Throughout all those months of court dates and waiting I was keenly aware that I had a whole lot more to deal with this child than I had originally bargained for. I now knew that she had full-blown RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) but I wasn't sure I would ever get her the help she needed. I didn't know anyone (except those in the books I read) who had a child with RAD or who had even heard of it. Her first therapist had been a total waste of time. The adoption assessment had determined that she did have PTSD and RAD (and has raised some other possible serious issues) but other than helping us get a "diagnosis" we weren't getting any other help from social services. Eight months after her placement we had started working with a new therapist, Annie, who was older and much more experienced. She was not an attachment therapist but she had extensive experience with children and attachment and some experience with RAD. She was well read and was doing ongoing training about attachment issues. She was the closest I could get to an attachment therapist given the costs and lack of trained attachment therapists in our area AND she was willing to work with my knowledge base. Her issues were really serious and there was not a day that went by that I didn't question whether I could do what she needed. Anyone who knows me knows I don't back away from challenges easily but I also know my limitations. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to help her and until the judge's ruling I was also equally terrified that she would be taken away.
Annie was a good therapist for us. Each session she worked on our connection and attachment to each other and helped up develop ways to build trust. She would listen to my concerns and issues and address them in our joint sessions with Corazon. However she was also charmed (suckered) by my daughter who rarely showed her "uglier" side in therapy. Corazon was cooperative, engaged, playful and manipulative towards the therapist. She clung to me, cuddled, hugged, and asked for kisses. Initially the therapist thought these were "good signs" of developing attachment despite my insistence that this was part of the "public performance." I finally had to start videotaping her rages and audio taping what I called her nightly "rundowns" of her manipulative behaviors throughout the day. Some tapes included recaps of her attempts at triangulation and outright manipulation of the therapist. Showing them to the therapist was the best way to get Annie to see what we were dealing with and to her credit Annie did work with it. At home I was implementing strategies from all my readings and working like crazy to create stability and security for Corazon, despite the fact that we didn't have it. We were on that RAD roller coaster and I wasn't even sure this child would get to stay.
I felt crazy half the time and I was exhausted the other half of the time. I had door alarms, video monitors, and baby monitors everywhere. The pets and adults in the house went to bed behind locked doors each night and I was awake much of the night due to her incessant hypervigilance, wanderings, sneaking, and just plain messing with me by setting off the door alarm or opening her window and screaming that she had to pee or "please stop I am begging you!" at all hours of the night. She loved to watch me race down the stairs (if you know me you know I DON'T run or race anywhere!) when I couldn't see her on the monitor and her door alarm was screeching. The lies, stealing, sneaking, unsafe behaviors, accusations, aggression and attention-seeking behaviors at school and with strangers was a daily part of our lives. She was sweet and cooperative one moment, then a raging mess the next who brought destruction everywhere she went. She did all the typical RAD bodily behaviors--peeing, pooping, tooting, burping, and other bodily noises--at all the wrong times/places. This had become our life. I was worn out but I was also committed to her.
We had good times too. Corazon was my stick-tight whenever she wasn't at school and I even took her to work with me whenever possible. If I was teaching a graduate class at night she sat through the entire 3 hour class without a peep. At school she couldn't sit still, focus on her work, mind the teacher, shut her mouth, etc. Yet, she could sit through my whole class, read her books, color, draw, or eavesdrop without one interruption in three hours. This had been the case since she was 4 1/2. It was amazing. She loved learning, reading, writing, maps and exploring new places so she was fun to engage with. I travelled to conferences quite a bit that first year and a half so she went with me to Canada, Pennsylvania, NYC, Arizona, San Francisco and a few other places. She sat with me through 9-12 hours of conference sessions for several days in a row and entertained herself perfectly well. Strangers complimented me on her behavior and offered her gifts and treats wherever we went. Of course, this all made my colleagues and professional friends love her more and if I tried to discuss her outrageous behaviors they dismissed it and looked at me like I was a monster. It was all very isolating and alienating and it was becoming our life. One real benefit to the trips was that I saw what she could do and each return trip home seemed to bring about a small but clearly positive change. I started to realize that the combination of being totally dependent on me when we were away together, plus being with me 24/7, gave her a stronger sense of security and connection. In addition, the returns home, took away all that stuff she associated with packing up and moving someplace else. She started talking about her room, her house, her home in a much more connected way than before.
Despite my guarded outlook (given the court stuff) she had, in my heart, become my daughter. I saw glimmers of attachment and trust. I still saw fear about being sent away or taken away once she knew more of what was going on. She was anxious when someone told her a court date was coming up (guardian ad litem and mother often told her during visits) and the rages would increase. She continually asked about the judge and about the adoption although depending on the day she was "waiting for her new family" and she was "staying here forever." I wasn't sure how much therapy was really helping her but it was helping me by giving me a sounding board besides C. and one other close friend, P. It was so difficult working with her and trying to build attachment to me when I was still not sure she would get to stay.
Sixteen months after it all began the court proceedings were over and we had a signed adoption agreement in hand. Now it was time to complete and file the adoption papers. When the judge ruled that Corazon was free for adoption a great weight was lifted and was promptly replaced by the ominous feeling of fear that I might not be able to help her. I honestly didn't care about anything except having this phase be over so I could tell this child that, yes, it was going to be forever. By then though Corazon was convinced she was never going to get adopted and she talked about it openly. She was now 6 years old and waiting for 16 months to get adopted felt like a lifetime for her. She would beg to start using my last name because to her that signalled finally being a part of my life forever. She was very vocal about her belief that the adoption would not happen and that I was "telling stories." I couldn't convince her otherwise and in fact I still had a hard time believing something else wouldn't come up. In fact, as I was clearing old email from my inbox a few weeks ago I came across the emails that went back and forth between the attorney and I about Corazon's adoption date. In one of these exchanges I jokingly wrote that the longer we waited for a date the more "bad scenarios" I could imaging popping up. Here is an excerpt from that email:
"Dear _______ If you decide to wait on setting the date you should know that so many things could happen before we actually have an adoption finalized. My nightmares these days include the following:
- Her "real" father (the one no one knew existed of course) might show up to claim her.
- She really was a surrogate baby and somehow got lost in someone's paper shuffle and they are now ready to fix their mistake.
- The courthouse with all appropriate records burns down.
- The judge gets amnesia and everyone agrees to go through all this again as part of her recovery.
- My favorite attorney (Corazon's) will discover 12 other siblings she's never met and request separate bi-annual visits with each of them. "
I was clearly joking and we had a good laugh over it but it illustrated just how tenuous the situation had been and how unreal it felt that we might actually be finalizing this adoption.