‘When will I be adopted by another family?’ He couldn’t accept he was safe.’: Adoptive mom talks trauma-informed parenting

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“I always knew I wanted to adopt. But what I didn’t know was how alone it would feel to be an adoptive mama. Or how hard it would be to navigate parenting children with such deep loss.

Ethan and Arianna came to us when they were just 4 and 1.

The journey to adoption was long. It was frustrating. It was overwhelming. We had to go through the licensing and home study procedure a second time since Children’s Aid wouldn’t recognize our private agency’s home study. We spent months and months on adoption probation waiting for the two agencies to get the paperwork together and get it submitted.

But nothing was as hard as walking the road after the adoption when all the workers have left and spent more time measuring your crib spokes and testing the temperature of your water than they have on preparing you for parenting kids from hard places.

When Ethan came to us at age 4, his rap sheet was already quite long. The system had already failed him. He came into care when he was a year and a half and lived at two different foster homes. Then he was returned home to his biological mother, who moved. Then he was re-apprehended when his sister Arianna was born. He lived in another foster home before ultimately moving into our house.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

He had missed out on the important attachment that happens in those early years. And his go-to move was to throw a temper tantrum.

At around age 7, we had to move as a family, to a new home. And this triggered all of Ethan’s fears about moving. You see, despite being adopted, Ethan was accustomed to moving. I remember one day we were driving past the courthouse, and I pointed out that’s where his adoption took place. And he said, ‘Oh cool! When will I go back there to be adopted by another family?’ The idea of a forever family wasn’t something he could relate to. When we were moving as a family, he just couldn’t accept he was staying and he was safe.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

So the rages began. Yelling, screaming, attacking. He couldn’t express his emotions and he couldn’t understand what was happening in his body. He just didn’t feel safe.

We didn’t know what to do or how to help this broken little boy who was full of so much sadness. We felt so alone. We felt like we were drowning. We knew the child welfare system was broken because we had worked within it for several years. But we were about to find out just how broken it was. We were desperate for help. For someone to teach us what to do when Ethan raged. For someone to help us so we could help our son.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

We called agency after agency. Counselor after counselor. We had heard about a circle of security training that was based on attachment and attunement. We knew Ethan struggled with attachment from all his moves and from the trauma of his early years. We thought we had found the answer.

The agency that did the circle of security training only helped children over the age of 8. They gave us the name of another agency that helped younger kids. We called them. They said they only helped children who had already gone through another agency’s services and exhausted them. Then a referral could be made to them.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

We called that agency. We waited 2 full months to have an intake appointment with a counselor to begin the process of utilizing their services. All while living in crisis at home. With a child who raged out of control and a 3-year-old, we were desperate to keep safe during the rages.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

We finally got to meet with the counselor, and she asked many, many questions. If you’re a foster or adoptive parent and you’ve been in an intake meeting like this, you know how hard it is. Question after question you don’t know the answer to. Feeling like an inferior and fake parent because yes, this is my child, but no, I don’t know what his birth weight was or the week of gestation he was born at. She asked me if his birth mother drank while pregnant and when I replied yes, she told me that was his problem. That, for sure, he had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and she would assign us a counselor we could meet with to begin therapy with him. The good news was it was only about an 8-month wait for those services to begin.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

The exhaustion and hopelessness were consuming. You want to help this child. This child you said yes to. That you committed to forever with. This child you love like your own. This one who has literally grown in your heart and you’d do anything for. But you hit dead end after dead end. I remember feeling so alone. I remember feeling like we were drowning, and I didn’t know how much longer I could keep my head above water.

You don’t know how to love them through their sadness. You don’t even know if it’s sadness they are going through.

‘Oh, she was so little when she was apprehended from her mom, it won’t have any impact on her life.’

‘Oh, he was just 3 years old when he moved from his birth mom, it won’t make a difference.’

But it does. Every. Adoption. Starts. With. Loss.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

Every child in foster care came into care because of a loss. Our child welfare system is failing kids and failing families because it’s not doing more to educate foster and adoptive parents on that loss. What we saw as anger in Ethan, was sadness. He didn’t know how to identify or express his emotions. We had to teach him how to. He didn’t feel safe in our home, because he had moved so many times. We had to, time and time again, assure him of his safety. Instead of joining him in his rage, we had to invite him into our calm.

We had to learn how to parent through the lens of his loss. In adoption, it’s all about loss, even when it’s not about loss. When we acknowledged the trauma and the loss of his early years, we made space for him to grieve. We didn’t expect him to just get over it or move on. We allowed him time to heal. And we recognized the healing process was just that a process.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

Today Ethan is a remarkable 12-year-old who has overcome some of the toughest challenges a child should never have to deal with. He’s a walking definition of resiliency and I couldn’t be more proud to be his mom.

But those messy middle years. They tested everything I knew about child welfare, adoption, and loss. They refined who I was as a mom. During those years, I had a lady who worked as a social worker come alongside me and answer my questions and cheer me on when I felt like giving up. She changed my life and Ethan’s life for the better. And now I’m on a mission to be that to person for other foster and adoptive mamas. To spread hope. To cheer you on. To tell you to keep going when you feel like giving up. Because the other side of those messy years is almost too good to be true. It’s beautiful. As I watch the man Ethan is becoming, I can say it was absolutely worth all those hard years.

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

Listen up, foster and adoptive parents. The work you do. The tears you cry. The hours of sleep you lose. It’s worth it. It matters. It might not feel like it now, but it’s making a difference. The mama you’re becoming. The dad that is emerging. It’s important work.

You’ll feel alone. You’ll feel over your head. Reach out to another foster family. Ask for help. Take a break. Learn about loss. Educate yourself on the effects of early trauma. And get back in that ring and keep fighting. Keep fighting for your family. For your child. You got this.”

Courtesy of Erin Bouchard

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erin Bouchard from Arkona, ON. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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