Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When Adoption Goes Wrong

I don't know about you, but I am so incredibly tired of some "friend" who just was "thinking about me when they read an article and thought they would share it with me. They of course had only my best interest in mind when they sent the article. They want me of course to keep an open mind when thinking about adoption and ESPECIALLY about international adoption! I mean no telling what these "kids" could have been put through. I wouldn't want to bring the trash into my home now would I. I could adopt a child that ends up with a heart problem on the easy side or say ends up beating up the neighbors kids for the fun of it, or gives the teachers problems on a daily basis (I'm pretty sure all of those descriptions sounds like me when I was a kid) or the child could end up with something a little more serious but the point is you never know. Adoption or birth it's all a crap shoot so I'm so tired of my "well-meaning friends" sending me freaking emails about adoptions gone bad! WTF!? WTF!? And one more time for good measure...WTF!??????

Here is the latest email and my response (btw, he hasn't responded in a day, maybe he could tell I was a tad pissed off and decided to leave it alone). I'm not even going to comment on the article in Newsweek because I'm over the poor adoptive families crap...it also could be my bahhumbug mood but whatever...I'm tired of people looking at us like poor us for having to adopt!

The Conversation:

Tami: I'm sure you'll have a different experience as your child will be an infant.But I thought of you when I saw this article.

P: Happy Holidays to you also. You always share such lovely and inspiring insights with me, I appreciate the support. How about this title: When Childbirth Goes Wrong. Most Americans who have children find joy. But others aren’t prepared for the risks – and may find themselves overwhelmed… Not much difference is it?

When Adoption Goes Wrong
Most Americans who adopt children from other countries find joy. But others aren't prepared for the risks—and may find themselves overwhelmed.
By Pat Wingert
Updated: 3:16 PM ET Dec 8, 2007
Peggy Hilt wanted to be a good mother. But day after day, she got out of bed feeling like a failure. No matter what she tried, she couldn't connect with Nina, the 2-year old girl she'd adopted from Russia as an infant. The preschooler pulled away whenever Hilt tried to hug or kiss her. Nina was physically aggressive with her 4-year-old sister, who had been adopted from Ukraine, and had violent tantrums. Whenever Hilt wasn't watching, she destroyed the family's furniture and possessions. "Every day with Nina had become a struggle," she recalls now.
As the girl grew older, things got worse. Hilt fell into a deep depression. She started drinking heavily, something she'd never done before. Ashamed, she hid her problem from everyone, including her husband.
On the morning of July 1, 2005, Hilt was packing for a family vacation, all the while downing one beer after another and growing increasingly aggravated and impatient with Nina's antics. "Everything she did just got to me," Hilt said. When Hilt caught her reaching into her diaper and smearing feces on the walls and furniture, "a year and a half of frustration came to a head," Hilt says. "I snapped. I felt this uncontrollable rage."
Then Hilt did something unthinkable. She grabbed Nina around the neck, shook her and then dropped her to the floor, where she kicked her repeatedly before dragging her up to her room, punching her as they went. "I had never hit a child before," she says. "I felt horrible and promised myself that this would never happen again." But it was too late for that. Nina woke up with a fever, and then started vomiting. The next day she stopped breathing. By the time the ambulance got the child to the hospital, she was dead.
Hilt is now serving a 19-year sentence for second-degree murder in a Virginia maximum-security prison. She and her husband divorced, and he is raising their other daughter. She realizes the horror of her crime and says she isn't looking for sympathy. "There is no punishment severe enough for what I did," she told NEWSWEEK in an interview at the prison.
Hilt's story is awful—and rare—but sadly it is not unique. Adopting a child from another country is usually a positive, enriching experience for both the child and the parent. Over the last 20 years, foreign adoption has become more popular, and Americans now adopt about 20,000 children from Guatemala, China, Russia and other nations each year. (In the last few years, as restrictions and red tape have increased in some countries, the number of overseas adoptions has begun to drop.) Longitudinal studies show that most of these kids do quite well, but in a small but significant number of cases, things go very badly. Since the early 1990s, the deaths of 14 Russian children killed by their adoptive parents have been documented. (That disclosure was partly responsible for Russia's decision in 2006 to suspend its intercountry adoption program while it underwent review.)
Cases like those are extreme, but clinicians who specialize in treating foreign orphans say they are seeing more parents who are overwhelmed by their adopted children's unexpected emotional and behavioral problems. And though reputable agencies try to warn parents of the risks, not all succeed. "In the past, agencies were a bit naive," says Chuck Johnson of the National Council For Adoption, which is responding to the problem with a massive education initiative. "Now we're urging them to give parents a more realistic message." Some parents struggle to find effective treatment for their kids. Others seek to give them up. Reports that a growing number of foreign adoptees were being turned over to the U.S. foster-care system recently prompted the Department of Health and Human Services to order its first national count: 81 children adopted overseas were relinquished to officials in 14 states in 2006.
Why do some adoptions go so wrong? Clearly, it's not the kids' fault. Their behavior is usually the result of trauma, mistreatment, malnutrition or institutionalization in their home countries—problems more common in places like Eastern Europe. But "the country of origin doesn't matter so much as the child's experience," says Dr. Dana Johnson, director of the University of Minnesota's International Adoption Clinic. Some are found to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness or reactive attachment disorder, an inability to bond with a parent. Prospective families undergo an arduous screening process, including home visits, and specify how much disability they can handle. But even families who specifically request a "healthy" child sometimes go home with a troubled one. In some cases, the mismatch is inadvertent. But in others, orphanages or adoption agencies overseas—eager to find homes for difficult children in their care—mislead prospective parents or fail to disclose the full extent of a child's problems or personal history.
Emotional and even physical problems can be difficult to detect at the time of adoption, especially in infants, and often aren't diagnosed until months or years later. Hilt says that's what happened to her. She and her husband decided to adopt after being told she'd probably never conceive. After passing their agency's screening, they brought home their first daughter from Ukraine in 2001, and that went so well they decided to adopt two Russian sisters. But when they flew to Siberia to meet them in May 2003, they were told the sisters were no longer available. Instead, they were told, they could adopt Tatiana, a lively 18-month-old, and Nina, a quiet, withdrawn 9-month-old. They visited Tatiana every day for a week, but officials never let them see Nina again. "They said she had a bad cold," Hilt said. Nonetheless, they signed adoption papers for both girls. But when they returned to finalize the adoption in January 2004, they were told that only Nina was still available. The Hilts hesitated. They suspected a bait-and-switch, especially when officials insisted they sign papers testifying they'd spent many more hours with the baby than they had. "The whole process didn't feel right," Hilt said. "But we figured we could love any child. You convince yourself that everything will turn out OK."
But from the start, Nina "literally pushed me away," Hilt said. Over time, Hilt found herself resenting the little girl. "We'd been such a happy family, and then Nina came and everything changed," Hilt says. "I began to realize that we had made such a big mistake." (Tatyana Kharchendo, the doctor in charge of the Little Sun Child Home #1 in Irkutsk, where the Hilts adopted Nina, did not directly answer Hilt's charges, but insisted the child "was absolutely healthy and beautiful.")
No one is exonerating Hilt or others like her. But Joyce Sterkel, who runs the Ranch for Kids, a Montana boarding school for disturbed international adoptees, says she's come to see the parents as well as the kids as victims in these tragic cases. "It's a horrible thing, but I understand how some people end up killing these kids," she says. "They have no empathy, no affection, no love. My heart goes out to these parents because they don't know what to do."
When Sterkel, a nurse, first started working with international adoptees in the early '90s, she didn't see many deeply troubled children. But 10 years ago she adopted two Russian boys whose American parents had given up on them. One of them, a 14-year-old boy, had just been released from a juvenile-detention center after trying to poison his mother. Over time, Sterkel was approached so often about adopting other children that she decided to open her camp. Today it houses 25 to 30 kids from all over the country, and has a waiting list. The overwhelming majority are from Russia, Romania and Bulgaria, but she also has had children from South Korea and Colombia. Some were bullied or raped while institutionalized or were the children of prostitutes, drug addicts or alcoholics. "I have gotten calls from parents who say the child they adopted has killed the family dog, threatened to kill them, and no one will help them," she says.
Emotional, behavioral and physical problems are not unique to adopted children. Biological children can have the same range of issues. But adoptive parents often assume they know what they're getting into because they get the chance to meet their child in advance. That was the case when Kimble and Shellie Elmore of Los Angeles met a 10-year-old Russian child named Tania in 2005. The director of the orphanage proudly described her as an "angel."
But as soon as they took custody of their new daughter, her behavior changed dramatically. "She was completely out of control," Kimble says. Tania would scream for hours at a time, then fall into deep sullen silence. After signing Tania over to the Elmores, the Russian court handed them her file. They were stunned to find that she had a history of violence and had been transferred from one orphanage to another. They called their adoption agency back home, but were mistakenly told that there was nothing that could be done, that Tania was now their legal daughter. (The American Embassy could have helped, if they'd known.) Seeing no alternative, they boarded a plane and brought Tania back to California. By the end of the first week, she was admitted to a hospital psychiatric unit. She came home a few days later, but things grew worse. She tried to stab her father with a spike and attacked a police officer who came to the house in response to a 911 call.
Doctors diagnosed Tania with bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and attachment disorder, and suggested she be sent to Sterkel's camp. In the past year the Elmores have exhausted their savings and retirement funds trying to pay for private residential treatment. "We know she's just a child and we want what's best for her," says Kimble. "But we don't know how to help her. Adoption is supposed to be a touchy-feely thing surrounded with the glow of new parenthood. But no one says, 'What if the worst happens?' "
Psychologist Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University, who has done extensive research on troubled adopted children, says many of these kids simply don't respond to stern lectures and timeouts. Lab workups of her patients often reveal extremely high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. "The children, for the most part, were in safe homes living with safe people," Purvis says, "but those cortisol levels told us that their children did not feel safe with them, even if they'd been living safely with them for years." Children like them are almost constantly in a hypervigilant state, she says. They don't let their guard down long enough to forge affectionate relationships.
Over the past several years Purvis has developed new methods to restore a sense of security and trust to traumatized kids. If a child becomes violent, for instance, Purvis often responds with a "basket hold." She cradles the kids firmly but gently in her lap, facing outward, with their arms crossed in front of their chests. She rocks and quietly soothes until they calm down, then asks them to look her in the eye and tell her what they want. Purvis's assistants have taken to calling her the "Child Whisperer."
Sometimes techniques like these result in dramatic turnarounds. The family of a 5-year-old adopted from Russia thought they had no choice but to seek psychiatric hospitalization after she threw her baby sister down the stairs. But after the parents adopted Purvis's methods, the little girl finally started talking about the serious abuse she'd experienced. The child's behavior changed markedly. But her mother "changed even more," Purvis says, "because now she has hope."
Purvis is quick to say that her techniques don't work with every child, and older kids can take much longer than younger ones. "They have to unlearn what they've learned," she said. The next step, she says, is for prospective adoptive parents to get more training before and after they adopt. "Very few agencies are training parents to deal with brain damage, sensory deprivation, aggression," Purvis says. "A lot of these parents are smitten with the hope that they'll make a difference in a child's life, but they need very practical tools. I consider myself very pro-adoption. But I'm also very pro informed adoption. "
Peggy Hilt wishes she'd heard this message years ago. "If I knew then what I know now," she says, "I would have gotten help for Nina and for me." The best she can hope for now, she says, is that her story will prompt others to seek that help before it's too late.
Warning Signs for Adoptive ParentsAdopted children often go through a period of transition and adjustment once arriving in the United States from another country, but sometimes problems persist, behavior worsens, or new problems arise with time. Acting out and defiance may be protective measures children take because of a history of abuse, neglect or maltreatment. Karyn Purvis, director of Texas Christian University's Institute of Child Development and an expert in the treatment of troubled adoptees, says parents may need to seek the counsel of a clinician who specializes in international adoption cases if their child consistently exhibits any of these behaviors:
Sexual acting out, like masturbating or inappropriate touching of others
Aggressive, bullying, violent behavior
Night terrors or sleep problems caused by fear
Behavioral melt-downs when parents are trying to get the child to do homework, or when there is lots of noise or activity
Resistance to any expression of affection, like kisses and hugs from family members, but approaches strangers indiscriminately
Explosive anger when confronted with relatively minor disappointments or delays
Insists on being in control at all times
Terrified of being alone, or the other extreme, insists on being left alone
Hoarding or stealing food


Tasha said...


Thanks for sharing?

Tracey said...

I usually respon to this stuff by reeling off the long list of families I know who gave birth to kids with serious medical, developmental or psychological issues. So much for the illusion of control.
Honestly, what kind of reaction do these people expect to get from us?

Hi! I'm Laura & this is my blog. said...

i got that article from a 'well meaning friend' too (one who insists that having a biological child is the way to go). i said to her "luckily ethiopia cares so well for the children in orphanages. though any child, biological or adopted, could have issues arise." uh, yeah. thanks for the article.

chou-chou said...

I gotta say I'm sorry this happens to you, but I'm kind of relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who gets these things.

Seriously, people, what the hell is the point of highlighting all the possible nightmares in my future??

The senders of these things are invariably people with biological children, and I truly think they feel some kind of superiority, like they are protected against having "Bad" kids because they are birthing them.

Makes me nuts.

Katy said...

Since I apparently don't have friends who dare to even broach such a topic with me anymore, I came across this shit in Newsweek on my own AND I saw a related "When Adoption goes wrong" headline story on the MSN homepage AND a bunch of stories about the diplomats (Dutch, I think) in Hong Kong who adopted a 4 month old baby and now, 7 YEARS LATER, apparently want to leave Hong Kong WITHOUT her becasue she has attachment issues and cultural differences, and is messing up thier "own" children?!?! I was prepared to blog about these things until I checked in with you and saw that you beat me to it.

It is absurd on so many levels. There is no comparable hot topic for stories about "When childbirth goes wrong." And biological mothers beat thier kids to death all the time. Apparently this is more interesting because the kid's issues made the mom do it?!?! And "When adoption goes wrong", apparently "disruption" is an option. Imagine if there was a euphamism like that built into our language for abandoning older and difficult bio kids.

And, on the flip side, while I'm rolling with this, just to play the devil's advocate on behalf of the people in Hong Kong (who sound like complete jackasses, and for whom I have no understanding or sympathy), I'm not seeing any headlines about biological parents who DO decide their kids have horrific issues too great for them to deal with and end up surrendering/losing custody of them.

Wow. Thanks for letting me vent and saving my blog from another nasty, negative rant. And if this is kicking up controversy, sorry. Sort of.

Becky said...

Ok, at the risk of receiving wrath from other bloggers,I want to express my views as a parent of both bio and adopted children.

I too saw the MSN article and was actually considering adding it to my blog. Unlike some assumptions, there are parents of both biological AND adopted children who do know that there are some very REAL risks to adopting "older" children, whether internationally or domestically. Yes, there are also risks having biological children, and I don't think anyone who has biological children would disagree with this. Even bio parents sit around and worry about how they're screwing up their kids' lives and pray that they don't end up on Jerry Springer someday with "kids gone wrong". Nobody thinks they are immune from these types of problems. The big difference between having a child with issues and adopting a child with issues ... that instant love, attachment, bonding you have with a bio child that may or may not be there with an adopted child. Of course, I've known parents who didn't have that with bio children as well, but not many.

The main thing to take away from these articles is to be aware of what could happen. Do not fool yourself into thinking that it couldn't happen to you or that you could never feel that way about a child. Never say never. It happens and it happens to the best of people. Keep an open mind, be aware of the possibilities, and don't be afraid to ask for help at the first sign of trouble.

And notice that Ethiopia was NOT mentioned in the article.

haze said...

Jesus! I couldn't get past the sentence about throwing her child on the floor and kicking & punching her.

What utter BS! I second everything you said and the previous commenters.

I am so frustrated for you - why would 'friends' send this stuff to PAPs and APs when obviously they have made their decisions and adoption is the way they want to build their family. Wee already know the risks, thank you very much. It would be like sending a pregnant friend an article about miscarriages or birth defects. IDIOTS!

Luckily, none of my friends/family have sent this crap to me (yet).

haze said...

p.s. please let us know if your friend replies.

Rebecca said...

yikes. i'm shocked that someone would say that...honestly, if I saw an article about a child that was born with some rare illness and only lived a couple of days, I wouldn't send the article to a mom expecting a child saying - "look, this made me think of you". hmmm. interesting thought process!

Anonymous said...

Why would you perpetuate this type of information? never post things that are so incindiary about this beautiful journey. We need to remember that these blogs are journals that our babies will someday read. Lats give them something worth reading!

Tami said...


I appreciate your opinion but I don't want Baby I thinking that this world is a utopia. She will know how much I love her and wanted her. She needs to know there are a bunch of idiots and she needs to see varying opinions. That is what the blog is for. I don't want it to be one sided. I always publish the good, bad and even the ugly. I think it's all worth reading...it actually keeps it interesting, making the journey even more beautiful.

iesha (blog.awake2day.com) said...

WOW! Stupidity never ceases to amaze me. The first thing I got from this article, So,the child turned her mother into an alcoholic? This is very poor excuse for journalism since it is so blatantly one-sided and gives neither solutions or opposing responses. It gives very little facts or leaves out things. "81 children adopted overseas were relinquished to officals in 14 states in 2006." But they make no mention of the thousand children that were not.
I hate to say it but you need to get some better friends!

Tanya & Ramsey said...

Sorry you had to go through that.. Some people can be so ignorant!!

Tanya & Ramsey said...

Sorry you had to deal with stupid people... People like that irritate me.. lol

Amanda and Andrew said...

Hi! I'm Amanda. My husband and I are adopting our children from Ethiopia and I found you while searching for some other Ethiopia things on Google.

I wanted to say hello and let you know that I appreciate this post. I've had so many "well intentioned" people say things that are less than sensitive that it's nuts. I realize that they're not going through what we're going through, but at the same time-nobody would dare say to a high-risk pregnant woman "you know, miscarriage rates are going up! and stress is a part of that...".

It's crazy how some things require sensitivity and other things don't.

Anonymous said...

I hate to burst your bubble, but what you are "going through" isn't that big of a deal. As a matter of fact, it is a part of parenthood. Do you want to know how many "well intentioned" people took one look at me when I was pregnant and launched into some disgusting and horrifying story of their labor and how they almost died or how their baby ended up injured because of a doctor's mistake.
When you have the children, it gets even worse. At New Years, some idiot will tell you that if you immunize your kid, you are going to make them sutistic. Then you will go to the bookstore and see books that say the same thing. But then your neighbor will tell you that her neice died from measles because she wasn't immunized against it.
This is all part of parenthood. You are going to grow a tough skin, let most of it go in one ear and out the other, and learn to choose what is best for your family.
Don't feel too sorry for yourself. Bio parents go through the same stupidity. And you are barely scratching the surface on the unsolicited advice that we as parents get for our children's entire lives.
I would focus your attention on the positives in your life and the fact that you are one of the lucky few who have the means to adopt. There are many people out there who wish they could complain about this very thing, but they will never be able to welcome an adoptive child.