Monday, September 16, 2013

Finally--introducing S!

Oh happy day, my gag order is finally lifted!

For the record, the gag order came from the lawyer, the one we had to hire to protect this precious child after he was dumped on our doorstep 17 months ago. If you've read the Reuters investigation about underground re-homing of adoptees, primarily international adoptees, then you are familiar with the situation. S came from exactly one of those situations.

Fundamentalist Christian family (primarily homechurched because they felt even the most conservative churches were to liberal and not Christian), Patriarchal, Dominionist, Quiverful family adopted three children from Liberia the exact same month that Micah made his journey home to us. They had at that time, six biological children including one with a major medical condition and another who was later diagnosed with autism. Yet, they adopted three children, S completely unrelated to the two other children they adopted, from an orphanage in Liberia known for child trafficking issues through an adoption agency that has gone defunct in large part due to their unethical practices in Liberia. They have since had two more biological children. The family is uber modest, as in all females in the house, even infant females, are required to wear long dresses with long pants underneath and headcoverings. The boys were permitted to wear shorts, but nothing sleeveless and exposing the girls in the house to their bare chest was considered sinful.

So, just before Mother's Day last year, on one of my adoption support groups, this woman put out a plea for someone who had experience dealing with the trauma issues one would see in a teenager from W. Africa. Having A from Sierra Leone and having helped him resolve his PTSD issues over the years, I reached out to offer support. Ordinarily, I would have recognized an ad to dump a kid pretty quickly. As anyone might recall, Micah was dying. Last year was anything but ordinary. When I contacted this woman, I was told either we took him, or he was being sent back to Liberia. She literally wanted to bring him to my house within 24 hours and be done with him. I stepped back and offered her reliable, legal resources. She persisted. Over the course of two weeks, I required her to provide access to his medical and mental health records, to determine whether he was safe to enter my home, including authorizing me to communicate with his therapist (though the therapist failed to disclose that she had only seen him once because they refused to actually bring him to therapy with her). They had twice previously attempted to dump him by leaving him in mental health facilities until the authorities had informed them either they picked him up, or they would be charged with child abandonment.

Ultimately, we felt the continued threats to dump this child in significantly less safe situations was a credible threat. I had been long familiar with Kathryn Joyce's research and the reality that multiple Liberian adoptees have in fact been shipped back to Liberia, a reality that has failed to make our national news because Liberia is simply not Russia and has not brought it to our media attention. I knew this child was at risk. So, we felt we could provide a safe haven for the summer, get the child intensive therapy for his PTSD and then work to re-integrate him back into his family safely.

The bizarrity of this situation only got worse and worse. There was a third family involved that this couple was shopping this child like a used car around to others. They became involved when this woman knocked on their door late at night and upon answering it said, "You have black children, do you want mine?" Yes, they were also an adoptive family, but the insanity of this couple was just mind blowing. This child was the last of the three adoptees to be removed from this family's home. She had an extensive blog presence online at one point, thus she detailed the removal of the first child in disgusting and frightening religious justification. The disappearance of the second child cannot be traced. She simply disappears from family pictures approximately 2010. Yet, the insurance card which they presented us with S on it contained her name along with the last infant of the family who was born after the child's removal.

Ultimately, we and the third family they shopped my child to worked in coordination to assure that S was safe and cared for. We agreed that it did not matter which family he lived with, so long as we all conveyed he was wanted and loved and safe in both homes. Ultimately, we involved the state, both to protect S and to alert them to the disappearance of the other children. Under the supervision of the state, S was told it was up to him to choose his forever family, and when given his own choice, S made the decision to come back to us.

The second time he came, we hired our attorney before we accepted custody of him again. Upon her advice, we attempted to amicably convince the first family to surrender parental rights and allow us to adopt him. When that failed, we filed for legal guardianship and adoption without their consent. Only after we were awarded temporary guardianship and within days of the hearing for us to go to court for permanent custody, they stipulated guardianship to us, and ultimately they finally signed voluntary consents to terminate their parental rights and allow us to adopt him.

So, in the middle of Micah dying, we were surprised with the arrival of a hurting, heartbroken teen boy from Liberia and who had NO citizenship, due to the first family's deliberate refusal to finalize his US adoption--a loophole for them to ward against child abandonment charges, but given that Liberia revokes citizenship to these adoptees under the belief they will be conferred with US citizenship, in that limbo place, it leaves these children without a country. For S, that nightmare is finally over. The Child Adoption Act of 2000 states that international adoptees are automatically awarded their US citizenship either upon finalization overseas IF the child met both parents prior to that finalization, or upon the US recognition or re-adoption if they did not. By finalizing his adoption in August, we also gave S citizenship again.

S is a beautiful child. He has tremendous hurt in his life. To this point, we have barely scratched the surface of the trauma he survived in Liberia because 17 months of therapy have been primarily utilized to address four years of horrific abuse he endured with the first adoptive family. Strangely, S felt safe with me from the state because the abuse he endured for those four years almost identically mirrors the abuse I endured growing up.

S has a protective spirit. He adores showing love to others, something he was unable to do for so very long. He is a dedicated athlete with a special skill for wrestling. He entered our home after receiving the same first grade school material for four years straight and yet somehow advancing on his own to a third grade level of education. He spent most of this time in the first home required to be isolated in his bedroom for fear he might hurt someone because he was a black boy. He came here starving, scared, homesick for both the home he knew there and Liberia and with a past this family tried to erase. They even tried to erase what tribe this child was. We have managed to identify his tribe. I knew enough about international adoptees that I knew a child who had remained in his birthome until he was six would recognize his mother tongue, even if he can no longer recall it. So deliberate was their attempts to erase everything that made him S that they scratched out his tribe name in a small statue they purchased in Liberia while picking him up.

S had so much to learn and address upon homecoming. He had never learned how to be a normal child. He had never stepped foot in a school building. He did not speak normal English. He had never used a microwave. He had been beaten down, degraded, shamed and abused. When he could take the abuse no longer he was thrown away like a piece of trash. All of that was not accounting for the trauma of surviving civil war, which is a tremendous struggle for any child without the added garbage this child faced.

Today, S has reached point where his struggles and pain are not the first thing anyone sees about him. He can present himself as normal, yet feels very safe at home that (as he says) we understand his issues. I often have to remind myself that this child's love language is gift giving. Sometimes even the smallest gift will light up his face. He was never allowed to have anything that belonged to HIM prior to here.

Integrating S has been a distraction in my grieving this last year. This child has a beautiful soul and a very bright young man, but he does not fully believe in himself yet. He has significant educational neglect issues, but not actual learning disabilities. Last year, we taught him how to go to school and act in a normal environment. This year, we are focused on repairing his education that was denied him his entire life. I cannot say this child will get through this unscathed. I don't believe he actually will. I do believe we are giving him every opportunity to have a healthy future, but he must learn and make his choices for that future. He must be safe to make mistakes and to learn he is safe and those mistakes will not cause him to be abandoned again. He has to learn that the aftermath of his abuse and trauma in the form of mental health struggles may never fully heal but that he can learn to manage them and to be proactive about them.

S arrived here with the maturity of a typical eight year old. He has grown and matured so dramatically in the last 17 months, but he is still not quite where a typical 16 year old would fall. Even so, at the rapid growth he continues to display, we do believe he will likely get there by early 20s. He's not one that I expect to be all grown and entered into adulthood by 18, but certainly in his early 20s he should get there. So long as he can overcome the Stockholm Syndrome of the four years of abuse, then he will understand the need to fight for his own health and healing.

So, this is my ninth child, my accidental adoption of a child who has endured so much more than anyone can imagine, yet continues to show the spirit of strength that helped him survive the hell he lived. He is very attached to myself and most of his siblings. He continues to hold II at arms length and act very attach disordered with II. We both understand that this is a result of no man ever being safe for this child. It is an interesting reversal of roles from Ch and Micah and their attachment struggles that were exclusively aimed my direction. I cannot tell you this child will be okay. I can only say he has every chance to fight for okay in his life now. His story and his future is still being written and his healing is still actively being sought. Now that he is adopted and has citizenship, and the power of the abusers has been permanently revoked, I am free to talk about my son in ways I could not to this point.


  1. OH, Jo... You are amazing and beautiful and wildly daring. This is both one of those things I know you just can't refuse AND one of those things that most people would totally refuse. A calling to act in an impossible situation. And the doors were opened. And the impossible became possible.