Munchausen’s

When CHT and I were brought together, I thought I knew what I was doing.

Munchausen


I knew it would be hard.  I knew it would ask more of me than I dared to imagine.  I knew she would be demanding, and intense, and oh so worth all the struggle.  And I knew there would be tears shed, blood spilled – and a whole world of laughing.  I even had an idea that my foresight showed only the tip of the challenge to come.

What I didn’t know is that I was effectively ‘adopting’ a whole bunch of challenging adults alongside her.

These kids come with an entourage fit for a Diva – foster carers, social workers, educational psychologists, teachers, post adoption support workers, reviewing officers, and more.  This unwieldy group of people are there to help.  Except, they don’t, not most of them, and certainly not in the long run.  Yes, I write this while totally torqued after yet another dead end meeting, but for all the support you get, it seems that you have to invest at triple the time, money and effort.

I experience their help as leaving me ‘minussed out’; worse off than I began.  Why do these people  - in principle there to help – me make me work so hard when I am already stretched to my limit coping with a distressed and torn up child?   I feel like I carry them all on my back.

Pleading for their understanding, pushing for action, chasing up progress; this ‘support’ leaves me exhausted, more stressed and burdened than I started, and frustrated at the plans and promises that come to nothing.

There is a gaping chasm between the knowledge of so many specialist adoption professionals, and the barefaced day to day reality of adoptive parents and adoptees.

Where is the unspoken recognition of our problems and dilemmas from the specialists whose job it is to understand these issues?  Why are we made to fight so hard to make our voices heard by the very people whose purpose it is to fight our family’s corner?  Why is it so unclear what support is available for us?  Why do the doors not willingly open when we ask for the help, respite, and the training we so dearly need?

Our words fall on deaf ears, and then worse still, there comes ‘that look’.

You must know the one.  It comes partway into explaining something about your family/situation/child.  It comes accompanied by a glance at a watch, and through slightly glazed eyes that judge you, and write you off as pushy, or annoying, or exaggerating.  It is the look that dismisses you in a heartbeat as suffering from some adoption version of Munchausen by proxy.

The whole process strips me bare.  It can also leave me riddled with self doubt, and with less of myself to give to the all important task I was trusted with; parenting my beloved and inspirational CHT.

Change must come.

AFCchat #1

AFCChat #1: 7/4/13 – self-calming and anger – one hour session 9-10pm:

For the inaugural Adoption Fostering and Care Chat session held on Twitter, we chose a loose theme of ‘Calming’ – for you, me, and children.

Conversation got going really fast, and the hour flew by with well above 30 participants contributing.  This was a vibrant and intense hour, which seemed to be well received by everyone so it’ll be same time same place next week: Sunday 9-10pm BST on twitter using the hashtag #AFCchat.

I promised to write up the conversation; there were so many great and helpful ideas and discussions this was not an easy task.  But luckily there were some distinct themes.

1. TRIGGER POINTS:

Some people shared what they had noticed about stress points for the children: the things that can trigger stress or anger or heightened/upregulated behaviour and moods.  Do you recognise any of these?

- Endings: end of playtime, a game, an activity drawing to a close.

- Holidays: Lots of people clearly find it hard in holidays.  Reasons given: included changes in routine, the intensity of time together, weather restrictions. One longer-term adopter also noted the increase in triggers once school had ended for good. being organised helps. NB: Some contributor’s experiences were the opposite, with holidays being calmer and more relaxed, probably due to there being no rushing for schools, buses, timetables etc.

- Change: the need to prepare for this.  Need time to settle into routine.

2. CALMING TECHNIQUES:

a) Situation specific calming techniques and tools:

- Change:  being organised, lead in times, warning systems, calendars. I always think of this as ‘orientation’.

- Bedtime: no TV for good period before hand, quiet time, puzzles, no physical stuff, etc.  Sleep therapist mentioned (@ThefamailyofFive), chill out time.   Weighted blankets (@Wendys has a local contact).

- Sleep: Weighted blankets, calm music, lights

- School: - not trying to squeeze them into a structure that doesn’t fit, Ear defenders, chew toys, fiddle toys, safe space, parent teacher communication.

- Violent/Dangerous moments: safe hold

NB1: safe hold prompted a two-way debate – see discussion section below.

NB2: A point about raising with Martin Narey the need for Training around Safe holding.

b) General calming techniques and tools: These fell into some categories.

i) Physical energetic activity – that may be called into play as an instant calming response, or used as a more generic everyday tool (like a regulator)

- Exercise: dancing/jumping sport, Yoga etc

- Physical games: rough and calm, pillow fight, twister, musical statues.

- Practical games: play dough/colouring

- Touch: tactile/massage/Hugs/Tight hugs.

NB1: with touch there was a definite split opinion.  For some the physical touch side was definitely NOT GOOD.  see discussion section below.

NB2: A point about raising with Martin Narey the need for Training around Massage.

ii) Distraction:

- Films: watching a film (NB is this distraction, or familiarity, or just switching off/down?)

- Social stories: ??

- Changer: purposeful changes in atmosphere, activity

- Music: (could also be sensory) calming, or directing energy/grounding

- Working things off :( see physical above)

- Making ‘Slime’: – nh will send recipe!

iii) Sensory Tools:

- Special cover/blankets

- Ear defenders: really cool in school too

- Weighted vests/sandbags – Squeeze vest.

- Warm air: lay on front of fridge vent, bonnet hair dryer.

- Quiet: finding a quiet space/room

- Dark: sitting in the dark

- Water: having a bath

- Sensory exercises:

- Rocking: chairs, recliner, swings

- Stroking: pets, dogs

- Therapy swing:

NB: the therapy swing raises the issue of having a ‘special place’ or ‘named thing’ for calming; liminality.

iv) Practical tools

- Emotional Freedom Technique (add links- seeing it coming

- Breathing

- Traffic lights– for child and parent to recognise, name and identify emotions ‘going up’

- Ear Defenders

v) Therapeutic input ‘from the outside’

- Theraplay

- Therapists

- Osteo cranial massage restore effects of trauma

- Massage – feet good place t start.

- Theraplay – talcum powder hand massages, face painting etc

- Somatic Experiencing Therapy

NB: for SET see Peter Levine’s Trauma work in his book ‘Trauma Proofing your Kids’

3) CALMING DEBATE #1:CALMING AS ‘A PROCESS’?

- It seems for many it takes a long time for a child to ‘let the carer in’ and allow that influence to happen at all.

- Calming as ‘the body that needing to let go of trapped emotions’.

- Many contributors to the debate felt ‘calming’ can have the opposite effect, and even escalate stress/fear/anger.

-This was felt to be especially so when adoptees had pre verbal trauma; and in these cases the non-verbal approaches were felt to be best (ie yoga, somatic)

- there may be interesting further reading her on regulatory tendencies – are you/the child an emotional increaser or decreaser?  Do you know?

NB1: and what exactly is being calmed here? For some it is anger or panic, others being overwhelmed with emotions or hyper excited.  Being ‘scared to be angry’, making themselves sick,  self harming were also touched on.

NB2: important we remember that regulation is different for everyone – at different stages and with different issues,

4) CALMING DEBATE #2: WHAT IS INVOLVED IN CALMING?

A strong theme to emerge was that we would be mistaken to think calming was something that only happened as a ‘response’ to agitation: a) calming techniques needed to be introduced and practiced out of context skill teaching, and more importantly b) there is a wider more patient need for focus on the issues underlying emotional dysregulation, and c) understanding ‘how we/our kids operate.

- Recognising: learning recognition of changes in mood and the onset of dysregulation

- Naming: learning to name moods

- Understanding: The need to work on the ‘root of trauma’ not just the behaviour which is the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

NB: But sometimes this is unfathomable – so calming/emotional recognition important alongside.

-  Normalising: crucial importance of knowing /kids knowing that having anger about your experiences is normal/correct, and in no way a bad thing; but finding better, safer ways to express it is good.

- Timing: choosing your moments: importance of regulating before sorting things out.  Keeping the issue and reaction – separate!  Can’t address anything mid rage; teach/exemplify/practice techniques ‘away from the red zone’. Also needing the ‘space’ to deal with it – both time, social, brain space.

- Exemplifying:  This point is also covered elsewhere, but the overriding feeling was that calming was – in fact – all about US. Making sure we stay ‘in the right place’ to deal with them.  Be the change we want to see! We need to deal with our own anger as parents and ‘claim it’.

- Sensitivity: How hard is it to help when caregiver is also a source of the trauma i.e. the rupture  paradox of being an AP.  There is a definite paradox here – the push-pull in the AP/Adoptee relationship.

5) CALMING DEBATE #3:  IS CALMING ALWAYS APROPRIATE?

Our third and strongest debate centred around the fine line between calming and supporting an adoptee, and ‘breaking’ their behaviour/character/spirit.   Consider that adoptees by nature are ‘resistant’, and that “calming” can equates to breaking this resistance down.

- Support: calming is not an ‘authoritarian’ process to push a ‘round peg into a square hole’.

- Backlash: there were worries about calming having the adverse effect of adoptees/fostered kids bottling and internalising stuff that would ‘bite you later.

- Paradox: ‘acting out/non acting out ‘adoptees (see Daniel link on his website RAD

- Terminology: there are semantic problems here of accidentally (or otherwise!) siting ‘the problem’ with the child, when problem lies elsewhere.

- Social conditioning: Anger and dysregulation as a natural, valid, chemical response to trauma – ongoing trauma.  But can all too often be seen by society as negative, defiant (see Anti Victim Prejudice)

NB: BUT denying adoptees need help would be wrong & dangerous

6) TWO LAST POINTS WERE MADE:

FIRST: the importance of learning joint soothing (allowing and asking someone else to help/gain comfort from) as well as self-soothing. Some research here needed on SRS Stress Response Systems.

SECOND: what do we do when there is no time for techniques; when violence and aggressive physicality require damage limitation?  Many of our number had experienced violence, of which a large number lived with it – or the threat if it – regularly.  Safe holding was discussed both as necessary safety method and as a terrible suffering/infringement on human rights.  More needed here in future, I feel.

FUTURE TOPICS:

More on anger

More on staying calm as parents/coping

Complaints about social care

Calming in schools

Violence/physical aggression/Safe holding

Therapeutic parenting

Therapeutic Parenting means simply giving our kids a ladder to climb out of situations, rather than a spade to dig deeper in.

Therapeutic parenting – asks us to pick up different tools.

Positive parenting strategies and tools that fit the bill on paper have a tendency to crumple and fail in situ.  Problems experienced by traumatised kids are misshapen and multilayered, and do not fit the neat, round holes of theory.  Tools – especially those that tackle behaviour ‘mid behaviour’ – simply apply more pressure to confuse or escalate issues.  And those that reward, incentivise or penalise just add pressure or increase feelings of shame and failure.

Opting into these parenting methods – however brilliantly and gently we use them – translates what our children do as defiance or disobedience.  It misses the trauma their behaviour is communicating, and it turns our backs on the call for help contained within. Bit by bit their use pushes our children deeper and deeper into those fox holes; more lies, more concealment and deceit, more secrets, more conflict. For CHT and me the patches of calm between issues grew shorter until they almost disappeared from view.  For a while back there, I began to feel like I was simply ‘managing her’ – no time nor heart nor energy for ‘active’ love, mothering, or fun left; I became little more that a lion tamer.  Then worse came, her withdrawal and silence; sure signs our relationship was eroding.  I was doing all the ‘right things’ by the book, and yet her perception of me was slowly changing to that of an enemy to fight, rather than an ally.  The tools and strategies had become a wedge between us, and we were both exhausted and lost.

One day, as I stared down into yet another deep dark hole, it dawned on me that fighting the behaviour was like fighting the hole: impossible, ridiculous, and harmful.   I took a deep breath, and I jumped right in that crater alongside her.  I rolled up my sleeves, and asked her to come along with me to fix what was happening.  I stopped asking questions, stopped quizzing and looking for confessions.

TP in its fullest application stops us from delving into the whys and wherefores that pinpoint what went wrong; it ends the dissection and explanation over specifics.  Instead it has us recognising and understanding, mirroring and acknowledging.  I started asking for help in fixing without looking for confessions or truths.  I began to reflect and offer simple understanding for what was happening and why that might be, and to search for the escape ladder that makes practical amends, and then thank her for doing such a great job.  I ended my focus on the behaviours I wanted to stop, and regrouped my efforts into starting the solutions we needed to see.

TP is crazy hard.  Hard enough to get right while safe and secure in an emotional vacuum – armed with an instruction book – let alone when all hell is breaking loose around you. It feels one sided, with you the adult being tested and pushed and pounded while having to maintain calm and restrained and engaged.  The scales feel loaded, and getting it right can feel like a thankless task.

But little by little the change comes.  The magic moments are hard won, and they come with no bells, no whistles or celebration.  They come from knowing that in the face of it all, we done good.  They come from watching our traumatised children draw a little closer, ask for a little help, and start lifting themselves onto the first rung of that ladder – unprompted.

 

Real life stories: Contact

I constantly trawl the net so I can learn from personal stories.

Here is a collection of great posts about real life experiences and challenges around relationships with birth families with adoptee children.  I hope they hold some answers for whatever questions you may have around this aspect of living within a life touched by adoption in some way.

I hope these are of help to anyone out there with any questions, doubts or dilemmas. If you wish to contribute to this list, then please let me know and i’ll add your link.

From Jazz Boorman at “All aboard the trauma train” an adoptee’s description of the first time she met her Mum at the age of eight:  My Name is Jazz

From Fiona Fergusson at “Surviving 15 years of adoption” an adopter’s 6 part overview of letters & visits with Siblings: Part one , Part two , Part three , Part four , Part five , Part six

From Amanda Boorman at “All aboard the trauma train” an adopter’s proactive story of seeking out her daughter’s Mother: Mind The Gap 

From New Pyjama Mummy at ‘New Pyjamas’ adoptee/adopter honest and thoughtful preparation for her first visit with her daughter’s siblings: Making Contact