Our Paper Pregnancy
As we update friends and family members throughout adoption, people have wondered what type of description we read as we’re looking through child profiles to find our future child. It works a little like this: First we search this website or this website and read a short description about a child or sibling group. This is a public description that anyone has access to simply by searching the list of waiting children in Minnesota or the broader United States. We then request what’s called a ‘private narrative’ from our social worker, and receive an encrypted email with the confidential information about the child. Confidential because these are children with complex-trauma histories, complex family-situations, who need to be protected in a trusted system. But if you're just starting the process or just wondering what our brains go through several times a week, I'd love to give you an example.
Here’s what we typically see. Consider this narrative of a sibling pair:
DOB: 5/18/02, age 13
Risk factor: Mild. Cause: Neglect/Emotional neglect, Abuse
Diagnoses or disabilities: PTSD, Separation anxiety
Public Narrative: Meet Melissa! She is a great big sister who is very attached to her younger brother. She excels at school, especially in spelling and reading. She says she loves reading more than anything; even at the dinner table! Her favorite books are the boxcar children books.
Melissa is open to a family with a mom and a dad, and is slowly warming up to the idea of adoption. She says she has trouble imagining someone else being her real mom or dad. She will need to be placed with her younger brother and the agency is considering Minnesota families only at this time. She will need parents who are willing to maintain contact with her biological grandparents.
Private narrative: While Melissa enjoys learning, she says she has a hard time finding friends who are nice to her at school, and often has trouble making friends and engaging in age appropriate play. Her foster parents say she often withdraws to her room and is unresponsive. When given space, Melissa will come and engage when she is ready. Don’t expect normal levels of affection as you might from another child her age. When upset, Melissa can throw tantrums and escalates to screaming. This doesn’t happen often. She has previously destroyed personal property but hasn't done so for several months. Writing is a good outlet for her, and she keeps a diary. She will need parents who can calmly work to help her process and verbalize her feelings. Journaling has been a great tool for her. Trust may appear easily earned, but Melissa has difficulty forming secure attachments. Time will be needed to bond with her.
Melissa is a kind and gentle girl most of the time. At times she struggles to deal with her anger. She has taken on a parental role of her younger brother, as they were often left unattended for hours at a time, where Melissa was responsible for meals, etc. Alcohol was an abused substance in her home. Prenatal exposure is unknown. Potential parents should be willing to remove any alcohol in their home to help support a safe environment. She has sustained significant abuse and will need to continue therapy.
DOB: 10/11/09, age 7
Risk factor: Moderate. Cause: Neglect/Emotional neglect, Abuse
Diagnoses or disabilities: Possible ADHD, PTSD, Separation anxiety, Social anxiety
Public narrative: Hey!!! That’s what Lance would say if he were to meet you. He always is quick to greet any new person with a huge smile. He’s energetic, outgoing, and playful. He loves skateboarding, climbing trees, and anything that gets him moving outdoors. This is a kid who loves to have fun, and will need parents who can keep up with his energy and pace!
Lance is very bonded to his older sister, Melissa. The agency is only considering Minnesota families who are willing to adopt both children at this time. He will need parents who are willing to maintain contact with his biological grandparents. Lance struggles to stay afloat in school and will need parents willing to advocate for him, and work hard to help him catch up and succeed.
Private narrative: Lance is a soft-hearted, affectionate little boy. He is eager to please, yet also quick to push boundaries. Due to a lack of structure in his previous homes, Lance has little awareness of what is age appropriate. He has been exposed to violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, as well as movies and media of a mature (violent and sexual) nature. His foster parents have let us know that he recently has been found sneaking cigarettes, which he said are for his friends. He has tendencies to steal from stores, and will deny this and often tantrum when confronted about his stealing. He has also snuck out of the home in the middle of the night.
Lance struggles greatly at school. He had little support at his previous home, and is very behind. He is disruptive in class and has been known to spend time with peers who encourage undesirable choices and behaviors. He will need much one-on-one care to not only catch up but also stay successful in school. Outside tutoring and mentoring is recommended.
He has difficulty focusing and is a big fan of the word ‘no.’ He needs constant redirection and consistent boundaries. His older sister Melissa can often persuade him to help with chores and schoolwork. Potential parents should be patient to his disobedience and willing to look outside the box in finding ways to help him participate and remain focused.
Parents of Melissa and Lance should be open to continuing out of home interventions with therapists, doctors, and behavioral specialists.
Thoughts? First reactions? What does it feel like to receive only this information? Are you able to decide whether or not you could be their parent? Do you want them? Are they too much? Do their struggles worry you?
Would you believe that you just read a description of myself and my brother when we were younger?
What would you look like on paper? Or, better yet, what you would have looked like on paper at three, ten, or thirteen years old?
This is what we face each and every time we encounter a child profile that we’d like to consider. Often, the public profile is much brighter and less descriptive than the private narrative. While I can’t say more, often the private narratives are heartbreaking. It’s so easy to read these sentences of scars, and see only the damage. Only brokenness.
But I have to scoff. Risk factors? Who among us isn’t a walking collection of risk factors, one trigger or diagnoses away from disaster? We’re all messed up, a little bit. And, we’re all undeniably capable of holy-healing. Deserving of immeasurable love. What would my ‘private narrative’ look like in the eyes of my heavenly father? And yet, he chooses and chooses me again.
In this process we were asked: Why adoption? Why this population of children? Why rock the boat? Well, I mean, look at us! Taking in teens, housing missionaries, three girls under five, a grandpa in the basement, a miniature zoo of animals, small businesses by the armful…Our boat never stops rocking (does it for any parents of young children??). We don’t mind bracing the waves. They’re never too much. Never too great for our family.
We didn’t opt for adoption to be risk free. We choose adoption because we believe in a story beyond paper narratives.
Please continue to pray for our discernment and hope in this process. Pray for all of the children who fight for a family with only a one-page narrative and a picture to aid them.