Thursday, July 23, 2009

Boys' Adoption Story--Transitions

Boys' adoption story continued...
Poor Tortuga, just three days after he started school (5 days after he moved in) we picked him up from school and did another 9 hour trek to PA. C.'s father was once again hospitalized and with the beginning of a school vacation, it was the best time to go see him. We also had another motive. C. had crossed the 3 month mark on her pregnancy so we were ready to tell people including her family. We arrived at the hospital to find her mom, aunt, and uncle already there. The boys got a quick dose of "family" since it was a first meeting for everyone. In retrospect I think it also served to put them in a very intense "family togetherness" mode and did much to bond us as a group. As we introduced the boys we handed her folks some recent pictures of all the kids and we slipped in an ultrasound picture of the baby. As her mom and dad looked through the pictures they both stopped at the one of the baby and looked completely puzzled. One suggested it was an ultrasound of a body part--a knee perhaps? When we told them it was a future grandchild they both assumed we were adopting an infant. It took a few seconds for it all to sink in and everyone in the room was laughing, crying, or bewildered for a few minutes. It had never seemed a possibility that C. would conceive and her family was aware of that partly because they knew of the health issues and of course, they didn't have much experience with the whole "lesbians having babies" thing.

The news of the pregnancy was viewed as nothing short of miraculous and the kids were soooo excited to know a baby was coming. Breaking the news to everyone at the same time was absolutely perfect because it allowed the kids to witness the excitement news of a new arrival brings. C.'s aunt quickly went to Tortuga and Corazon and told them, this is how we felt when we heard about your arrivals! That made the kids' day! Her dad's condition was grave and he was moved into intensive care the day after we arrived so we turned it into a 10 day stay instead of a long weekend. I don't know how Tortuga managed to process meeting all those new family members, news of a new baby, and 10 days of endless hospital waiting rooms but if nothing else the togetherness factor for us as a whole group was so high that he couldn't possibly doubt who he "belonged" with. To this day he has vivid memories of all the "fun" we had on that trip!

Tortuga's transition and issues were complicated. There were soooo many issues and the meds really seemed to mess with him although we had no basis for figuring out what he would be like without them. He was morose one moment and on top of the world the next. He would fall asleep or into a semi-catatonic state 15-20 minutes after his noontime meds. I reported this to his psychiatrist as soon as I could so we could work on eliminating it. I decided my first step was to get him off all the meds so we could find the kid and then if we needed to we would try the meds again. He had nightmares and would run across the length of the house to the outside of my bedroom door and begin to scream at the top of his lungs. He walked in his sleep and he couldn't sleep.

He had pretty much honeymooned during the whole time we were in PA but as soon as we returned we began to deal with those expected behaviors--suicide threats, peeing/pooping issues, spitting, drooling, tantrums, meltdowns, destructiveness, etc. One thing I do recall is that Corazon witnessing all these behaviors seemed to curb a whole lot of her acting out. She recognized herself in some of Tortuga's behaviors and was shocked by others. We also had to contend with Tortuga being physically inappropriate with Corazon so we began to monitor all of their play at all times and imposed a no-touching rule. Tortuga hated to be touched but he liked touching others, especially her. He had all kinds of "tics" that seemed to be controllable but again we were struggling to figure out the impact of all the meds on him.

We also had to fight all kinds of battles including school placement (he had been in a self-contained behavior management classroom for ALL of his schooling yet I discovered his IEP noted only the speech and language issues with no mention of behavior issues so I refused to send him to a school that didn't place him in a self-contained classroom for speech and language. That would turn out to be the best decision we made early on. The district tried to fight us but thanks to our connections in the district and the social worker, Selma's, contacts at the placement office we found him a spot in a premier school with probably the best teacher he could have gotten. I still wonder today where he might be if it hadn't been for that initial fight and victory. He had so much catching up to do that although a second grader at the time his school skills were at at 4 year old level at best but his teacher was a miracle worker who just loved him to death and worked him to tears but somehow managed to make it all fun and worthwhile and kept us posted daily on behaviors, goals, successes, challenges and worked with us on everything. We would even use the same words and phrases with him to build consistency in his learning experiences. It was exhausting for his teacher and for us but it made the transitions from school to home as seamless as possible.

It took us 2 1/2 months to get him completely off every single med and I vowed to wait at least a year before I would consider additional meds. His body and his brain needed time to adjust and I was willing to put up with whatever behaviors in order to find some of the kid underneath. We opened up a huge "can of worms" but it gave us a real sense of who this kid was and what he had and had not learned in all those years. There were so many things we didn't expect and it took a while to realize it wasn't defiance or disobedience but a real lack of knowlege and practice that made him do many of the things he did or didn't do. We found ourselves teaching our almost 8 year old practically all of the basic living skills one should know by then (toileting, wiping, hand-washing, toothbrushing, clothes hanging, blowing his nose, eating with a fork or spoon, etc. etc. etc.) It isn't an exagerrations when I say that he needed to learn those things from the beginning.

Because Pollito was a toddler his transition seemed to go pretty smoothly. Some things we didn't notice as quickly as we should have, in retrospect, seemed obviously connected to his adjustment. For example, he had attended the same daycare since he was a few months old. It wasn't a great facility but the staff were nice enough. We continued to take him to this daycare but I noticed that he had a difficult time at dropoff and pickup. At dropoff he seemed ready to cry as soon as we stepped into the building. At pickup time he acted like he didn't know me and always seemed surprised to see me. He was also having nightmares AND night terrors so I was up with him several times during the night and putting him to bed him me pretty regularly. It took us several months after we were able to stop the foster mom from visiting, to realize what was going on--he didn't know if we were going to come back to get him! The poor kid had no idea whether where he was going and who was picking him up each day even though I was the one who did it daily. I started keeping him home on days when I didn't have to teach and could take him with me to the office and that seemed to make such a huge difference. As May rolled around and my teaching ended I decided to pull him out of daycare knowing that when I was ready to put him back in September we would probably have an uphill battle but he seemed to need to be with us as much as possible. We had also seen an incredible amount of progress in his language development and truthfully Corazon should be credited with that. She talked with him non-stop and she encouraged him and taught him new words and games. He was thriving. We also discovered that despite his age (2 1/2 yrs old) he had been mostly bottle fed and had almost no experience with solid food! We weren't sure why he had not been fed "real food" in his home but he didn't know how to eat and later Tortuga confirmed that he had never seen the foster mom give Pollito any real food beyond bananas. That explained alot of things including his weight which was at 20 lbs and his clothing size (he was still wearing 12 month clothing.) All in all, he seemed to be adjusting pretty well.

The social worker's first visit after placement was delayed due to factors beyond everyone's control so she didn't come see us for about 6 weeks after the original moving in time. We were so caught up in managing the day to day that progress was hard for us to gauge but her response at that visit suggested we were doing something right. She couldn't stop gushing and this was a woman who never gushed! She claimed not to recognize Tortuga. She identified changes we hadn't seen especially because we had only known him at the RTC and here. She recounted so many instances of having him be non-communicative, non-verbal, bouncing off walls or off in his own world, glued to tv/video games, flying off the handle, disheveled, etc. She marveled at an amazing transformation that to us was almost invisible because we could only see all the work we had to do. Her observations were quite validating but the best part of the entire visit was when she asked Tortuga how he was feeling and his response was "I happy!" (Which I promptly corrected and he repeated "I am happy!" She informed me he had usually shrugged or answered "mad" whenever she visited him and she was even more surprised when as she was leaving he spontaneously hugged her goodbye and offered to walk her downstairs and lock the door behind her. Small steps but for us they were tremendous indictors of the incredible potential this little boy had. We were hooked.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Tears in my eyes...I love hearing their story.

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