I Won’t Leave You
By Rachael Moshman
We adopted our daughter through the foster care system when she was nine years old. My husband and I knew she had been through years of poverty, abuse, neglect, and abandonment, and that parenting her would be a challenge. We also felt we could handle it and that she would heal.
At the time we started the adoption process, she had been through at least 13 placements and had entered a group facility. My husband and I worked to bring her home the entire six months she was there. We read through and signed mountains of paper work, made updates to our home study, did background checks, and waded through a ton of red tape.
We were chosen to be her parents in November but didn’t get to meet her until May. I would grind my teeth at night because I was so anxious to bring her home. I already felt that she was 100 percent my daughter, my baby.
When we finally got to see her, I was amazed at how tiny she was! She was so much smaller than she looked in the photos we’d been sent. She had huge, dark brown eyes that were filled with fear, and her hair had been greased up—the agency’s remedy for a lice problem.
We were immediately smitten. We played dress up and tea party. We did crafts, read storybooks, and snuggled—a lot. I picked her up and carried her often, even when people scoffed at how ridiculous it was to treat a nine-year-old that way. Given how many times she had been bounced around, I think her willingness to let herself get close to us was extremely brave!
Within a matter of months, she went from little girl to a full-blown Justin Bieber–loving, training bra–wearing, lip-glossed tween. I was grateful that we had had a short window of opportunity to work on attachment before puberty came knocking at the door.
The next five years were not easy. She had an alphabet soup of mental health diagnoses, and it didn’t take much for her to get upset. Her “mad” was big. She could spend up to an hour hiding in her closet screaming like she was in a horror movie. We tried therapy through several mental health agencies, but none seemed to understand the connection between trauma and attachment.
I did my best to help her. I lived and breathed therapeutic parenting and attachment issues. I constantly looked for new techniques and ways to support her healing. I gave her words for her feelings and told her about other kids with “hurt parts” like her. I repeated things like, “Stop, take a deep breath, and relax” and, “You’re safe, you’re loved, you can handle this.” Even though she refused to talk about her past, my husband and I both let her know that we were there to listen anytime she wanted to talk.
Slowly, she started to open up in spurts. One day in the car she randomly asked, “How long do you think my kids will get to live with me?” At nine years old, she was terrified of being a bad mom and having her kids removed from her. “It’s in my history and people always say history repeats itself,” she said.
As she started to process her past, the behavior challenges actually increased. Our first Easter together was especially difficult. It was the last holiday before we hit our one-year anniversary together. We went through three days of epic meltdowns and disrespectful, defiant behavior. Some of the highlights included stabbing herself with a pencil, kicking me, screaming until she made herself ill, and walking around the neighborhood barefoot when I told her not to leave the yard. She told us that she had to move several times.
She was convinced that we were going to “get rid” of her “just like everyone else.” She thought she was a bad kid who didn’t deserve nice things or a family. Since we didn’t “get rid” of her by the Fourth of July, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, she just knew it would happen on Easter. She was trying to hurry along what she felt was inevitable by throwing her worst possible behavior at us.
She woke up Easter morning to see that she was still home with us. She realized that we still loved her and would take care of her, despite her behavior. Breakfast, clean clothes, hugs, and even presents from the Easter Bunny were waiting for her. She spent the whole day hugging us, writing us love notes, and pointing out that she hadn’t had a tantrum all day.
The struggle continued, though. It took about four years for her to finally believe our commitment to her was real.
She has come a long way. I’m so honored I’m her mom and that she has allowed herself to love and trust me. I’m grateful that my husband and I have been able to provide her with the safety and comfort she needs to process all that has happened to her. Helping her heal has been difficult, exhausting, and sometimes overwhelming, but amazing to watch. During the hardest times, I kept telling myself, “She is going to be okay.”
And she is okay.
I’ve known all along my daughter would someday be healthy, happy, and strong. Five years after our adoption was finalized, I can confidently and proudly say she’s made it. She has healed.
Rachael Moshman is a mom, freelance writer, and blogger. Follow her @rachaelmoshman.