Hannah’s Story

Hilary is a guest writer for Red Thread and experienced adoptive mom who is committed to telling the child’s side of the story when a disruption occurs. 

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We are sitting in Hannah’s hospital room after her second surgery to repair her club feet, the first one in China failed miserably. The medication suddenly wore off this afternoon, and Hannah fell to pieces both emotionally and physically. Clearly, there was some part of her who went back to her surgery in China where she was alone and without sufficient pain control. The lights were on, but no one was home so to speak. Even emotionally drained from today, we are inspired to share Hannah’s story below. We have been working on it over the past few weeks, and we hope it gives others a glimpse into the life and struggles of an orphan who was repeatedly rejected by those who should have cared for her.

Tim & Hilary

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Hannah’s story is a story of pain, loss, disruption, strength, and finally love.

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When I look at my daughter, I am amazed at her strength and resilience after all that she has been through. Hannah was born with deformed (clubbed) feet, which would be easily corrected here in the US. She would simply be placed in casts as an infant, and with the help of loving parents, led a completely normal and well-adjusted life. However, as most of you know, that is not what happened.

In her very short life, Hannah has been hurt in unimaginable ways. Much of her pain is the product of human hands, and she has adapted by developing a set of behaviors as defense mechanism to cope with what she had to deal with every day. Many of these behaviors are very scary to those who have never seen it before, and they seem to be very effective at driving everyone away who could get close enough to hurt her.

Since the day I embraced her as my own, she has had self-harming behaviors. She picked the inside of her ears until they bled. She’d scratch herself. She’d pick her fingers till they were raw and bloody. She’d dig her thumb into her eyes. Worst of all, she would refuse any and all food and water up to the point of starvation. These extreme behaviors alarmed even a veteran child psychologist specializing in institutionalized children who, on a scale of one to ten for institutional behaviors, rated Hannah a 12. Her behaviors included grinding her teeth, shaking her head uncontrollably, growling, spitting, etc. She behaved as if she did not have a brain in her head, as if she was unable to think. She seeks stimulation in ways that you would not expect. Truly, her club feet were the least of her problems.

Over the last ten months, we have seen tremendous progress. Hannah will seek us out for comfort. She makes eye contact and will interact playfully. Underneath all of the layers she has put up, she is a very smart little girl who knows how to manipulate a situation to her liking.

We have learned to read her actions for clues as to what she is thinking. It is not difficult now that we know what we are looking for. Most of her reactions to a stressful environment are exactly the opposite of what you would expect from a “normal” child. Those that have met her, don’t recognize her as the same child that came home from China, terrified. She has accepted that we are there for her regardless of what happens, and she is clinging to us when she is stressed. Most of the institutional behaviors have receded into the background for the most part, at least until she is under stress.

Our successes continue to be very hard-won, literally with blood, sweat, and tears. No doubt about it, this process has put our entire family under an unbelievable amount of stress on a constant basis, but, as a group, we are getting through it. We are committed to her. The rest of our kids are unbelievably patient with her. Their understanding and willingness to help is far beyond their years. Not once has anyone been upset that Hannah joined our family. They are her biggest fans, even when she’s monopolizing mom’s time and pulling hair. They are getting an unbeatable lesson in what the world can be like.

Unfortunately, we still see her slip back into those destructive behaviors occasionally. About a month ago she started picking at a hangnail and it snowballed from there. She would NOT leave her fingers alone. I bandaged 4 out of 10 fingers. They were very slow to heal because she tries to pick through the bandages.

Starting in late April, she has been awful. Hannah resumed gouging her cheeks with her thumbs until they bruised. She badly scratched her face. She scratched her arms, neck and legs. She pokes her fingers and other objects into her eyes. She throws everything she can get her hands on. The creepy and maniacal laugh she used to do has reappeared. She is dis-regulated and very angry.

Anniversaries of abandonments and adoption-days tend to bring out significant regression in children. We’ve witnessed this in both of our older adopted children. We are nearing our first anniversary as a family of 8, and something struck me and I took the time to pull out Hannah’s Chinese adoption file. If there was ever any doubt in my mind that trauma does not tell time, it has been removed. Hannah was checked into the hospital in China on April 24, 2013. The failed surgery date was April 26, 2013. She remembers. Her body is painfully aware.

During her first few weeks home, our fears were not of the diagnoses that China had given her, nor were they of her cognitive abilities in
the future. We did not fear the surgeries for her feet. Our great fear was that this child was so broken inside that she would never understand love. Not that she’d be able to return that love back to us, but that she’d never feel and accept love. That singular fear reduced my husband to tears as he got to know his daughter that first week. That is why I wept for days as I tried to console my terrified and angry little girl. I remember one night very distinctly, watching my husband stare at her saying, “Daddy’s are supposed to be able to fix things and make everything alright. I can’t fix anything for her, I can’t make it alright”. I begged God, “Please just give us the autism, Lord! I know how to deal with that. That doesn’t scare me. This little girl never knowing that she is safe and loved…that scares me.”

Hannah is better, but she is still a mess. I am still a mess. I struggle with forgiveness. I am fully aware that my anger harms no one but myself, and I am trying to let go. Forgiveness would come much easier had I been the one who was harmed. But it wasn’t me. It was a CHILD. My child. The child I have chosen to take and love as my own. The child whom I am bound to protect, for whom I am called to intercede and to be her voice. But two years ago, she was not my child, she was pledged to someone else. They left her. It didn’t have to be this way. Her Chinese surgery should have never happened. She should have already been in the U.S., being loved and receiving the best medical care available with her new family.

Instead, she remained in China. Alone. She was never a favorite in the orphanage. On top of that, now an American doctor had refused to adopt her after meeting her and making all kinds of diagnoses that came to mind during their 24 hour bonding period. They made claims this child had CP, had hip dysplasia, was aspirating, and was completely mentally incompetent. All the things you might think if you met this child in a traditional western setting without knowledge of the types of institutional behaviors they were seeing. Almost none of them turned out to be true.

Unfortunately, this caused great embarrassment to the orphanage and to the Chinese who worked with her. Therefore, Hannah was deemed unadoptable. Her file had been updated with many new scary words such as Autism, mental retardation, etc. Add in the trauma of a surgery in China with substandard pain control, three weeks in the hospital alone, and AFO’s caused so much trauma to her feet that the scars are still there, and Hannah’s walls just got higher. Her behaviors just got worse. Hannah was never to be relisted, and, even with the tremendous strength that we see in her, she was going downhill fast. She would have died in that orphanage, and it wouldn’t have taken that long.

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What was done to her is inexcusable. I grieve in ways I never thought possible. I have watched my child repeatedly relive that pain and walk through hell the last 10 months as a result of trauma and neglect. She is making great strides, but the psychological scars are a chasm yet to be bridged. The little girl we are finally getting to know was buried deep inside herself, beneath a host of traps and barriers.

Lately, the adoption community has been absorbed with the taboo subject of disruption. I was hopeful that somewhere in all of the varied public discussion that someone, somewhere, would speak as a voice for the children.

A group of mothers who have walked this same path that Tim and I now tread wanted to pen a piece in the voice of the children. I was encouraged by many to do just that, so long as I didn’t say anything that might hurt an adult’s feelings. I’m sorry, but NO. Bashing people will not get us anywhere, but revealing the truth about what the children endure as a result of these choices will. Feelings do not invalidate the trauma suffered by children subject to the aftermath of “disruption.”

Now, in this delicate social dialog, the people who disrupt are being heard. The parents who take a child with more needs than they were prepared for are getting are heard. But, the most vulnerable ones of all, the orphans, are never heard.

They are nobody’s children, and they don’t get a voice. And that’s wrong. They are human beings. They have infinite worth and value. They should not be treated as a commodity or a purchase. They should not be returned as you would a shirt that doesn’t feel quite right. Our American society becomes more infuriated when people abandon and abuse animals than they do when the same is done to a child! That is wrong.

I’ve seen robust support for families that chose to re-abandon a child. I’ve heard many throw around the “It was part of God’s plan” line. I’ve heard the ever-popular, “You’ve got to do what’s right for your family” excuse. I’ve even heard, “My spouse is gone a lot and it would all fall on me”. I’ve seen all out anger and self-righteousness at the Chinese government for not making sure their files are more accurate or complete. I’ve heard people make countless excuses for leaving a child.

Most of the excuses boil down to the fact that it may require a sacrifice on the part of the adult or change the perfect image that they had for their family. Parenting is the most important and difficult job you will ever have. None of us are perfect, and we will all make mistakes. Choosing to adopt a special needs child from China (there is no “non-special needs” program) is not for the faint of heart. Parents must prepare themselves for the reality that these children, no matter their age or special need, are coming from a very hard place. They have never known the love of a family. They are ALL going to be delayed. They are ALL going to be traumatized and have institutionalized behaviors. Just expect it, it’s a given. You will never receive the file of a child that is 100% accurate. Did you receive an owner’s manual or a set of instructions or a money back guarantee for your child when you gave birth? No! There will be unexpected joy along with the unexpected pain. If you can’t completely devote and dedicate yourself to a child when you sign your LOA, then you should not be adopting from China. Choose a different country, or foster here in the U.S. The damage that is done to the children that are re-abandoned in China is horrible. They should not be the ones to suffer because of the choices adults make.

I have bitten my tongue since the day I found out about Hannah’s disruption. I have never said what was truly on my heart. I thought I could forgive easily enough.

Then I saw my baby, so broken, with the gaping-open wounds on her feet from braces that didn’t fit properly. I saw what this beautiful child had become due to an adult’s poor decision. I met Hannah during our older child’s adoption three years ago and I can say that the Hannah we were handed last June was not the child they were handed nearly 2 years before. The behaviors and issues we see today are a direct result of the extra 2 years in the orphanage and the trauma of that surgery. Would she have had issues anyways? Of course! But she would NOT be like this.

Let me be clear, I LOVE Hannah, fiercely. I love her for all that she is and all that she is not. I am not sorry that we chose her, I have never for a single second regretted that commitment. I am not resentful that we are the ones dealing with the fallout of her disruption, but my heart hurts for all that she endured because of it. I would do all of this for ANY of my children. When you are a parent, it is simply what you do. You step up, you hit your knees and pray, you put on your big-girl-pants and deal with it. You do it because your children deserve your all. You do it because there’s no one in the world like them and you love them. This road is not easy, it is painful, it is exhausting; but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Things that would’ve freaked me out 10 years ago, would not even phase me today. God has changed my heart and given me more strength and courage than I could’ve ever imagined. Do you know why I can be strong?

Because Hannah was.

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She could’ve given up long before we got to her. She fought. She protected herself. She put up her walls. She hardened her heart. She disappeared deep inside of herself and refused to let anyone enter her world to see who she truly was. She disguised what she was capable of learning, doing and understanding. She survived, barely. If an orphan with nobody in her corner can make it, the least I can do is can see her through to the other side. God strengthens and He heals.

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