Our daughter came to us through straight adoption from the foster care system when she was nine years old.
The first time we met her was in the administrative office of the group facility where she had been living for the six months prior to coming home with us.
I loved her before I even laid eyes on her in person. We had been working to bring her home for six months (the entire time she was in the group facility).
There were mountains of paperwork to read and sign, updates to our home study, more background checks, tons of red tape involving two states and multiple agencies.
We were chosen to be her parents in November and didn’t get to meet her until May. I literally ground holes in two of my teeth in my sleep because I was so anxious to bring her home. She was 100% my daughter, my baby before she even knew we existed.
When we finally got to see her, I was amazed at how tiny she was! She was so much smaller than she looked in the photos we’d been sent. She had huge, dark brown eyes that were filled with fear and very greasy hair (her caregiver's attempt at lice prevention).
We met her on a Monday and she came home with us forever that Friday. She was all little girl! We played dress-up and tea party. We did crafts, read storybooks and snuggled.
Lots of cuddling and lap holding. I picked her up and carried her often, even when people scoffed at how ridiculous it was to treat a 9-year-old this way. She'd missed out on so much and needed the babying.
We were immediately smitten with her. She was willing to bond and attach to us from the beginning. She had had at least 13 placements before us, so I think her willingness to let herself get close to us was — and still is — amazingly brave.
Adopting an older child is a crazy ride. She came to us as a little girl and became a full blown Justin Bieber-loving training bra-wearing lip glossed tween in a matter of months. I’m grateful we had a short window together to work on attachment before puberty started knocking on our door.
She spent her first four years dealing with abuse, neglect, poverty and abandonment. Then she spent the next five years bouncing around foster care. She came to us with an alphabet soup of mental health diagnoses.
We knew parenting her would be a challenge. We also felt we could handle it and that she was capable of healing.
She has come so far. In the beginning, she got stressed out if you asked her if she preferred a turkey or ham sandwich. That required looking inside to her own thoughts and feelings, something she fought vigilantly to avoid.
She refused to talk about her past. She would not acknowledge any feelings other than happy and mad. Her “mad” was big. She could spend up to an hour hiding in her closet screaming like she was in a horror movie.
We tried therapy with several mental health agencies. They did not get trauma and attachment. Some therapists actually made things worse and another suggested we stop when our daughter stayed silent in sessions after five months of weekly visits.
I have lived and breathed therapeutic parenting and attachment disorders since deciding to adopt from foster care. I'm constantly looking for new techniques and high-quality support for helping her heal from her early start in life. My husband has jumped in. The three of us are a team.
We gave her the words for her feelings and told her about other kids with “hurt parts” like her. I repeated things like, “Stop, take a deep breath and relax” and, “You’re safe, you’re loved, you can handle this.”
My husband and I both let her know that we were here to listen any time she wanted to talk, but we couldn’t force her to share her memories or feelings with us.
Slowly, she started to open up in spurts. One day, in the car, she randomly asked, “How long do you think my kids will get to live with me?”
At nine years old, she was terrified of being a bad mom and having her kids removed from her.
“It’s in my history and people always say history repeats itself.”
As she started to process her past, the behavioral challenges actually increased. She was dealing with a whole lot of hurt and pain that she’d kept buried her whole life. She had meltdowns with screaming, wailing and flailing. There were episodes of defiance, disrespect and destruction.
But she became willing and able to talk about the real reason behind the meltdown (instead of just “You were mean to me!”) and feelings beyond “You made me mad!”
Our first Easter together was especially challenging. It was the last holiday before we hit our one year together. We had three days of epic meltdowns and challenging behavior. She finally told us that she had been forced to move several times right before holidays and was convinced that we are going to “get rid” of her “just like everyone else.”
Since we didn’t “get rid” of her at 4th of July, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc. she just knew it was going to be Easter. She was trying to hurry along what she felt was the inevitable by throwing out the worst possible behavior.
She spent years convinced she was a bad kid who didn’t deserve nice things or a family.
Our adoption was finalized six months after she moved in, right after Thanksgiving. We told her it was forever from the day we met her, though. We were committed.
We are a forever family. But...it’s hard to buy into “forever” when things didn’t work out with your biological parents. If your biological parents aren’t forever, how can you trust anyone else to be?
She woke up that Easter morning to see that she was still home with us. She realized that we still loved her, despite her behavior; that we forgave her; that we were still taking care of her. There was still breakfast, clean clothes, hugs and the Easter Bunny even brought her presents! She spent the whole day hugging us and writing us little love notes.
It took about four years for her to finally believe our commitment to her is real. She's been with us longer than she was her biological family now. We've been through so much together and stuck by her.
She still struggles with several forms of anxiety — especially social anxiety and PTSD — and insomnia. However, she's gained the security and confidence to find tools that work for her and to ask for help when she needs it.
We're mostly dealing with typical teenager drama now — homework, boys, friends, the phone.
She’s now 15 and started high school this year. She’s grown over a foot since she’s been home. And her emotional growth? Off the charts.
I’m so honored I’m her mom and that she has allowed herself to love and trust me. I’m grateful that my husband and I are able to provide her with the safety and comfort to work on processing all that has happened to her and the big feelings that go with it.
My girl is strong, brave, smart, funny, talented and kind. She collected 30,000 pairs of colorful, funky socks for foster kids because she remembered the plain white socks she was typically given made her feel even more like a have-not. She's going to change the world. She already is.
Helping her heal has been difficult, exhausting and sometimes overwhelming, but amazing to watch. During the hardest times, I kept telling myself, "She is going to be OK."
And she is OK.
I've known all along my daughter would someday be healthy, happy, strong and healed. Five years after our adoption was finalized, I can confidently and proudly say she's made it.
That doesn't mean the past doesn't impact her. The impact of trauma doesn't go away. She'll be dealing with the damage her whole life — some times more than others. However, she has a strong foundation now that will get her through the hard times.
Adopting an older child isn't all unicorns and rainbows. It is hard stuff, filled with loss and grief. Adoption is complicated. But it's worth it.
My daughter is worth it.
The over 100,000 kids waiting for homes right now are worth it.