Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Trauma and Healing in Adoption

I mentioned in my post last night a profound experience with Owen. I've decided I'm not going to blog anything specific about it because it is too private. It may seem to you, in reading this blog, that my/our life is an open book. It is not. I do blog about many things and I don't like "hiding"-- but there are also many, many things that I purposefully and conscientiously do not blog about. One of the categories of things that is off limits is anything too sensitive/private about my boys' histories. Before we even met Kyle and Owen, Braydon and I made a decision together that we'd protect certain parts of their life histories so that when they -- Kyle and Owen -- are old enough, they can choose whether or not they want those parts of themselves to be shared. It is a fine line. On one hand, we don't want to put a veil of secrecy over anything --- it seems to imply that there is something shameful to hide. We don't want our boys to feel shame. But on the other hand, we don't want to make public things that our boys may feel, or come to feel, should be kept private. And importantly, we do not want people to look at our boys through the lens of their traumatic past; we want people to see our boys through the lens of their transcendent present. It is tough. Not everyone who adopts has such complexities. But everyone who adopts from Haiti (or a place like it), probably does. We, Haitian (and others like us) Adoptive Families, are special cases. It is different for us because with only rare exceptions, our children suffered trauma. Deep trauma. Unthinkable trauma. Part of living our family lives is knowing that trauma and living a process of healing. In the Johnson-McCormick Family we are always conscious of that. Even though our boys were only 8 months old when we brought them home, their trauma (and their post-traumatic challenges) are very, very real. For Kyle and Owen it is still vivid. They have always expressed it to us in various ways. But now that they are so verbal, they have both begun to articulate that to us with words. Last night Owen told us about a memory that he has from when he was in the orphanage in Haiti. There is no way on earth my three year old boy would even have the knowledge to make something like this up. He's telling the truth. That takes guts. I'm so proud of him. In my pride for my son I've decided to not write about the specifics here. I'll let him tell that story someday, if he chooses to. Yet it is important to be real -- for the sake of all the other adoptive families out there who struggle in some of the same ways that we do (and in many cases, who struggle in ways so much more extreme than us)... so I want to say this: there is trauma and there is healing -- all mixed up together -- in adoptions like ours. I love my babies with a passion. As you know. So, I can't help but cry deep in my soul when I let my mind ponder their past. But I am focused on their transcendence and their incredibly promising future. Adoption is a miracle. In my mind, it is the truest miracle I know of or can imagine.

Owen (on left) & Kyle (on right), exactly 3 years ago,
in the orphanage in Haiti,
August 2004, age 3 months

Owen in the hotel in Haiti, our first week together,
January 2005, age 8 months

Owen on our "Over-The-Hump" Day
(same amount of time out of the orphanage as in it),
October 2005, age 16 months

Owen on our first Adoption Day,
on the hotel balcony, celebrating in Baltimore,
January 2006, age 20 months
Owen at the pool, last week,
age 3 years & 3 months


Kristina said...


I often wonder what Jonas and Ellie will reveal once they are home.

I know Jonas has a very blessed story if it is true. Ellie on the other hand...gosh i just don't know her story is so sketchy.

Thank you for this post. i have a tendency to share a lot and you have given me much to think about.
I would love to email with you to discuss some things.

Mr. & Mrs. Lorentzon said...

Thanks for sharing your heart on has given me many things to think about as we wait for our referral from South Africa.

I like the way you put it: "transcendant present" - that is how I want to see things, while at the same time being fully aware of the trauma that was a reality, even for a baby of a young age.

I look forward to being a part of our child's promising and hopeful future, and how I long to hold that miracle in our arms!

Thanks again, for sharing this and given us some important things to take to heart.

The Fry Family said...

I think about this so much, Heather. Thanks for sharing this post. I have much to consider and so much responsibility even before my children are home.
p.s. Happy Birthday to Braydon!!

Tara said...

I would guess that people find me to be totally open about everything too ---- but there is always a lot you DON'T say.

Isaac has memories ... not good ones. He does not verbalize them but we have visited Three Angels and Maranatha Children's Home when he was with us --- he IMMEDIATELY becomes uncomfortable when in an orphanage ... he acts different and we won't bring him inside of them anymore --- so sad.

Hope came to MN on a medical visa 30 days before her adoption completed. She had kidney surgery in those 30 days. We had to return to Haiti then to get Ike and she had to come with us. We walked into the orphanage and she LOST it (9months old) -- that night, in our hotel room she broke out in boils.

These kids have been through it. It is hard to think about, but it is truth, orphanages are not good places --- even the good ones are still institutions -- children need families.

ManyBlessings said...

Good for you Heather. We too have decided on this same path for our kids. Peanut's history is hers. We know it and we will let her fill in the blanks when she is ready. Then it is hers to do with what she wishes. It is not ours to talk about. Little Jellybean will be the same. People think we are open too. Not true. There is so much more, but it is their's.

Malia'sMama said...

I soooo understand.
With MalĂ­a, she was only 4 1/2 months old when she came into my arms forever, but I KNOW she has base memories that hurt her. For the first few weeks, she would wake screaming for no reason, and never slept more than 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hrs the whole time we were in Ethiopia, though during the day, she was happy and sweet.
Now, this weekend we had our first "away for the night" trip. For the first few hours at my cousins home, I could not so much as put her on the floor without a heart wrenching screaming starting up, tears, arms in the air etc. Later, when she realized that it was safe, she would be okay out of my arms, but her little head followed me EVERYWHERE. We shared a bed and she practically slept on top of me both nights. NONE of this behaviour is typical of my little girl- I truly believe she was afraid I might abandon her...

Malia'sMama said...

PS: I'd like to add that I am so, so sorry that your sweet boy has a memory so traumatic that, not only does he remember, it hurt you, too. Poor sweetie...

Sylvie said...

I am with you on keeping some things private. Even though we adopted our son domestically, I feel that it is important to keep the circumstance surounding his birthmother's decision to place and other things out his history private and leave it to Gavin to share, when he's older if he chooses to.

Lucie @ Unconventional Origins said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. My fiance and I have talked about adopting from Haiti (something we feel strongly about) and I have been trying to read up as much as possible. This helps so much.