When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

April 11, 2010


Best Friends (April 11, 2010)

April 11, 2010.  News broke over the weekend about a Tennessee woman who put her 7-year-old adopted son on a one-way United Airlines flight to Moscow, with a note directing a pre-arranged driver to take him back to his orphanage.  A single mother, she adopted the boy only six-months earlier.  She claims the child is psychopathic and dangerous, that he tried to burn her house down and threatened to kill other family members.  He’s telling Russian authorities that she was cruel and physically abusive.  It’s impossible to say what’s true and what isn’t, but one fact is undisputed: the boy was removed from his Russian home and put in an orphanage because his birth mother was a serious alcoholic.  I can’t help but wonder what that boy would be like today if he had been adopted when he was three, like Peter was, or even younger?  Would he be outside playing tag right now, after a breakfast of pancakes, fresh fruit and cold milk, with his sister and best buddy from school, which is what Peter’s doing?  Our son had his first sleepover last night, and he’s happy as a clam.  I too am overjoyed because the experience has been completely positive, another impressive milestone that we weren’t sure developmentally he’d ever reach.  I shudder to think what shape Peter would be in, or if he’d even still be alive, if he’d been made to endure several more years in a Russian orphanage.  When I first read the Tennessee story I thought the boy’s case of FAS – for surely he’s alcohol exposed, must be far worse than Peter’s, but after some consideration, I’m now not so sure.  We’ve poured heart, soul, sweat, tears, and considerable financial resources into rehabilitating our son, who still struggles but has made tremendous progress.  Putting aside the multitude of nonessential achievements, such as learning to ride a bike, swim, or play soccer, Peter’s learned to love, and trust.  It’s taken years, and though imperfect, we’re there.  He now knows, and I can sense this as readily as I can sense the sun breaking through the clouds, that we’ll catch him when he falls but that we also expect him to stand on his own two feet whenever he’s able.  Peter knows our dreams for him extend as far as his dreams for himself; that we’ll be happy if he’s happy, when he’s as independent as he can be, and as accomplished as his spirit and talents allow.  I doubt the woman in Tennessee saw any viable future at all, either for herself or her adopted son, when she desperately, and by that juncture irrationally, sent him back like a mail-ordered outfit that didn’t quite fit.  Is it her fault?  Yes, but I can appreciate the despair, the isolation, the hopelessness that might seed such poisonous rumination.  The child, however, was her legal (and moral) responsibility and no rational person would stick a 7-year old on a plane halfway around the world with nothing more than a note.  Is it the boy’s?  No.  Does Russia bear any responsibility?  Of course!  International adoption is a two-way street.  Russia should not be allowed to pawn off its undesirables, no matter how blameless the children, without properly disclosing to potential adoptive parents their complete files, including medical records, psychosocial histories, prenatal records, orphanage caretaker notes, and all court documents, including transcripts, related to the relinquishment of parental rights.  Further, all children over a certain age with pending adoptions should receive counseling in the orphanage to better prepare them for what’s ahead and to help them integrate, heal from, and cope with their prior life circumstances.  Likewise, Americans have to stop thinking that a trip to Disney World and a heaping bowl of Cheerios are reasonable approaches to healing a neglected, undernourished, likely drug or alcohol exposed, and quite possibly sexually and/or physically abused child who may have a family history of psychiatric disorders.  Pat and I took pre-adoptive parenting courses, read every book available on international adoption, consulted not one but two renowned adoption pediatricians, and still wound up parenting a very troubled, permanently compromised little boy.  We love him, but his country’s shortfalls have irreversibly altered the course and quality of the remainder of our lives.  Russia’s love affair with Vodka coupled foolishly with its lack of birth control, ramped unemployment that’s created a permanent underclass, and a still closely held Soviet era belief that the State is responsible for individual’s wellbeing.  These are three key reasons, in my view, that Russia’s orphanage system is alive and well, despite the fact that something like 80% of children raised in them will end up dead, drug addicted or incarcerated by the age of 25.  Never mind close to 90% of these children are not even true “orphans” in that they have at least one living birth parent.  So what do I think about the woman in Tennessee?  I think she should be held accountable for endangering the life and welfare of her child, but otherwise, I want to resist rushing to judgment until verifiable facts emerge.  For now, I’ll leave the judging to others. The little boy?  He may be beyond help but I hope not.  I hope someone in Russia comes to his rescue, though this may be wishful thinking.  I know I don’t have the strength to handle him.  I can barely handle our son.  But here’s the irony: the boy on the news very well could have been Peter, or any number of other troubled youngsters turned over to Americans eager for parenthood in exchange for significant sums of money that may or may not be earmarked for the scores of children left behind.  I hesitate to speak like a lawyer, but what began in Tennessee and ended in Russia was a travesty for which there definitely should be “joint and several” accountability.

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14 Comments »

  1. I don’t blame her. I know Tanya Mulligan and after hearing her stories over and over and know that she has tried everything to help her son to no avail. Some of these kids are just beyond any help. Russia adoptions need to be investigated for adopting out children as healthy when they have severe mental problems.

    Comment by 4Kids4Karen — April 12, 2010 @ 10:33 am | Reply

    • Re below, I know what you say is true because it has been true for us – the financial ruin, the specialists, the “experts” telling us its our fault (especially the school – remember, only 2 weeks ago the school psychologist called CPS because we were making our son do chores for peeing during the day . . . never mind that the chores nipped this unfortunate (and controllable) behavior in the bud as he’s now back in underpants) . . . but I still can’t condone how the TN woman went about it. That’s all I’m saying. And I do hope this tragedy brings about at least some change – for parents like us, for the children, as well as for prospective adoptive parents. Something needs to change. Best – Mary

      Comment by whenrainhurts — April 12, 2010 @ 6:52 pm | Reply

  2. I have been following your blog lately and I am very surprised at your opinion on this story. Having read your personal story I actually felt sympathy for this adoptive mom and felt she was being too harshly judged in the press when I could certainly see that there might have been some dishonesty about this child’s mental state when she adopted him. Interesting.

    Comment by Lisa — April 12, 2010 @ 2:08 pm | Reply

    • It is not that easy to get help. You can seek out all the help you, you can even yell, scream, cry for help, but get turned away. Some are in financial ruins helping their children with specialist after specialist who have not worked or helped or made the slightest difference in there children or family situation. Social services will not help unless the child is being abused. There is no help for parents being abused/tormented by the child. You can’t just call social services and tell them to come take your child because you are afraid of him! They won’t do it! They will chalk it up to bad parenting, not a serious issue.

      Comment by 4kids4karen — April 12, 2010 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

    • My opinions are with Mary’s hook, line, and sinker. I just posted an almost word-for-word statement on my FB page when someone asked me my opinion of what happened in TN. The orphan situation in Russia is unbelievable. But, this woman’s actions were incomprehensible! You can’t “dump” a kid on a plane and ship him back to Russia. I’ll copy and paste my post on facebook:

      I can NOT believe she put him in a plane back to Russia. I understand feeling incredibly overwhelmed and terrified of a threatening child. Praise God I’ve not experienced the terror that I’ve heard many, many reactive attachment disorder kids have imposed on their adoptive families. But there are many, more appropriate ways that she could’ve handled that situation. She should’ve gone through post-adoptive support groups and/or her agency to find a legal way to terminate the adoption if she truly thought he was capable of murder or pyromania. That poor child. His future is bleak. 😦

      (In response to someone asking me what I thought about Russia halting adoptions for now:)

      I think it’s cutting off their noses to spite their faces. The kids that are adopted out of Russia are often very sick, neglected, medically needy, etc… The statistics on Russian orphans that remain “in the system” or “age out” at age 16 show that the majority become street kids, prostitutes (male and female) thieves, and a huge percentage die or commit suicide. Russia does not have the infrastructure to support it’s citizens on even a basic level. With the exception of Moscow, St. Petersburg and a handful of other modern cities, the hospitals, living conditions, electricity, heat, plumbing, water, etc… are like something out of post WWII Poland. It’s sub-par. Add to that nearly 1 million orphans and a society that has no recognition that alcohol is prohibited during pregnancy and you have a ton of fetal alcohol syndrome effected children and no way to provide any type of adequate care for them. My daughter was 2 years old, in a hospital for just shy of a month. She had pneumonia. She weighed 19 pounds 2 weeks shy of turning 3. She was malnourished, her teeth were rotted, her eyes were crossed. That’s how they care for their orphans. We brought her home, she had oral surgery, teeth pulled, 4 root canals, 4 crowns (all on baby teeth), false teeth cemented in, eye surgery, now wears a brace for scoliosis, had braces on her teeth from ages 8-11. She had failure to thrive because of neglect and I believe with all my heart that she would’ve died if left there much longer.

      Comment by Amy Dorsey — April 15, 2010 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  3. Yes, I agree that she had many other options that she should have chosen, and that this poor boy is truly the victim in all of this. The media and Russia was just so outraged that anyone would do this, and I guess all I was trying to say was that since I have read your story I can understand now how someone could be in the position where they would consider doing it (although that doesn’t make it right).

    Comment by Lisa — April 12, 2010 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  4. Mary, I could not have expressed it better. Love the person, but done condone the action.

    Comment by Amy FitzGerald — April 12, 2010 @ 6:42 pm | Reply

  5. I think she could have gotten help. The agency says the mother did not return phone calls in the last month she had the boy. I’m betting, as an adoptive mom myself, that if she had contacted the agency and said she wanted a disruption there would have been a lot of resources opened to her…at the very least she could have gotten this boy out of her family. Disruptions happen all the time, and in the world of international adoption agencies are equipped to handle it. What she did is absolutely crazy, and irresponsible. What’s worse is that her stupidity has affected thousands of other people who are hoping to build their families through adoption from Russia. There are families in Russia right now, at least according to NPR this afternoon, who are being told their adoptions (even ones almost completed) are on hold. Indefinitely.

    I think Russia and the US DO need to look at how adoptions are being conducted. I think reform is necessary. But what this woman did, how she did it, and how selfishly and stupidly she acted (surely she must have known this would cause an uproar)…it’s truly unfortunate. You can’t just send your problems away on an airplane. ESPECIALLY when your problem is your child.

    Comment by E — April 12, 2010 @ 10:01 pm | Reply

  6. I’m wondering where the adoption agency was in this whole scenario. It seems quite outfront that the woman put the child on a plane, and had a contact arranged at the other end. Just instincts here…but I’m wondering if anyone advised her to do such an outrageous act. It still does not relieve her of the responsibility of her child. That I most definitely agree with you.

    I also want to thank you for how you have helped me to understand diagnosis for my child, that were not articulated well by her counselors all these years. Also, I am with you on the concept of patience – my little one also doesn’t remember as well as some might expect for an 8, soon to be 9 year old. I am coming to terms with no matter how much I and professionals help her, memory may always be a challenge for her. Thank you for reminding me of patience… 🙂

    Comment by Lori — April 13, 2010 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  7. There comes a time when the stress of living with a child like this gets so great that you cannot even think straight! I have been to just before that point and know what it does to a normally intelligent person. When you reach the desperation point of no return you do drastic things. I had to have my daughter put into the mental health hospital for a week and then into a therapeutic foster home for 10 days and paid for it myself just so I could get some space to try to regain my balance. That was 2 years ago and today we are a different family and happily together. But, once that decent starts it is worse than a snowball rolling downhill with you inside! I can understand and sympathize, but not condone. My place is not to judge as I did not live in her house, just in mine with a lot of similiar issues!

    Comment by Mama Bev — April 14, 2010 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  8. I have an online friend who used this adoption agency for both of her adoptions and knows the process (as well as adoption ethics/education) well. (I believe there were two agencies involved, though…this placement agency and a separate homestudy agency). She says that it’s very, very hard to believe this agency wouldn’t have jumped in if the mother called with what was going on, or if she brought up disruption.

    With a good agency, there IS help to be had. Especially if what you want is to dirupt the adoption. It’s not the same as with a biological child. With a biological child you may feel “stuck,” and to a degree I’m sure you feel that with an adopted child as well, but with adoption there is a process and steps to find a way out of parenting a child. This agency is pretty reputable, and would have known what to do. The mother did NOT contact them.

    Comment by E — April 14, 2010 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  9. Wow. After I read the ABC News article about the woman in TN who sent away her adopted Russian child, I sympathized with her since I have friends who’ve had problems with their own children, adopted or not. Since I knew very little about the adoption process in Russia or the condition of the children in the orphanages there, I was intrigued when a poster on Loraincountymoms.com recommended your blog as “a poignant and very honest story of adoption and the difficulties a post-institutionalized child can have”. I spent most of the afternoon reading your posts and I can honestly say that’s a huge understatement. You write so well and so movingly about your experiences raising Peter and Sophie that I hope you someday write a book about your experiences once they’re adults because you have so many insights and lessons for parents who are (thinking about) raising children with FAS, autism or other physical, emotional, mental/neurological or psychosocial challenges. I think you, Pat and your family and friends are some of the most wonderful, patient, loving and unselfish people I’ve ever encountered personally or in the course of my reading. The progress your children have made is incredible! Your love and sacrifice has given them a wonderful life and a promising future that most of their fellow orphans will never have. I only wish more people were like you. One doesn’t have to be an orphan to wish for loving parents. I grew up in a violent home and was physically and emotionally abused along with my two siblings. It was a nightmare: despite our material advantages, we were beaten so often that we couldn’t enjoy most of them. I’d much rather be poor with parents who cared for us versus having lots of things with parents who hated us and viewed us as a burden. We’re middle-aged now, but still bear the emotional and psychological scars of growing up with two people who never should have been parents. Loving parents are the biggest advantage and blessing a child has in life and your children are incredibly lucky to have you in their lives. I can’t imagine how difficult life would have been for your children if they’d remained in Russia with caretakers who don’t have the time, resources, temperament or motivation to deal with orphans’ complex, demanding and poorly understood needs. Even though Peter may not always be able to express his appreciation for all that you’ve given him, I promise you he understands that and is grateful. I wish you, Pat, Peter, Sophie, your pets and the rest of your family all the best and I hope you have the joyous family life you so richly deserve.

    Comment by Heather — April 15, 2010 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

  10. […] do agree with another adoptive parent blogger, author of When Rain Hurts, who writes that blame should be shared all around.  I believe Torry Hansen has no excuse for not […]

    Pingback by Response #3 Just a Kid In a Grown-Up Mess « ideacellar — April 19, 2010 @ 12:39 am | Reply

  11. Thanks, Mary, for this excellent post…and to all the thoughtful comments. This is, indeed, a terrible problem that can and is destroying so many lives on all sides of the issue.

    I have a friend who has been dealing with a bipolar teen for about nine years now. She has done everything possible to help this child. She has utilized every resource her state has had available–counselors, therapists, doctors, special programs, understanding teachers, lawyers and even the local police. The girl is about to turn 18; she’s in the state’s women’s prison and has one last chance to get her into a special program of state. The kid is fighting her tooth and nail to just be allowed to do her time, get an apartment and job and be left alone. But she makes one bad decision after another, abuses drugs and alcohol…has already had a pregnancy terminated (father much older).

    Listening to her story has sounded like one ongoing nightmare, which began with her husband’s own bipolar condition getting so out of hand, she ended filing for divorce. I have to think that all that my friend has been through (and it’s been bad) pales by comparison to what all of you deal with.

    This really does need to be brought out into the open more. And get educators up to speed with what you all are dealing with–reading what you have to say about your experiences with the school probably frustrate me more than any other part of the story.

    Thanks for your insightful posts.

    Comment by Kendra Bonnett — April 25, 2010 @ 1:38 pm | Reply


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