An Honest Look at the Hardships Adoptive Parents Face

child adoption
Lori Gertz and her adopted daughter, Ellie

“Adoption is a phoenix; a miracle that arises from the ashes of despair. A baby is abandoned, a family lost and a whole new world gained,” writes our friend and former Strollerderby blogger K.J. Dell’Antonia on the NYT’s Motherlode blog.  In a beautifully crafted and heartfelt piece, she goes on to detail some of the less joyous parts of the adoption process, like removing a child from a caring foster family in order to provide them with a permanent home and secure future.

Dell’Antonia adopted her daughter, Rory, from China, where she lived in a loving foster home from age 2 months to 4 years.  “Over and over again in the past year, my daughter has buried herself in her bed, screaming for her mommy, and we both know that I am not the mommy she’s crying for,” Dell’Antonia says.  But she hopes that “having been raised by a loving family will make it easier for my daughter to love me,” adding, “If she can, with my help, bounce back from the trauma of losing that family, she’ll emerge as a stronger, more self-confident and more empathetic person.”

I have no doubt K.J. and Rory will have a wonderful life together.  But what happens when an adoption goes sour?  When the promise of a beautiful baby turns into a child you just can’t cope with?  Case in point: Lori Gertz, the Illinois mother who recently sent her adopted daughter to live with another family because she couldn’t handle her child’s intense symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

According to ABC News, Ellie cried for hours as a newborn, pushed a pregnant Gertz down the stairs, “had four psychiatric hospitalizations and made numerous suicide attempts” – all by the age of 6.  Ellie’s biological mother was an addict, having used a slew of hard drugs, but ABC reports that the “crack cocaine, PCP, heroin and methamphetamine were nothing compared to the alcohol that had ravaged Ellie’s developing brain in the first trimester of pregnancy.”

Gertz says “the family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on 38 specialists and a myriad of antipsychotic drugs to help their daughter, but nothing helped.  Eight weeks after Ellie entered first grade, she kicked the principal in the head.  She bit, spat and went AWOL.”

The family Ellie was sent to live with in Washington State “has fostered 150 children,” including a teenage son with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.  Ellie seems to be doing well under their care.

As for Gertz, her husband and their two other children, the family is attending grief counseling, and Gertz has written about her grief over losing Ellie on her blog.  She told ABC News, “I have come to accept that while she was very much my daughter, I was never her mother.  She never bonded with me. That’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Grieving and soothing seem to be the common emotional threads between Dell’Antonia’s and Gertz’s experiences with adoption.  As Dell’Antonia says in her piece, “The children we bring “home” can want to go home, and we as parents (and friends, teachers, grandparents) can grieve for that, and be frustrated by it, and struggle with it ourselves, even as we help them through it.”

But Gertz, who found herself truly unable to help her adopted daughter, says, “I couldn’t be the kind of parent of my dreams.  I could face the trauma, but I couldn’t soothe the one I loved so deeply.”

Photo: ABC via Lori Gertz

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