I recently came across an article on NPR, Fewer Russian Adoptions Since Mom Sends Son Back. I hadn’t realized it has been a year since Torry Hansen bought a one-way ticket to Moscow and sent her adopted son back to Russia. I try not to judge others because no one can ever understand the true story behind the scenes. Like most, I was outraged, but my focus was directed at the system rather than at Torry and her poor decision.
When my husband and I started our Russian adoption journey 13 years ago, we were required to attend parenting classes at our adoption agency. One session was about which particular country we wanted to adopt from. One session was on the paperwork required. Once session was about the dynamics of our families and how our families would accept a child into fold, and one session was on the medical challenges we might face with our new child.
In the medical session, they showed us what a typical Russian medical fact sheet would look like and how the Russian medical terms would translate to English. They warned us of scabies and malnutrition issues. The told us about the possible developmental delays our children might experience, but 13 years later, I can remember nothing except the warning that for every three months a child spends in a Russian institution, that child will be behind one month developmentally.
I know in our excitement of adoption a lot of the information we were given glossed across my brain. When I first held Elle in my arms, I thought I knew what the agency was talking about. Elle was nine months old when I brought her home, but she only weighed 14 pounds. She was tiny, but she walked at 10 months so I believed that her delayed development days were over.
I raised my daughter for five years thinking she was just a normal kid. But at five, she started stealing things, hording food, defacing property, and she became a master at the circular argument. Everyone she met thought she was an angel, I thought she was a devil child. She was praised and I was scorned as a parent. After three years of failed therapy, Elle was finally diagnosed with RAD. As much as the diagnosis scared me, I was excited because maybe we stood a chance of saving her.
While learning the classic signs of RAD and how we could have intervened at an early stage, I became angry. Why didn’t my agency warn me about RAD? Why didn’t they give me the resources I needed to learn about the potential risks and red flags? If someone had told me that I needed to attach to Elle as I would a newborn, I would have done it. I would have done anything in my power not to avoid going through the last six-year nightmare.
When I first met Nancy Thomas and learned about RAD and attachment therapy, I told her that her book, When Love Is Not Enough, should be required reading for all parents before they deplane in Moscow. I kept saying to her, “I wish I had known.” Part of me felt the agency glossed over the potential long-term risks of international adoption because they didn’t want to scare off potential parents. Had I truly understood the risks, I would have adopted Elle anyway, I just would have been more prepared. I didn’t need to be broadsided.
As tragic as the events were a year ago, it did accomplish bringing to the public attention the inherent risks of adopting a child internationally. Only when parents are educated and informed of the problems they might face, do they stand a chance at an equal playing field.
After all…knowledge is power.