and son's birthday's with a two-day trip to Legoland with a large group of close family. I have to say that we did have a lovely time and nothing that happened afterwards can take away from that time, it is still a good memory but the behaviour from Girl started to very, very slowly slide by the the second day. Not terrible or partcularly noticeable behaviour by anybodies standards including my own, just warning signals, a refusal to comply, cheekiness, a distorted voice here and there, demanding and petulant behaviour. Some of this sounds pretty normal and appropriate but with Girl I know that when we see all of the behaviours on the list - particularly 'the other voice' - that they are signals that her brain is starting to melt as generally she is a very nice little girl that displays age appropriate behaviours, certainly no angel but manageable most of the time.

The biggest warning signal for us is refusal to comply, this is because Girl is needing to feel some control over her life. The way we manage this is to ask of her as little as possible, keep instructions to a minimum, help with everyday tasks. She may refuse to brush her teeth, put her coat on, get dressed and so we have to try to coax, negotiate, assist as much as we can, which admittedly is not at all easy with a two year old that also has needs.

It's very easy (even for us as her parents) to forget that Girl is not being difficult for the sake of being difficult, that she is sending us signals. After all, she looks and sounds like any other child of her own age. You wouldn't be able to pick her out in a line-up and say 'yes that girl has a brain disorder because her brain was traumatised as a baby'.

However, knowing that it is going to happen does not make the behaviour any easier to deal with and no matter how much we brace the shock of a violent meltdown can actually feel like a body blow and this morning the meltdown that we were expecting arrived after a total refusal to get dressed.

I live in hope that one day we will do something really exciting for our daughter and she accept it and enjoy it with no anxiety. We all need to have some hope.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

How Many Sleeps Mommy? Lots and lots darling...

Before we adopted Girl we had these mindless daydreams of counting down sleeps with our child until holidays, Christmas, birthdays but the reality of this with a child with attachment disorder is very different.

We all get excited about lots of different things but for Girl it can all be too much for her to bear and can cause her actual real heartfelt anxiety. For instance the thought of behaving for Santa and being on a 'good girl' list is like an invitation to sabotage any good behaviour that we may normally expect, the very idea that that there is any chance at all that she may not be good enough to get gifts from Santa is enough to make her behave badly enough so that she knows she won't get hurt when she doesn't. It's like trying to have some sort of mad control over something she can't possibly control.

The whole commercial build-up to everything must be a nightmare for most parents but for us sometimes it feels like its a hundred-fold, Halloween decorations in September, followed immediately by Christmas decorations and on January 1st out roll the Cadbury's Creme Eggs and I really wish I was exaggerating. My little Girl went off the rails in September when she realised Halloween was approaching (only 8 weeks away) and only really got back on in February. Girl has been asking us for weeks how long until Easter, my reply is always "a long time away darling". I would love to be able to tell her exactly, to share the excitement of an upcoming event with her but I know that as soon as she knows how soon it is the behaviour will go on a downwards slope.

We have learnt to keep very quiet and low key about anything that might cause too much excitement, unfortunately we cannot impose this on every single person we know so where we are trying to be fairly non-committal about events, family and friends can unintentionally hinder our efforts and this week I have been spotted behind Girl flapping my arms, shaking my head, jumping up and down to attract attention and waggling my eyebrows in a desperate attempt to stop the words 
"...only 5 more sleeps until Legoland..."

which was then quickly followed by the words
"...and then a few days after that it's Easter!"

Thanks heavens that when this happened Girl was in one of her sullen-and-not-listening-to-adults moods and I dont' celebrate that mood often!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

It's Not All Bad!

Adopting both Girl and Boy has had it's rewards and I certainly don't want my blog to be all gloom and doom because that's not our life! When we adopted Girl we did so with her developmental future being uncertain, with a little nurturing she has progressed in leaps and bounds.

This year she started Reception year at school and after a shaky start and a gentle nudge to the teacher about her attachment issues Girl is now reading as well as any of her classmates. We quietly praise and celebrate every single achievement.

As for Boy? We had a few worries about speech delay but I have this theory that when a baby or toddler has to deal with a traumatic event such as a totally new life some normal developmental milestones have to be put to the back of baby's brain while they learn about their new home, new smells, new environment. The paediatrician we saw was concerned about Boy's speech (initially we weren't until she put the thought in our heads that there might be an issue) but now Boy is chattering all the time and stringing words together like any other child his age! I would highly recommend the use of Makaton and Baby Signing for any child, we used this to great effect with both kids.

My First Signs: BSL (Baby Signing)

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Poker Face

So we have officially become the Neighbours From Hell. The sort of family that people in adjoining houses bang on the walls at at 4.30am. To be fair I don't blame them at all, I would hate to live next door to us.

Last Monday Girl was having one of her 'must be in control' days. Bedtime is one thing she can easily take control of and has become a bit of a battle of late, though I have been tempted at times we can't exactly chain her to the bed and force her to stay there (and yes, I am kidding about being tempted).

So back to Monday, at bedtime we went through her usual routine and read her story and right as I finished out came the dreaded words that have been so frequent of late 'I don't want to go to bed now so I'm not going to.' I'm sure there is a little sound that resonates around the room as my heart sinks, my stomach flips over and my brain rattles into gear ready to find some quick way to deal with the situation.

Always my first response is to appeal to Girl's better nature and try and jolly her along onto the correct behaviour, unfortunately by the time she has had the thought process of 'I'm not going to bed' it's far too late for any of my silly negotiations (though ever the optimist I live in hope of this working one day) and it is sadly usually followed by a physical attack as the negotiations just make her more angry.

This is where my radical parenting comes into play (well I think it's radical anyway) and I call it the Poker Face manoeuvre and I mostly credit it to my PASW (Post Adoption Social Worker) after something we were chatting about. All along like most other parents I have had the belief that if a child is naughty a consequence or other action such as a time-out or thinking chair should be taken immediately, before the behaviour is forgotten. In my own experience and of talking to other parents and social workers, time-outs do not work for a child with attachment disorder. It is like reinforcing their belief that they are not attached to the caregivers, that they are being further rejected. Time-outs actually make Girl violent with rage, we learned that a long time ago.

The best way to deal with Girl's anger is to manage it before it happens, unfortunately this is easier said than done. Reward charts and consequences do not work for us so to manage the behaviour  we have to be aware of triggers such as an exciting event, mothers day, christmas or a noisy or busy place. So where does that leave us?

Obviously smacking and corporal punishment is a total no-no. I am not perfect and have shouted at Girl, threatened consequences (no TV for a week, no visits to nanny and granddad) and be honest, who wouldn't lose their cool with a child who is gnawing on their leg, kicking, spitting, thumping, pinching? None of us are perfect.

So the Poker Face for me is a new triumph and I hope a long-lasting one. It is hard work mentally and physically but worth the effort. When Girl goes into one of her violent rages I do not react. No shouting, no immediate reprimands. Any words out of my mouth are clear and to the point. You can adapt to suit any situation but I will talk though how it works for us at bedtime. 

I place a stool by Girl's bedroom door and sit firmly on it so she cannot escape the bedroom, it helps if you have someone to rally round and support you with anything you need (like fetching a stool) but not to get involved. If Girl hits me, I may flinch with pain but I do not reprimand. I give clear instructions in as gentle a voice as I can possibly muster (difficult but necessary), like 'Girl, go to bed' or 'No hurting, go to bed'. The key things to remember are:
  • Stay calm
  • Use as few words as possible
  • Don't respond to questions with an answer just state something simple like 'we can talk tomorrow, go to bed'.
  • Do not show any emotions whether it be sadness, hurt or anger, save it all up for later and sing yourself a song in your head  - (or hum quietly to yourself if you want, oddly Girl actually seems to respond well to the humming). I find the song Poker Face works brilliantly!
I can usually guarantee that within four-five minutes Girl has stopped any physical attack on me, she may still be trying to goad me other ways but again she gets no reaction. Within a few more minutes amazingly she will be in bed, still trying to get a reaction by making lots of silly noises and pretending to be asleep, I still don't react. Usually when I hear the pretend snoring I know that actual sleep is not far away. However I do not move until I can guarantee that she is actually deeply asleep, I have made that mistake before and it just starts the whole cycle over again.

The first time we  tried this new routine it took two hours, the next day it took 45 minutes, now consistently I can be back downstairs within 20-25 minutes and most  of those minutes I will have spent reading my kindle software and listening to classical lullabies that Girl has on loop in her room. This is great news for us, previously Girl could rage for hours and hours an I would be covered in bruises and barely anything we could do would stop the immense anger she was feeling stemming from her insecurity.

As for the neighbours? They are moving out soon, not because of anything we have done but hopefully by the time we get new neighbours we will have a grip on Girl's night time insecurities and the dog's snoring and late night barking (a whole other story!).

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Understanding

I was halfway through writing about why Girl has attachment disorder and decided that actually it doesn't need a lengthy breakdown the simple facts speak clearly for themselves. At birth Girl was removed from her natural mother, The Primal Wound: Understanding the adopted child (which is well worth a read if you are interested in attachment and adoption) describes this as her first home, where she lived for nine months before entering the world. She was then placed into a foster home that inadvertently failed in their care of her and then just before her second birthday she was again torn from everything she knew and placed with us for adoption.

As well as the basic requirements of food and cleanliness a baby needs nurturing, stimulation, attention and the ability to create an attachment with her main care provider (usually the mother but in Girl's case this should have been the foster mother) and unfortunately this did not happen as it should have.

The best way I can describe Girl's attachment difficulties is that her brain went into meltdown and created this barrier to protect herself from further hurt. Removing a child from everything they know is deeply traumatic and further impacted when they have not been nurtured correctly. My little fox cub is amazing. Her fight comes from her survival instinct to protect herself. I might not like her fight/flight/freeze responses very much but I do appreciate why they happen and I have to learn how to manage at the very least the worst of the unwanted behaviours.

The behaviours that can come with an attachment disorder are wide-ranging and I couldn't possibly list all of the things we have had to battle with over the last three years but the biggest puzzle we face is to work out what is normal childhood behaviour and what is a direct response to her early traumas.

Girl has the mental abilities of any child her age but the emotional age of her toddler brother which means she is not equipped to self-regulate so violent outbursts can be a regular occurrence even over something so mundane as not having the correct pyjamas available.

Every day Girl faces difficulties of one sort or another. Sometimes even a simple task like brushing her teeth can be a massive challenge, she is fully able to do this task but her lack of self-belief and low self-esteem make her believe she is incapable. As I write more I will describe some of the difficulties we face and how we have overcome them (or not as the case may be!).

Just a quick note on the book recommendation above, parts of the book have given me a much deeper understanding of Girl and her issues and it is for those parts I have recommended the book. However, it was written for an American audience where adoption is very different to the UK so you do have to bear this in mind and you might not agree with everything the book suggests, which I certainly didn't but it is still definitely worth a read, pop to your local library and read it for free if you are unsure. Some books I have read are definitely worth shelling out for as you can dip in and out as you need to but this is one I probably won't go back to.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The beginning

Where do I start? At the beginning I suppose. Just over three years ago we became the proud adoptive parents of a little girl. A little girl who was two weeks away from her second birthday so you can imagine what a massive impact the first little fox cub made on our lives. For reasons of protecting her identity I will refer to her as Girl.

Girl was removed from her natural parents at birth and placed with foster carers who clearly did care for her in some respects but with family and personal issues of their own they failed in their care of her. Girl's adoption was delayed by almost a year due to concerns with her development, mostly we believe now caused by lack of stimulation and interaction and a certain amount of neglect of care. After many tests and consultations with experts we took Girl on knowing that she had an uncertain future, that she might catch up with her development or she may need to attend special school, nobody could say for sure but when we saw that first photo of her we could see a sparkle in her eyes and we fought tooth and nail to go ahead with the adoption. Three years on and outwardly Girl displays as being quite 'normal' whatever that means, inwardly though that first two years of care has made quite an impact, both emotionally and developmentally and we are currently working with post adoption support workers to help us cope with her issues.

Being suckers for punishment, last year we adopted a little boy, our second fox cub (I shall call him Boy) and he is now also weeks away from his second birthday so you can imagine the chaos in our house at times.

With this blog I hope to offer an insight into what it is like to live with a child with an attachment disorder, adoption issues and good old fashioned parenthood. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert on any of the issues, I talk regularly with other adopters, I have read a lot of books (which I will tell you about), picked up a lot of tips, tried a lot of things (some have worked some haven't) and if anything I can share can help you then that's good enough for me.