Friday, January 20, 2012

Bio-Family Stuff

As I wrote yesterday, The Princess is processing a lot of “stuff” right now.  She’s dealing with a lot of memories – both real and imagined – and she’s trying to figure things out to make sense of them.  We are trying to help her do that with attachment and family therapy, based on a combination of research and techniques used by folks such as Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Becky Bailey, and Heather Forbes, LCSW.  Princess wants to bury her feelings about this “stuff” and deal with things on her own terms – terms which are just not healthy, and cause her to act out with much anger and resentment.  Interestingly enough, however, she is still talking to me – still asking questions.  On her own terms.  In her own time.  I’m realizing I’m not always as ready for “it” as I thought I would be.  Last evening was one of those times.

The Princess started asking questions about her bio-family and past traumatic events.  Her memory of these things is skewed because she was so little, and because Youngest Son feeds her his own skewed memory of the events.  My practice has always been to set them both straight – to tell them the truth I know.  I share what information we have in court documents.  I also tell them the things their paternal grandmother told us when we did biological family research (through an in-country facilitator) a few years ago.  At first, I thought it was best to “protect” the kids from the details.  Who wants to tell their children the woman who gave birth to them did the things she did?  Who wants to hear their birth father’s depression was exponentially fueled by the actions of their birth mother, and the alcoholism of them both?  This stuff was just too hard.  I didn’t want to talk with them about it.  The Princess, however, while she is very immature emotionally, is also very, very smart.  On one hand, she doesn’t want to know, but on the other, she does.  She has questions about her story.  Afterall, it’s HER story.

Processing her story is something I want her to do with me in therapy.  Unfortunately, she tends to process a lot of it at school with friends.  Most of these friends are hurt kids themselves.  She’s attracted to them like a fly is to poo.  (Yeah, I made that analogy on purpose.)  I do not like that this is true for my daughter.  I do not like that trauma too often begets trauma – or, at least, feeds off it.

My daughter has copies of some of the pictures we received when we did that bio-family search.  These pictures are of her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even her biological father.  She also has some pictures from her orphanage.  The deal was she could look at these and talk to us about them at home.  However, she has taken them to school on numerous occasions without my knowledge and has shown them around, telling these other hurt kids way too much – much more than any of them can handle.  Much more than she can handle on her own.  And they’ve hurt her more with their comments and questions.  (I wish I fully understood why hurt kids tend to set themselves up for more hurt.)  I have never given her the one picture I have of her birth mother.  I wasn’t planning on giving it to her, or even showing it to her, any time soon.  But I showed her last night. 

I don’t think I’ll ever get why some cultures take pictures of dead bodies at funerals.  I don’t think I’ll ever get why the mourners pose with the dead body and have their picture taken, too.  This is the one picture I have of the birth mother.  The family is gathered around the birth father’s open casket.  She is standing at the head of the casket with Youngest Son.  The Princess is not in the picture, and to our knowledge, she did not attend the funeral (though she insists she did even when Youngest Son tells her she did not).  While it is possible to crop the picture, the image of the birth mother’s face is very tiny.  She is looking down.  The sun is shining brightly on the right side of her face, whiting out a portion of her image.  It is not a good picture photographically at all.  Yet, it is the only picture I have, and The Princess wants it.  She wants me to print it out for her. 

I am not doing that.  Not now anyway.

In my head, I understand The Princess’ need to remember her birth mother and know what she looked like.  The Princess insisted she had blond hair prior to seeing the picture, for example.  She did not.  She has dark brown hair, just like The Princess.  My daughter also insisted that birth mother was thin.  She is not thin in this picture.  She is, in fact, a bit chubby.  I also get that my daughter needs to know WHO she comes from as well as where she comes from.  I get that.  That’s my own driving force in being a genealogy geek.  I learned my mother’s Dad was not her biological father when I was 15 years old.  I always wondered about that man and about the family I was a part of, but did not know.  I found them as an adult, but my mother and my grandmother kept all that information from me.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t fair.  Even if my biological grandfather treated my grandmother poorly, I still had a right to know about the PEOPLE I come from.  My daughter has that right, too.  Strangely though, I now understand my grandmother and mother’s resentment at my need to know. 

As we were preparing to adopt, I read all I could about the needs of adopted children to know about the people they come from.  I was sure I would be supportive and that I would never say an ill word about my children’s birthparents.  I would be positive.  I would help them learn what they wanted to learn.  I would even support them having a relationship with extended family members.  I was clueless.

I had no idea I could hate the birth mother of my children.  (Yep.  I said that, too.  I have hated her.)  It is SHE who did this to MY kids.  It is SHE who deserves my daughter’s wrath, though it is I who deal with it.  It was HER actions that have caused MY children so much pain.  Yes, I have hated her.  And I’ve secretly wished my children would hate her, too.

Hate is a cancer that eats your soul.  Trauma is drawn to trauma.  Hate is drawn to hate even more so.  I don’t want my children drawn to trauma.  I don’t want my children drawn to hate.  Therefore, I needed to let go of hate.  Sometimes, I will admit, that need resurfaces and the “let go” is moment-to-moment.  It is then I need to remember I cannot hate someone I’ve never known.  It is her decisions and her actions that I hate.  It is the sin (and yes, that’s the word) that I hate.  I do not hate the person.  (Admittedly, I do struggle to love her.)  She is not well.  She was not well when she hurt my kids.  My daughter wants to know who she is.  So, I will tell her the truth – again and again – however many times she needs to hear it.

I have still not printed out the picture for her.  I do not want it floating around a middle school.  There is one “friend” there that is particularly cruel to The Princess.  I do not want this “friend” having any more fuel for her twisted fires.  I also do not want other friends giving their 12 and 13 year-old opinions about it.  She’s already been made fun of this week for having an “old” mother (me).  I can still at least TRY to protect her from some things, can’t I?  (Oh, how homeschooling sounds better and better to me with each passing day.)

I love my daughter more than I can express in words.  She is MINE.  She comes from her. 

My daughter can look at my copy of the picture. 

We’ll print it out and take it to therapy next time.

Added later:  On second thought, maybe I WON'T print out the picture and take it to therapy next time we go.  I hadn't thought about what to do with it afterward.  As Diana writes below, destroying it is probably not a good idea.  If I file it, I can guarantee both she and Youngest Son will be rooting through ALL my stuff trying to find it.  And leaving it with the therapist is probably something even my therapist wouldn't recommend.  Thanks Diana for sharing some things I hadn't thought about.  Like I said, sometimes I'm just not as prepared to deal with the "stuff" as I thought I would be.  It is on my computer (and backed up) in secure files.  Only I know the password.


MamaPoRuski said...

I agree. Printing this picture is not good at this time. O has taken hers to school and the discussions around it with the Russian speaking community were not positive. Of course, she is much older, so learned this lesson the hard way. Z has his picture of mom, but we do not let him take it to school. Both tell way too much. We've asked teachers to be away and help curb the responses of others, but we can only protect them so long.
Middle school and Jr. High are painful for everyone, not just "hurt" children. Praying our kids mature past this stage and continue with healing.

Trauma Mama T said...

Thanks, MamaPoRuski. One of the other comments she said to her Dad and I last night was that she'd "just wait till she was 18" to do what she wants. I thought, "Oh goody. 4.5 more years of this crud." I also pray she can mature and continue to heal.

Tamara said...

I'm with you Trauma Mama. I don't think Princess needs that picture right now either. If she's taken the other pictures to school, she will no doubt take that one (behind your back)...and the kids just wouldn't be able to process it. A funeral picture is hard enough for adults to stomach...the kids would take a look at it and I'm sure say something that would hurt (even if they didn't mean it). The mean girl would have a field day. You're making the right decision.

Diana said...

We have NO pictures except of some supposed aunts of my youngest. NOT GENEITICALLY POSSIBLE that these people are biologically related...which opens another huge can of worms we'll be dealing with as he gets older. Because I have so precious few pictures, though, I do what I can to fill in the difference. I find pictures on the internet that might represent and in doing so I recently came across one of a person who bears the same name as my kids birth mother (thank you social media!!) and ironically has some VERY similar facial features to them, including things like the shape of eyebrows and chins and hair color/texture, ear placement and such. Is this HER? I don't know but she could easily pass as a biological relative to both my boys...but then again, my youngest especially can easily pass as biologically mine. So much so that EVERYONE in Ukraine commented on it and how they'd never seen an adopted child look so much like their new mother.

Anyway, my older son was very antsy one day about his birth mother so I put a bunch of random pictures of Ukrainian women, including these pictures, in an ELECTRONIC file on MY computer that is password protected and they have no access to. I then pulled up these pictures in a way he could see them. It was just my son and I looking at them. We talked about what we think she might have looked like, how old she's be now, we talked about whether these people in the pictures might look like her or not, and I purposely paused on this picture that "might possibly" have been her just to see what his reaction was. My son broke down in tears when we got to that picture...not with recognition, but because he admitted he couldn't remember what she looks like anymore. Will I keep those pictures of this woman who has the same name as my kids' birth mother? YES! And I'll keep looking for more of them, too. Though there are many similarities and she's even in the same region we were told by someone she headed to, there are still things that make me thing it's not her. But it's at least something that can help fill in the gaps.

Long story, round about way of saying would I print it out? NO!! Not even for therapy (at least not yet.) Remember concrete thinking and that if you print it, you eventually have to do something WITH that printed picture...destroy it...bad idea...leave it with the therapist...meh...I've never had that work real well - it generates a lot of anxiety...or you have to file it and risk her finding it and sharing it.) Would I keep it and all other photos in electronic folders on my computer and let her know she can look at them any time she wants? Absolutely! We do this often at our house, actually. When I can tell they're in total fantasy mode or when they're really agitated, I just ask if they want to see the pictures. Most often they do. The more we've looked at them electronically, the more I realize how much safety it creates for them. 1) They don't have to actually have to TOUCH the pictures which creates an automatic safety net for them. 2) They are learning to trust me as the keeper of their story. 3) They know they can look at those pictures anytime they want...and sometimes they do ask me to see them now...but since they're on my machine (and backed up in several places elsewhere!) they never get the opportunity to look at them alone, and really, when it comes right down to it, they never want to.


Diana said...

silly blogger...just let me finish what I have to say...


When we look at them, I usually let them take the lead. It's hard stuff for our kids! There's a lot to process. Sometimes they just want to look at them quietly. It breaks my heart to see the grief wash over their faces, but I let it happen. I just flip the pictures when they nod that they are ready to see the next one. Sometimes they'll tell me stuff about the pictures. Sometimes I know that story, sometimes it's new stuff. If they let me, I just pull them in closer to me and let them keep looking and feeling. And when they're done I can either tell from their behavior or they tell me and we shut it down and do some kind of a decompression/reconnection activity.

Annie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DeeChloRox said...

My suggestion was going to be the same as Annie's. I think if you appear to not want her to know about her bios it fuels the fire. Give her the picture of birth mom cropped. Tell her, as you said, "It's YOUR birth family, but I don't think it's appropriate to have death pictures out and around in our US culture."

As an aside, I lived in Brazil, where they always took family photos around the deceased. They also had home funerals. So...maybe she did attend the funeral, if it were at home.

Trauma Mama T said...

Annie's comment above reappears below, using "The Princess" in place of my daughter's name. If you know me, please remember I post my blog anonymously and do not use our family's names on the blog. Thanks! TMT


Of course I'll disagree - don't I always have to be the contrarian?

I would NO WAY print the picture as it is (my mom's Scotch/Irish family had a whole album of death photos on their table when we visited there once - scared me to death), but I think what I'd do is put it in Picasa or some editing program, crop it so you just have the mom, or at least her face (even though it will be tiny) and let her have that. Even if it is the size of a fingernail. I'd explain that the rest of the photo is very private and personal and for family only to see - and since she might be tempted to share, you're just giving her the photo of her mom.

Anastasia has used photos a LOT to process. At first it bugged me; initially she sort-of hugged them to her; refused to let me see them (though I gave them to her initially). But I realize now that after making a couple of scrapbooks with them over the last couple of years, she's stopped obsessing. The first scrap book was just family photos - with stickers and statements of loyalty and love....very romanticized stuff. In the second one, done recently, she has mixed in birth family pictures chronologically with photos of her here and in Russia, and Ilya and her American family. I saw real progression there, with her working to created a connection rather than separation.

When I first gave her the photos - just like The Princess - she made that romanticized booklet and took it to school. I was irritated at the attitude of some of the adults - who acted like I should be wounded by it, but I didn't really care. These are important people for her, whether I like it or not. But, some of them (like her grandmother and brothers) are people I also feel a connection to. Lately she has shown the new chronological album to a few people - in my presence (or hearing) actually, and I think that was part of the process. Occasionally they'd point out something that would be a new thought for her. At this point, it seems the photos just lost their power to haunt her, via their familiarity, perhaps.

At therapy this past week she was talking about her family, and then when I said some kindly thing about her grandmother, she uttered the old refrain "you aren't my real mother; you shouldn't care about her" I explained that since I loved her (Anastasia) so much, I felt a connection to the people she's connected to. Her therapist mentioned that in her old office there used to be a picture of a tree....the roots represented the birth family. The branches and leaves represented the adoptive family and the trunk is adoption. Anastasia was so intrigued by this image, that the moment she got home she set out to draw the image herself.

Anyway....I think the death photo should not be reprinted just out of respect for the dead, but the little photo of her mom is pretty important for her to process. I just wonder about the feeling she might have about you withholding it.

But, in the final analysis - YOU know your daughter and God gave her to you, and will give you the correct instincts to work with her. There may be some "rules" or "guidelines" to use when dealing with these children of early trauma, but each one is as unique as any other person, and what might be right for one, might not be for another.